Shopping Carts, Taxes and Hip Replacements

With the possibility of the repeal and replacement for Obamacare, my Facebook timeline has been abuzz. One side calls for compassion to the poor, the other complains of higher premiums they blame on Obama. I can understand the desire to have a bit more money but I can’t understand valuing that money over the lives of the poor and marginalized.

Neither the Church nor our Lord calls us to value personal wealth above humanity. We aren’t called to hoard our money. We are called to be our brother’s keeper. Logically, if you cannot do that within your own resources, the next step is to see that it gets done by an entity that can do it. Pope Benedict wrote ” To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or “city”. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.”

My wife and I once went to a church where the pastor was very keen on pointing out the differences in the way Christians and non-believers act. he definitely felt that the way people behaved could tell you about their spiritual life. He told us (over and over) that he would be careful to count the change he got from the store cashier because, if too much, it gave him the opening to “present the Gospel.” How? He would announce to the cashier that he was returning the money because he was a compelled to by virtue of being a Christian.  Once in the parking lot, he would proudly push his cart into the cart corral because that is what Christians do.

And, yes, to this day, Liz and I laugh about that every time we shop.

Somewhere along the line, a new generation of Christians bought into this delusion. Christians, more and more, seemingly believe that their belief can be summed up in being nice. In being exemplary social creatures. Say, Merry Christmas. Please and thank you. Pardon me. Allow the other guy to turn left in front of you at the intersection. And, why not? That’s the reason Christ willingly went to the cross, isn’t it? So we’d all have good manners?

Well, it’s great to have good manners. But, of course, Christians are called to do more. We are called to care about our neighbor and to act upon that caring. And, it isn’t just a caring out of convenience. It sometimes costs us something.

So, I link that to the health care debate I see on Facebook. A number of Christians have recently advanced the argument that it isn’t the government’s Biblical responsibility to collect taxes to take care of the uninsured. Plus, they work hard and their taxes and premiums are already too high to now subsidize the poor. One poster responded to me by writing “The problem with the govt doing it is that it is no longer charity for the poor. Charity for one’s neighbor must be out of one’s free will. Therefore, the govt imposing high premiums on some to support others is not consistent with our Christian faith. The missing element is freedom.”

Freedom? Freedom to ignore the needs of the marginalized is not a Christian tenet. Yes, the gospel states “freely have you received, freely give.”  But, clearly, the one who opposes the government caring for the poor must now take it upon herself to do it. Yes, I will support your desire to have lower premiums as soon as you commit to paying the $200,000 for your neighbor’s hip replacement.

So, to claim that taxes to help the uninsured are wrong because they deny the taxpayer the “freedom” he is entitled to is a weak excuse to go on turning your back on the poor. It exposes the desire to hoard your wealth, to build the bigger storehouse of Luke 12.

It’s a darkened heart that closes an ear to the cries of the poor. And returning all the shopping carts in the world will never make up for it.