‘The Cult of the Individual and the Idolatry of Greed’

Michael Bird is a very conservative evangelical theology professor. He’s theologically conservative in the tradition of evangelical orthodoxy and, like many evangelicals, he’s very politically conservative on social issues, opposing, he says, “same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and abortion, etc.”

But Michael Bird is not an American. He teaches in Australia and formerly lived in the UK.

And since Bird is not an American, he hasn’t absorbed the peculiarly American form of evangelical tribalism that regards universal health care as though it were a Bad Thing.

Witnessing this American political tribalism-masked-as-spirituality in response to the recent failure to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Bird is simply baffled by his American counterparts:

I have to confess to always being perplexed not only by American opposition to universal healthcare, but to opposition to universal healthcare by evangelicals on purportedly theological grounds. I was simultaneously amused and confused by the image on TV of two pastors prostrating themselves before the Supreme Court and praying that Obamacare would be thrown out. Did they really think that God would be opposed to everyone in America having access to healthcare (even if legally required to purchase it)?

… I have always lived in a country with universal healthcare, both in Australia and the United Kingdom, and though those systems have many flaws, they are eminently superior to a system where millions of citizens do not have access to healthcare because they cannot afford it or are discriminated against. I have been blessed with a good measure of health for the most part, but myself and my family have spasmodically relied on government provided health care to get us through serious injury and illness. I experienced first class care when I took ill with a bout of viral meningitis in the UK several years ago. My youngest daughter also receives very good assistance with hearing and learning difficulties through government programs in Australia. So I am a big supporter of universal healthcare.  Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than what people get in Africa and America.

Bird goes on — at great length — to respond to the anti-health arguments of American conservative activist Wayne Grudem, and then concludes with a lengthy five-point message for his American conservative brethren. (Bird is pals with Grudem, so we can guess this is just for the brothers and not the submissive, subordinate sisters.) His five points:

1. Beware of The Cult of the Individual and the Idolatry of Greed. American and evangelical opposition to universal healthcare has nothing to do with the Bible or Theology, but is driven purely by a cultural and economic ideological bias. …

2. Varieties of Universal Healthcare. A big problem is that Americans simply do not understand universal healthcare (hence the talk of these “death panels,” which incidentally do not exist). …

3. Christian Advocacy for Healthcare. Every western democracy from Norway to New Zealand has universal healthcare for its citizens except for the most prosperous nation on earth. Across the world this move to care for the sick has been driven by a Christian ethic of compassion and not by the pursuit of economic gain. …

4. The Testimony of Americans Who Have Shifted Their Views. [He provides examples.] …

5. The Example of Jesus. As one reads the Gospels one cannot help but notice that a central characteristic of Jesus’ ministry was offering healing for the sick and injured. …

Bird’s epistle to the evangelicals of America highlights one way in which American evangelicalism is culturally defined — culturally defined as predominantly a tribal and political identity and not as a religious, theological, spiritual or ethical category.

Bird’s bafflement at this American defense of the indefensible arises from his failure to realize that these Americans are, above all else, Republican partisans. He’s still thinking of “evangelicals” as meaning something like the “Bebbington quadrilateral” (Bible, cross, mission, evangelism) and thus is perplexed as to why such spiritual and theological attributes would lead to such angry opposition to universal health care.

Such religious opposition is, indeed, perplexing — until you realize that it isn’t religious at all. It’s tribal and partisan.

  • aunursa

    I’ll bookmark this post for future citation as a textbook example of a straw man.

  • http://www.wayofcats.com/ WereBear

    The tribal identification explains why so many “Christans” act so un-Christian.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    This should be a warning as to why it’s a bad thing for religion to get so entangled in politics.

    Logically, you shouldn’t be able to predict with any degree of reliability someone’s opinion on largely economic issues (taxation, deficits, monetary policy) solely by knowing whether or not they identify as American evangelical Christians.

    But, in the U.S., you can pretty much assume that someone who self-identifies as an evangelical Christian also believes that taxes are too high on the wealthiest of Americans and too low on the poorest; in fact, you can also assume that they support a flat tax, support the repeal of the estate tax/death tax. You can pretty much assume that someone who self-identifies as an evangelical Christian does not believe in or does not acknowledge anthropogenic global warming. You can pretty much assume that they believe that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FEC was correct, and that its decision in Florida vs. HHS. was wrong. You can assume that they claim to be “strict constructionists”, that they claim to believe in “small government”, and that they have a very specific interpretation of the Commerce Clause and the doctrine of federal supremacy. You can assume that they support voter ID laws and restrictive measures such as Arizona’s immigration law. You won’t be right 100% of the time, or even 75% of the time, but you’ll be right often enough for you to at least think that evangelicals are politically homogenous.

    Not all evangelical Christians in the US are like that, but it’s commonplace for people — especially in the media — to just assume (based on the loudest and most prominent voices in the evangelical sphere) that “evangelical” is just a fancy name for “conservative Republican”. And it really shouldn’t be this way. You shouldn’t be able to map someone’s political beliefs in almost every detail just by knowing their religion, any more than you can just by knowing their favorite sports team or the color of their hair or . Evangelicals are too large a group to just be dismissed like that, but they are… and it’s mostly their own fault for weighing themselves down with all those not-creeds and Big Fours and statements of affirmation.

  • The_L1985

    How, exactly, is there a straw man anywhere in here?

    Jesus healed the sick, including beggars.

    Evangelical Republicans, who claim to worship Jesus, are against healthcare laws that will make doctor’s visits–medications–healing available to the poor.

    These are all facts.

  • Donalbain

     Sorry, what did you say about a straw man? Was it something about someones healthcare costs being raised by 15.6% due to the ACA?

    Yes, I know it isnt a strawman. But I am going to point out your dishonesty on this subject EVERY FUCKING TIME I SEE YOU, you lying piece of shit.

  • Lori

    Two different people who are annoying in two (at least slightly) different ways. The 15.6% thing was Chris, not aunursa.

    aunursa is misusing the term “straw man” though.

  • nebbel

    Evangelical,
    are you? Well, Jesus did say,  “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’
    shall be in danger of hell fire.” Wonder what he’d think of “…you lying piece of shit.” Good work, Christian.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’m sorry, I can’t hear the right-wingers over the sound of my AWESOME UNIVERSAL HEALTH INSURANCE.

  • Lori

    What makes you think that Donalbain is claiming to be an evangelical? Don’t assume that everyone posting here makes that claim because many of us do not.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that Jesus was more bothered by liars than he was by people who used salty language. 

  • Maria

    Don’t do that.

  • hapax

     

    Well, Jesus did say,  “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’
    shall be in danger of hell fire.” Wonder what he’d think of “…you lying piece of shit.”

    Matthew 23:13-35

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’ll bookmark this post for future citation as a textbook example of a straw man.

    Seriously, what?I honestly can’t figure out what your problem is with the form of this post, just that you dislike the message. So explain, please, or I’ll have to assume you’re trolling on the level of “Boo” over in the justice thread.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Don’t have awesome universal health insurance? Surely you jest!

  • Tybult

    I have to confess to always being perplexed not only by American opposition to universal healthcare, but to opposition to universal healthcare by evangelicals on purportedly theological grounds.

    Clearly the man is a heretic, and will promptly be purged by the Ordo Hereticus for the glory of the Emperor.

  • Münchner Kindl

    Logically, you shouldn’t be able to predict with any degree of reliability someone’s opinion on largely economic issues (taxation, deficits, monetary policy) solely by knowing whether or not they identify as American evangelical Christians.

    Actually, you should be able to determine the basic ethical standpoint of somebody who proclaim they are Christian: for the minorities (and social rights, liberation); for equality of genders (made both in God’s image); for decent pay for decent work (You shall not withhold the wage from the labourer; don’t bind the oxen’s mouth when he is threshing); for treating people decently and with respect (against considering people ressources or burdens on society); for the sick (against kicking people out of insurance for costing too much); against exorbitant lending, or debt-slavery; etc.

    Whether a particular action, like Affirmative action for minorities, or framework contract law for workers, or equal pay for women, achieves that ethical goal is then a second step of looking at the evidence: have similar programs in the past/ in another country/ on a small scale worked? Why or why not? How easily can they be transferred/ upscaled? If there is no experience whatsoever (unlikely today with a bit of research), what would be the downside? Can we run a trial and implement a whole programm if 5 years later the results are good?

    It’s sad that because consies have hijacked “Christian” as term, people today think more of consie values like oppression of women or exploitation of workers (unions being communist) than the real christian message.

  • Münchner Kindl

    The Example of Jesus. As one reads the Gospels one cannot help but notice that a central characteristic of Jesus’ ministry was offering healing for the sick and injured

    My guess is that the tea-evangelicals / consies wriggle out of that with:
    - people can get healthcare, just not for free (ignoring that Jesus didn’t charge anything; and ignoring reality)

    - people can get healed by Jesus, that’s what those miracle healers are for! If prayer doesn’t heal you, you didn’t pray/ believe hard enough: your fault.

    Has anybody of the wingnuts seriously claimed this, or are they just thrashing the imaginery socialist death panels?

  • Münchner Kindl

    Clearly the man is a heretic, and will promptly be purged by the Ordo Hereticus for the glory of the Emperor.

    No no no. He doesn’t exist. Clearly there are no real countries outside the US – only terrorist-producing places, backyards to extract resources from and dump waste, and China to make cheap plastic.

    Moreover, a country with socialist healthcare is obviously socialist. Thus, a figment of one’s imagination, since only Real Americans count.

  • LMM22

    Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than what people get in Africa and America.

    Oh, *ouch*.

  • Jim Roberts

    That was my thought as well. And it was said with such earnestness that you know the author meant that as an actual comparison – “Americans have healthcare that can most favorably be compared to the developing world, not the developed world.”

  • friendly reader

     aunursa doesn’t tend to support the facts he* throws out either, but I will say that unlike Chris, he does contribute something to the conversation during our Left Behind threads, and I tend to be slightly more forgiving of him as a result.

    Chris, however, I wish would leave for good. Preferably now.

    *I’ve never asked, are you indeed a “he”, aunursa? I’ve read others using that pronoun, but I don’t think I’ve seen you mention it yourself.

  • Dave

    Disagree, but do not be disagreeable. 

  • schismtracer

    Disagree, but do not be disagreeable.

    Troll, but do not tone troll, for it is merely annoying.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Considering that John Kenneth Galbraith once quipped that the USA and Soviet Union were like huge resource extractors in the 1970s, they were basically Third World countries with armies and should vote like them…

  • LMM22

    “Developing world,” when it comes to the general perspective of Africa, is being far too kind. That statement translated as “America has a health-care system analogous to those found in war-torn, AIDS-ravaged countries.”

    Which, okay, may be overly harsh. But it’s a really good blow.


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