This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
With yet more to say about insurance, Kuyper opens chapter 77 (of Volume 2!) by arguing that there are “three kinds of misery”: (659)
- One which is only ultimately personal;
- One which may be shared, and potentially even alleviated by love and comfort. This “cannot be translated into money.” (661)
- The monetary loss which results from other suffering. For example, a crippling injury that results in the inability to work.
Insurance can do nothing for the first two (take note, those of us who argue over universal health care in the modern world!). It can, however, help with the third by spreading out the financial burden so much that it is functionally not borne by the individual in question.
But will this mean the end of “benevolence”? Will we start saying that we don’t have to be charitable or generous personally because insurance exists? To some extent, Kuyper argues that the answer her e must be ‘yes.’ Especially where insurance is universal (here we might think something like socialized healthcare or welfare), in the future benevolence might lessen. This does not lead to the conclusion that insurance is automatically bad. Just take, for example, the fact that we’ve lost things in the past that are similar and we don’t think we’re the less for it. This section is probably a bit of a challenge for modern readers, because we are so far removed from the practices Kuyper discusses. But he points out that people used to give hospitality to travelling strangers, even in their own homes. The presences of hotels and hostels and (once upon a time) places like the YMCA that offer affordable shelter have meant this practice of generosity has gone by the wayside. Outside of occasional wistful romanticism, we don’t long for those days. [Side note: this kind of hospitality does still exist occasionally here and there–from time to time Christians will open their homes to people visiting or passing through, usually through networks, list-serves, etc. Still, it’s not the expected practice it used to be, and I don’t think anyone really regrets that.]
Another reason we shouldn’t automatically reject insurance for this reason: we don’t want to bemoan the lessening of wretchedness because of the fewer available opportunities for virtue. (All of this is aside from the hypocrisy and bias that often attends such “benevolence”, and may even make things worse. Think of all the sham events put on by rich people that are really just chances for them to show off, rather than actually helping anyone.)
To add to this, there’s a pain and shame attached to receiving benevolence–particularly (and wrongly) when that benevolence comes from the church. It’s better not to have this need at all, and insurance helps with that.
What we see here is that our whole thinking on “poverty and benevolence” is skewed away from “Christian principle.” The goal should be restoration to independence, not just assistance. Insurance should do the former, while benevolence rarely rises above the latter.
Embracing insurance does not mean embracing communism or socialism. Both of these should be rejected, and are little more than perversions of the principle at work behind insurance into compulsory common property. Instead, the Acts 5 model is that we freely give according to need, and when met the giving ceases. This points to the idea of insurance, which was (much later than Acts 5, of course) discovered by common grace.
Yet more on insurance to come!