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

‘The Cult of the Individual and the Idolatry of Greed’ July 4, 2012

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.

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