Blog powered by Typepad

« A horrible little cranky note, caveat lector | Main | Prophet Lite (part one) »


The first paragraph in the previous entry should read "personal agency as the "cause" of Divine Being."


I guess what I am responding to is your assertion that your faith would impel your endorsement of universal government-sponsored health care. Those are not your words, so feel free to correct me if that is a mischaracterization of your intent. My reference to personhood in the discussion flows from an understanding of the place of human agency as the "cause" of Divine being, and by extension human being. Free acts are, at the very least, logically prior, and necessary to an event of communion that would be constitutive of authentic personality. Thus, a radical volitional freedom seems to me a necessary, though not sufficient, constituent of personhood theologically understood. Unless I have misread him, I believe John Zizioulas says something similar.

Secondly, I assume for purposes of discussion G.K. Chesterton's definition of government. “Government is coercion.”

Given the aforementioned, it seems to me that the commission of government in the service of charity fundamentally vitiates the morality of the act. But of greater moment is the violence done to the personhood of the coerced. By stripping one of the means and the ends of his labor for the ostensible “good” of publicly rationed and distributed services, a much greater sin is being commissioned than the omission of public charity. This is true of not only government-sponsored health care, but of the whole government-industrial-complex. One cannot serve the end of Christian ethics by abrogating the metaphysical ground of such action. The whole scheme of government-sponsored health care flies in the face of Christian community and is built upon the false foundation Babel. As Dostoevsky has reminded us, in the final analysis, “socialism is not . . . the labor question (the altruistic question) . . . but the atheistic question.” It is akin to a secularist eschatology.

I am unsure of Robert’s referent, but what is at stake here appears to me to be a Nicean understanding as extrapolated into the realm of human ontology where ousia and hypostasis are accounted for in a taxonomy of logical priority and proper proportionality.
I frankly fear government that has messianic pretensions and “moral” authority because it aspires to godly ends by ungodly means.

Without holding forth on this topic, I hasten to add that we also have a uniquely American problem when it comes to the imposition of an un-Constitutional regime of law.

By the way, I wanted to ask your forgiveness for the blunt (and somewhat disrespectful) way in which I addressed the question initially. And thank you for the grace in your response!


re: "Orthodox understanding of human personhood"

If I'm not mistaken, Matt is borrowing the term of art that is shorthand over at the AOI site for their gold-vested individualistic libertarianism.

I suppose I have assumed Fr Jonathan that for the hearts of many Americans, government-run services are very much a replacement for charity.

This assumption has nothing to do with what I do with my own money. It is merely a holier-than-thou fantasy I use to assuage my cognitive dissonance.

In my more ideological past (probably better counted in months rather than years ago), I was even more cynical. I was of the opinion that the real problem with government services is that those who usually found employment in the implementation of those programs were a demographic I wanted to economically and culturally starve out.

I've heard others say this, "If we pay teachers more, then we are just funding the Democratic party, through their union." And I know people who would say this of therapists and other caregivers as well.

I am just now beginning to consider a less hardened heart, please forgive me if it seems slow to melt. Some folks are merely frost-bitten, parts of me were at Kelvin 0.

David, I do not for one moment think that government-run healthcare will ever take the place of charity. That would be tantamount to saying that since we pay taxes, and since the government provides welfare, then we never need to worry about the poor. Saying such is entirely insane or immoral or both.

The poor will be rendered by our bourgeois mentalities as a "socio-economic problem" whether or not healthcare is passed.

We have to follow more the likes of Theophan the Recluse who said, "No one who loves his neighbor is wealthier than his neighbor."

Or like Chesterton, who gave a few shillings or pounds to any beggar in the street, face to face, even knowing that the money might go to opprobrious ends. He believed in "promiscuous charity," which means "the most dark and terrible of all human actions -- talking to a man. In fact, I know of nothing more difficult than really talking to the poor men we meet."

You know what I think, David and Matt? I think there will be universal healthcare, but it will be a minimalistic, low-level thing that we will make fun of in 5 years for being dreary.

But more lives of the poor will be extended, if not spared.

And for those areas of care the State will never care about -- the forgotten elderly and the longterm disabled and congenitally handicapped (sorry for the incorrect terms) -- then the Orthodox monasteries will have to take up their waiting mission.

Because I think that this type of care will be the sign of the Church in the time to come and in this land. And if monastics have looked for a purpose in this place and post-industrial generation, and if St. Basil the Great is to be followed and believed, then the day will come when the poor will be the physically weak, and the Church will give them strength.

I don't speak for Matt, I have no idea what he means; but I'll admit I've got two different thoughts always in tension in my head.

One says that the virtue in charity lies in the relationship established in the act. I encounter Christ in "the least of these" and, having compassion I offer of myself, which is an act of Christ in me. Institutionalizing this removes the possibility of compassion from the event. The poor become "a socio-economic problem" (and therefore dehumanized) we address through appropriation and distribution of resources.

On the other hand, America is a community which establishes legitimate civic obligations on members by members. Being American means being related to all other Americans in a non-voluntary sense. There are Americans in significant need of material goods, and there is much more than sufficient economic activity to meet that need. In fact, the community not meeting that need is can only be described as a cruel violation of the social contract.

So yeah, socialized medicine may not "get you to heaven", but in the final analysis rejecting it might be ethically indefensible. (I'm not even talking about progressive social models where the wealthy support the lower classes out of self-preservation. Not being progressive I don't find them compelling.) It is particularly indefensible in the face of the conspicuous consumption of the upper classes.

Again, I don't know if this is what Matt means, but I had to acknowledge my own tension.

Matt, I will be glad to write what I can. But first, help me out with what you mean by Orthodox personhood being at odds with government-run healthcare.

Father Tobias,

I have always enjoyed your blog - I find it refreshingly counter-cultural, theologically insightful, urbane, and often intellectually provocative. However, on this one I will have to ask you to explain yourself. No - not the part about inane political spam or being charitable to those with whom we disagree - I concur. Rather, I would question your precipitous jump to theological conclusions regarding the government's role in charity. If I may say so respectfully, I find it metaphysically naive, and, frankly, hermenuetically dangerous. I would love to hear an exegetical argument, or a theological rationale for such a position that does not do violence to the Orthodox understanding of human personhood. I would readily admit I may be missing something important here, and I know you must have some good reason for taking up such a position. Can you help me?


I am so happy to see an Orthodox priest write this. Thank you Father!

Very well said. This is not a liberal/conservative issue. The whole world is laughing at our health care system, because it doesn't work. And we trade talking points.

Actually, SRT, I confined my to: list to those who actually pressed the send button. There were many, many more names that I deemed at least nominally innocent.

Indirectly interested? I believe many end up "in chains" like these without prior consent or knowledge (just like you :).

Amen, brother. I don't get the evolution statement, but this liberal can get behind the rest of it. I might use this for my friends who continue to send me invitations to the Tea Parties.

Reminds me of the Lincoln principle of civics:

The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities. [..] all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself. From this it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need for government.

The civics born of the necessary common life of any nation-state. Ideology can inform this, but it can never be allowed to dictate it. Ideology is the opium of the middle class. The poor can't afford it and the rich have access to better drugs.

Amen, Amen, and Amen!

Well, you were, but you weren't one of the senders. Probably an involuntary sin.

I'm surprised -- and glad -- that I'm not in the forwarding chain!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)