Heal Thyself

One thing we can say about the misguided leadership of this country is that they’re taking the Bible seriously. As the Republicans roll out a “healthcare” plan that would leave the elderly and poor at the mercy of the rich—known for their compassion—they’ve clearly displayed their belief that the followers of Jesus who voted them into office will once again rely on the carpenter from Nazareth for their healing. Those of us who’ve spent more than a few devotional hours with the Good Book may be a little less sanguine about the prospects for our aging parents (and let’s be honest, none of us is getting any younger). I guess we can call “Trumpcare” a blatant trumpet blast for the Second Coming.

It truly amazes me that Trump supporters don’t see the shady practices of the age-old business deal at work here. Cut my costs, offer you something that you don’t really want, and walk away looking like the guy who was only trying to help. As Kenny Rogers reminded us decades ago, you’ve got to “know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.” Only folding’s not on the table any more. If enough dissatisfied people die off in the next couple of years you won’t even have to worry about midterm elections, I guess. As a member of the human race who’s watched my elders age I don’t see how anyone could ask to have the healthcare taken away from their parents. But then again, this will save the uber-rich in this country quite a bit of money, so there must be a silver lining after all.

It’s unfortunate that nobody seems to care that irony is in such short supply. Presidential campaigns waged on hate deliver when it comes to taking away the services of those who voted them into power. Swamp dwellers all. A healthcare bill to make our country sick and weak—who could’ve thought of such a stroke of genius? You’ve just got to trust the rich to have everyone’s best interests at heart. Isn’t it clear that they always do? I often see them hobnobbing with the people who live in cardboard boxes on the streets of Manhattan. I seem to recall a guy with a reputation for healing once saying something about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into his hospital. Only he didn’t come up with a healthcare plan before he left. Does anybody have Jesus’ smartphone number?

It’s My Body

Those who believe mythology is dead have to look no further than the Supreme Court. Amid pictures of women protesting religious freedom to be told what to do with their bodies, the Court decided that employers may withhold rights to birth control under the rubric of religious belief. The ones who raise the issue, however, biologically never carried a baby to term. One gender making decisions for the other. We all know that the official stance of Roman Catholicism, closely followed by radical Evangelicalism, is that God intended sex only for procreation. Those women who find themselves on the receiving end of unwanted conception are helpless in the eyes of the law, depending on who their employer is. Blind justice indeed. Obamacare is intended to help level the playing field. Too few people have any real control over what medical treatment they can afford. I know more than one fixed-income person who suffers chronic pains due to lack of adequate treatment. I also know people who have used the system for plastic surgery before a trip to the beach. It seems that your employer now has the right to decide—but only if you’re a woman, and only if it involves what might be euphemistically called your “private parts”—what care you deserve.

Legislating morality, we religion majors debated even when I was back in college, cannot be effectively executed. If you presume there is a God, then enforced obedience is no obedience at all. Even conservative undergraduates could see that. Now our “Supreme” Court, with its male majority, has followed the lead of closely held corporations (doublespeak for certain patriarchal, Evangelically based companies) and declared that half the humans in America don’t deserve the same health care as the other half. The reason? Closely held companies don’t want women to have access to birth control. Our courts strike a blow against freedom and justice for private religious interests.

Within days of one Christian denomination declaring that gay marriage will be—should be— sanctioned, our own judiciary sides with the right of upper management in private corporations to discriminate based on gender. At least the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga can sleep better at night knowing that they’ve prevented women from having their basic rights upheld. And metaphorically crawling into bed with closely held corporations are a male majority of supreme court justices who believe one man’s religion (yes, man’s) has the right to overturn the freedom of his employees. With the blessings of a male God. A situation like this prevailed, it seems to me, until 1863, also with the backing of scripture. Only in those days the argument was, I believe, that God is clearly Caucasian.

Looks balanced...

Looks balanced…

Irrational Revelation System

In an article on Obamacare in last week’s paper, Kathleen O’Brien pointed out an interesting dilemma. Some religions, such as the Anabaptist traditions (Amish, Mennonites) must comply with modern regulations on healthcare or face a fine. Under pressure, the Internal Revenue Service grants exemptions to some such religions, but those religions have to have been established before 1950. Maybe I’m paranoid, but just having read about Scientology, I have to wonder about two things: what is the IRS doing defining religions, and why 1950?

Photo credit: Ad Meskens, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Ad Meskens, Wikimedia Commons

1950. Like the Roman Empire, frustrated with new religions (like Christianity) popping up all over the place, governments sometimes default to a religion’s age as a sign of its validity. Rome required conformity, but Judaism, demonstrably already an ancient religion, was granted an exemption from some of the regulations. We have a tendency to think that if a religion is valid, it must have been discovered/revealed long ago. All religions, however, were new at one time. Even the first shaman offering the first propitiatory gesture to the first recognized nature spirit, was experimenting a little. Did that stop in 1950? That line in the sand must stand for the cutoff date for new religions. Why? Well, you see, it has to do with money.

The IRS, as an organization, doesn’t really care what you believe. As long as it includes paying your taxes. One of the burdens of citizenship, too quickly forgotten, is that life together in a complex society is not possible without incurring considerable costs. Religions have long claimed tax-exempt status under the rubric of disestablishment. If they pay the government, then it is like the government is receiving kickbacks from the Almighty. The biggest donor should get the biggest favors. Soon you have a state church. So it is just easier to let religions be tax exempt. But since nobody has ever adequately defined what a religion is, the doors have been wide open for entrepreneurs in the faith industry. Instead of letting religious experts decide how to define a religion, that has become a government job. I picture a simple, bearded Amish man pulling his buggy up outside the IRS headquarters in a frenetic Washington, DC to go argue his case. Don’t worry, Bruder. Divine revelation, whatever that is, apparently stopped in 1950 and you’re clearly pre-McCarthy era. Suddenly a whole lot of things seem to start making sense.

The Plague

Plagues&Peoples Sitting on the bus next to some guy with a consumptive cough may not be the best place to read Plagues and Peoples. But William H. McNeill’s book is considered a kind of modern classic, and since the Middle Ages have been on my mind, I persisted anyway. I did wrap my scarf around my face, though. Plagues and Peoples isn’t just the story of the Black Death, however. It is a sweeping account of pandemic and endemic outbreaks and how they form recognizable patterns with human populations. Perhaps the most striking aspect of McNeill’s study is how determinative plagues have been for many decisive aspects of human history, including religious ones. Indeed, religion keeps cropping up in the book. One reason is because of the roles religions play in human suffering—to be more precise, I should say in trying to alleviate human suffering. (Yes, some religions definitely cause it as well, but that’s a story for another time.) McNeill even suggests that fear of disease might have led to the parting of the ways between Swiss and German Reformers, playing a role in the divergence of what would become the Presbyterian and Lutheran flavors of Protestantism. The spread of some religions was facilitated by the ravages of disease.

During the period of the spread of the Plague, however, McNeill notes that those cultures attended by Christian and Buddhist institutions managed to fare better than irreligious, or, perhaps more accurately, folk-religion ones. Once people figured out Plague was contagious, they sensibly kept away from the sick, but the moral teachings of Christianity and Buddhism compelled the religious to tend to the ill, with the result that more people in those religious traditions survived. That’s not a universal declaration on McNeill’s part, but it is a fact worth bearing in mind. The risk to self paid off when more individuals cared for each other rather than just heading for the hills when the Black Death came along. On the other hand, religions frequently insist on behavior that spreads disease as well. The great pilgrimages to Mecca or the Ganges often brought great crowds together where disease could quickly spread. The passing of the peace in some churches is more like the passing of the plague.

In ancient, pagan times, disease had its own deities. In ancient Ugarit, Resheph, the archer, was also the god of pestilence. Pestilence frequently accompanied the horrors of warfare, and even Apollo opens the Trojan War by firing his arrows at the Greek troops. Gods are the source of disease. One of the ancient truisms, which may not be taken as true today, is that the force that wounds is also the force that heals. Instead of ignoring Resheph, you pray to him, make offerings to him. He can slay, but he can also heal. In the monotheistic and even non-theistic traditions McNeill mentions, the focus shifted to the care of those suffering rather than the offering of sacrifice to unhearing gods. Even the Romans were impressed by Christian care for one another. Of course, that was well before Obamacare offered the hope of medical treatment for those cut off from lucrative employment. The Christian response now, it seems, is to complain about others taking advantage of my surplus cash made over to a program to prevent illness in one’s fellow citizens. Take the bus to work, you’ll see what I mean.

Not Narnia

The snow fountain from a fast-moving snow-plow is a thing of beauty.  Unless you’re standing in the way.  It’s been that way this winter.  The sidewalk where I usually stand to wait for the bus is an arctic wasteland of waist-high snow piles shoved higher and higher by weary plow-drivers.  So I stand in the road, near a streetlamp in winter, but this is not Narnia.  I decided to try out New Jersey Transit’s highly anticipated “real time” bus locator—that way I know when to step out into the blowing wind to wait for the bus.  After I’d been sprayed by passing cars and the occasional snow-plow for 20 minutes, I became convinced that “real time” is just academic; it is the time that the bus would arrive, were the bus actually on time, if it ever left the garage.  Not that I blame the drivers—theirs is a thankless job that must lead to early retirement, or at least support the state mental hospitals.

Where's Mr. Tumnus?

Where’s Mr. Tumnus?

Now, I’m not the only one to be standing in the street, a hooker for capitalism, under my lamppost,  and some of the stops are completely snowed in.  When three passengers ganged up on the driver for nearly missing them because they weren’t at the stop because of all the snow, I began to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Springs can be wound too tightly, you know.  All of this is an issue because businesses don’t want to close for inclement weather.  During last week’s blizzard, I ended up taking the PATH train into New York, not knowing where it was going.  A young lady was fretting—she was going to be late for work.  An older African American gentleman comforted her.  “Don’t worry.  They don’t care if you come in late on a day like today.  They just want you to show up.”  They just want you to show up.  His words have haunted me. Businesses want you to show up because that reinforces the power of capitalism.  You don’t show and you don’t eat.  You lose healthcare.  Cobra is aptly named—you pay far more than unemployment’s pittance for monthly coverage.  Obamacare is about thirty years too late.

Every time I see the Mayor of New York justifying his decision to keep schools open when literally nine inches of well-predicted snow fall on the city—dressed in his trendy action-figure jacket, just like Christie after Hurricane Sandy—I wonder who is really being cared for.  The Mayor claims that of the over 1 million kids in the school system, a substantial proportion go to school so they can get their only hot meal of the day.  Is this the purpose of schools?  Is it not the humane duty of the largest city in the country to make sure fair opportunity is offered to those who wish to contribute?  Their parents, he adds, as an aside, have to go to work.  Why aren’t they being paid enough to feed their kids?  Oh, there is a blizzard coming, and it’s one of our own making.  As for me, it’s time to step back because I think I see another snow-plow coming.

Shut Down? Shut Up?

So, what does it mean really?  Can you tell the difference?  Although it is undoubtedly a pain for many government workers, and a huge, colossal waste of tax-payers’ money, I guess the Tea Party showed us!  Over something as simple and humane as healthcare, the neo-cons have shut down the US government.  To be honest, I can barely recall the last time this happened.  Why do I suddenly feel the need to sit on a rocking chair on the front porch and kvetch? Perhaps we don’t pay them enough to care?  Maybe the poor just aren’t worth saving?  What can possibly be going through the minds of elected officials who are willing to punish the entire nation just because they can’t pack up their marbles and go home?  Of course, I am presuming that they have marbles to pack up.  As a tax-payer of over thirty years (pushing on forty), I think I have earned the right to say, “Children behave!”  The Tea Party shenanigans have been childish from the start, trying to co-opt the spirit of rebellion against tyranny in a country that plainly has too much.  Too much time on its hands, among other things.

I often ponder how a nation with the resources of the United States can proudly tote one of the most inhumane healthcare systems in the developed world (and I’m not talking about Obamacare!).  We live in a country, if best-selling author John Green is to be believed (and I’m a believer), we pay more for healthcare than countries with socialized medicine and get less out of it.  Why do we put up with it?  Tea, anyone?  Who has the actual gumption to climb aboard a ship and throw the cargo overboard?  Today we call it piracy—hey! Stop that download!  And we throw people into jail for it.  But shut down the government?  That’s okay.  The bus still runs and I’m still expected at work.  Oh, and I work for a UK company.  The irony of it all. When I lived in the United Kingdom, people complained about the healthcare, but I will say there was no child left behind, if you get my meaning.

Our military, I see, remains open for business.  We won’t cut off the life-support of the Tea Party’s favorite department.  We have our priorities.  Somebody has to defend the millions that can’t afford health insurance.  There was a time when Christianity was all about healing and taking care of people.  Of course, in those days it wasn’t yet called Christianity, or even the Tea Party. It was just a guy and his healing touch.  Today, some of the most abstract tenets of a fully corporate religious infrastructure determine who it is that deserves health care and who does not.  Call it morals or call it marbles, we have a right to decide who can be afforded and who cannot.  And anybody who tries to start legislating fair treatment better not try to stand in the way of our comfortable worldview where those who can afford to withhold compassion can do so under the rule of law, and the unborn smile until they become born when they will soon have to fend for themselves with a government that demands monetary exchange for bodily health.  Gee, my blood-pressure seems to be up.  Good thing the doctor’s office is open.  At least I hope it is.

Outside the United Nations

Outside the United Nations

The Weather in Kansas

In a move that threatens intellectual whiplash, the Kansas State Board of Education has backed the Next Generation Science Standards. For a state historically at war with evolution, adopting a curriculum that (rightly) presents evolution and global warming as facts, there is cause for hope. As an average citizen sometimes just struggling to get by, I watch in stunned horror as our elected officials try to repeal Obamacare without touching their own health plans paid for by yours truly (and mine truly). I see them vote themselves pay raises while pension plans and salaries of ordinary citizens are frozen. I know where the buck actually does stop. So it is strangely encouraging to see a state that has declared war on science beginning to realize that yes, the truth does have consequences.

Science does not necessarily have all the answers, but it is the best that we know. The empirical method works, and our healthcare, transportation, and communication have all benefited enormously by it. Our way of life has grown easier because of our application of evolution and its ways to our understanding of microbes and the ways to hold off their attacks. Science has been warning us since I was a high schooler, over three decades ago, that our industrialization has been causing grave changes to our ecosystem. Unfortunately, those with money to make from it can simply afford to move to higher ground. Kansas is among the Great Plains states. It is wise to recognize that global warming threatens those who live close to the earth most of all.

The intolerance to science is not simply a religious reaction, as some would characterize it. Religion may be used in the interest of business. And any savvy entrepreneur knows, and exploits that fact. It matters not a jot or tittle if you evolved from a common ancestor with the apes, as long as you can climb, like King Kong, to the highest towers and look down on all the rest of humanity. The water from melting ice caps may be rising below, but the Great Ape need not worry. Until it becomes clear that without the little guys down below, even the top monkey is nobody.

NotInKansas