If we remove the millenia of fine print of the literature of the world’s great religions (much of it wonderful, some of it confusing, and lots of it needing to be put into its historic context and away from its literal interpretations), we can condense their message down to two simple but not easy imperatives, to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, which includes being grateful for all of creation and appreciative of its wonders- and to treat your neighbor as yourself. Agnostics and atheists, while not inclined to use the word God, too share our awe of the natural world and its blessings and feel the same sense of moral and social calling to improve the plight of the less fortunate.
It’s one of the very best impulses of being human, to reach out to those in need of help. Certainly the other human tendency, which we have seen at work tirelessly over the last year of health care debates, is fear. If we have to give money to cover those who cannot afford it, we’ll have less, perhaps we will have to sacrifice and perhaps the sacrifice will be too great for us. Then comes the idea that most of “these people” are just wanting a hand out, “never worked a day in the life” and unfortunately, there are many out there (friends of mine) who believe this.
Even while the statistics do not bear them out. A study done in 2000 by the Progressive Policy Institute stated that 2.1% of the population was on welfare at that time. Today, in 2009, that number is 11.3%. This number is a clear indication of our recession and our economy. Looking at the 2000 percentage, if there is work, people will do it. This notion of being taken for a ride by “those on the dole” really comes down to a fear based outlook on life and not one of faith.
It is certainly not tied to any of our spiritual values or a sense of community or service. As an example, last year, the Christian Science Monitor ran an item on foreign correspondent Walter Rodgers. He had spent several decades in countries that have national health insurance. Once his family was involved in a car accident in Great Britain and his son spent six weeks in a hospital with a badly broken leg. Although Rodgers wasn’t actually living in the country at the time, all the bills were paid by the British National Insurance System. The hospital charged him only$35.- for a crutch his son needed to hobble aboard a plane.
This is charity that extends beyond the border of you and your immediate circle of loved ones. This is the altruism that makes for a kinder, gentler world. The kind of Kingdom here on earth that many go to church to proclaim, but don’t see the irony between their proclamations and their deeds. In the gospel of Luke, there is a passage which states, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” We here, in the United States, have been given so much. In that, lies responsibility. Responsibility to our neighbors and our fellow citizens.
I often hear that expression “There but for the grace of God, go I” for a number of reasons and situations. I myself have thought it, while walking by a homeless woman in the city, obviously in the throes of mental illness. None of us are immune. The story of the health care given to a guest of Great Britain, reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you saw a person struck by a car stuck in a ditch at the side of the road, would you ask: “Are you an American or just visiting, are you an illegal immigrant, do you have health coverage?” Or would you just want to help? We should let compassion and human values be our guide. To be truly proud to be a citizen of the United States of America, we need to know that The United States is actually acting on the words of liberty and justice for all.
Book of the Day: Any Bible, “Gospel of Luke”, Chapter 10, verses 25-37
Going over to a man left beaten on the side of the road by bandits, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, “Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.” Jesus said that this Samaritan was truly a neighbor to this man, for he was the one who showed him mercy.