Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Plague On Both Your Houses

Three weeks ago, I wrote about the silliness of the U.S. Catholic bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign. Today, I get to write about the equally ridiculous efforts of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who placed a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times proclaiming "It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church."

I'm not sure what bothered me more, the arrogance or the ignorance of the FFRF ad. They seemed so enchanted by their nontheist viewpoint, that it did not occur to them that even "liberal" and "nominal" Catholics see themselves as belonging to something grander than a political club. It was an overly condescending way to conduct outreach to "wayward" religious practitioners, especially their failure to use words like "God" or "faith" even once. But maybe they don't care if their ad falls on deaf ears.

Perhaps it is all just political theater: the "Fortnight," the ad, the lawsuits, the "war on women." I can't help but wonder if the Notre Dame lawsuit is the obligatory mea culpa for allowing President Obama to give their commencement address in 2009. It's all so silly, except that it's not. As David Lazarus wrote three months ago in the L.A. Times, "Healthcare reform isn't an abstract legal issue. It isn't a political game. It's a very real concern for millions of Americans, in some cases a life-or-death matter."

We play the games because that is easier than the truth. We should have celebrated a Fortnight for Universal Health Care and placed ads demanding that we quit for-profit medicine, but god forbid we place humanity above the almighty dollar. That would be dirty European socialism! So instead, we bandage up the system, and the insurance companies laugh all the way to the bank. Why? Because the default American attitude is "Me, Not We." That was the answer offered nearly five years ago in a Commonweal article by Gordon Marino about "what ails our health-care system."
We Americans adore terms like “personal dreams” and “freedom.” Though we don’t often explore what we might mean by freedom, it seems that, for us, being free mainly amounts to having disposable income and the freedom to spend it. We don’t seem overly concerned about, say, being free from the painful idea that our brothers and sisters might be sick or have sick children they can’t afford to care for. Europeans have had plenty of chances to vote down universal health care. They don’t because they would rather do with a little less in their pockets than be haunted by the idea of their fellow citizens being sick and without access to medical care. The doctor will tell you that it is better to know what ails you than to be in the dark, better to know ourselves than to kid ourselves. And the truth about ourselves is that whatever our other virtues, we as a people are not overly empathetic.
Now that's an ugly truth!