Archive for July, 2017

Medicaid is in the Constitution

Posted on July 20, 2017. Filed under: Politics, Truth v. Myth, U.S. Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

That’s a bold statement, and it’s inaccurate in the sense that if you read our Constitution you won’t find the word “Medicaid” in it. Medicaid is a federal program created in 1965 as part of a series of amendments to the Social Security Act of 1935. Here’s a quick, neutral definition of Medicaid from Wikipedia:

“Under the program, the federal government provides matching funds to states to enable them to provide medical assistance to residents who meet certain eligibility requirements. The objective is to help states provide medical assistance to residents whose incomes and resources are insufficient to meet the costs of necessary medical services. Medicaid serves as the nation’s primary source of health insurance coverage for low-income populations.

States are not required to participate. Those that do must comply with federal Medicaid laws under which each participating state administers its own Medicaid program, establishes eligibility standards, determines the scope and types of services it will cover, and sets the rate of payment. Benefits vary from state to state, and because someone qualifies for Medicaid in one state, it does not mean they will qualify in another.”

Millions of Americans rely on Medicaid (and the related Medicare) for medical care. All of them are poor–officially living below the poverty threshold as defined by the federal government. In 2017, for instance, the poverty threshold for a household of four people is $32,300. Most Americans who receive Medicaid are elderly. Many are disabled, many are veterans, many are children.

Medicaid, then, is a federal safety net like Social Security that is meant to maintain a basic standard of living for the poorest, oldest, and youngest Americans.

When the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) was passed, it required Americans to have health insurance. If someone lives below the poverty line, Medicaid pays for that insurance. To make this happen, the federal government offered all states more money for Medicaid.

18 states, all but two with Republican governors or legislatures, refused to take this extra funding for Medicaid. Some representatives of these states claimed they wanted to draft their own Medicaid “reform” legislation; others, like Maine’s governor LePage, claimed it was just an attempt by the Democratic party to create a “massive increase in welfare expansion.”

That word—“welfare”—has become a charged word in the U.S. Like “liberal”, which means “generous”, welfare is a positive word that has been given a negative meaning by its opponents. “Welfare” means “the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person [or] group”. You can see its English root pretty clearly: “fare” means “to experience good or bad fortune”; if you fare well, that’s good. Then you have welfare. We maintain this understanding when we tell people “farewell” when they leave on a trip. We want to wish them a good experience, safety, and happiness.

But conservatives who oppose any government spending on social safety nets turned our federal welfare system into a whipping boy in the 1980s, under President Reagan. The infamous “welfare queen” Reagan wowed audiences with—a woman who supposedly bilked the federal system to the tune of $150,00 a year—was used by conservatives to damn the program. They said people on welfare were lazy (code word for “black”), and that all hard-working, middle-class Americans (code words for “white”) were paying to support these people who laid around eating candy and watching TV all day. Why should they go get jobs? They were living the good life on our dime. If we got rid of welfare (shorthand for all federal safety net program, from food stamps to subsidized school lunches to Head Start), the conservatives said, all of those people would have to go out and get jobs, and we’d all be better off.

To help make this happen, Reagan’s administrations cut funding to the programs, and subsequent Republican lawmakers and presidents continued this trend. They also began cutting taxes sharply under George W. Bush. With less money coming into the federal government, less money could go to states to support programs like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps). States began to cut services, often by making the poverty threshold lower and lower.

These cuts in funding exacerbated the problems of the poor who depended on them. They also coincided with stagnating incomes, a stubbornly low minimum wage, and a forced shift of workers to part-time employment by companies that did not want to pay full-time wages or offer full-time benefits to make the traditionally poor even poorer, and to move working people who used to make enough money to live on into the poverty range, where they need federal assistance.

Despite the fact that “the poor” includes white people, people who are working, children, veterans, and elderly people who worked all their lives, conservatives today continue to slam “welfare” as a trap set by devious immigrants, blacks, and criminals to trick honorable working white people into giving away their money.

Welfare. Despite all of this recent effort to make it a bad word and an even worse idea, welfare actually is in the Constitution. Let’s revisit that famous Preamble (and sing it in our heads to the Schoolhouse Rock melody):

We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

“Promote the general Welfare”: that’s written into the fabric of our national identity, the purpose of our nation. One of our fundamental reasons for being is to ensure that every American has the full opportunity to experience the Blessings of Liberty. This is an idea that was first expressed by English settlers in 1630, when Puritan John Winthrop said, in what we call the “City on a Hill” speech,

…we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly Affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, we must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality, we must delight in each other, make others Conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our Commission and Community in the work, our Community as members of the same body, so shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his own people and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways…

As we note in our original post, this is a beautiful passage, reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount in its focus on mercy, kindness, sharing, and other selfless qualities. The Puritans will not succeed by harrying out the sinner or otherwise smiting evil, but by loving each other, caring for each other, and “abridging our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities” (that is, there will be equality of wealth, with no one living in luxury while others starve). They will delight in each other,  making others’ conditions their own, and they will do all this to create a natural community of faith.

That’s what America was still dedicated to in 1787 when the Constitution was written and ratified by popular vote. We dedicated ourselves to giving some of our own wealth to provide for others. We dedicated ourselves to “liberality”, meaning generosity. We dedicated ourselves to Community, to seeing ourselves as members of the same body, living in a unity of spirit.

In short, we committed ourselves to the “general Welfare”, as the Constitution says. Americans must remember this in an age where we are urged to believe that “rugged individualism” is our true creed, and urged to say “no one helped me so why should I help anyone else?” and “I take care of my own.” Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized school breakfasts and lunches, Social Security, and everything else slighted now as “welfare” are really avenues toward establishing and maintaining the general Welfare our Founders envisioned. No nation is rich if it refuses to create equality of opportunity for all its citizens. No nation ends poverty claiming it is a trick played on the nation by the poor. No nation but the United States made generosity a cornerstone of its political outlook and purpose. Let’s remember that, and live up to our own creed.

 

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Anne Bradstreet, atheist

Posted on July 10, 2017. Filed under: 17th century America, Puritans | Tags: , , , , , |

One thing most people believe about the Puritans is that they never doubted the existence of God. But almost any spiritual autobiography you read, from Governor John Winthrop to minister Thomas Shepard to any number of the average people whose names you don’t know who recorded their stories of spiritual seeking, includes a passage–or two–wherein they seriously question whether there is a God.

Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet was no different. In her letter “To my dear children”, the famous first poet of English America, who verses are too often taught today as the ponderous and unquestioning martyred submission of the human will to God’s harsh law and punishment, speaks openly about her doubts:

Many times hath Satan troubled me concerning the verity of the Scriptures, many times by atheism how I could know whether there was a God; I never saw any miracles to confirm me, and those which I read of, how did I know but they were feigned?

—Bradstreet sometimes doubts that the Bible is really the word of God. She’s never seen a miracle, she’s only read about them in the Bible. If they are real, why hasn’t anyone she knows ever seen a miracle? Is the Bible lying?

That there is a God my reason would soon tell me by the wondrous works that I see, the vast frame of the heaven and the earth, the order of all things, night and day, summer and winter, spring and autumn, the day providing for this great household upon the earth, the preserving and directing of all to its proper end. The consideration of these things would with amazement certainly resolve me that there is an Eternal Being.

—Bradstreet seems to switch gears, but she is still pursuing the question of whether there is a God. If the Bible is not really God’s word, how does she know there is a God? By looking at the grandeur and mystery of nature—a common theme in Protestantism (as compared with Catholicism, which denigrated the physical world as utterly fallen and sinful). Bradstreet says what Protestants in America have said for centuries since: look at the wonder of nature and the universe, and know there is a God.

But how should I know He is such a God as I worship in Trinity, and such a Saviour as I rely upon?

—Okay, so there’s a God that created the universe. How does Bradstreet know that our human definition of God, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is the right one? How can the God who creates the infinitely unknowable universe be so well and easily known? There could be a God who does not care about humans, who has no tie to humanity at all other than creating them. No salvation, no sin, no nothing. Maybe God is real but religion is a man-made myth.

Though this hath thousands of times been suggested to me, yet God hath helped me over. I have argued thus with myself. That there is a God, I see. If ever this God hath revealed himself, it must be in His word, and this must be it or none. Have I not found that operation by it that no human invention can work upon the soul, hath not judgments befallen diverse who have scorned and contemned it, hath it not been preserved through all ages [despite] all the heathen tyrants and all of the enemies who have opposed it? Is there any story but that high shows the beginnings of times, and how the word came to be as we see? Do we not know the prophecies in it fulfilled which could not have been so long foretold by any but God Himself?

—Now we circle back to the original question about the Bible’s authenticity: there is a God, and his most clear revelation of himself is not in unknowable, unreachable nature/the universe, but in his readable, understandable Word. And look at what she has seen with her own eyes: the Bible’s “operation” works on the soul like no “human invention” can—people who search the Bible find messages that change them fundamentally and permanently. People who scoff at the Bible are brought down, and it has endured for centuries despite efforts to oppose it. It brings even the creation of the universe and the Earth down to human scale, describing God’s creation in an understandable way.

When I have got over this block, then have I another put in my way, that admit this be true God whom we worship, and that be his word, yet why many not the Popish religion be the right? They have the same God, the same Christ, the same word. They only interpret it one way, we another.

—It’s remarkable that, like so many of her fellow Puritans, Bradstreet experiences resilient, intelligent, long-term doubt. Her doubts about God are not easily resolved. The famous minister Thomas Shepard had the same doubt about Protestantism itself, the cause which he and Bradstreet and all the Puritans gave up everything and suffered greatly to support and defend. What’s so wrong with Catholicism? Don’t they worship the same God and read the same Bible? Wasn’t the Catholic church *the* Christian church for centuries? If it was wrong all that time, then isn’t the Bible it condoned and the Christ it worshipped also wrong?

This hath sometimes stuck with me, and more it would, but the vain fooleries that are in their religion together with their lying miracles and cruel persecutions of the saints, which admit were they as they term they, yet not so to be dealt with withal.

The consideration of these things and many the like would soon turn me to my own religion again.

—It’s only the “vain fooleries” of Catholicism that remind Bradstreet that Catholicism is not valid. It took a real God and his real Word and bastardized both, turning to worship of the saints and “lying” miracles to support it, and persecuting people who worshipped more purely.

But some new troubles I have had since the world has been filled with blasphemy and sectaries, and some who have been accounted sincere Christians have been carried away with them, that sometimes I have said, “Is there faith upon the earth?” and I have not know what to think; but then I have remembered the words of Christ that so it must be, and if it were possible, the very elect should be deceived. “Behold,” saith our Savior, “I have told you before.” That hath stayed my heart, and I can now say, “Return, O my Soul, to thy rest, upon this rock Christ Jesus will I build my faith, and if I perish, I perish”; bit I know all the Powers of Hell shall never prevail against it. I know whom I have trusted, and whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep that I have committed to His charge.

—Still the doubt endures. Bradstreet, like so many Americans who came after her, looks at religion and society and sees both perverted by “blasphemy and sectaries”—that is, people who say they are good Christians support radical religious sects that make a mockery of God’s word and lead people into sin. This leads Bradstreet to wonder if anyone really believes in God at all, or just their own selfish and dangerous desires and prejudices.

But she recalls that the Bible says that in the end times, this is exactly what will and must happen in order to bring about Christ’s return. The whole world has to go to pot for Christ to be able to return and restore order (for a while). This “stays” her heart, and leads Bradstreet to say that she will cling to Christ and her religion as best she can, and if that means she dies in the run-up to the apocalypse, destroyed by fake Christians, so be it. She will be redeemed in Heaven, as He is able to keep that which she has committed (her soul and trust) to His charge.

This section on atheism consists of about half of Bradstreet’s letter to her children, which means it was not thrown in as a token “Oh, I had some token doubts but it wasn’t serious—it’s so clear that there’s a God and that we understand him properly!” For Bradstreet, as for many Puritans, atheism was a reoccurring option. It makes sense, as these were people who valued logic and debate and intellect—they had an active interest in the fledgling Scientific Revolution building throughout the 17th century, and were some of the first English Americans to try to create a rational basis for religion. They were loathe to simply “believe”, and we see this in the conversion narratives of very average people—farmers, servants, housewives—where they describe their constant rational questioning of spiritual experience, always asking themselves, “How do I know that this spiritual experience I had was really from God, really an evidence of God, and not something I constructed out of my own will, desire, and imagination?”

The Puritans repay objective study, as they were deeply engaged with questions that continue to exercise our modern minds.

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