I haven’t meant for this to be a forum for political discussion, so I’ve resisted the urge to post about health care reform. But not today.
The fact is that I can’t divorce my politics from my secular humanism. The latter indelibly informs the former. As a humanist, I’m outraged that we live in a country where millions are without access to affordable health care.
And such outrage is fundamental to any kind of humanism—religious or secular. If you care about human welfare and you’re not outraged about the state of the world (not just health care), you’re not paying attention.
Peter Finch’s monologue in the movie “Network” (1976) is among the most powerful expressions of this righteously indignant humanism. Today, as Congress votes on health care reform, this should be the Democrats’ rallying cry.
Now, humanists don’t have a monopoly on outrage. Health reform’s detractors can and have employed the same made-as-hell mantra—we’ve seen that displayed at the Tea Party protests. But what are they outraged about?
Taxes? This shouldn’t be a concern. The rich and the health industry will foot the bill; the vast majority of Americans won’t see any tax increases.
The deficit? The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will actually save $143 billion dollars over the next decade.
Abortion funding? Politifact reports that “under the Senate plan, people will be able to buy insurance that covers abortion on the new health insurance exchanges, as long as the insurance company pays for the services with patient premiums, not taxpayer subsidies.” Still, some want more explicit language in the bill precluding abortion funding. But abortion funding or no, there is evidence that universal health care reduces abortions.
These are all reasons why people may oppose the current bill, but I don’t think these reasons alone explain the vitriol we’ve seen from the right in recent months. Something baser is animating their anger.
Just yesterday, at a Capitol Hill anti-health reform rally, some Tea Partiers chanted “Kill the bill, nigger!” to black civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was also heckled by the crowd, which called him a “faggot” and “homo communist.”
I am particularly haunted by this incident, where protesters mock and scorn a Parkinson’s victim who support health care reform:
Yeah, these Tea Partiers are outraged all right, but it’s no expression of humanism. To the contrary, it’s anti-human. Too many of these people (though certainly not all) do not understand themselves are their brother’s keeper. They’re intoxicated by this libertarian notion of the self as something distinct from “the other.”
In short, their philosophy is me-oriented, not we-oriented. If health care reform doesn’t pass, I feel as though we are surrendering to that philosophy. And that terrifies me. The very prospect has literally brought me to tears as I write this (and that’s saying something, given how stoic and unemotional I usually am).
Secular humanists can afford to lose over issues like “under God” in the Pledge. Those are peripheral concerns. But health care reform is different; it’s a defining issue. I mean really, what better embodies humanist values: a godless Pledge, or a country that values humans enough to provide them with affordable health care?
We would do well as a club to remember that our mission is more than a destructive project (disabusing people a false beliefs), but a constructive one also: working for the betterment of humankind. And that’s why I’ve broken my silence about health care on this blog. Far be it from being unrelated to secular humanism, health care reform is instead one of its most profound affirmations.