Moral cataracts

Jesus wasn't a gusher. His love for suffering people was surpassing, and his grasp of suffering's causes unwavering, but he retains calm, we might even say rational demeanor. Only once is he said to cry. His emotions weren't presumably lacking but they are wrapped within a larger, clear-headed consciousness. He is no "bleeding heart" in the popular sense.

Contrast that with the modern tendency to label such advocacy as a sign of emotional altruism run amok. It's deemed the soft approach which leads to dependency on government assistance and immaturity. Those who raise such charges usually do so in the name of the preferential option for the objective. Social and economic prosperity ride on the shoulders of hard, impersonal facts.

The high-stakes assault on Obamacare, -- universal health care in general -- is led by Republican forces that  have erased a human face from their calculations. They conjure bundles of fiscal facts and figures and formulas on a metaphorical spread sheet to argue in favor of a substitute that will improve the system by first kicking 24 million people out of their current insurance. In all the bluster and rationale effused to defend this scheme, I see no human faces or hear anything close to a single cry of the poor. 

It is a picture of unbearable callousness. Moral cataracts have so clouded the vision of ideologues who are cramped by greed that human need disappears behind a blur of furious striving.

What does it take to recover or strengthen that vision and that sense of responsibility for the welfare of those who fully share moral life. Catholics, Protestant, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus espouse social justice that begins with assumptions about equal worth. Catholic social teaching asserts that being Christian means doing everything necessary to affirm that equal dignity. Everyone, EVERYONE, has a RIGHT to food, housing, schooling, health care and protection. Yet pursuers of the faceless demolition of basic health insurance come from those religious backgrounds, most visibly its champion, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

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It's appalling to witness such raw blindness toward the real needs of so many real people, but the causes have long been in place. Most churches, though not everyone within them, have capitulated to a free market principle that places human beings at the disposal of systems designed from models that benefit the privileged. Neo-liberalism, as it's called, pretended to aid the common good by cutting the slats out from under poor and disadvantaged people, all in the name of objective laws that punish the "losers." American Christians in particular have largely bought the justification for free market capitalism's winner-loser outcomes during most of the days of the Republic. Christianity has offered no real alternative or critique on any large scale. Churches have allowed the cataracts to thicken by lending approval, much of it silent, to the conclusion that the those at the bottom of the economic ladder have only themselves to blame, that economic privilege implies moral superiority. And leave it at that. That makes the latest blindness possible.

The first rule of the oppressor, as history has tried to teach us, is to dehumanize the victims and certify their inferiority on moral and behavior grounds. Accordingly white slave-holders demeaned African-Americans, Nazis lithe Jews, Spanish conquerors the Mayans, etc. Republicans plugging their substitute belong in that glare, unwilling or unable to see the millions of fellow citizens as being deserving of the care they get for themselves. It is a act of moral condescension.

Followers of religious traditions have protested but no full scale effort has been made by religious groups to stop this new effort at massive deprivation. What appears in their own teachings to be rather transparent suddenly becomes too complicated, to ambiguous, too nuanced to warrant a clear stand. But there can be moments of revelation.

One astounding example was in June,1954, when Joseph Welch, the lead attorney for the U.S. Army, faced Sen. Joseph McCarthy's red-baiting committee bent on identifying communists in the U.S. government. Welch was defending Army personnel accused, in effect, of being traitors. McCarthy had carried on these barbarous attacks by caricaturing those he accused and denouncing them without even feigning interest in their testimony. Welch was crafty and sagacious and smartly deflected case after case but matters got stuck when McCarthy targeted a young man who was a lawyer in Welch's law firm, someone Welch had special reason to belief was guilty of no such accusation.

The tensions built as McCarthy kept repeating his invective with no regard for his actual biography. That roused what became a legendary retort from Welch. "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or your recklessness," Welch calmly said. "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?"

That single retort effectively destroyed McCarthy's crusade. It was an early form of laser surgery to clean the lens of moral fog.  


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