For those who bothered to watch last week's debate among Republican presidential contenders, there was a moment that seemed to define what is happening in America and its political life today. It was the moment Ron Paul was asked a hypothetical question about health care. "What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn't have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? Are you saying society should just let him die?" Wolf Blitzer asked, to which several audience members enthusiastically yelled, "Yeah!" while some in the audience cheered. This followed immediately upon the previous Republican debate in which Gov. Rick Perry was cheered for having executed over 200 people while governor of Texas.
Let me begin by saying I'm starting to really admire Ron Paul. He speaks honestly about issues to which other candidates only give poll-approved sound bite answers. He responded to the question by saying that communities and charitable groups should handle these issues, not government. I don't completely agree, but I'm impressed he didn't let himself be swayed by the audience response.
We live in an era in which people feel it's perfectly OK to get on TV and blame lesbians, gays and atheists for 9/11 or to publicly cheer the idea of letting our fellow citizens suffer and die because they had the misfortune of being born poor, or made a stupid mistake of judgment in thinking they were invincible and didn't need insurance, or got a devastating illness that used up all their insurance, life savings and home equity. And given how many people on death row have been freed due to evidence showing wrongful conviction, shouldn't we display at least some constraint in our joy at their death? What have we become as a nation when that kind of hateful expression barely rates third page coverage anywhere?
There's an old phrase from Shakespeare that goes something like this: "Methinks the lady doth protest too much." It's a phrase that plays over and over again in my mind when I hear conservative Christian right-wing groups blather and bleat about how we are a Christian nation that must be governed by Christian ethics and somehow find that compatible with cheering death. What Bible could they possibly be reading in which Christ scorns the sick and poor and demands proof of worth before feeding the crowd with loaves and fishes? If they have to keep telling us over and over again that we are such a "Christian" nation, doesn't that lead to at least some suspicion that we aren't really following the dictates of Christianity? Shouldn't it be so obvious that we don't have to proclaim it at every turn of the corner?
While I wholeheartedly agree that the government cannot provide all things to all people all the time, I shudder at the thought that I might one day find myself at the mercy of these supposed Christians. Dickens' England with workhouses and debtors' prisons is probably their idea of how to handle the problem. And quoting some harsh dictum from the Old Testament does not impress me since Christ supposedly came to earth to supplant the Old Testament with his words, which had a lot more to do with love and mercy.
We are entering a campaign season -- OK, maybe not entering it since it seemingly started three seconds after Obama was inaugurated -- and the possibility of our civic discourse falling even lower than it already has looms as a frightening possibility. If I remember my childhood religion lessons, being a true Christian means being one in tough, as well as easy, times. It means staying true to Christian virtues even when that means giving half of your only piece of bread to the beggar at the door. It means sharing when the sharing hurts, not just when you have so much you won't notice.
I honestly can't imagine Christ cheering at the thought of letting someone die because they didn't have health insurance. And since he ended his life as a wrongfully condemned man put to death, he might have a lot more sympathy for those on death row than some would like to believe.
Personally, I don't see Christ cheering death, meanness of spirit or hateful speech. People claiming to follow him shouldn't either.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and authoer of "Parallel Logic," her memoir of 28 years in Barrow.