Sunday, March 11, 2012

Obama the Apostate

The President and his bumbling HHS bureaucrats take on the impious Galileans.

During a recent conversation about the HHS anti-conscience mandate, a friend who is neither Catholic nor particularly religious asked the following rhetorical question about the Obama administration: Do these people know who they're messing with? Her point, of course, was that the Church has spent nearly two millennia crushing attempts by secular rulers to dictate the way it carries out its charitable ministries. Commanding Catholic hospitals to fund sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortifacients isn't like twisting the arm of some roundheel congressman. It's going to take more than the usual Chitown chicanery to cow a venerable and well-funded organization that has brought more than one emperor to his knees.

The Church's charitable work has been seen as a threat to the power of the state as far back as the reign of Julian the Apostate. Julian was the Roman Emperor who tried to drag his subjects back to the crumbling altars of the old state gods a half a century after his uncle, Constantine I, had legitimized Christianity by converting to the new faith. Julian's project didn't go well, and he complained in a letter to one of his high priests that the effort was failing because "the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well." What's an Emperor to do with opponents whose tactics include such dirty tricks as lending aid and comfort to all who need it, including people with religious and political views that differ from their own?

Julian tried to counter the effect of such "impious" tactics by restructuring the imperial administration in such a way that it could compete with the "Galileans" in good works and thereby erode the connection in the public consciousness between charity and the Church. In a move that eerily echoes the progressive vernacular of our own age, Julian issued the Tolerance Edict of 362. The purpose of this decree, like calls for tolerance from modern liberals, was precisely the opposite of its ostensible intent. It reprivileged the old pagan cults, rescinded religious freedoms recognized by Constantine and attempted to sow dissention among Christian ranks by reigniting long-resolved doctrinal controversies.

The Tolerance Edict and a variety of similar edicts flopped. And, after Julian's short reign ended, his successors gave up his pagan revival project as a bad job. But the meaning of Julian's failure has been lost on many subsequent rulers, and Barack Obama is among the slow learners who refuse to heed the lessons of history. The president, like Julian, wishes to "transform" his country into a place in which every aspect of the citizen's life is connected to and controlled by the state. He wants the federal government to be seen as the ultimate arbiter and provider of the electorate's needs. Obviously, however, this can't be managed while large and influential institutions like the Catholic Church and its charitable ministries remain in place.

And, where health care is concerned, Catholic institutions are definitely a force to be reckoned with. For example, they provide care to one in six patients treated in the United States every year. During 2010, America's more than 600 Catholic facilities treated well over 100 million patients, including 19 million emergency patients, and 5.5 million inpatients. And much of the care received by these patients was provided at a loss. Of the 5.5 million inpatients treated by these hospitals during 2010, 3.3 million were covered by Medicare or Medicaid, both of which pay less than the amount it costs to provide treatment. Of the 19 million emergency patients treated at Catholic hospitals, a large percentage paid nothing at all.

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