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I was trying to locate some of the 0ld warnings about mixing religion and politics. So I searched for “God not Republican”.  I was informed, however, that that “Campaign [is] Unavailable.” The “alert has expired.” Fuggedaboutit. Drop it. The crisis is inoperative.

[caption id=”attachment_373” align=”alignnone” width=”300” caption=”The Alert has expired!”]The Alert has expired![/caption]

On further thought, I realized: boy, that’s a relief. Another fearsome enemy of democracy and the American way has  been vanquished.  The dark clouds of the Bush theocracy that were about to terminally overshadow our freedoms forever have dissipated in the bright light of Obama’s smile.

Alas, just when I thought as a believer that it was safe to let politics be politics and God be God, the claim that God does take political sides reasserts itself: Oliver Reed disingenously asks the question: “Would God back universal health care?” What? You expect Rev. Reed (also, according to the credits, trained as a lawyer) to answer “No”?

His ethical-theological method is brilliant. He observes that Maimonides “listed health care first on his list of services that a city should offer its residents.” Well, our failure to follow that standard certainly accounts for the dozen large hospitals in a 30-mile radius, including a teaching hospital affliated with a state university, with multiple branches and a seemingly continuous building program. No doubt Maimonides also outlined the tax policy which would provide for all those buildings and the services within them.

He says “the Holy Quran contains multiple admonitions to attend to the needy,” but doesn’t quote any of them. (His only quotation is from one of Muhammad’s “sayings,” i.e., a Hadith.) So let me rectify his failure with a more-or-less random selection:

002.043 And be steadfast in prayer; practise regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship).

002.177 It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.

057.007 Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend (in charity) out of the (substance) whereof He has made you heirs. For, those of you who believe and spend (in charity),- for them is a great Reward.

107.001 - .007 Seest thou one who denies the Judgment (to come)? Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness), And encourages not the feeding of the indigent. So woe to the worshippers Who are neglectful of their prayers, Those who (want but) to be seen (of men), But refuse (to supply) (even) neighbourly needs.

How can one ignore the clear call for universal health care in those teachings?

But the exegetical tour de force is his commentary on the familiar parable of the “good Samaritan,” who helps a wounded traveler lying by the road. Did you know Jesus is here providing deep, perspicuous guidance about “health care”? Silly me. After a whole  life-time of hearing sermons on that text, I had always thought that it was Jesus’ midrash on the question of the second of the two arch-commands:  love your neighbor as yourself.

To be sure, on re-reading the text, maybe the preachers were wrong. The questioner, who is identified as “lawyer” (ESV) recognizes that to gain “eternal life,” olam ha-ba, the age or world to come, he must follow the two great commandments. But he’s a lawyer. The requirements must be precisely defined. “Who is my neighbor”? It is here that the preachers seem to lose track of Jesus’ response. Jesus does not answer the lawyer’s question. I love myself, yes indeed, the lawyer implicitly acknowledges; now explain who is the “one-I-must-love-as-myself”?

Jesus tells the familiar story of the traveler who is robbed by brigands and left for dead by the roadside.  First a priest passes by, and then a Levite. Both carefully avoid the victim (out-of-sight, out-of-mind). Then the “good Samaritan” comes. He observes, he stops, he gives aid, even to the point of purchasing the services of a local innkeeper to provide hospital care.

Last I read the text, it doesn’t report that the innkeeper billed the Judahite Health Services Compensation Board, but no doubt some editor subtracted that detail, as detracting from the moral heroism of the Samaritan.

There is, however, another point to be observed. Jesus’ account does not define (remember, this is a legal discussion) the neighbor as the one who was helped. The neighbor is the one who helps. This neatly inverts the discussion. It is no longer: how do I recognize the one-I-must-love-as-myself? This, of course, would be a standard application of the golden rule: if you were lying on the road beaten, you would want to be helped; so likewise help a person in similar circumstances.

Jesus’ conclusion subverts this assumption: “Which ... proved to be a neighbor...?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” ... “You go, and do likewise.” One wonders if the lawyer walked away, pondering Jesus’ halakhic jujitsu, trying to figure out how he could use the technique in his next debate. For the neighbor is not “the other,” as we say in modern postmodern discourse. There is no “other.” Jesus deconstructed the halakhic pursuit of the question, how do I define the one to whom I am obligated.

This then means that in Jesus’ teachings at least, there is no halakhic definition of neighbor. I am the neighbor. There is no possible equation between the love I give myself, and the love I give my neighbor, whoever he may be. There is no equation, because there is only one term. There is the pure positive command: “I must love.”

How does one command love? In the Christian mind-world of Paul, love needs no law, since love fulfills every command of the law. He also tells us that there is no law governing (kata ton toiouton ouk estin nomos) love and its spiritual complements, joy, peace, and so on.

I’m sure hidden somewhere in Paul’s teachings on the “fruit of the Spirit,” there lies the implication that we are obligated to pay for our neighbors’ happiness pills.



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