I have been thinking about the health care debate that has been raging in the US quite a bit recently. I have been a strong advocate for health care reform (specifically in the form of fully Socialized medicine in the US) from the first time the idea that our system could be improved crossed my mind. I believe everyone should have a decent shot at being able to live long, healthy lives, and that the idea of someone profiting from the misfortune of others should be abhorrent to anyone who considers themselves moral.
I cannot seem to wrap my head around those who are so desperate to block health care reform. I’m not talking about the “Teabaggers” (although they are postworthy in a different way) or the conservative-leaning who for one reason or another are afraid that health care reform will cause more abortions and a decrease in quality of care for the elderly. I am talking about the people at the top of the conservative/republican hierarchy who knowingly spread lies about what will be contained in the bill. Why on earth would someone want to tell elderly people that this bill will form “Death Panels” to decide whether or not they are worth treating? How can anyone with a conscience knowingly (and purposefully) incite such violent fear in so many people, especially people who are demographically much more likely to own guns?
While I suspect the people calling the shots in the conservative movement are all sitting in corporate board rooms in major companies trying to do for their industries what the aptly named Dick Cheney did for defense contracting, I cannot dismiss the role figureheads like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck have played in this nightmare-in-the-making. They have knowingly convinced a very large and under-educated demographic that liberals are out to kill them–all for personal gain (and in Glenn Beck’s case, I suspect there is a tinge of sadistic pleasure gained from watching the panic he causes).
What has really shocked me, however, has been the reaction of prominent religious leaders during this time, as well as during the 2008 presidential election. Wiley Drake, a conservative Christian pastor and second vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been calling upon his supporters to “pray Psalms 109” upon every congressman who voted in favor of the recent health care bill. For those unfamiliar with Psalms 109, the relevant section is as follows:
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.
8 May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
Now I can understand people being upset about the vote not going the way you think it should, but wishing death upon people for thinking differently than you do is insanity. Even though I disagree with Glenn Beck on basically everything I have ever heard him say, I would never advocate praying for his death. Once you start praying for someone to die, it may not be long before you are calling some criminal a hero for murdering that person.
So what can we do as atheists or open-minded theists to defuse this dangerous situation? Whether you were for or against the passage of the bill, it is in your best interest to prevent further escalation of this potentially violent situation. I think the first step in finding a solution is education. When it all comes down, there is a chance that this bill will fail to improve our current health care system, but you will be hard pressed to find anyone reasonable who is familiar with the bill who honestly thinks the bill will form “Death Panels” or cause rationing of health care services. Honesty about the possible outcomes of the bill will do far more to calm the fears of the people than anything else. Unfortunately, some of the people who are most afraid of this bill are also “immune to education” due to willful isolation from people with opposing viewpoints. I’m not exactly sure what to do to reach these people. While I think finding a way to bring accountability to the media would be a step in the right direction, how can one regulate the propagation of false claims without opening the door to censoring unpopular (but verifiable) claims? It is a difficult question to which I don’t have a good answer. What steps do you think could be taken to help calm this situation?