There was once a prophet named Jeremiah. He was known as the “weeping prophet.” Jeremiah wept because he clearly saw that his nation was about to fall to the Babylonian Empire.
The Babylonians were ruthless. Before they infiltrated Jerusalem, Jeremiah’s beloved city, the Babylonians starved the inhabitants for months. After they tore down the city walls, the Babylonians demolished the Temple, the royal palace, and burned down the city. They sent most of the survivors into exile throughout the Babylonian Empire. Then they captured the Jerusalem’s king, and before his very eyes, the Babylonians killed the king’s sons, then they tore the king’s eyes out.
The Babylonian conquest created a crisis for Jeremiah and his people. Much of the Bible is written in response to this religious and political crisis. After all, God had promised that there would always be a descendent of David on the Jerusalem throne. Because of the Babylonian conquest, not only were there no more Davidic kings, there was no more Jerusalem.
Why did this happen? Some people claim that Jerusalem fell because the people began worshipping other gods. Indeed, idolatry is presented as a reason for the destruction of Jerusalem, but to emphasize idolatry is to miss the whole picture.
Jeremiah connects idolatry to social justice. Jerusalem fell because the political rulers neglected to care for the weak, poor, and vulnerable. He sent a scroll of his writings to the king, who promptly burned Jeremiah’s message in his fireplace.
The king was rankled by statements like,
Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, they do not defend the rights of the needy.
Jeremiah warned that if the nation didn’t change its ways that it would fall to the Babylonians. But no one heeded his warning. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his book The Prophets, Jeremiah “called, he urged his people to repent—and he failed. He screamed, wept, moaned—and was left with terror in his soul” (134).
Terror in the Soul of the United States
Jeremiah was left with terror in his soul because he knew that the nation would fall because the rulers and the wealthy failed to care for those in need. According to the prophets, idolatry is connected to a refusal to care for anyone in need. And God has created the world so that if the nation failed to care for the needy, the nation would fall.
God’s prophetic message to Israel has a timeless quality. It’s based on the prophetic insight that we are all connected. René Girard, a 20th century prophet, said that we are not individuals. Rather, we are inter-dividuals. Human desire, indeed, human existence, is interconnected. We depend upon one another for identity, food, shelter, work, recreation, and, yes, even health care.
The health care debate is being framed in a particular way. The GOP’s health care plan is framed by the media, democrats, and even Donald Trump along with a few other Republicans as “mean.” Democrats are even quoting Trump, something they are often loathe to do, when it comes to this “mean” health care bill.
But is the health care bill “mean” to poor people? In a now infamous interview with Fox News, Tucker Carlson took Paul Ryan to task for the bill’s treatment of the poor. Paul Ryan defended the bill by stating the Republicans promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because it stifled economic growth. For Ryan, better economic growth is one way to achieve better health care.
That’s when Carlson claimed that, “all of the wealth in the last ten years has stuck to the top end. That’s one of the reasons we’ve had all this political turmoil, as you know. So, it’s kind of a hard sell when you say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to repeal Obamacare, but we’re going to send more money to the people who have already gotten the richest over the last ten years. I mean, that’s what this does, no? I’m not leftist; it’s just that’s true.”
Ryan responded by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I’m not that concerned about it because we said we’re going to repeal all the Obamacare taxes and this is one of the Obamacare taxes.”
As Tucker Carlson pointed out, there has been economic growth in the US during the last few years, but it’s all gone to the top. Interestingly, the Paul Ryan wouldn’t describe this bill as “mean.” Rather, Ryan and his friends position their argument with one word: Freedom.
Taxes, Freedom, and Responsibility
The GOP plan is based on freedom. The LA Times states that this freedom is, “most of all, freedom from the tyrannical individual mandate.” The Obamacare mandate is officially a tax, according to the Supreme Court. So, Republicans who want to repeal Obamacare are doing so in the name of freedom from a tax that they don’t like. They want to free up taxes so that the wealthy can get … more wealth.
Now, “freedom” and “wealth” are relative states of being. As a white, heterosexual, upper middle-class male, I’m one of the most free and wealthy individuals who has ever lived on this planet. And yet, I’m not free to determine where my taxes go. I hate that my taxes support a war machine that has seen “a massive increase in civilian causalities at the hands of the US military or US allies” in the last few months. I do not have the freedom to stop paying taxes for a counter-productive war that is only creating more enemies and an endless cycle of mimetically escalating violence.
Confronting the Greatest Terror Threat Facing the United States?
We’re told that we need to fight these wars to keep us safe from ISIS. But do you know the odds of an American being killed by a foreign-born terrorist attack since 9/11? It’s 1 in 45,808. In fact, since 9/11, “Six Americans have died at the hands of, guns, and bombs of Islamic terrorists (foreign and domestic.)”
Let’s turn back to health care and protecting Americans. One in seven Americans will die from heart disease and cancer. If my taxes are going to be used to help keep Americans safe, I want them to go to health care. I would love the freedom to choose.
But here’s the tricky thing about freedom. Freedom is always connected to responsibility. The ancient prophets always pointed to this fact – with freedom, and with wealth, comes responsibility. Since we are interconnected, we have responsibility to care for one another, but especially for the weak, poor, and those in need.
It’s the government’s job to protect its citizens. The question is, what is the greatest terror threat facing the United States? It isn’t ISIS or Islamofascism or al-Qaeda. Not even close. The greatest threats Americans face are diseases. And the most vulnerable are the poor. We should work for freedom, but we should also stand in line with the prophets, who said we have a responsibility to care for the vulnerable. God cares for all people, but especially for those on the margins. And we need to take the responsibility to do the same.
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