Wednesday, April 21, 2010


On Facebook a friend of mine recently lamented how people rely too much on publica health care, without taking their own health in their hands. He notes that his complaint it not just a spectator's griping, but a sort of testimony from his own experience. In the past few years he has shed 40 pounds and become a fairly competitive long-distance runner. The problem he's lamenting is what I call "healthcaritis". Healthcaritis disproportionately afflicts citizens with socialized health care. If you know the government picks up most of the tab, it's awfully tempting to go see the doctor for the slightest discomfort. Nothing better do on hot summer days? Go visit a clinic, enjoy the AC, and walk away with cheap, new meds!

I was reading a little of Zhuangzi last night and his chapter on "Mastering Life" (達生) struck me as an oblique echo of the "healthcaritis" worries had by my friend. The title of this post is 悲夫! (beifu2), which means, "A pity, no?" or "Alas!" or "Isn't it sad?" (夫 is read as fu2 in 文言文 and is akin to 岂 qi3 or 吧 ba, all of which signal a rhetorical question or an implicit affirmation.) I will cite the Chinese Text Project's (CTP) edition of Zhuangzi (which translates 達生 as "The Full Understanding of Life"):


He who understands the conditions of Life does not strive after what is of no use to life; and he who understands the conditions of Destiny does not strive after what is beyond the reach of knowledge. In nourishing the body it is necessary to have beforehand the things (appropriate to its support); but there are cases where there is a superabundance of such things, and yet the body is not nourished.

"物有餘而形不養者有之矣 (There are cases where there is a superabundance of such things, and yet the body is not nourished)。" The most medically well groomed people can sometimes be the least healthy. A strange truth, but there it is. If "visiting the doctor" and "taking medicine" were enough for "good health," then medicine should have put itself out of business long ago. 悲夫! To continue citing Zhuangzi: 


In order to have life it is necessary that it do not have left the body; but there are cases when the body has not been left by it, and yet the life has perished. When life comes, it cannot be declined; when it goes, it cannot be detained. Alas! the men of the world think that to nourish the body is sufficient to preserve life; and when such nourishment is not sufficient to preserve the life, what can be done in the world that will be sufficient? Though (all that men can do) will be insufficient, yet there are things which they feel they ought to do, and they do not try to avoid doing them.

Reading further, what catches my eye most are words following the above citation:

悲夫!世之人以為養形足以存生,而養形果不足以存生,則世奚足為哉!雖不足為而不可不為者,其為不免矣。 夫欲免為形者,莫如棄世。棄世則無累,無累則正平,正平則與彼更生,更生則幾矣。

Here is a translation of this excerpt by Burton Watson (c/o

How pitiful the men of the world, who think that simply nourishing the body is enough to preserve life! But if nourishing the body is in the end not enough to preserve life, then why is what the world does worth doing? It may not be worth doing, and yet it cannot be left undone - this is unavoidable. He who wants to avoid doing anything for his body had best abandon the world. By abandoning the world, he can be without entanglements. Being without entanglements, he can be upright and calm. Being upright and calm, he can be born again with others. Being born again, he can come close [to the Way].

Here it is from the CTP:

Alas! the men of the world think that to nourish the body is sufficient to preserve life; and when such nourishment is not sufficient to preserve the life, what can be done in the world that will be sufficient? Though (all that men can do) will be insufficient, yet there are things which they feel they ought to do, and they do not try to avoid doing them. For those who wish to avoid caring for the body, their best plan is to abandon the world. Abandoning the world, they are free from its entanglements. Free from its entanglements, their (minds) are correct and their (temperament) is equable. Thus correct and equable, they succeed in securing a renewal of life, as some have done. In securing a renewal of life, they are not far from the True (Secret of their being).

Feeling old? Feeling tired? That's your body saying, "What have you done for me lately?" But as Zhuangzi reminds us, it is equally important to ask oneself if one is feeling cynical, or beset with anxiety. That's your soul saying, "What have you done for the Good One lately?" To touch the Way, the very Secret of one's own Being. Is there anything more noble, and yet more challening? Readers of FCA may have noticed that one of the quotations at the top of the page is from St. Irenaeus, "For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God." I suspect Zhuangzi would agree.


D.J. Skull-Fog said...

"Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood." Pope John XXIII

"The expenses involved in health care, especially in the case of accidents at work, demand that medical assistance should be easily available for workers, and that as far as possible it should be cheap or even free of charge." Pope John Paul II

"Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance" Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Codgitator said...

I eagerly await your confirmation in the Church!

My point is not against socialized health care as such. I am leery of Obamacare on pragmatic, longterm grounds and against socialized health care if it federalizes immoral practices like abortion. It is simply to note a problem within that milieu which I think points towards an interesting spiritual truth. Even when generally sound health care is available, it's not enough for bodily health, and even bodily health falls far short of the stature of Christlikeness. Meanwhile, the sound of that ax of yours, quite shrill.


D.J. Skull-Fog said...

Can't save 'em if they're dead.

The Codgitator said...

Is that from Jack Handy?

The quotations you provide require a balanced reading in light of other key struts of Catholic teaching. My hunch is that you think you've got me hamstrung as a Catholic and non-fanboy of Obamacare or socialism in general. This is because you seem to believe "the Catholic Church" agrees with you and I'm just an unwitting hypocrite in my own fold. I have not sent you a detailed "statement" or "synthesis" of my own on this issue, partially because I'm too busy and partially because some of the links I've posted on Facebook and here suffice to show that in fact "the Catholic Church" is not at all an unqualified fanboy of Obamacare and certainly not of socialism. This whole issue is obviously important to you, so I suggest you carefully read the following pieces for your own edification.


The Codgitator said...


QUOTE: "...the Catholic Church does not teach that “health care” as such, without distinction, is a natural right. The “natural right” of health care is the divine bounty of food, water, and air without which all of us quickly die. This bounty comes from God directly. None of us own it, and none of us can morally withhold it from others. The remainder of health care is a political, not a natural, right, because it comes from our human efforts, creativity, and compassion. ... Broad assertions of generalized “rights” without reference to underlying prudential considerations are not helpful. The relevant considerations include need, but also cost. Another important prudential consideration, however, is this: who should be the main provider of health care, government or the private sector? Bishop Nickless insists that health care provision is not only not a central concern of government as such, it is also likely to introduce harmful economic and policy distortions:

“Third, in that category of prudential judgment, the Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care. Unlike a prudential concern like national defense, for which government monopolization is objectively good – it both limits violence overall and prevents the obvious abuses to which private armies are susceptible – health care should not be subject to federal monopolization."


QUOTE: "The Catholic Medical Association (CMA), a national association of Catholic physicians, has thrown their weight behind the statement of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who said that groups supporting the Senate bill "have done a grave disservice to the American Catholic community by undermining the leadership of the nation's Catholic bishops, sowing confusion among faithful Catholics, and misleading legislators through their support of the Senate bill." ... In a significant display of episcopal muscle, at present count, at least 30 U.S. bishops have specifically condemned the Senate health care bill since its final form was published. Expressing solidarity with the USCCB, many issued letters to lawmakers, and statements to their flock clarifying the position of the Church.

"Make no mistake," wrote Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Colo. "If the House passes the Senate version of health care reform, it will be a dark day in the history of the United States of America."


The Codgitator said...


QUOTE: "The bishops have opposed ObamaCare because it does, in fact, expand federal funding of abortion. But what if it hadn’t? Had the Stupak amendment been preserved, the U.S. bishops were prepared to support the bill — despite its clear violation of the principle of subsidiarity. Certainly the right to life and the preservation of human dignity are the paramount concerns, the very foundation, of Catholic social teaching. But the principle of subsidiarity has again and again been expounded upon by the papal teaching authority. It is no small matter.

The U.S. bishops were in a unique position, as both Americans and Catholic bishops, to connect the Catholic principle of subsidiarity to our constitutional principles. They had an opportunity to tell American Catholics that opposing ObamaCare is both a patriotic and religious duty. They utterly failed to do so. They missed an opportunity to boldly reaffirm a mostly forgotten principle of Catholic social teaching, to affirm the link between the Catholic and American commitments to human freedom, and to once again take up the Catholic Church’s historic leadership in the fight against global socialism."


QUOTE: "...before the health care bill vote, the USCCB urged Congress either to alter the bill to prevent federal funding of abortion or to vote the bill down. (The USCCB also objected to the bill’s failure to extend coverage to illegal immigrants.) ... while the Church’s teaching does not rule out in principle a significant federal role in providing health care, a bill like the one that has just passed would be very hard to justify in light of Catholic doctrine, even aside from the abortion question. ...

"To be sure, in line with statements made by popes John XXIII and John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does indeed speak of a “right to medical care” as among those the “political community” has a duty to uphold (2211). But does this entail that universal health care must be funded by and/or administered by the federal government, or indeed by any government? No, it doesn’t. Consider first that the same documents that affirm a “right” to medical care also affirm “rights” to “food, clothing, [and] shelter” (John XXIII, Pacem in Terris 8) and “to private property, to free enterprise, [and] to obtain work and housing” (the Catechism again). But no one claims that the Church teaches that governments have a duty to provide everyone with a government job, or free food, clothing, shelter, or other kinds of property at taxpayer expense, or a guarantee of entrepreneurial opportunities.

"Why not? Because the term “right” is simply not used in Catholic moral theology in the crude manner in which modern American liberal politicians like to use it, viz. as expressing a legally enforceable demand on the part of an individual that he be provided with some benefit by government (either in the form of a service funded by the taxpayer or in the form of coercion of those who might otherwise “discriminate” against him).


The Codgitator said...

5) from the CCC:

"1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."7

1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order."

You can fault me for not supporting Obamacare and you can poo-poo the pronouncedly anti-socialist position of Catholic teaching, but I don't find it persuasive or gentlemanly to try to "catch" me with my own magisterium.


D.J. Skull-Fog said...

Firstly, I went to a Jesuit to ask what the opinion of the church was on universal healthcare in general and what you (pejoratively) call "obamacare" specifically. He sent me some links that contained that information. Specifically he sent the following:

Leading me to believe that the church doesn't not have a unified stance on universal healthcare. To quote

"A coalition of 59,000 nuns released a letter yesterday calling on Congress to approve the overhaul, defying the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes the measure. The Catholic Health Association, which represents 1,200 Catholic hospitals, has endorsed the package, as have Catholics United and Catholic groups promoting social justice."

I've tried to demonstrate that other countries have successfully instituted private care that is regulated by the government that necessarily extends to all of their citizens for much less money than we currently spend.

As for being "gentlemanly" I think
a) allowing even one young person to die prematurely from a treatable disease due to a lack of access is much worse than the sound of my "shrill axe" (
and b) reading glib remarks on the efforts for this country to revise their failing system from you who enjoy a universal coverage system seems a lot like sniping.

The Codgitator said...

Thanks for the links. You went to an American Jesuit for doctrinal guidance. Always hit or miss these days haha.

1) Calling it Obamacare is not pejorative. It's his baby. It's a common term in the press. I didn't make up the term. You're overreacting.

2) In the quotation you provided, here's a key phrase: "…defying the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes the measure." It's a feature of the debate that pops up in numerous news stories. Sigh. Just more quasi-Protestant scandal in the post Vatican II Church these days. The links I provided explain why the bishops (and not just in the USA, but the Catholic Magisterium) finds fault with the plan.


The Codgitator said...

3) No, the Church does not have a 'single' teaching on this specific matter, since it does not directly fall under the heading of "faith and morals." Only the elements of a social policy which directly impinge upon Catholic faith-and-morals teaching can be said to violate Catholic teaching. If a bill federally subsidizes abortion, that's immoral. Likewise, if legislation gravely violates the principle of subsidiarity, that's also out of line with Catholic teaching.

4) The reason I say you sound shrill is because here I wrote a post about a very abstract social and, then, spiritual reality, and you pounce on me with ideological shots across my bow. You treat me like I'm a stone-hearted libertarian asshole or something, but that's just your fervor distorting what I am AND AM NOT saying. I'm a Catholic so I take seriously the Christian call for justice and compassion, but I am also a Catholic with freedom of conscience to withhold support for Obamacare (i.e., "the health care package spearheaded by President Obama," or "HCPSBP", or PPACA) and to oppose socialism as such. Sorry you find that so galling. It's ironic how socialist(ic) liberalism ends up chafing at genuine pluralism. That's why so many states are bucking against PPACA: it steamrolls states' rights in a way that surely has the Federalists of old rolling in their graves.


The Codgitator said...

5) The death of a child is a great loss, but so is the murder of a single fetus. A fundamental precept of Catholic teaching is "not to commit evil that good may result." So 'fudging' over one class of moral evils in order to alleviate others is not a real option for a serious Catholic. Seamless-garment-ology be damned. (I'm voicing what I am here, BTW, at no small risk of upsetting people I greatly care about in the Church.) It is directly the moral duty of a man and a woman to care for the life of their offspring, whereas it is much less easy to leap and say it is the government's job to care for every single child in a way that usurps the autonomy of that child's immediate community. Frankly, however, hearing what you said about "the abortion issue" prior to Obama's election and your current seemingly studied omission of the topic from this discussion, led/leads me to believe you don't really care about the evil of abortion. At least, not in any way that can trump your larger sense of "effective political action" and "immediate social justice." But maybe I'm wrong.

6) This post contains an excellent statement from Abp. George, president of the USCCB, on why the Catholic episcopacy opposes the plan:

QUOTE: "The Catholic Bishops of the United States have long and consistently advocated for the reform of the American health care system. … They have urged that all who are sick, injured or in need receive necessary and appropriate medical assistance, and that no one be deliberately killed through an expansion of federal funding of abortion itself or of insurance plans that cover abortion. These are the provisions of the long standing Hyde amendment, passed annually in every federal bill appropriating funds for health care…. …the Senate bill deliberately excludes the language of the Hyde amendment. It expands federal funding and the role of the federal government in the provision of abortion procedures. In so doing, it forces all of us to become involved in an act that profoundly violates the conscience of many, the deliberate destruction of unwanted members of the human family still waiting to be born. … This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote."


The Codgitator said...

6a) This link provides details about George's concerns vis-à-vis federal subsidies for abortion under PPACA:

6b) Why would a bishop do this?

QUOTE: "Tobin told CHA director Sr. Carol Keehan in a March 29 letter that he was “very disappointed that the Catholic Health Association, under your leadership, publicly endorsed the recent health care legislation that was passed and signed into law.”

“This action was taken despite the fact that the legislation will very possibly provide additional public funding for abortion and threaten the freedom of conscience of Catholic individuals and institutions,” wrote the outspokenly pro-life bishop. Tobin called out the group for paving the way to immense confusion among Catholics concerning the bill: “Your enthusiastic support of the legislation, in contradiction to the position of the Bishops of the United States, provided an excuse for members of Congress, misled the public and cause serious scandal for many members of the Church," he said."

7) This article provides a nice look at how and why the Church strives for the balance of truth in health care (solidarity and subsidiarity):

QUOTE: "“The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially,” says the Catechism ( [CCC] No. 2211), “in keeping with the country’s institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits.” That doesn’t mean that all health care must be government-provided. After all, the Catechism is careful to use that phrase “in keeping with the country’s institutions” and also stresses the right to private ownership, housing and emigration — none of which are expected to be provided at government expense. … “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone,” [Benedict XVI] writes, “and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State.” The principle of subsidiarity, on the other hand, is the Catholic belief that the person closest to a need has the strongest ability — and clearest duty — to provide care. These two principles are at the heart of the health-care question: We are meant to help each other, and the person closest to the problem is responsible for assistance. Pope Benedict XVI is careful not to place this responsibility solely on the shoulders of the marketplace or the state."


The Codgitator said...

8) Again, I think you're being ungentlemanly because you keep telling me what I already know and keep expecting me to fall in line with what I don't actually believe, just so America can "get the job done now." How Obamacare was passed is tragicomically American: bigger, more, faster, now! Leaving aside its intrinsic moral faults, I remain unconvinced that a bill like it is sustainable over many generations.

8a) Lastly, the truth is, I DON'T enjoy health care. I'm not on the plan here and I don't have it in the States. But I'm still an asshole, I guess.