A Note to Readers: As an African American Christian living in France, my views on America’s raging health-care debate were bound to be out of the mainstream. But a recent trip to Burundi, one of the poorest nations in the world, has given my point of view another twist. As a result, I am writing three op-ed articles for UrbanFaith on the health-care issue from my specific perspective as a black American based in Paris who does reconciliation work in Africa.
Over the course of this three-part series, these are some of the topics I will address:
• How the anti-government worldview is poisoning America’s political environment and how my African American and Christian worldview inoculated me against the indoctrination
• Why Christians get sucked into the manipulation process
• How Burundi’s political system was manipulated by the rich and powerful — with catastrophic results — and why it should make us think twice about how the health-care battle is being waged
• Should “socialism” be considered a dirty word? Some truth about health-care under the French system
Let the Deprogramming Begin
I must begin by stating unequivocally that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the primacy of our Christian identity can get swept away in the torrent of emotions and accusations that accompany our political engagement today. I love God, and I love and respect my brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of where they land on the spectrum of political opinion. With that said, it’s important to note that our human ideologies and political beliefs are just that — human.
American conservatives who were upset about President Obama’s speech to the nation’s schoolchildren are right to be concerned about political indoctrination. Repeatedly reinforcing ideas on impressionable minds can change the way a generation thinks.
And they should know.
They are part of a generation of Americans that were programmed to believe that government is not to be trusted. And that belief, more than fears of “death panels” or budget deficits, is the biggest obstacle facing the President and those who want to overhaul our broken health-care system.
As the President prepares to address the nation on health-care tonight, I would argue that there is no greater challenge to our system of democracy — not just health care — than to start the process of deprogramming.
A Mighty Worldview
When one listens to the arguments of those who speak out against “Obamacare,” it becomes clear that the anti-government worldview is in effect. Those who live in this worldview don’t see government as an imperfect extension of themselves. Government to them is an evil entity, completely separate from them. It is not to be influenced and improved. It is to be minimized and castrated.
Government is not the necessary guarantor of freedom for all; it is the impediment to freedom and, therefore, must get out of the way.
This has been the basic reasoning for one part of America since the so-called Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, when my generation of Americans was indoctrinated with the ideas that government was necessarily a bad thing, and that society only worked well when individuals were left the freedom (read “keeping their money”) to do things for themselves.
Ronald Reagan perhaps said it best, and most influentially, when he ran on a platform that asserted, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
Within a few years, this thinking became preached as a matter of fact in many circles — even from pulpits and Sunday school classes. And who could argue? We watched, after all, the fall of communism. And since most didn’t realize that communism and socialism are not the same thing, we took this as confirmation of our doctrine of less government control and more freedom. Capitalism became good and virtuous and productive and healthy. Socialism became ungodly, sloth-producing, inefficient, and destructive.
And somehow, government itself — not just specific policies — became evil. Any government spending (with the notable exception of blowing things up), would be labeled “socialism.” And if it was socialism, it was naturally evil.
In perhaps the most skillful mind-control trick of the generation, images of the American flag seemed to always accompany this type of talk, so that people began to actually associate hating the government with patriotism.
But here’s where worldview comes into play. People like me never accepted Reagan’s thinking, because the logic didn’t fit our worldview. To us, it was Martin Luther King Jr. who sounded patriotic when he called on the United States to live up to its Constitutional creed, pushing the government to act.
Reagan’s words, on the other hand, sounded an awful lot like the cry of the Southern states during the civil rights movement a generation earlier, as those Southern states sought to maintain a system of segregation and the denial of voting rights to non-white Americans.
That generation also argued that government had no right telling normal people what to do. They talked about the evil government, restricting freedom. They called those fighting for justice “socialists” and “communists.” They spoke with hatred about their government, which to us did not sound like patriotism. It sounded like other “isms” we had grown accustomed to.
A century earlier, the same basic cries came from the Confederate States, who wanted to continue exploiting humans for profit. They waved their flags and spoke of fighting tyranny, even as they took up arms against their countrymen and left the Union. In my worldview, this was not patriotic.
We realized that their calls for the government to get out of the way were really based in a desire to continue profiting from injustice. We saw government as existing to ensure justice.
We, too, had a healthy skepticism of government. We carried in our collective memory images of a government that did not protect us from slavery, nor later from state-approved systematic terrorism. Government did not protect us from being cheated, discriminated against, and held out of the very basic freedoms our Constitution guarantees.
But rather than take up arms against our oppressors, there was a belief that this nation was ours too, and that its government, in the end, represented us. It was imperfect, but it had to be fixed so that it would work the way it was supposed to work.
People like Malcolm X, who had essentially the same point of view of many in today’s government-hatred movement, were branded evil traitors and dangerous to democracy. Malcolm basically argued, to quote Thomas Jefferson and many of today’s patriots, that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Notice how those words sound when they are not coming from someone who looks and thinks like you. They suddenly sound anti-democratic, dangerous, hateful, and destabilizing. That’s how Malcolm was perceived.
Fortunately for America, King’s Jesus-based approach of loving your enemies won out as the method of choice for the movement. We would be living in a very different America today had it not.
I would argue that the anti-government rhetoric once again has taken America to the brink of becoming a very different nation. Perhaps Christians will again play a key role in leading us to a Jesus-based approach to societal change instead of following the “Gospel according to political ideology.”
At any rate, the deprogramming needs to start soon. Perhaps our president can begin the process with his speech tonight.
Related Articles: Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 2