As this blog has previously noted, President Obama has a bad habit of invoking the Almighty in unfortunate and inartful ways while seeking support for his agenda. While speaking to moderate and liberal clergy today, Obama took on those who he said were “bearing false witness” against his health care plan, and then explained why his opponents are immoral:
“These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation: that is, that we look out for one another; that is, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper,” the president said. “And in the wealthiest nation in the world right now we are neglecting to live up to that call.”
That turn of phrase, “I am my brother’s keeper,” has to the ear a tinge of Biblical truth about it — many of us can at least recall that we first heard it or something like it in Sunday School. A closer look, however, demonstrates that Mr. Obama’s theology is assembled to fit his politics, not the other way around.
To start with, Obama gets the quote wrong. In Genesis 4:9, when asked by God, “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Of course, Cain knew exactly where is brother was – he was dead, murdered out of envy by Cain himself. Note that the quote was not by God, telling us how we should act, but by Cain, a fratricidal maniac who was talking back to God.
In fact, the Cain/Abel drama has a lot to tell us about the sin of envy and God’s will for those who want greater favor from Him. When Cain’s sacrifice to God did not yield God’s respect, and his brother’s did, Cain grew angry. God then asked Cain why he was angry, and had this advice for him: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
In other words, when one of God’s children is disappointed that her work is not shown favor by God, God tells her to work harder and to follow His will; then her work will be accepted. To do anything else, we risk sin. In the case of Cain, he failed to master his envy of his brother, and it overtook him. Rather than asking himself what he could do to earn God’s favor, Cain hated his brother for having gained His favor, and he punished him for it.
Cain was certainly not his brother’s keeper. But neither did God want Cain to be. Cain believed his brother’s success was bound up with his own — that there was a zero-sum game at work, and that his brother’s success meant his own failure. Thus, rather than prepare a better sacrifice, Cain attacked his brother. God just wanted better from Cain. Instead, Cain gave him much, much worse.
Consider, then, the moral of this story in the health care debate. President Obama’s stated goal is universal health care at affordable prices. He surveys the landscape and sees insurance companies that have profited too much, wealthy Americans who have too much coverage, and tight-fisted businesses who refuse to give their employees health care. In response, he plans to crowd out private insurers by either taxing them or forcing them to compete against the government. He has proposed taxing “the more fortunate among us” with “gold-plated” health plans to pay for his plan. And he wants to force businesses to pay for their employees’ coverage or pay an 8% fine for their lack of generosity. Obama sees those who are fortunate, and he punishes them, ostensibly to help those who are less fortunate (and to help himself). Obama may get the quote wrong, but he certainly plays the role of the Big Brother in the story.
Oh, and another thing — someone else has the “brother’s keeper” concept wrong, as well. Consider this quote:
But those who know the interdependence of man to be his major strength in the smuggle out of the muck have not been wise in their exhortations and moral pronouncements that man is his brother’s keeper. On that score the record of the past centuries has been a disaster, for it was wrong to assume that man would pursue morality on a level higher than his day-to-day living demanded; it was a disservice to the future to separate morality from man’s daily desires and elevate it to a plane of altruism and self-sacrifice. The fact is that it is not man’s “better nature’ but his self interest that demands that he be his brother’s keeper. We now live in a world where no man can have a loaf of bread while his neighbor has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbor will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper.
That passage comes from a chapter entitled “Class Distinctions – The Trinity” in Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals. Alinsky was the founder of the community organizer movement and had a formative influence in President Obama’s life. Note that in Alinsky’s interpretation of the Cain and Abel tale, Abel should have known better and shared his sacrifice with Cain — Abel deserved what he got!
President Obama may be singing from a songbook, but it sure isn’t my church’s hymnal.
P.S. — And for those of you who would alternately cite in our President’s defense the Levitican commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and Jesus’ reiteration thereof, I ask you — does love compel you to servitude to your neighbor? Does love require you to hand over your money to a third-party, in hopes that your neighbor might benefit? Does love require you to accept your neighbor’s decision not to buy health care, but give it to him anyway? Does love of your neighbor require you to cede control over your own health and welfare, and to demand that your neighbor do the same? When your neighbor has to wait for three months for an MRI, should he give you a kiss? And does Jesus mention the government being the facilitator of this deeply loving relationship in any way? No – we are rather commanded to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I would never have someone impose a Canadian-style health care plan upon me, so I will lovingly do my best to protect others from a similar fate.