A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

“The marginalization of creation”

Fretheim in his introduction to God and World in the Old Testament begins with:

The importance of creation has often been underestimated by church and academcy. Indeed, we can speak of the “marginalization of creation” in biblical and theological student over the course of muich of the twentieth century (and before). [p. ix]

This indicates part of Fretheim’s purpose in this book, to articulate a creation theology that can serve as the foundation for understanding the rest of hte Old Testament (and, implicitly, a creation theology that is not rife with fundamentalist attitudes toward the Creation narratives, as there have been creation theologies provided, though more focused upon battles with science than actual theology). Salvation history has gotten the bulk of the attention and focus in theology. Later, Fretheim goes on to give a list of historical trajectories for the marginalization of creation theology, such as the focus on salvation history, the focus of the creation narratives with Canaanite mythology, etc, all of which I think are valid to some degree. However, I think there are causes that reach to the root of the situation that explain many of the reasons Fretheim gives for creations lack of respect in the church and academy.

There are few things that contribute heavily to the way we have concieved of theology at the cost of creational thinking. First is the structure of our Biblical canons as Christians. Words such as salvation, redemption has a much more central role in the New Testament texts than words that relate to creation. Given the normative nature of religious texts and of the New Testament for Christians, greater exposure to certain words naturally lead to greater emhpasis on the ideas and theologies related to those words. Furthermore, the association of Christ with redemption, with relative little direct associaton to creation, serves to only create a further disparity as “Jesus texts” will naturally play a great theological role for Christians. Creation, just by looking at the number of direct references, can be said to be on the margins of thought in the Bible, especially in the New Testament (though, by margins, I am refering to human cognitions, not the framework for Biblical theology “behind the text.”). So while creation may be the first thing in the Biblical canon, and by doing so provides a framework to understand what follows, creation thought works in the background. In other words, it might be essential for Biblical understand, but it is not easy to get from reading the Bible.

Furthermore, there is also a sociological trend that biases us away from aspects of creation and nature. In an agricultural world where many people directly work the land, ideas about the world itself plays a more central role in individual thought. But as there are fewer individuals needed to work the land and more needed to organize people and things, or to developed a general understanding of all the experiences in this world, we move away from more earthly and concrete thought, towards the more abstract and “heavenly.” Hence, Gnosticism rooted in the Hellenistic philosophical world, which was a major influence in cities and not rural, agricultural areas, disparged the natural world and moved towards the heavenly and abstract. In the present day world, having excised itself of pagan thought that was somewhat latent in Gnosticism (though perhaps less so than the polytheistic culture it resided in), still retains the same principle. Salvation for many Christians is abut getting into heaven, concieved of a spiritual paradise. Science focuses upon natural laws that are not experienced or seen. While I am not saying that abstract thinking is bad (if I did, I would be speaking against myself!), it does create a bias towards broad, unexperienced principles or ideas (notice the Platonic influence with the word “idea”) and away from tangible experiences that would be majorly agricultural to a society that has to focus more time upon that. Early civilization (including Isreal) was more agricultural, whereas later civilization became more urban. With Christianity becomingas a urban movement with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, it itself would think in the same way, and thus affect language and reason. This is not to say that the New Testament is in error with its emphasis, only that it would speak less of tangible creation and Gods’ relation to it, and more of futuristic and spiritual salvation and redemption and God’s role in that.

Our bias is more systematic from the Scriptures we considered as normative and our own societal life. For a more agricultural society, they could perhaps more naturally see the creation aspects of Biblical theology and taken Genesis 1-2 as a framework for what follows in the narrative, whereas a more urbanized society will be more apt to pass over it. Thus us Biblical interpreters have to be more cognizant of this “bias” (though not to say this bias must lead to error) in the Biblical canon as a whole and our own life experiences, which we use to interpret the Bible.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Medical care: A right or privilege?

In the medical reform debate in the US, part of the rhetoric used in describing the differing sides based upon who should recieve health care classifies viewing health care as a right or as a privilege. Frequently this form of rhetoric is more “liberal” in usage as it the word privledge, because of its negative connotations, is associated with upper class, and thus is wrong. But to frame the discussion in such a way is a quick and easy heuristic to determine a basic approach to health care (all or not all), but it fundamentally misses differing rationales.

It is important to note that health care doesn’t work like most other sectors work. In most sectors, price will affect demand significantly. However, in medical care, price is not a major factor in demand when it comes to issues of death and extreme suffering, because most people value their life more than all their possessions. As such, there is little price people won’t pay in order to live and in order to avoid extreme suffering. This contrasts with the majority of goods where there is a negative correlation between price and demand.

Secondly, as demand increases for medical care, so does supply. Everytime you save the life of someone, there will be another time where they will risk death. Saving someone’s life leads to them having to run into the risk of losing their life down the road. Death is not escapable by any human means. So giving medical care only leads to more necessary medical care down the road.

In addition, the more health problems one has, the more likely they will have health problems in the future, so as medical care supply increases, there is also a near exponential increase in future demand.

The only major restriction of health care demand is population and the ages of that population. But population also affects the potential supply of medical care as it requires labor in providing medical care, and labor in obtaining knowledge to practice medical care, and labor to obtain more knowledge that can be taught to those who would provide medical care and create instruments to use in taking care of the ill. Since only a select portion can work in field of medical care, and yet everyone needs it (at the very least in any society, some labor has to be dedicated to provide food, clothing, and shelter), you can plausibly reach a point where demand exceeds supply. In more practical terms, the number of patients overwhelm health care providers to the point that they either can not serve some people or they have to ration their time and services and reduce the quality of care for every individual for every new person that needs medical help.

I use the word ration purposefully because that is an idea that has been used in the current medical reform discussions. Rationing of health care will become an eventual necessity in any society where there is a major reliance upon medical specialists. The demand exceeds supply.

So in reality, with the usage of the rhetoric of rights vs priviledge, what is in reality being talked about is a method of rationing health care. To say medical care is a right in reality is to say that medical care should be rationed equally among all the people. Privlege is in reality saying that equal rationing among all the people is not the preferential option. But the latter is not necessary an acceptance of the rationing system as it is, but merely a rejection of the form of rationing being espoused under the premise of medical care as a right. There are multiple ways to conceivably ration health care, not just two (government regulation vs. current market rationing).

A very general concept of rationing is based upon what is appropriate, both for the individual and the society as a whole. In other words, a combination of need and merit.

Here is a hypothertical circumstance to illustrate: There are two people who are sick. One person is one we might refer to as upper class. He made his money providing some service that people paid for and providing many benefits to his customers, and the customers as a whole felt the price was well worth what they got (in other words, this man didn’t exploit his customers). The other person would be classified as lower class and never worked a day in his life. The rich person also has a serious medical problem that requires more medical care to treat, wheras the poor person as an illness at the moment that is threatening to his life or quality of life, but other than that, he would be considered healthy.

If there was not enough medical care to be provided to both of those people, then rationing has to occur. Do you split health care amongst them equally? Then the poor person would survive, and the rich person wouldn’t. But then the service the rich person provided would be affected, and thus many other people would be affected because of his passing. You may have done something according to the principle of equality, but you have turned around and in fact hurt more people.

Now this example isn’t meant to be representative of all rich people and all poor people. There are many rich people who are good and who are bad, and there are many poor people who are good and who are bad. Nor is this meant to be determinative of a specific principled stance towards health care. However, it shows a potential dilemma of equality in health care. Equality sounds good, but it isn’t in all circumstances the best option for everyone (including those not recieving care).

Now one might try to create government regulations to take into consideration cases such as this. To a degree, they could create some leeway in the rationing system. However, because government regulation relies upon everyone acting according to similiar standards, the distinctions that are to be used to determine how to ration are restricted by the available vocabulary and the ease of understanding the  particular words chosen.

However, that is not easy to do. It would be near impossible to give articulate a principle that is by an large based upon equality, but yet consider that one exception, in one basic clause. Thus, it would require mutiple sentences to explain how to handle varying cases. But that is not the only situation where equality may not be beneficial. For other circumstances, it would require further exceptions be articulated. However, the more and more you add to a certain set of principles and codes, the harder it is to retain and remember all of them (just look at the IRS tax code!). So for those who implement policies that have been laid down, they would either be more prone to making mistakes or having to spend more time looking up regulations, and thus requiring more time and labor to actually implement the policies (the problem of beauracracy, in other words). As you try to take into consideration more and more exceptions to a general principle, knowledge costs rise dramatically.

So while in theory, government regulation could adapt their principles for medical care rationing to consider what is beneficial also for the entire population, including those not receiving medical care, in practice the costs become prohibitive for efficient implementation. Also, the less efficiency there is from beauracracy means there is less available resources available for actual medical care, thus reducing how much medical care can be rationed (or it requires use of tax funds either by pulling from so other programs which could hurt other segments of society, or increasing taxes which could hurt the economy).

Another option would be to give policy implementers allowance for exception based upon their judgment. However, people do not actually make decisions based upon actual future outcomes, but upon principles they have been taught that may or may not relate to future outcomes. For instance, a person may not recognize the rich person given in the example above will not be able provide those helpful services if he dies (after all, medical care does not need to know what you in order to treat you). Or, the person may feel that all rich people are evil and all poor people are innocent and make a decision that favors the poor person. Or, the person may not be concerned about society as a whole, but purely and only with the individuals. Etc. Etc.

So in consideration of whether health care should be a right or a privilege, the idea that it should be a right, while it might sound good, is not necessary the best route to go to benefit everyone. That is not to say that I personally think that the current way the market operates to dole out health care is the best way (at least best theoretical option) to do it. However, for all the injustice that is latent in the current system, it does allow for individual need and merit to a degree (as money can be said to correspond with the services provided to society, although there are other factors involved such as luck, greed, etc.). Without the ability to actually articulate a rationing system in such a way that is simple, considers all the possible different scenarios, provides health care to those who have nocapacity on their own to provide (whether due to infancy, being elderly, mental handicap, etc), is efficient, and does not allow for great potential to be used corruptly for personal power by a few individuals, the current system is preferable to a overhaul in my opinion. That is not to say the current system doesn’t need tweaks to improve health care, but there is no tweaking of the system that can provide everything that is being demanded of health care in my opinion. The human limitations of knowledge and time bear heavily upon us. To be ignorant of said human limitations while in the pursuit of justice can lead to some of the greatest forms of injustice.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Obama’s slippage in approval rating

At the celebration of many conservatives and the bemoaning of many liberals, Obama’s approval rating by most of the different polls have reaching about 50%. But what is even more disturbing for Obama is that there are many more people passionately against him than for him, as Rasumussen’s daily tracking poll illustrates. His presidency could also be one of the quickest adminstrations to fall below 50% approval rating, which is interesting in light of the fact that he had the second highest initial approval rating after World War II  (see here and here). To tack on even more good or bad news (depending on your politics), the Republicans have a 5 point lead in a Generic Congressional Ballot.

So all is lost for the Democrats, the Republicans will gain a significant portion of seats in 2010, and Obama will become a lame duck president. Right? Not necessarily so.

Just from a quick and dirty analysis of the chart those who strongly disapprove and those who strongly approve, it seems Obama has reached the bottom of the current downward trend and things seem to be leveling out. This chart as time passes could take on the form of a parabola and move upward in favor of Obama. Of course, this could also be a temporary halting point before a further downward trend.

But charts and graphical shapes do not determine the future, but people do.  One of the biggest factors in determining public opinions is the state of the economy. As people are slowly growing more confident, this will tend to favor the current party in power. Nothing brilliant there. However in my opinion, it will be a larger factor than in the past (for reasons I will refrain from giving at the moment, for the sake of brevity). Case in point, during the election race, McCain had taken a significant lead in the polls (at which point, I, embarssingly predicted a McCain victory) and there was talk about the Obama candidacy losing its mojo of sorts. However, once Goldman Sachs’ problems were reported on the news, the momentum suddenly shifted towards Obama’s direction, and McCain never posed a significant threat after that. The economy won the election for Obama and lost it for McCain after that point IMO, not any politicking.

As the perception of the economy looks to possibly improve (see this), Obama’s approval ratings will rise steadily. Furthermore, the current ratings are no doubt affected by one thing, medical care reform. However, the attention of Americans is focused upon recent events. If an administration is to ever attempt to enact extreme reforms (which the medical care and the energy bills are), the first and third year of the administration is the time to do it, so that if it backfires with the public, the passage of time can begin to fade the memories of that time and allow for present issues to dictate the polls more so.

Long story short, the current polls mean little to nothing as to what will happen in the 2010 elections, and even less for the 2012 election. Expect to see a more moderate Obama administration and Democratic party as the 2010 elections approach.

With all that said, Obama shares some interesting parallels with Jimmy Carter, which I will perhaps bring out in a future post. That does not bode well for Democratic control of the future. But a similarity in patterns does not dictate continuing conformity.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Exodus 14 and Genesis 1:2

I recently purchased the book God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terence E. Fretheim from my seminary’s bookstore. While I am only 94 pages in it, I have a feeling it will be a read I heartily recommend for everyone at all interested in Old Testament theology and/or Creation theology as the first few pages have set the framework which, if the author fulfills my expectations, that can have massive implications for Old Testament theology in general.

Anyways, in light of my renewed interest in Genesis and hope to engage Freitham’s ideas soon, I figure a new set of posts on Old Testament views of creation will set the context in which I can fully engage with Fretheim’s work.

One thing of particular note is the relationship between the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 and of the the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14. The imagery and language of the two bare some interesting parallels: “formless and void” and “wilderness”, “darkness” in both narratives, “Spirit/wind of God” and a “strong east wind”, “waters” and “sea.” Not to mention there are further possible parallels beyond just Genesis 1:2. The first thing God does in the Creation narrative is to make light, and in response to the darkness that comes upon the Israelites at the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud that gives lights to the Israelites. Also, the world in creation is not hospitable for life and it formed into a world full of blessing, just as Israel was going from a land that was inhospitable to them to “a good, broad land… flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; note that same Hebrew word for “good” is used here and in Genesis 1). In addition, there is the splitting of the sea so that dry land arises for the Israelites to cross, just as God made the dry land on the third day.

The multiple possible parallels are probably more than coincidence, but rather speak to the fact that Creation is viewed in the terms and concepts of the Exodus, or vice versa (or even, that they are helped for the understanding for each other). If the Creaton and Exodus narrative are related, there is some further implications for interpretation of the first Creation narrative.

Firstly, the rather mundane statements such as “it was so” that follow the word of God may be more than a simple statement that what God spoke happened. Instead of it speaking positively about the extent to God’s powers, it may be seen as speaking negatively against any hypothetical powers that might could conflict with God in saying that there was no opposition to God’s desire for creation. In the Exodus narrative, the tenth plague of darkness (a reversal of creation?) is an attack against not only Egypt but its sun god Ra. If Ra existed and was powerful, there could have been resistance, but there was none to speak of. YHWH simply brought darkness upon Egypt, with seemingly no resistance.

Furthermore, YHWH’s victory over Egypt established himself as King. Likewise, the same concept could be applied to the creation narrative and seeing God as victorious over an inhospitable place (although, there is a need to refrain from calling it a evil in a idealogical, moral sense), and then exemplifying his reign by making humanity in the image of Himself, which carries possible connotations of royalty. That can be likened to Israel embracing the same ideals and beahviors of YHWH, such as having limits such as the Sabbath to exploitative work and practicing it just as YHWH did (all of which can be summarized in the statement “you shall be holy, for I am YHWH your God”; Leviticus 19:2)

Perhaps an insight is also available into how ruach, Hebrew for wind, came to be associated with the Spirit of God. With wind being the means by which God parted the Red Sea, such an central event could inspire an association with wind and God’s actiity in the world, at which point it is one short jump over to ruach being used to refer to God’s Spirit. Maybe this also means that to translated ruach in Genesis 1:2 as either Spirit or wind leaves a vital aspect out which the creators of the narrative would have seen.

Some of these relations may be stretching the relationship between the two narratives too far. However, I am of the opinion that viewing Creation in terms of the Exodus narrative is the way to go. And indeed, if the Exodus is historically accurate (and I believe it is) and the Creation narrative was formulated sometime relatively soon afterwards, at least to some degree, then it would make sense for the defining moment inIsrael’s history and relationship to YHWH to provide a framework for describing and understandign creation.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Reason for the high costs of health care

With the recent media attention on the costs of medical care and reforming of the health care system, I figured it would be a good idea to try to articulate some of the different factors in the US health care system that is causing the rise in health care costs.

1) Desire for profit – I am purposefully avoiding using a term such as greed, which has no real agreed upon qualifications (Is any profit greed? Is profit a certain amount greed? Or is greed performing certain types of behaviors to make a profit?). However, I will readily agree that there is greed in the system that helps raise prices, but that there is also a lot of “justifiable” profit.

For every person who has a part in the medical field, as with any other career field, the person expects to receive “more” (although no necessarily in money) than they put in. Otherwise, they would be recieving nothing for their time and effort, and with their own individuals needs cutting into what they have, they would eventually be left with nothing. Now, if society took it upon themselves to take care of all the needs of people working in the medical fields, they would not have to make a profit on their services and goods in order to continue to thrive.

There are also some practices that are made to ensure or increase the profit of a particular group, frequently at the monetary loss of another group (although, money is not everything, and there may still be a gain as whole). This becomes especially frequent when there is little resistance against rising prices, where there is relatively little competition in the field.

This is rather a generic observation, but because it is one that is true for all career fields and not just medical fields.

2) High costs of discovering medications – The costs of discovering new medications are enormous, sometimes reaching into the billions. The amount of employees, time, resources, machines, and knowledge needed to be able to produce a new medication is real high. Furthermore, many medications never make it to market and thus create costs that must be made up elsewhere if the company is to continue to thrive. Otherwise, one failed medication could potentially bankrupt a company.

3) Patenting – After a company develops a medication, in order to be able to regain the money they lost, they would need to be able to recieve a monopoly on the product for a number of years before generic pharmaceutical companies would be able to make it also, forcing the costs to go down. Without patenting, any company could immediately make a drug that another company discovered, increasing the risk that a pharmaceutical company would lose money on making a medication. Therefore, there would be the reduction in companies that actually discover medications because it would in fact be determental to the owners/shareholders of the company.

4) Socialized medicine in other countries – When other countries regulate the amount medications cost in their borders, it will naturally raise the costs for medication in countries where pharmaceuticals is part of a free market. For illustration, say it costs $1 billion dollars to discover and produce 100 million pills of a medicine. If half are sold in free markets and half are sold in regulated markets that average $2 a pill (meaning they make $200 million in those countries), it would require $800 millon dollars to be made from the free markets in order to ensure a break even point. That means that each pill would have to cost 300% more at $8 a pill.

Not that that illustration accurately conveys the actual costs and distributions for pharameceuticals, nor does it include profits, but it illustrates that where some countries regulate costs, others have to make up for it. But it still make financial sense for pharmaceutical to sell in regulated countries (so far as the costs of each indivudal pill is exceeded by the set price).

5) Barriers for corporations to enter into the medical field – The more regulated a particular field is, the more barriers there are to entering into the field. When it pertains to medical care, regulation is involved in many aspects by the US government. This insures a higher level of quality for medical care, as I am sure no one wants to go back to the day where you have snake oil salesmen, but it also decreases competition by creating greater overhead and continuing costs to enter into the field. So the higher costs get trasmitted to individuals, along with a lack of lowering force against the costs.

6) Barriers for individuals to enter into the medical field – This is related to the previous point, but it manifests itself is some subtly different ways. For instance, for people to become physicians, they have to spend nearly in a decade in school (when one takes in college, medical school, and residency) where the individuals have to incur enourmous debt and are unable to bring in substantial income (as opposed to an engineer, for instance, who can enter into the field after four years and make a substantial incomce relatively quickly). Firstly, this reduces the number of people willing/capable to enter into the field. However, it also raises prices of medical care by doctors who have to pay back their school loans and also are behind in accumulating wealth (not necessarily in a greedy sense, but other things such as funding retirement). Again though, these barriers to entering into the field insure that physicians as a whole can provide better quality care.

7) Medicare and Medicade – Medicare and Medicade do not agree with physician groups a rate of reimbursement (unlike insurance companies) but rather develop prices that are fixed. For instance, Medicare reimburses a fixed amount based upon the diagnoses, not the different things necessary to determine the diagnoses. For instance if a certain diagnoses can be generally be determined without using an MRI, but in certain instances it will require it, reimbursement that was determined without the costs of MRI will not cover that procedure. Thus doctors and hospitals either raise the severity of the diagnosis or they are left to cover the costs elsewhere, typically from other persons. That is just one instance where government reimbursements do not cover the costs of medical care.

8) Lack of payment of medical bills – This is a big factor that amplifies all the other factors to raise medical costs. In principle, for every dollar that a person is billed that is not paid for, another dollar is charged to other persons to make up for the lack of reimbursement.

To illustrate and assuming a minimim medical cost, for every $5 worth of billing, $1 is not paid. In order to make up for that, the people who would pay $4 actually would be billed $5 for a total billing of $6. That is a 20% markup. However, it doesn’t simply end there. Some of those persons who could afford medical care previously would not be able to afford it at the 20% markup. If default rate goes to 10%, then 50 cents would would have to be made up from the people who could pay, so then they would pay $5.50, with total billing reaching $6.50. And again, certain person who could pay couldn’t with the second increase. So in this hypothetical case (the percentages were determined for ease of illustration, not based upon any statistical data), in order for the hosptials and doctors to be reimbursed for every $5 of costs, they would have to bill $6.50, a 30% increase.

One this my illustration does not take into consideraton is population distributions tend to follow a bell shape curve, so wealth was presumably follow that curve. However, for every dollar you raise costs (up to the mid point of the bell curve), you get more people who could not pay than you had with the prevous dollar increase. Theoretically then, as you raise medical costs to make up for other’s inability to pay, you create more people who can not pay at a greater rate relative to rising costs. To put this simply, if true, this would mean rapidly escalating medical billing. This hurts particularly those who are already poor though, because people with greater wealth have medical insurance that is essentially a guarantee of payment. Guaranteed payment allows hosptials to bill less (hence why medical insurance becomes a bargain), but in doing that, they do not make up the losses from others as much from the insurance companies, thus placing the burden on those without medical insurance who can not guarantee payment.

9) Demand for high quality care – Whether it be accomplished through regulation or through market forces, Americans demand high quality care, which naturally increases medical costs. However, because there is not great amount of competition, most hospitals and medical care facilities move towards providing higher quality care, including things that are not directly related to medical care such as private rooms. That means that there are relatively few places that are geared towards less wealthy individuals. In the free market, universally demanded goods generally generate different sub industrties, some geared towards the wealthy (producing higher quality for high prices) and some geared towards those who have less (cheaper prices for less quality). A good example is the difference between Target (higher quality) and Wal-Mart (cheaper prices). But with the relative lack of organizations and corporations in the medical field, they tend to be move towards where profit is maximized, that is by providing higher cost, higher quality care. But there is little alternative for the less wealthy, so they have to use the medical systems that are geared to the wealthier, with the costs that come with it.

10) Stagnating economy – When insurance companies take a premium from people they insure, the premiums they take from all individuals do not necessarily cover the medical costs for all the medical costs they incur over the long haul. Medical insurance is in fact a bargain, as expensive as it might be. Insurance companies (and not just medical insurance) rely upon investing the insurance premiums into the market, in hopes that investment returns will make up in the difference in premiums and medical costs.

So, when the economy has been stagnating (as it really has over the past decade), you will naturally have a rise in insurance premiums to insure that medical costs, present and future, can be covered. While this creates volatility in insurance premiums, it means that people being insured do not have to bear all the costs themselves for medical insurance.

11) Increase in life expectancy – As people live longer, their bodies are more susceptible to health problems. Thus as age increases, so do medical costs to insure longevity and quality of life. So when a society as a whole is having higher life expectancy, they will naturally incur greater expenses as a whole later in life. However, if some do not reimburse (either out of pocket, government programs, or insurance) hosptials, doctors, etc. for their expenses, it has to made up elsewhere. So increase in life expectancy of a nation would tend towards an increase in medical costs across the board.

12) Low infant mortality rate and better pre-natal care – With the ability to save the lives of infants who would have otherwise died, you bring in a group of peoplewho on the average would not be as hardy as other persons might (though this is not true for ever individual case). By doing this, you raise the potential number of medical problems that have to be addressed in the future, along with the ensuing raising of costs of everyone. (To be clear, I am definitely NOT complaining about this, as I myself was a person who could have been still-born if not for the intervention of a physician).

13) Baby boomers – As the baby boomer populaton continues to age, they are having more and more medical issues that require more action. Again, this relates to higher costs across the board.

14) “Far-flung” medical infrastucture – In principle, it is cheaper for one hosptial to serve a certain population in one location than for two hosptials to serve the same number of people in two different locations. But in the US, you have a large number of people who live in rural areas that are being provided medical care. This requires an infrastructure that is wide spread, incurring greater costs. For instance, in Mississippi, every county has a hopstial, regardless of the population. But in more rural counties, it costs more per patient than it might in a more populous county. However, with regulation in health care, the billing costs tend to be equalized to some degree for more rural and more urban health care. Thus urbanites tend to pay a higher price than they would otherwise (but they also, as a whole, would tend to be wealthier).

I am not advocating necessarily what should and should not be done in order to address medical care in the US. Rather, my point is to try to show why health care is getting more expensive and to illustrate the trade-offs we have made and the potential trade-offs in the future.

In my own opinion, there is nothing that can be done on the governmental level that can actually reduce medical costs drastically. There are too many systematic difficulties that can not effectively be regulated, nor can market forces address the concerns either. I chalk this one up to inherent human limitation that we can not escape, as staving off death has always been diffcult and will always continue to be so.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 4 Comments

Random thought

While people may resides in the urban cities, God’s blessings flow abundantly from the rural farmland.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On God’s Forgiveness

The self-centeredness of individuals presumes to think that when God comes to deal with the problem of sin, God is focused around making the guilty sinner feel better about live by forgiving them, that forgiveness is the final goal of God’s work in and through Christ. Is God truly just if He simply comes to make the sources of pain, sorrow, and death to release them from the consequences of our actions?

Or is it that God is trying to erradicate sinfulness itself, of which forgiveness is a means to that end. Just as death haunts our minds and resurrection frees us from that concern to serve God wholeheartedly, forgiveness is to allay out fears that God will seek vengeance against us so that we can feel free to serve Him openly and fully. But forgiveness is not the final goal, but the change of life of humanity is. The final goal isn’t for us to feel a release from our anxiety from what God might do to us, but to cease to be a source of anxiety to others who might fear what we will do. As we learn that God is not against us and that He has our well-being in His hands, the things that might lead us to self-centeredness are no longer a stumbling block.

But God consistently forgave Israel of its sin and freed it from oppressors for the hope that Israel will fully serve God. Forgiveness is not an automatic trigger for obedience, only that it makes us free to obey. But as Israel failed once it become prosperous and free by the hand of God to abstain from idols, the forgiveness God has provided left.

Forgiveness is a gift that is not based on our past, so that our future will not conform to the pattern of the past. Forgiveness looks to the future where forgiveness is no longer needed, where the individual is progressing towards God’s design for humanity in His creation and community. For those who show the continuing prospect of growth and transformation, God’s forgiveness remains available. But to those, who in their freedom to serve God becuase of His kindness, utterly spurn Him, their fate is like the Israelites of the Exodus who recieved plenteous mercy from YHWH and then spurned not just the commandments, but YHWH himsel by falling into idolatry.

As I sat in a worship service this Sunday (I have taken a temporary break from weekly preaching), the sermon was focused on not forgetting God. The preacher recounted briefly Israel’s history of God working for them, and them forgetting God. As people think the goodness of God is permanent, unconditional and solely for their own personal enjoyment, people forget God because they believe the kindness they recieve doesn’t come with a future expectation. But as Paul says to people blind of their own faults in Romans 2:4 with a hint of accustion of their own selfishness and forgetfulness, “Do you not know that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” To remember God entails remembering his mercy is not just so that we can be happy, but that we can be free to serve God, cease to harm others, and so many can be happy. We then can not remain simply in our blessed state, because it then becomes a constant reminder that our blessed state is for more than just us.

As we sing in churches of God’s faithfulness, it becomes a reminder of why God is faithful to us, that we may be faithful to others. As we read Scriptures of personal encouragment, it reminds us that we are encouraged more than for our own simple edification. When we are reminded we are forgiven, it reminds us that so we can be free to live in God’s creation and community the way He designed for us to.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The differences in White American and Black American Christianity in politics

Before I make further comments, I have purposefully described race in terms of color, instead of culture, because in the end, that is how race is really viewed in America by in large. It isn’t a matter of ancestral origin, but color of the skin. Terms such as African-American are utterly devoid of useful purpose, as there are some people with black skin who do not come form Africa, and those persons with black skin who derive their lineage from Africa in the distant past are different culturally from and an African who recently migratex to America. White American and Black American are more apt descriptors, in my opinion, of the culture of the two groups based upon the dividing factor within American society.

One particular point of interest with me that I have always wondered about was the difference in political voting between White American Christians and Black American Christians (WAC and BAC for brevity, with WA and BA referring to the racial culture as a whole without reference to Christianity). WACs typically lean towards more conservative candidates on the basis of issues such as abortion and homosexuality. However, there is considerable divergence on those moral issues within the WAC culture. On the flip side, BACs are more unified on those issues in the conservative direction, but yet paradoxically, they with almost a unified voice tend to vote for more liberal candidates. It is obvious, then, that social/moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality are not a deciding factors in political alignment. What is the cause of that?

Some might attribute it to poverty which exists at a greater rate in BA, where the Democratic rhetroic is more geared towards lower-class individuals. However, I think this is an overly simplistic answer, or rather I think poverty is merely related to an over-arching mindset.

Poverty is more than just an absence of resources of wealth. It is frequently associated with a certain set of beliefs about life in general. People all by nature have a gear to survive and to live comfortably after ensuring survival. However, if with repeated efforts one fails to achieve those goals, no matter how hard one works, then one will eventually begin to believe one has no personal control over their circumstances. Fate (although not necessarily in the cosmological sense, but in a personal sense) is the resulting belief. In psychological terms, this is described as learned helplessness.

But a personal fatalism would not necessarily be rooted in BAs poverty alone. The instituton of slavery (which is definitely a component in the continuing high poverty rates) would be another source of personal fatalism, which would be passed down through the culture the follow generations. Being forcibly removed from one’s homeland and forced to live in a particular place with little recourse would engender personal fatalism.

Contrast this with the culture of WA, who largely migrated from Europe. Their ancestors migrated to Europe in order to try to make a better life for thermselves, to escape religious persecution, etc. Their conscious decision to move was a voluntary one in the exercise of personal control. As the choice to move provided a better life for them, they felt empowered and belief in personal freedom and power was fostered, and would be passed down through the generations.

Also, have ancestors who succeeded in the American culture, the following generations already had the resources and know-how to succeed. As they made conscientious choices to preserve their life and better it, they succeeded enough to continue to strengthen the belief in personal freedom and power.

An proper analogy for the differences between WAC and BAC is the difference between Christianity after it become enfused with the powerful state in the reign of Constantine, and before especially when it fell under persecution. The early Christians were not particularly involved in governmental change, displayed in the book of Revelation where the Roman government was evil and a source of destruction. For those Christians, they believed little in personal choice to overcome the Roman Empire, but they must have a deliverer from the source of their suffering, God through Jesus Christ.

The later Christians after Constantine, on the other hand, felt more personally empowered as a group. That they felt empowered to act was witnessed when Julian the Apostate threatened to revoke Chrsitianity’s priveledged status. As time passed, the Christian Church united with the state (and eventually overcome the state in the West) took different initiatives, such as preserving the legal system in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire.

The analogy falls short though in that BAC does not regard the government as Babylon, but they are a great example of the mindset of Christians living in Babylon. BAC does not view their religon as antithetical to governmental reign, but can find a hero for their struggle in both religion and government. God is worshipped as one who redeems, who acts in power for His people, etc. But, government officials are percieved also as providing a form of hope of “redempton.” For them, a hero is important.

But for conservative WAC, who are like the church after Constantine, much of their efforts are rooted in preserving the society as they have known it in accordance to their values. America, formerly adhering to conservative Christianity morality, is rebelling against its traditional religious background and this is threatening to WAC and their place in society. Thus, for them, preserving the way of life is more vital for their political ideals.

This is not an approval of one sets of politic beliefs over the other (for those who know me, I have slowly grown cold to all the limited options in the American political arena). It is merely an attempt to try to understand the reasons for diverging political beliefs in the face of two cultures who do share much in common in the moral arena.

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Revisiting the question “Did Paul think the Torah had failed?”

A while back, I wrote a post on whether Paul in Romans though the Torah had “failed” or not. While much of what I said previously I still think stands, I feel it is proper to add more of a substantive answer that can also give us a peak into the relationship between Old and New Testament.

I would answer the question with “Yes, but…” In Romans 5:20, Paul describes the increase of sin when the law entered (taking the hina clause as describe a result, and not purpose). If the seemingly obvious purpose of the Law was to regulate human behavior and move them towards holiness (an important aspect of the Torah), then it did indeed fail to accomplish that purpose. The book of Judges itself shows how idolatry in Israel was rampant, despite the prohibition against it in the Decalogue. Paul goes on to attempt to demonstrate, how with the Torah in place, sin actually increased in Romans 7:5-6. His answer is that the Torah actually had the reverse effect of what it was intended for, that it aroused sinful passions, not deadened them.

If Paul’s answer wasn’t in any way negative in regards to the Torah’s effects, then he would probably have not felt any compulsion to address the hypothetical objection of 7:7 (“Is the law sin?”). Paul’s negative view on the Torah forces him to give an apologetic defense of his view to fellow Jewish brethren. If Paul had no view of failure or negativity towards the Torah tiself, then what occasions Romans 7:7?

But it is in Romans 7 where the “but” part of the answer begins to form. His concluson is that “The Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (7:12).  He makes a differentiation between the sinful passions and and the Torah. To put into different terms, the essense of the Torah itself was not the problem. However when put into the world of sin, it failed to restrain evil, but instead fostered in the increase of evil. There were other factors involved that derailed the Torah’s purpose, most particularly death (also represented be flesh, conveying mortality).

Nevertheless, this apologetic defense still leaves the Torah as failing its purpose, as it was incomplete to perform the task at hand. However, Paul is not content to simply throw away the Torah, as he so emphatically proclaims in Romans 3:31. How then can he still place value upon the Torah that failed?

The answer is had in finding a solution to the problems that derailed the Torah’s purpose. Paul’s literary cry of desperation in 7:24 seeks the solutionto the problem of the mortal body, to which the answer is Jesus. Moving into 8:3, Paul proclaims the condemnation of “sin in the flesh” (keeping in mind the connotations of mortality in the usage of sarx) that leads to (again, taking the hina clause as a result clause) “the righteous requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled” (8:4). It is at this point that Paul’s view on the Torah is revealed. It is a failure on its own, but as it is joined with Jesus (the one who was raised from the dead) and the Spirit (who raised Jesus and will raise us from the dead) it achieves its purpose.

This interpretation doesn’t allow for either of the extreme answers regarding the question of the relationship between the Torah and the Old Covenant with Jesus and the New Covenant. Both the idea that the Old is superceded by the new (frequently leading to antinominianism), and that the New is merely a continuation of the Old is and subject to the Old (treading the path towards legalism) are both rejected with a few Greek letters. If the Torah was superceded,  then 8:4 makes little sense. If Jesus and Paul’s message was subject to the constraints of the Torah, then how could it possibly solve the problems that plagued the Torah’s goal?

The relationship between the Torah and Jesus is that He completes where the Torah lacks (compare with plerwsai in Matthew 5:17). To be more specific, I would say that message and gospel of Christ acts as a balance with the Torah, to delegitimize extreme interpretations of the Torah by itself and to provide the necessary “stuff” (like a trust in the defeat of death in resurrection) to make obedience to proper Torah interpretations possible. In Paul’s terms, the Torah provided knowledge of sin but not necessarily knowledge of what is righteous, whereas many of Israel derived righteous deeds from the Torah (Romans 10:3, Phillipians 3:9) and thus made extreme interpretations necessary (and doubly impossible).

Our view of Jesus then isn’t in laying down a distinctly new path. Rather, he offers a corrective. To borrow from on of Ken Collin’s books on John Wesley, Jesus provides the path of “holy love.” Holiness is to be in tension with love, with the Old Testament emphasized holiness (although not excluding love), whereas Jesus brings love into the picture to correct the extremities of particular interpetations of the holiness aspect. However, Jesus is not getting rid of the old aspects of holiness and saying that “love is all that matters,” but rather that holiness that was already present in Israel must be brought into tension with compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. Thus, neither legalism (holiness to its extreme) nor antinomianism (using love as a pretense to reject any specific moral and ethical considerations) work within the Christian faith.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 21 Comments

The origin of prayer routines – Part 2

Another way in which we learn to relate to God from the way we relate to others is in the form of exchange. For instance, at Christmas time, most people give an exchange of presents. The exchange is critical frequently is considered essential at many times, because the act of giving both serves as an act of service and as a symbol of unity and commitment.

This exchange mentality is not a selfish or wrong to have in a relationship. Every person needs the help and assistance from others. When one acts to help another as part of a relationship, it is not unhealthy or wrong to hope to be able to get their help in a time of need. However, this mentality can be taken to a destructive extreme. Frequently, the relationship exchange is treated as if every single favor must be returned with the exact amount of favors. In other words, all acts of kindness are strictly tabulated as a debt and expected to be repayed exactly and at the whims of the initial provider. Or, sometimes the exchange in the relationship is expected in such a way where the other can not provide, such as in a Christmas exchange where one person may not have the funds to provide the size of the gifts the other person might.  Finally (although not to exhaust all the unhealthy extremes of the exchange aspecto), some people expect the other to provide what they ask, even if there is an objection on the part of the other.

However, another unhealthy extreme is to not ask for anything from a relationship. To give and to give, but to never ask in return. Its an aspect of pride and failure to recognize our own individual limitations.

The way we relate to people in these patterns frequently becomes the pattern we use in our prayers (and in our worship). For instance, when we feel called by God to do something, many of us are hesitant to ask for a confirmation sign in exchange for the call. In part, this is due to the passage where Jesus says an evil and adulterous generation require a sign (although, there is a context to that statement and is not necessarily true for all contexts), but it it also because of the lack of willingness to ask for an exchange. However, Gideon is a good example of a man who asked for confirmation signs in exchange for obedience to the call to “Go…. and you shall save Israel from the Midianites” (Judges 6:14) and recieved one from YHWH. Three different times he asked for a sign from God, one to verify that the angel/messenger of YHWH was indeed truly the voice of YHWH, and two to verify that God will save Israel.

But one important feature in Gideon’s request is that on the last request, he become relatively meek in his request. He starts his request with “Do not be angry with me” and then says that this will be the last burden he will put on YHWH (Judges 6:39), to which YHWH acquiesces. But even in Gideon seemingly bold second request that almost seems to be a lack of truth, there is a attitude of humility and recognition of the burden (although, not in the strictest sense) that he is placing upon YHWH. Within relationships, to recognize that you might be burdening the other person and to voice that conveys that you do not wish to overburden the other person, and will frequently with motivate the other person to agree because this is probably the last time the request will be made. Likewise, one might say that this is why YHWH agrees to Gideon’s request (although the text does not say why).

Also, Gideon prayed for the sign on the basis of an exchange. In his first request, he conditions the sign on the premise that he had “found favor” in YHWH’s “sight” (Judges 6:17). Moses does the same Numbers 11:15, although in a negative complaint, and in the prayers of Exodus 33 and 34. The expectation is that if God finds a person pleasing, it is okay for them to make a request in exchange for that. Implicitly, the author of Hebrews recognizes this exchange as part of faith where he says people must believe that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

But sometimes the exchange are in a more negative manner, and potentially dangerous. For instance in Exodus 32,  Moses refuses to continue to live (and so spoil YHWH’s contingency plan of creating a nation from him, or to continue as YHWH’s prophet) if YHWH would not forgive Israel. YHWH makes a compromise (only punish the guilty, not all of Israel) in this situation, but what if YHWH hadn’t? Moses set the terms of the bargain, Israel and him or neither of them. It is a risky proposition that YHWH might accept the latter, as he is free to take either condition. Thus, in a prayer life, when one seeks to make exchanges, or maybe bargains (or maybe even extortion), one can risk moving God to accept the less desirable option. And there is no higher court of appeal to turn to if God accepts the option we wish He hadn’t.

There is a freedom to exchange with God that recieves a positive response from God, although recogizing His capacity to provide overwhelms our limited capacity to give to Him.  But in one’s own self-preservation, some bargains are risky and one must be prepared for God to accept any of the options we provide to Him (or for Him to ignore any of our options).

August 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment