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C.S. Lewis on Universal Health Care and the Love of Some

I was reading CS Lewis’s The Four Loves and came across the quote below.  Obviously, Lewis is not specifically addressing universal health care or liberalism or the question of using the government to administer love.  Even Christians can be found thinking that it is a noble expression of a loving society to have the government do the loving… and this with no apparent thought to the actual effect that this ‘loving’ will have on the people ‘loved’ and the attitude it fuels in the people-government doing the ‘loving.’  The most important thing seems to be that, well, people’s intentions are good, and it’s better to do something rather than nothing.  Here is the quote:

This [is] Gift-love, but one that needs to give; therefore needs to be needed.  But the proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift.  We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.  Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love.  It must work towards its own abdication.  We must aim at making ourselves superfluous.  The hour when we can say “They need me no longer” shall be our reward.  But the instinct, simply in its own nature, has no power to fulfil this law.  The instinct desires the good of its object, but not simply;  only the good it can itself give.  A much higher love- a love which desires the good of the object as such, from whatever source that good comes- must step in and help or tame the instinct before it can make the abdication.  And of course it often does.  But where it does not, the ravenous need to be needed will gratify itself either by keeping its objects needy or by inventing for them imaginary needs.  It will do this all the more ruthlessly because it thinks (in one sense truly) that it is a Gift-love and therefore regards itself as “unselfish.”  (pgs 50-51)

Some discussion.

In the conversations I found myself in objecting to health care, I heard repeatedly how selfish I was being.  In the comments on blog entries I saw the same thing.  “If you really loved people you would support this bill.  You’re just selfish.  You just don’t want to pay taxes.”

I oppose universal health care, especially when put forward on secular grounds, precisely because I do love people.  I do not believe it is in the best interest of most people in either the short term or long term.  The Lewis quote above alludes to some reasons why.

For example, Lewis points out that if we really loved people, we’d try to work to the point where we were no longer needed.  In this perspective, one could at least make the argument that a truly loving society, and not merely one with an inflamed sense of ‘Gift-love’, would put forward programs for those in temporary need with the purpose always in mind of lifting them out of that need and into self-sufficiency.  Universal Health Care is the opposite of that, shooing everyone under the skirts of Mother Hen- from birth to death.

Lewis said, “the ravenous need to be needed will gratify itself either by keeping its objects needy or by inventing for them imaginary needs. ”

This seems to describe the mentality of the ‘Gift-lovers’ very well.  Not content to administer help and then step away with the job done, institutionalized ‘Gift-love’, without counter-point, cannot but help but keeping people needy forever, or, if they have no needs, make some up.

Compare this with Obama’s recent comment regarding the VAT tax:

He said his first priority “is to figure out how can we reduce wasteful spending so that, you know, we have a baseline of the core services that we need and the government should provide. And then we decide how do we pay for that.”

What an interesting way to phrase it!  A baseline of the core services that we need and the government should provide.  Implicit in this statement is a belief that government should provide for needs and these needs should be considered ‘core services.’  On the face of it, such a statement isn’t all that troubling.  Setting it in context, however, we see that by ‘core services’ Obama and the liberal mindset to government really means, “Everything that pertains to every aspect of humanity.”

Health care, by definition, can pertain to every aspect of a human, and will be made to apply.  But add to that the bailouts, nationalization of ‘core’ industries, and the ‘cap and trade’ legislation waiting in the wings which will give the government intrusive access into how Americans manage energy, and it is clear that Obama’s ‘Mother knows best’ attitude knows no limits.

We shall set aside for now the humorous and sad notion that Obama wants to think about how we pay for things in second place behind what the question of what Government should do, as if how we collect that money is irrelevant after that point- a bit like if I decided as a family that we needed food on the table so now its ok if I rob a grocery story because, well, I needed food on the table.  You can’t take the two things in isolation.

Lewis is talking in this quote about keeping things in perspective and proportion.  He is talking about ‘Gift-love’ that is inflamed out of proportion and allowed to roam free.  Allow me to explain this concept in order to clarify the point.

It is often said that Christians are against sex.  This is obviously untrue.  See all the derision on the Catholics and other Christians who have lots of children. But as Chesterton said, any stick will do to beat Christianity with.  But it isn’t that Christians are against sex.  Every Christian I know is a big fan of it.   However, the belief is that sex has a proper place and context.  Sex is not immoral.  Sex out of proportion is immoral.

In the same way, I like fire.  I like fire the best when it is enclosed in a nice ring of rocks and is giving me a gentle warmth.  I am not a big fan of fire when it burns down my house.  If someone learned that I was cold and came in and burned down my house (in the name of love and being unselfish) I should think that person did something immoral.  In the same way, sex willy nilly and outside of bounds is considered by biblical Christians as immoral.  It is sex blown out of proportion.

Using the Government to carry out ‘charitable’ and ‘loving’ services, risks the same sort of inflamation.  What starts out as good and proper can suddenly become all encompassing and all consuming.  Indeed, I would say that it has.  Things are well out of balance, to the point where it is, I would say, immoral.  Moreover, I would say that we are on the verge of ‘burning the house down’ in the name of love.  The sad thing is that everything has been reduced to ashes, liberals and many Christians who supported this Mother-Smothering-Gift-Love will walk around scratching their heads, wondering how their good intentions could have gone so awry- but it will not cross their mind that they’d actually done something wrong.

They will say, of course, that they had logic on their side.  After all, you support having the government pay for roads, don’t you?  Surely it logically follows that its ‘ok’ for you to use the government to determine what kind of treatment you get (if you get any at all), if you can drink pop, if you must go on an exercise regime or be denied priority treatment, etc, etc, etc.

But I will point you to another CS Lewis analogy from The Abolition of Man:

This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absolute absurdity. It is like the famous Irishman who found that a certain kind of stove reduced his fuel bill by half and thence concluded that two stoves of the same kind would enable him to warm his house with no fuel at all.  (pg 83) … I implore you to remember the Irishman and his two stoves.  There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis– incommensurable with the others- and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey.  (pg 91)

I tell you the truth, some have already made this final leap in the ‘logical’ progression and some are poised to make it.  Jacob Appel, ‘bioethicist’, John Holdren (Obama’s ‘Science Czar’) and Cass Sunstein (Obama’s ‘Regulatory Czar’) are three examples who come to mind.  They advocate things like forced sterilizations, population control through the water supply, mining organs without consent, and even killing people- out of love- to spare them the suffering of existence.

They all think they are perfectly loving individuals, and two of the ones I mentioned hold the reins of power.  They have made the final leap-  ‘logic’ blown out of proportion, blowing ‘Gift-love’ out of proportion, and as such advocate a use of the government that is as immoral as burning down a house- regardless of how good and noble the intentions were at the time, or after.


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  1. Linked to your post from At The Water Cooler – Charity

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anthony Horvath. Anthony Horvath said: CS Lewis objects to loving people to death: http://bit.ly/9O5gUj […]

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