The Great Despotic Rot: Obamacare, the Supreme Court Ruling, and Spurious Claims to Deity

Health care, sign, rightsDoug Wilson recently wrote a powerful repudiation of Obamacare and the recent Supreme Court ruling, focusing largely on the (non)biblical implications—which is to say, all of the implications (HT).

Wilson begins his critique by exploring the meaning and Biblical importance of limited government, kicking things off with the following verses:

And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.

Here we find the gospel, with all of its political implications (meaning authority and submission implications), rubbing up against a culture and a system that has its own version of things. And here, where Christians overtly ride tensions with earthly despots, we see a push toward the intended order of things—a rendering of the rendering, we might say.

Here we see a glimpse of why government must be limited, and what or who does the limiting:

Limited government does not refer to the size of government, but rather refers to a certain concept of government. Limited government means that vast portions of human life and experience lie outside the business of the civil magistrate, and that everyone, both governors and governed, understand this boundary. False concepts of government will indeed affect the size of the state eventually, but the size is not really the main issue. Size is the symptom, not the cause. The cancer is one thing, and the fever, fatigue, or dizziness is quite another. Limited government recognizes, and rejoices in, its finitude. Government that has metastasized does not.

So in the absence of a functional limiting principle, every act of legislation is a grasping after the serpent’s promise—you shall be as God. Absolutist governments are therefore anti-Christian in principle long before any decisions are made, whether those decisions are good or bad. If the Supreme Court upheld a law that required all of us to carry an umbrella whenever it looked like rain, the issue would not be the umbrella, or the rain, or the accuracy of the weather report, or the wisdom of taking the umbrella on any given occasion, but rather what such overreach revealed about who on earth they think they are.

The Bible requires limited government because any claim to unlimited government by mortals is a spurious claim to Deity. To make such claims is a fatal conceit, and to acquiesce in them is cowardice in the face of such conceit.

Next, Wilson applies this approach, revealing the “fatal conceits” and “spurious claims to Deity” in Obamacare and the Supreme Court’s upholding of the law—developments that most Americans seem to now shrug off as inevitable ends of Western civilization.

The application:

The heart of the problem is that the Supreme Court has now in effect declared that there is no limiting principle in our form of government at the federal level. This means that if we are to live under limited government—the kind of government the Bible requires—that limitation must be enforced at the state and local levels and, failing that, at the level of the church, and failing that, at the level of families and individuals.

Simply repealing Obamacare as a policy matter is no longer enough. Obamacare must be rejected because it is inconsistent with the moral obligation of limited government, and not because it was “unpopular” or “will cost too much.” The problem we are facing is not because of a stupid law. Of course Congress will pass stupid laws from time to time. The problem is the claimed prerogative to a stupidity without limit. We can bear with stupidity from time to time. It is the claim to omnipotent stupidity that has awakened our concern. In a godly form of civil government, we must reject anything that concludes with those fatal words—“without limit.”

Congress is not Jesus, the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and there was no baptism for any of them at the Jordan; there was no fluttering dove that descended. Congress did not die for us, and if Congress were to die, Congress could not rise from the dead. This means that Congress does not own me, or the members of this congregation. We have all been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, and therefore cannot be possessed in this manner by another. We have already been bought with a price—Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Talk about a single payer.

Lastly, the solution:

The great despotic rot that we are dealing with here did not begin in Washington, D.C. The central tyranny is the tyranny of sin, and that tyranny cannot be ended unless and until the people of this nation cry out to God, seeking forgiveness for the sins and iniquities, and put away the idols that they have gathered to themselves. When the people stop blaming everybody else for everything else, and take personal responsibility for their sins, and call upon Jesus to forgive them, then He will forgive them. Having forgiven them, He will also deliver them.

In the meantime, the fight is upon us, and we don’t have the luxury of repenting and then going off to fight at a later and more convenient time. We have to repent while we are fighting, and fight while we are repenting. We have to cry out to God in the midst of the battle, and trust in Him on the fly. We could wish it were otherwise, but this has been done before—“for they cried to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them; because they put their trust in him” (1 Chron. 5:20).

We can critique Obamacare from plenty of angles—for its negative economic consequences, for its negative social and moral implications, for its overarching threat to human dignity and religious liberty.

But what does such a breach mean from a deeper spiritual perspective? Have we become so dependent on earthly kings and so ambivalent to populist plundering that we’ve forgotten that authority and decision making are to be aligned with Truth? Have we forgotten that a transcendent order exists? Have we forgotten that Christian obedience necessitates a robust, rigorous orientation around the question, “obedience to whom?”

My fear is that the bait of materialistic security is looking mighty tasty to a country that has thus far stood apart on divine deference. Its hook of debased humanistic reasoning is beginning to catch, and if we don’t swim away quick, it won’t be long till our gums are being yanked ever closer to the feet of some pathetic idol to comfort and quick-fixery. When we get there—when we’ve achieved all those noble material ends our earthly despots have dragged our spirits into—we’ll continue to squiggle and squirm, gasping for air as we continue to search for meaning, hope, peace, and justice in a shallow political promise with insides as earthy as dirt and a scepter that stings.

As Wilson emphasizes, wherever the gospel has gone, pagan despotisms have fallen. Above all other arguments, then—economic, social, constitutional, or otherwise—may the gospel go.

To read Wilson’s full post, click here.

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  • Anon

    Assume for this comment that we agree with the proposition that the government has a role in healthcare (I know, I know… but just assume it for hypothetical purposes). If the government increased taxes, then provided all Americans with a healthcare voucher (c.f. arguments about school vouchers), would that be better than the mandate? Apologies if you’ve posted on this idea elsewhere – a link would be appreciated in that case.

    This is the question I ask everyone freaking out about the mandate, since in general I’ve noticed a correlation between people who make arguments for school vouchers and who have issues with the mandate. I ask because the outcome is very similar, with everyone having a government-administered push to obtain healthcare. The obvious difference is that the vouchers are still a choice – you’ve already paid for them via taxes, but have the option of not using the voucher. 

  • Remnant Culture

    One issue, which in this case I believe is one of the primary issues, is the federal/state issue. Does the federal government have any role in public education, even with vouchers? I would say no. Thankfully, despite the encroachment of the federal government, education is still semi-state, semi-local. If California decided to provide universal healthcare, I think this would say something different about the moral/fiscal/whatever state of our nation as a whole. Think Romneycare. This is all basic federalism stuff–elevating it as a faulted but pretty darn good mechanism for balanching all these factions and interests and all that.

    I also think education and health care are two different types of goods, thinking about these things the way Adam Smith talks about “the provision of certain public goods.” Some prefer to conflate this idea and argue that everything from housing to healthcare to cable boxes to organic veggies counts as goods that people can’t afford on their own, and thus, we must bludgeon others into funding. I would disagree, and argue that education is akin to roads. I believe Smith speaks to education and roads in particular.

    The goal, I believe, should be to minimize government involvement in all matters, assuming it will need to be involved in some. When observing all factors–basic cost/benefit analysis, basic liberty/authority concerns, moral/spiritual implications, government inefficiences, blablabla–I don’t think healthcare comes anywhere close to “counting” under even a moderate estimation of what should this be considered a public good.

  • Anon

    I should have used “federal government” rather than just “government” in my previous post, so take this sentence as a clarification. With that in mind, you didn’t answer the question about vouchers.
    I absolutely understand what you did discuss in your reply. In fact, my hope was to avoid the need to reiterate all you were talking about and just discuss vouchers in healthcare *under the assumption* of federal gov’t intervention being acceptable.

  • Christopher M. Marlink

    Good post, Joseph. I couldn’t help but thinking this was a sermon one might have heard circa 1770.

  • Remnant Culture

    Federal/state issues aside, then, how is making the distinction between education and healthcare as public not an answer to your question? The obvious difference is that healthcare is not education and education is not healthcare. If the government were to fund broccoli, but were to give us a choice on the brand, I would oppose it for similar reasons. It is a good best handled in the market without government coercion for economic reasons (cost), political reasons (avoiding the creation of a huge voting bloc dependent on government) and moral reasons (control over one’s own body/healthcare).

    Is your question this? Assume we live in a communist republic and the government “has a role” in everything, what’s the difference between publicly funding everything and letting people pick their school, pick their doctor, and pick their brand of broccoli?

    I’m not sure how productive it is to ask questions like “assume you agree with tons of things you don’t agree with…if so, what if…?” Who cares? The questions of control, federal/state authority, and who funds what and what shall by funded how are alll intertwined. 

  • Remnant Culture

    The Great Despotic Rot: Obamacare, the Supreme Court Ruling, & Spurious Claims to Deity @douglaswils HT @Walker_Andrew

  • Joseph Sunde

    The Great Despotic Rot: Obamacare, the Supreme Court Ruling, & Spurious Claims to Deity @douglaswils HT @Walker_Andrew

  • Anon

    I’m seeking to better understand how different people view various mechanisms like mandates, vouchers, etc, in relation to each other, particularly on contentious issues like healthcare. It’s a simple question about mechanisms, intentionally divorced from whether the mechanisms should be used.
    The allusion to education vouchers was an attempt at a quick, rough explanation of what the voucher mechanism could look like. I forgot how much baggage you bring to the conversation, which ultimately led this thread down a rabbit hole of an unintended association between education and healthcare.”I don’t know how productive it is…”In my experience, my greatest personal growth in understanding has come from trying to put myself in others’ shoes; in other words, to assume things I didn’t agree with or didn’t understand and examine the consequences. That’s how I was led to the belief that markets are the best mechanism to date for allocating most goods, and that the burden of proof lies on the person arguing for deviations from the market. Examining things I didn’t agree with at first is how I came to the conclusion that, while the notion of everyone having healthcare sounds really nice, in practice isn’t not a good idea for a myriad of reasons. It’s what I do whenever I read your posts; I am quite uncomfortable with the overt Christian focus underpinning your basis for policies in a secular governing system, but I want to better understand where you’re coming from so I need to at least temporarily adopt your assumptions when reading your posts. In particular I try and compare the results of using your assumptions with the results of using my own to see where my own need to be adjusted.”I’m not sure how to answer that, or whether it’s even worth answering.”I’ve seen you do this before. Whenever you don’t understand someone, you declare their post pointless and/or redefine their question in a way offensive to the original poster (both of which you did here). This is quite disappointing in a response from someone who is supposed to be seeking understanding, and the technique ultimately doesn’t serve to further any sort of discussion.

  • Anon

    There should be paragraph breaks at each quotation, the software somehow ate those.

  • Remnant Culture

    RE: Federal/state issues aside, then, how is making the distinction between education and healthcare as public not an…

  • Joseph Sunde

    We're looking for meaning, hope & justice in a political promise w/ insides as earthy as dirt & a scepter that stings.

  • Remnant Culture

    "In the absence of a functional limiting principle, every act of legislation is grasping after the serpent’s promise."

  • Remnant Culture

    Ahhh, I think I get it now, although I’m still hazy on what this assumption implies, which I think led me to take your initial assumption not as a “assume we’re all socialists” as much as “assume we both believe government has *some* role in healthcare (which I do believe). I also think I misunderstood your first paragraph through the lens of your second paragraph, in which your reference to “everyone freaking out about the mandate” made me wonder if you somehow assumed that by adapting the mandate to a voucher program, these folks should be more at ease with this. My point there was that you can’t construe the two because school choice has its own host of assumptions, one biggie being that education is different from healthcare. In the process, it seems as though I lost sight of your original question up front. My bad.

    [As an aside to concern about assuming others' positions, I'm all for temporarily adopting assumptions, but based on my confusion, this is why I didn't think it was worthwhile in this particular case: I thought you were asking me to comment on something I agree with (education vouchers) but *swap out the assumptions* to the point of inconsistency (tried to clarify w/ an edit). I don't think its productive to do *that* outside of some ivory-tower exercise, but now I see that's not what you were asking me to do. As I've said, I'm not sure why I did read it that way and I'll take all the blame. I should've just read your comment twice through and/or just asked "what do you mean 'assume government has a role'? (God help me if I'm still getting
    this wrong).]

    PHEW! Ok, well, now that I think I’ve got your question right, which is what do I think of mandates and vouchers in healthcare specifically, if I thought government had “a role” (again, this is hazy to me and is, I think, what spurred the initial confusion), I guess I’ll have to break it into several answers, as I assume people who believe the government has a role would have different reasons for believing that.

    1. If my goal is that everyone be insured but we try to maintain the private market the best we can, and I have a general distrust in government, I’d say the mandate. It still allows free choice, but doesn’t aim to elevate the government to Mass Coupon-Distributor at the front end.

    2. If my goal is the everyone be insured but I think government would actually do a good job of handing out coupons and fixing prices, perhaps I’d go vouchers. Which allow the same kind of choice but would seem to muddy the already muddied waters a bit further (that vouchers are a step forward in education is telling).

    3. If my goal was that everyone be insured and government’s “role” in healthcare was to provide healthcare, well…I’d say fling wide the gates and ramp up those taxes.

    4. I assume there are lots of variations.

    (5. If I was a conservative, I’d probably prefer the mandate to vouchers if we had to have one or the other…again, I think the penalty involves the government less than taxing everyone and having more license to fix prices and control everything

    Those are my initial reactions, having passed by all the confusion (I hope).

  • Luke Moon

    "In the absence of a functional limiting principle, every act of legislation is grasping after the serpent’s promise."

  • Anon

    I’m really glad we worked through the confusion, and I’ll absolutely take blame for a lack of wording clarity (posting between work tasks is never overly effective).

    Your numbered replies were exactly what I was looking for, and I’d be willing to describe it as hitting a jackpot. Tons to ponder!

    I have a followup, on the constitutionality side (which I think broadens beyond my original question focus solely on mechanisms). If the federal government had a role in healthcare, do you believe any of the numbered options are constitutional? My gut reaction is that the mandate is on much shakier ground, despite recent SCOTUS decisions, but that the vouchers or gov’t provided healthcare would be more sound constitutionally. However, your reply makes me seriously wonder about that conclusion. (Perhaps this seeming conflict between constitutionality and what a conservative would prefer is a symptom of the federal healthcare involvement being a less than awesome idea…

    “that vouchers are a step forward in education is telling”
    I may steal that quote…

  • Remnant Culture

    The bait of materialistic security is looking mighty tasty to a country that has stood apart on divine deference.