Ya know, beyond the intellectual, there’s another advantage to being an atheist: I’m not looking forward to any life after death, to get whatever it was that I missed here, including the chance to get it right. Now, that’s what I’ve got. It’s all I’ve got.
And that’s why it breaks my heart to see wonderful opportunities for us as a nation to do better, to be better cynically, thoughtlessly tossed down the drain; as if “oh well, I’ll do better next time, in the next life.” Well folks, I’m here to smash that illusion: simply put, there just isn’t any “next time.”
On the floor of the Senate today will be debate over Indian health care, what this nation promised, and sealed those promises with ratified treaties, to the many Native American nations whose land we took.
Point One. It’s my wager that few Americans know what the legal significance of a treaty is. From the Constitution of the United States, Article VI: “. . . all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land (emphasis mine); and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution of the laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
“The supreme law of the land!” In other words, there are no laws which are or shall be higher than, or even equal to treaties that have been signed and ratified. No laws; not a lot of wiggle room there.
Truth One. Decade after decade after decade, generation upon generation, this country has violated the agreements it has made with Native Americans, with treaties we negotiated freely, and that such treaties were ratified and thereby assumed the highest elevation as “the supreme law(s) of the land.”
Especially in our western states, hundreds of thousands of the inhabitants of Indian reservations live in third world conditions. They have no water purification or sewage disposal facilities or systems. Outdoor toileting is the norm, not the exception. School facilities are inadequate, old, deteriorated, and unsafe. When the nearest hospital is 90 to 100 miles or more distant, medical care is virtually nonexistent. And if the federal budget allocations have run out, which has frequently been with nine months remaining in the fiscal year, when a Native American patient arrives at a hospital, they may have attached to their person a federal government notification to the facility that it ought not to look for reimbursement of any kind from the federal government.
Point Two. The great majority of Americans, somewhere around 80% by the latest surveys, like to identify themselves as Christians. Whenever we identify ourselves as believers of a doctrine, whenever we vote for a candidate who identifies him- or herself as a member of a political party, by extension we are also saying we agree with the religion’s and/or the candidate’s and his or her party’s basic tenets and policies. (If this isn’t so, I’d like anyone to tell me what other conclusions can be legitimately drawn.)
Truth Two. From “The book of the genealogy . . .” in Matthew through “. . . no man forbidding him” in The Acts, the effort is to conclusively answer Cain’s question of God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” as Yes you (we) are. Overwhelmingly the words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, teachings that Christians profess to attempt to follow, are on behalf of the poor, the sick, the lame, in contrast with the interests of the wealthy “who have their reward.”
However, by the standards laid down clearly by Jesus, “By your acts ye shall be known,” by and large, there is, as there has been, a dearth of Christ-like acts, or even expressed care, by “Christians” for those Jesus claimed those who would follow him ought to retain as uppermost in their hearts. By the standards laid down by Jesus of Nazareth, any objective analysis would adjudge the overwhelming majority of those who pretend to be “Christians” as phonies, as hypocrites.
Conservatives are wont to propound how, while all this may be so, the call is to the individual, not to the government. The Acts paints any such assertions as a lawyerly weaseling through the narrowest of escape tunnels; and we all know what Jesus thought of lawyers. Indeed, in The Acts, the most Christian-like form of government would be socialistic: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) See also Acts 4:32.
“All” is an absolute. It doesn’t allow for fractions or ratios or proportionalities. All means all. Thus it follows that if all things were held in common, so too ought to be that the woes of those poor, sick, and lame would be a common concern of all in the community, a community that would care for the poor, the sick, the lame by giving as “every man had need.” Nowhere will be found in any New Testament passage the first reference to as every man felt his giving was convenient, or to the level at which convenient became inconvenient. And by The Acts, it is clear that the most Christ-like form of community is a socialistic one. And as to the relationship of community and government, especially as it was in the first and second centuries CE (Current Era), excepting the overarching aegis of Rome, the community and government were one and the same with no anticipation differing forms would surface in the millennia ahead.
Thus, whether by dint of the legal obligation to adhere to treaty promises we have made, or to be in accord with the Christian doctrines, as iterated in the biblical texts, that the vast majority of Americans say they identify with, it is incumbent on all of us to support the Senate bill on Indian healthcare that’s being debated today.
The reason this has special relevance today and in the tomorrows ahead owes to the nature of congressional bills. Today’s bill, one Senate Leader Reid has said will be voted on no later than adjournment Friday, is an ‘authorization” bill. Although it’s important because it’s the first step in a two-step process, authorization does nothing whatsoever to actually see that whatever is authorized becomes the least realized. That can only be accomplished via a funding bill.
In authorization, everyone can talk the talk, and claim to support this or that cause or measure in front of their constituents, come election time. It’s only during funding legislation that the rubber hits the road, where those who have talked the talk are called on to also walk the walk. And it’s there where, for the past ten years, Republicans have each and every time killed all efforts to actually live to our legal obligation or our moral requirements. Every year, for the past ten, the best that got passed was funding to the previous year’s levels, or perhaps just slightly above; never to the levels demanded either by treaty or what’s needed.
Thousands of those on reservations, frequently a hundred miles from adequate medical care, cannot afford to wait until “next time.” They have been dying during this time. Next time will be for too many more too late. And if conservative “Christians” want think of me as some bleeding-heart liberal, this atheist absolutely is that.