Friday, Politico.com editor Fred Barbash posed this question to “Arena” contributors: “Does the ongoing debate about healthcare reform reflect a :”kind of culture war” that can be traced to a “fundamental difference in world views?”
Barbash then pointed to a thought-provoking piece by Bill Bishop, titled “Health Debate Runs Along Familiar Lines” which was published on Politico.com in March. Bishop, who is the co-author of “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart,” argues that “The health care discussion reveals that the country is still divided along lines drawn more than 100 years ago. . . divisions in the country were never about specific issues . . .. They were about ways of looking at this world (and the next), and those century-old differences are now shaping the health care discussion.”
Bishop frames the age-old religious debate this way: “Do you get to heaven by your good works, by what you do for your brothers and sisters on Earth? Or do you find salvation by your individual relationship with God? Does the world get better through public acts or private ones?“When Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said recently that ‘this health care issue s D-Day for freedom in America’ he was talking from one side of this division. President Barack Obama says, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ That’s the view from the other bank. “This isn’t a policy issue or a disagreement about strategy,” Bishop adds. “It is a fundamental difference in worldview. It’s a division in what people expect out of life, and it’s been part of this country for more than 100 years.”
He points out that “Religious historian Martin Marty described the late 19th-century split between what he called private and public Protestants. Private Protestants promoted individual salvation and personal morality.By contrast, Bishop exatplains that “Public Protestants saw riots by workers [fighting for unions] as a failure of society. Pubic Protestants promoted the minimum wage and the 8-hour days . . . Public Protestants believed that either the needs of people would be met, or the kingdom of God [on earth] would never arrive. ‘Either society confronted social injustice or society would fall,’ wrote one prominent public Protestant. ‘It is either a revival of social religion or the deluge.’”
There were “two types of Christianity” alive in the country, Bishop adds, “Congregationalist minister Josiah Strong wrote in 1913. ‘Their difference is one of spirit, aim, point of view, comprehensiveness. The one is individualist; the other is social.’”In my response, I tried to connect the dots between Private vs. Public Protestants and today’s progressives and conservatives.Regular readers may not find many surprises in my comment on healthcare reform, but I suspect many would enjoy Bishop Paul Moore’s spectacular analysis (which I quote in the second paragraph of my comment), explaining where former president George W. Bush fits in the Private vs. Public Protestant debate.
Maggie Mahar is an award winning journalist and author. A frequent contributor to THCB, her work has appeared in the New York Times, Barron’s and Institutional Investor. She is the author of “Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Why Healthcare Costs So Much,” an examination of the economic forces driving the health care system. A fellow at the Century Foundation, Maggie is also the author the increasingly influential HealthBeat blog, one of our favorite health care reads, where this piece first appeared.