Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Perfect as the Enemy of the Good

I'm sure he didn't come up with it, but I so resonate with the line of Bill Clinton this past week: "Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good." It goes right along with what I wrote earlier this week about compromise being far from a bad word the vast majority of the time.

Here Christians need to be especially careful. Most pop-Christianity confuses our clear belief in definite right and wrong with absolute right and wrong. I can think of little in the Bible that treats the vast majority of ethical decisions as a matter of absolutes, which by definition are exceptionless. Rather, the more normal expectation of the New Testament is that of universally valid moral expectation, with allowances for exceptional situations.

Jesus made exceptions to the sabbath rule and to purity rules--people trumped rules for him. Paul made exceptions to purity rules and, indeed, relegated vast portions of the Law to Jews alone, and only then when those portions did not conflict with the greater principle of the unity of the body of Christ. Were there ethics to which they did not make exceptions? Of course! But to get off on those issues (adultery, murder, etc) is to commit the fallacy of diversion. The vast majority of Christian ethical norms are universally valid with exceptions. Indeed, Paul treats the sabbath legislation in a relativistic fashion, as a matter of conscience (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). In that case, he did not consider the sabbath rule even to be universally valid.

As I said earlier in the week, some is better than none almost all the time. Obviously the "want their perfect" liberal Democrats are unhappy, and the "do nothing" Republicans are unhappy. I don't know enough of the particulars of this health care bill to know what to think. But I am encouraged that it has been forged only by way of massive compromises. I am encouraged that the"government is your nanny" Democrats are unhappy. And I am encouraged that the "It's not my fault you live in a dumpster" Republicans are unhappy. And I am encouraged that Obama is not an idealist but a pragmatist.

We'll see, of course, but it seems to me that something is better than nothing. And this bill will apparently cut the deficit $130 billion over 10 years, with roughly 94% of eligible Americans covered. Christians can legitimately be upset about many potential elements of this equation--maybe it won't do what it says it will. Maybe it will lead to massive problems down the line, greater pain. Maybe it will reinforce various kinds of injustice. Maybe. I don't know.

But I don't see how we cannot legitimately hope that this bill will help a lot of people who currently struggle. We can't be disappointed if it actually turns out to do good for a lot of people, even though we can legitimately have significant doubts.

14 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The perfect is the ideology that drives policy. Anyone that submits to an ideology that they do not adhere to, is acting in opposition to conscience.

So, one has to evaluate what is more important "ethically"...standing for principle, or standing for pragmatic needs of polical agenda...these are never easy questions or solutions and this is why the Church was never involved in the political process in the early Founding... The Church "societies" could serve their local interest, but the government was to serve everyones interests...and the ideology that drives the two in "how" What" and why is what the think tanks, and political parties are all about..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, your last post is "idealistic"...reconcilliation never occurs in all situations and all circumstances...otherwise, the world would be at peace today.

Principles that govern differences are the same across the board when it comes to relationships. We do we have peace in every relationship where it concerns the "ideal" because people have difference of opinion, conviction and "ideals" themselves. So due process is necessary when it concerns discrepancies concerning one's differences of value.

Ken Schenck said...

I don't recall saying that reconciliation will always be possible. It is only because the Democrats have 60 people in their ballpark that this legislation is possible. Clinton failed in his time for this reason.

And my thoughts also imply that what a group thinks is perfect is not likely the case anyway. The "principles" of Howard Dean are different from those of Mitch McConnell, even though both see themselves standing up for principle. Most of those I hear use words like "principle" and "integrity" are usually just stubborn and unbending, people you have to work around to do anything good at all.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I agree that people of principle must be careful that they are not doing a disservice to "the good". But, when there is obvious obstruction of justice, which can occur when people think they "speak for God", then that is a different matter.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Do you believe in filibusters?

Ken Schenck said...

In the profound words of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean, "There are only two things that matter in life: what a man can do and what a man can't do." The law allows for filibusters, and I have personally felt like they have functioned well in forcing needed compromise.

P.S. Those who believe in God have an ultimate Guarantor in what a man can and can't do.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I agree, with all the difficulties our government "garuntees", our government is the best, as it allows the differences that make for greatness...

As to "God as Ulitmate Guarantor", I'm not sure what you mean...I certainly don't subscribe, as I used to to biblical totaltarianism....

Ken Schenck said...

In the words of Dostoevsky, "If there is no God, then everything is permissible." In the words of Woody Allen, "I think if he can get away with murder and not be bothered by the consequences, then no one can say he's done anything wrong."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I have asked you before, but don't remember if you answered....are you a Restorationsist?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And I don't believe that atheists or agnostics are necessarily predisposed to criminal or subversive behavior, more than any other segment of society...even in the Church...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I mean, Richard Dawkins believes in the "morality" of universal healthcare, but doesn't have moral justification for that "conviction"...the globalists, environmentalists, or any other political agenda that intersects public welfare and public "good"...naturalism does offer some reason for being concerned about "public welfare"...as resources are limited, so we "should" be concerned...and share...etc..

Ken Schenck said...

Craig, if Harry Reid had written this version, it would not have any limitations on abortion funding and would have a public option, which is where the big government really would become an issue. And the budget numbers come from a non-partisan office, not from the Obama administration.

The question is really what will facilitate the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals within the American social contract without undue restriction on the rights of those within the social contract. This is not a straightforward equation--but it is really what we should be discussing, not oversimplifications that make for good rhetoric--like "big government." Shall we do away with the police, since that makes for a big government, big brother?

Martin LaBar said...

That's a good third paragraph.

Jason said...

The problem with the health bill as it stands now is that there has been TOO MUCH compromise on the part of the Democrats. The "public option" was supposed to BE the compromise between a single-payer system (which most civilized democracies on this planet have) and the Republican ideal (note: NOT the neo-con ideal --they believe in big government for certain things: wars, wire-tapping, etc.) of limiting the powers of the federal government. A single-payer system would be too much power, but no government involvement would be no real reform at all, so the public option was the compromise. Republicans and centrist Democrats balked. The bill, as it stands now, is an apology to the insurance companies for even daring to try to reform them. It's a big love note. Take the proposed fine levy for denying treatment over pre-existing conditions. If you're an insurance company, would you rather pay $100,000+ for expensive treatment for a chronic sufferer, or take a small fine for denying them? Of course, you take the fine every time. Denial of treatment will still occur, yet if this bill indeed passes, we'll all sit back and pretend like real "reform" has taken place.
The Democrats have plenty to answer for as well. They have picked their battles but made some weird selections. Why won't most of them budge on the abortion issue? It seems like such an easy compromise to me. I am not a proponent of abortion, but I have many friends who are and they're scratching their heads on this as well. It's a no-brainer, really. And now the Republicans have an excuse for voting no (whereas previously they would have had to vote no for the sole reason of handing Obama his biggest defeat of his term). It is a partisan politics game being played here, but the Democrats have chosen to compromise on the very aspects that made the original bill "reform" in the first place. The claims that this bill will save lives and money are dubious at best. The travesty is that when it fails to protect the poor, no one will want to resuscitate the issue because it was a long and bitter struggle and politically we will be "past it."