November 6, 2007
Sacrifice and S-CHIPBy Christopher Chantrill
In the month that has elapsed since President Bush vetoed the extension of S-CHIP into the middle class, we have all had a chance to think about the deep philosophical issues involved. Now the Democrats want to bring the issue up for another confrontation with the president. So we must revisit the painful issues involved once again.
The most effective witnesses of the S-CHIP affair were the fathers. They called into talk shows and expressed their disgust at people who would buy late-model cars before buying health insurance for their families. They talked about the lousy jobs they had held so that they could have decent health insurance and provide for their families.
They were talking about the sacrifices they had made to do the right thing.
This business of sacrifice is a very big deal. It is a universal topic in the world's religions, and even appears in the world's modern secular religions (See my articles "Eco-sacrifice is Closer Than You Think" and "The Left Returns to Sacrifice".)
In the animal world sacrifice is ubiquitous. Swallows fly every waking hour catching insects on the wing to feed their young, and you can see the results when their chubby fledglings first leave the nest. Chimpanzee males spend their lives -- and lose their lives -- in border wars with the neighbors, defending territory in which the females and the young may feed and grow.
So it is with humans. We men are expendable, so we are often required to sacrifice ourselves as soldiers or as providers. Otherwise what is the use of us? The essence of male honor is to stand in line with your brothers in battle and not run away even in the face of certain death.
But sometimes we humans get sacrifice all wrong. Leave aside the Aztecs and Incas, even the Greek myths reveal our tragic flaw. I realized this a couple of weeks ago watching Gluck's opera Iphigenia in Tauris. For those who aren't Greek myth scholars, Iphigenia is the eldest daughter of Agamemnon and Tauris is modern Crimea.
The Crimea is not as out-of-the way as you might think. The Black Death entered Europe from the Crimean port of Caffa, and Florence Nightingale invented modern nursing there.
Here's the story so far. Agamemnon's fleet is on its way to teach the Trojans a lesson but gets becalmed by the angry goddess Artemis. To appease the goddess Agamemnon sacrifices his eldest daughter Iphigenia.
Fifteen years later, after the Trojans have learned their lesson, we find Iphigenia, miraculously rescued by Artemis, presiding in a temple in the Crimea on the other side of the Black Sea from Troy. Her job is to sacrifice any Greek travelers that might happen by, for the local King Thoas is really worried that the gods are offended by his evil deeds. Greek victims must be slaughtered to appease them. Wouldn't you know that the first Greek to turn up is Iphigenia's long lost brother, Orestes?
These kings are obviously missing the point. If you have offended the gods you should not sacrifice your daughter or some helpless Greek traveler to them. You should sacrifice yourself.
About 2,000 years ago Christians believe God got fed up with all this chaos on the sacrifice front. So he sent his Son as a sacrifice. No need to sacrifice your sons and daughters for your sins any more, God said. I'll sacrifice my Son instead, once for all. After that, let's have no more blood sacrifice. Just make a genuine repentance and you will be saved.
Unfortunately, politicians have had a real problem wrapping their brains around this one. In their belief system nothing has changed. Rulers still rule and other people sacrifice. You know how it works.
I get to live in a big house and fly around in corporate jets and get a carbon-offset indulgence from the eco-pope, but other people must sacrifice to save the planet. Or there is this.
I am a creative person so I shouldn't have to sacrifice my creative powers in a boring 9-to-5 job. Other people should pay for my kid's health insurance through S-CHIP.
How about this one? I am a helpless victim...
You've heard that one? My, these things get around fast.
Here's an original concept. Before you demand that other people sacrifice, you should do a spot of sacrificing yourself.
We conservatives do not suggest this because we are selfish and want to spend our paychecks on our own families.
It's because of this nagging feeling we've gotten from reading too much Greek tragedy. People who demand that other people sacrifice for them often come to a bad end. There was Agamemnon, murdered by his wife's lover. There was Thoas, cut down by Orestes' pal.
Maybe you should take that 9-to-5 job and pay for your own health insurance.