Twice in the last week, the name of N.T. Wright has found its way into my field of vision. The first came in Fr. Barron’s critique of Reza Aslan and his “scholarship.” I quote: “There are far, far better accounts of the historical Jesus than the book under consideration. I would recommend studies by E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, Richard Bauckham, Ben Witherington III, or N.T. Wright. What they will show you is that the real Jesus remains far more interesting and compelling than the superficial caricature offered by Reza Aslan.”
It is certainly true that Wright knows his way around the Bible. That level of expertise makes it all the more shocking to read the scholar’s words concerning the healthcare debate in America:
In [the United States], for example, there seem to be Christian political voices saying that you shouldn’t have a national healthcare system. To us, in Britain, this is virtually unthinkable. Every other developed country from Norway to New Zealand has healthcare for all of its citizens. We don’t understand all of this opposition to it over here in the U.S. And, we should remember: In the ancient world, there wasn’t any healthcare system. It was the Christians, very early on, who introduced the idea that we should care for people beyond the circle of our own kin. Christians taught that we should care for the poor and disadvantaged. Christians eventually organized hospitals. To hear people standing up in your political debate and saying—”If you are followers of Jesus, you must reject universal healthcare coverage!”—and that’s unthinkable to us. Those of us who are Christians in other parts of the world are saying: We can’t understand this political language. It’s not our value in our countries. It’s not even in keeping with traditional Christian teaching on caring for others. We can’t understand what we are hearing from some of your politicians on this point. Yet, over here, some Christians are saying that it’s part of the list of boxes we all should check off to keep in line.
(From the blog of Denny Burk, here.)
Mr. Burk rightly argues that the nationalizing of healthcare in this country has been used as a means to attack the rights of conscience and I am sure that right now writers wiser and smarter than I will continue commentary in that same vein. But there is one thing I wish to add. We mustn’t be surprised that an expert in one field could be so mistaken when he applies his mind elsewhere. The limits of expertise, especially when it comes to deciding the nature of justice, are made plain by G.K. Chesterton at the end of his essay, The Twelve Men:
Now it is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men. But it is a thing to which a man can grow accustomed, as he can to other terrible things; he can even grow accustomed to the sun. And the horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best, about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policemen, is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they are stupid (several of them are quite intelligent), it is simply that they have got used to it.
Strictly they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see is the usual man in the usual place. They do not see the awful court of judgment; they only see their own workshop. Therefore, the instinct of Christian civilization has most wisely declared that into their judgments there shall upon every occasion be infused fresh blood and fresh thoughts from the streets. Men shall come in who can see the court and the crowd, and coarse faces of the policeman and the professional criminals, the wasted faces of the wastrels, the unreal faces of the gesticulating counsel, and see it all as one sees a new picture or a play hitherto unvisited.
Our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.
We mustn’t be too surprised when expertise fails us. After all, it is a short walk from expertise to pride. To understand the true nature of healthcare and Christianity, we may have to stop turning to our experts and instead find twelve men standing around a church hall.