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The fallacy of winners and losers

The fallacy of winners and losers

I am convinced that the current health care debate is not really about health care, but about who wins. As is often the case in recent politics, winning is the goal, but particularly in this case, the prize is the defeat of the opponent rather than the health of the populace. A high stakes zero-sum game is nothing new in Washington – or in our country, but it has become more divisive; Congress is just one, and perhaps the most visible, arena where these nasty verbal battles are being played out.

The media and the President, in different ways, are masters at keeping up the heat, given that we have a non-stop news cycle that feeds on drama and a chief executive who creates it by both naming and insulting losers (in his estimation) at the drop of a tweet.

And I, like so many of us, I get caught up in the hype and the heat. The constant vitriol and polarization seeps into most conversations, creates a wariness about others (“whose side are they on?”) and invades sleep.

About 25 years ago, Episcopal priest and theologian John Snow wrote a book entitled I Win, We Lose; the New Social Darwinism and the Death of Love. It is a searing critique of how our culture has evolved into the mindset of “survival of the fittest,” which inevitably leads to the mathematics of winners and losers: “Winning and losing, success and failure, victory and defeat became the only trusted categories of existence, and the primary motivation for work was not to help with the maintenance of a human society but to succeed, to be a winner” (page 117-118).

This zero-sum dynamic generates cascading waves of fear, which can easily be exploited. Jesus says that love casts out fear. But it also the case that fear can cast out love. And given the daily doses of fear that come our way – through any one of our many electronic devices, love can become rather precarious indeed.

The Christian faith is not based on the metrics of winners and losers. It is based on love, which does not seek out success but instead looks to heal broken bodies and souls, and to provide hope, health and light.

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people who keep an emotional and spiritual distance from Christianity say it is because they experience the Christian message as an endless and mean-spirited litany of judgment. When we are under the spell of a “winners and losers” mindset – as our culture is now – judgment can quickly turn into condemnation, which then makes it possible to demean, diminish or deny the dignity of someone else. And when we engage in condemnation – and make someone into a feared or fallen other, we become separated from one another, which then makes it easy to become and remain adversaries.

When Jesus tells us not to judge, he is admonishing us not to condemn, and to forswear the “winners and losers” approach to life and one another. This does not mean that we are never meant to judge. We judge all the time. Instead, for Jesus, judgment is an exercise in discernment. Not to see how we can put someone down – or push them out, or render them unworthy of our attention. But to discern how we are related to one another. To see how my welfare – and my health, is intrinsically connected to yours. To claim how each and every person is worth Jesus’ life – and his death.


Yes, Social Darwinism is one of the dynamics of the health care debate, but at the bottom of that, as you allude, is the issue of human worth.  The impulse for human greed behind Big Pharma and the Health Insurance Industry and the hidden greed of the "menu" approach to health care (x$ for anesthesia, x$ for the anesthesiologist, x$ for surgery, x$ for the surgeon, x$for the OR room, x$ for the surgical instruments and supplies, etc) are also a huge component of the unbrideled cost of health care which is not being addressed and why health insurance costs are so high. All we seem to care about is paying the health and pharmaceutical industries whatever they ask. As POTUS#45 is quoted as saying, "Health care is complicated." It doesn't have to be, but it is. Thanks for writing about this. Health care is a right because we are all connected, one to another, and because each one of us has worth as a child of God. This should have even greater clarity for those who claim to be Christians.

Thanks Bishop You put into words exactly the way I have been feeling about the situation. I hope more people get it.

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