Nazis, Commies, and Manicheans in the Health-Care Debate

By Ernesto Tinajero 8-24-2009

I remember playing WWII as a boy. We would pick sides of American and Nazis. Of course, everyone wanted be the Americans, the good guys. The solution became to pretend the team you were on was the Americans and the opponents were the Nazis. We did the same when playing war of Americans vs. Russians. For my team, we were the good Americans and they were the bad Russians, and for the other team they saw us as bad Russians to their good Americans. We were children and our play reflected our world.

I am part of the second generation that grew up shaped by the Cold War. When asked in English class to write a poem or story, a good percentage of us would take the theme of nuclear war, fear of radiation, or fear of USSR. The Cold War taught my generation to view the world as good vs. bad, seeing the world as Manichean. I have blogged about this Manichean worldview in our current world. The one of lasting effects of the Cold War is this Manicheanism within our politics, and we are witnessing this in the middle of the health-care debate. Recently, Chris Baker, guest hosting on the Glenn Beck show, called President Obama a "commie" - a secret "commie" who wanted to control our lives. Mr. Baker was playing out his Manicheanism like an irresponsible child playing a game, seeing nothing but evil in President Obama. The good guy/bad guy motif made him blind to the point of a fearful child's incoherence.

I know that Manicheanism is un-Christian and the early Church was right to be distrustful of it. St Augustine, a one-time Manichean, became one of its biggest critics. Christian anthropology starts with the premise of all humans falling short and being sinners needing God grace. All are offered grace and can be transformed by grace. Our check and balance system was built on this premise. Don't trust people, as we all are sinners. Best to divide power and go through the messiness of consciences and democracy. Manicheanism does the opposite. It demands trusting the "right" people and mistrusting others. The key is to have the good guys in power and oppose the bad guys when they have power.

The calls to a civil debate about health care have fallen into the simplistic division between good vs. bad, dividing the world into opposing camps. The danger becomes apparent when the question is asked, What should we do about the opposing side? For the Manichean Democrats, what to do with the evil Republicans? For the Manichean Republicans, what to do with the evil Democrats?

Christians are called to be peacemakers, and peace begins when Manicheanism ends. We are called to enter the untidiness of loving both friends and enemies. President Obama is under pressure to stopping working with Republicans in reforming health care. No matter how hard it may become, the road to reform must include working with as many people as possible. There is no other way to live with each other. We must heed St. Paul and become adults and put away childish ways.

portrait-ernesto-tinajeroErnesto Tinajero is a freelance writer in Spokane, Washington, who earned his master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Visit his blog at

To learn more about health-care reform, click here to visit Sojourners' Health-Care Resources Web page.

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