The Young Invincibles

Young adults don’t know that they’re going to die.  I mean, in theory, of course they do, but when you’re 19 or 23, it just doesn’t seem possible that you could become seriously ill or incapacitated.  That’s what happens to old people.  Except when it happens to you.

Another thing about young adults.  They like to live in cities, and they start out with low-paying jobs.  They can’t afford health insurance.  And after they get out of college, their parents usually can’t continue carrying their adult children on the parents’ policy.  So what do they do?  They try to “be careful.”  They stretch their medication out, instead of getting more.  Sometimes they even set their own broken bones.  (NY Times, 2/18) 

And other times they have emergencies, real emergencies.  Accidents, or life-threatening illnesses.  They may end up like Alanna Boyd, 28, who was treated for diverticulitis in Beth Israel Medical Center in New York–she was in the hospital for 40 hours and was billed $17, 398–including $13 for the use of a television.  Said Ms. Boyd, “I could have gone to a major university for a year.  Instead, I went to the the hospital for two days.”

Or the situation could be much worse, like that of the young adult son of friends of mine.  This young man had a suspicious growth that he should have had checked out–but he postponed going to a doctor for six months, because he had applied for health insurance and didn’t want to be found with a “pre-existing condition.”  It turns out that he has a melanoma, a form of cancer that is readily curable if treated in the early stages–but deadly if it is left to spread its seeds throughout the body.  This boy is going to die–he is now in palliative care, because nothing more can be done.

Our young adults are the largest group of medically uninsured.  The latest available figures show 13.2 million of them, or 29 percent, as of 2007.  Who are they?  They are our children, that’s who they are.  They want to be on their own, but they haven’t figured out how to do that in this failing economy.  They are trying hard, most of them, and living lightly–but most of the jobs that are available to them do not include health insurance, and private insurance is way too expensive.  So they hope for the best.  Some of them make it through to maturity all right . . . and some of them don’t.

Two dozen states now allow parents to claim young adults as dependents for insurance purposes up to age 29.  I believe all states should follow suit.  Medical care is not a privilege–it should be an absolute right for everyone, in a wealthy society such as ours.  But if we’re going to begin somewhere with universal health care in this country, let it be with our children.  These young people are still growing into adulthood.  It is shameful that we grown-ups are letting them go without the protection that they need. 

That’s what grown-ups do, in a civilized country.  They care for their young.   


Indulgences Are Back!

Apparently the Catholic hierarchy–Pope Benedict, in particular–is bringing back indulgences (NY Times 2/10).  This is big news, because they have been out of favor since the Mother Church was selling them to some profit back in the 16th century, setting off the wrath of reformer Martin Luther and fostering the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Just what are indulgences, anyway?  The name gives us some hint.  It works this way: Catholics can commit sins, go to confession, but still have to do time in that unpleasant in-between-place, Purgatory, which is sort of a way-station to heaven, after you’ve paid your dues with enough suffering for said sins.  To avoid this stop, you can say certain prayers, make certain devotions, or go on certain pilgrimages–such will keep you safe until you commit another sin, which is almost certain to happen, knowing ourselves as we do. You can also reduce purgatorial time for dead people–but as one baffled Catholic complained, “What does it mean to get time off in Purgatory?  What is five years in terms of eternity?”  Good point.

Why are indulgences coming back into favor now?  Well, sin is out of favor these days.  People just “make mistakes.”  Or have “dysfunctional families.”  If only every child were given milk and cookies at bedtime, there would be no such thing as evil, many secularists believe.  Instead of going to a priest, we go to a psychiatrist–or if money is short in the current economic downturn, we check out a self-help book from the library.  Without sin, of course, there can be no repentence.  (And no real need for confession or indulgences, of course.)

I see the point.  I’m for sin, myself–that is, I believe we all commit them.  And repentence is a good thing.  But personal sins, which seem to be the focus of confession and indulgences, pale in the face of systemic sins, like war, hunger, and the lack of health care (for starters).  Just think about the systemic sins of the bankers and investment firms!  How many prayers or piltrimages would it take to wipe out these sins?  It boggles the mind.  Of course, the Church allows “charitable contributions” to count toward indulgences as well (presumably, to the Church, among other worthy organizations), so perhaps some of the TARP money could go for that.

According to the article in the Times, Portland, Oregon, is one of the locations where the Church has enthusiastically offered indulgences this year.  For those looking for an alternative, I would like to counter with the Universalist view of “universal salvation,” in which we posit a God who is too good to send anyone to a burning lake of fire for eternity–or even for a few thousand years to Purgatory.  We believe that hell is what we make for ourselves right here on this earth, when we separate ourselves from God and from one another. 

Like the Catholics, we also take contributions.  But we don’t guarantee heaven.  Our God doesn’t do deals.  Sorry.