The VA’s “Systemic” Problem Shows the Failure of Secularism

I haven’t collected evidence that most people in authority at the VA are committed atheists. But I am guessing that most are nominal believers who go to church seldom if ever. I’m open to counter evidence. But until I see it, I’m going to assume that the people in the power structure of the VA are, with few exceptions, moderate and secular people rather than religious zealots of any kind, including committed.

This is very important to correctly understanding the VA scandal.

The Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs has now resigned after admitting that the problems were not isolated anomalies in Phoenix, Arizona but “systemic.”

What’s weird about his description is that, he is right in what he intends to say: the problems are present throughout the Veterans Administration. But he is also right that the problems are systemic, which, as I ordinarily use the term means something slightly different than what Eric Shinseki means. Here is the quotation:

 “I no longer believe that. It is systemic,” he said. “I can’t explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities.”

Shinseki obviously means there was a widespread moral failure in leadership. I agree. But to understand it I think we need to try to separate the character flaw from the flaw in the system of the VA itself. The systemic problem with the VA, as I have argued from the beginning, was that the VA was appointed to do a task that was impossible for it to accomplish with the resources that it was given for that task. A secondary systemic problem was that people got bonuses for claiming to have fulfilled the impossible task.

Now I’ll add a third systemic problem: If anyone who got to such a position of authority at the VA still had any integrity and objectivity left in his moral make-up, he or she knew that there would probably be career-damaging or even career-ending consequences for frankly admitting that one failed to do the assigned job. While we can label all this as pure greed, human nature being what it is, we can be sure that the people weighing the decision probably would claim they were worried about “survival.”

So with the system rigged that way, the moral failing can be properly understood. We had no substantial group of people that would rather end their careers than risk killing veterans. (And, again, human nature being what it is, the decision-makers probably never allowed themselves to think out what might happen if veteran health care was delayed or denied. The mind can be amazingly self-disciplined under those circumstances.)

I commonly hear that secular people can be “good.” If that means they are not all sociopathic cannibals, I agree. But what does it take to actually do the right thing when it means nothing but thankless persecution? On a few heroic issues we sometimes get heroes from all sorts of faiths or none, but in every day bureaucratic life, we don’t even expect people to resist banal evil.

If we want to see the VA Hospital scandal never happen again, you are going to need a population that consists of individuals who take seriously that they are better off dead than to play a game that exploits and hurts people.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

These and many other warnings from the Bible show us that God expects us to act as people who will be evaluated by Him according to our behavior in life. We can want comfort, but if we believe God is a judge then we will know better than to purchase comfort at the price of wickedness.

I don’t think it should be hard to understand that no one in the VA hospitals really believed they would be judged by God for their lack of integrity.

Politicians have created many other impossible scenarios where they delegate responsibilities to a bureaucracy that can’t possibly meet those responsibilities. The only way it will stop is when we have so many people who believe in God and the final judgment that they refuse to go along to get along. We need a society in which people take God too seriously to ever play a game in exchange for mere money or power. We need a society where no politician can expect to find a large population of bureaucrats willing to lie and cover for his impossible promises.

C.S. Lewis said it right: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

We claim we can be a decent secular society because we deny that “virtue and enterprise” are really that essential. But we are wrong. Courage isn’t just for martyrs; it is for everyday life.