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What is the difference between a Hindu and a bishop of the Church of England? A Hindu worships a sacred cow. An Anglican bishop worships a golden calf. On Sunday, Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, preached a sermon in praise of her golden calf – Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, had already galloped ahead of Mullally earlier on and danced orgiastically around the golden calf, calling Theresa May’s government to strip taxpayers of their gold and place it as an offering before the seductive idol of nationalised healthcare.

Fools and bishops rush in where angels fear to tread, and motor mouth Welby challenged politicians to have the "courage" to tax more, borrow more and pump more money into the bloated behemoth of the NHS, despite government debt running at 88 per cent of GDP and his Bible warning us that "the borrower is the slave of the lender".

Mullally’s began her sermon marking the 70th anniversary of the NHS with a statement marinated in irony: "For 900 years, on this site where we stand today, there has been both a hospital and a place of worship." She was preaching at St Bartholomew the Less in London and the service was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

"St Bart’s traces its roots back to the Augustinian priory that once filled this site. For nine centuries, healing and mercy, compassion and love, the physical and the divine, have brushed up against each other. This very place tells the story of a health service rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ," she said. Amen! So why burn incense to a health service rooted in the Gospel of Karl Marx and the socialism of Aneurin Bevan?

Was it because the church was crap at its ministry of healing? At the peak of the great epidemic of AD 260, when 5,000 people died in a day in Rome alone, according to historian William McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples, Bishop Dionysius paid tribute to the heroic healthcare provided by Christians.

"Heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead," writes Dionysius.

The pagan emperor Julian launched a campaign to institute pagan charities to match the Christians when he realised that Christian efforts at providing healthcare were resulting in converts since paganism simply could not match the healing ministry of Christianity. But there was little or no response to Julian’s urgings "because there were no doctrinal bases or traditional practices for them to build on". This was not because Romans "knew nothing of charity, but that it was not based on service to the gods" writes secular sociologist Rodney Stark.

Christian mission became the catalyst for healthcare wherever the gospel was preached. In India, mission hospitals are still considered as not only some of the best, but also the most generous in offering high-quality healthcare to rich and poor alike.

So why did Britain need nationalised healthcare? Mullally argues that before the golden age of the NHS the poor "didn’t dare call a doctor" or "couldn’t afford to go to hospital" but got "the most basic of palliative care" from workhouses, relying "on home cures and quack medicine for the most terrible illnesses and diseases".

Mullally’s pontificating is patchy at best and a distortion of history at worst. The Routledge anthology of Medicine, Health and the Public Sphere in Britain, 1600–2000 validates her illiteracy of Britain’s medical history – a crying shame for someone who was the UK’s Chief Nursing Officer.

Rather than a paucity of healthcare, "we have an embarras de richesse, for by 1800 there were twenty-eight provincial infirmaries, along with another dozen or so voluntary hospitals in London," notes Adrian Wilson. Moreover, "in medical terms, the voluntary hospitals became pre-eminent both as centres of medical innovation and as sites of medical education" and 40 such hospitals were created by the end of the 18th century, he adds.

James Bartholomew, author of The Welfare State We’re In, agrees.

"Healthcare in Britain was very substantial and impressive prior to 1948. Even the Labour Party pamphlet, which recommended a 'National Service for Health' in 1943, could find little to criticise. There is mention of only one waiting list, for “rheumatic diseases”.

That implies that there were no waiting lists for all the other specialties and no waiting lists to see consultants. There was no mention of any shortage of doctors (which is so chronic now) or, indeed, of nurses. There was "no complaint either, about the quality of care," he observes.

"Why, then, was this system thrown out, to be replaced by a socialist model?" he asks. "Because, said the pamphlet, a good medical service should be 'planned as a whole'," notes Bartholomew, exposing the collectivist demagoguery underlying the creation of the NHS.

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As for Mullally’s "quack medicines", the NHS spent £50million on alternative treatments in 2008, a figure expected to rise soon to £200million. The Golden Calf that devours taxpayers’ tithes now dishes out charlatanry that would embarrass a witchdoctor including reiki, mindfulness, aromatherapy, reflexology and homeopathy. Professor Michael Baum protests that "this is like licensing a witches’ brew as a medicine so long as the batwings are sterile".

Mullally’s interpretation of her biblical text from the Good Samaritan is worse than her reading of medical history. She rightly identifies the context of the parable – "enmity between Samaritans and Jews". The Samaritan comes to the aid of the Jew, who is beaten by robbers and left by the wayside. Jesus is asking us to treat our worst enemy as closest neighbour.

However, Mullally carelessly applies this to "any nurse on any ward" who is a Good Samaritan to her patients. She forgets that Nurse Gladys Emmanuel is doing a job she is paid to do, albeit a noble one. "The NHS embodies this Gospel vision of compassion for all, regardless of age or race or religion," trumpets Mullally. Actually, it the pre-NHS medical system was genuinely charitable and compassionate since it was these virtues that kept it funded. For instance, it was normal for consultants to work for many hours each day without pay.

The Good Samaritan applied oil and wine on the wounds of his Jewish neighbour. Mullally’s NHS splurges taxpayers’ money on boob jobs, nose jobs, facelifts and liposuction, while denying life-saving cancer drugs on grounds of cost. In 2014, Mullally’s Good Samaritan spent £52.5million on breast enlargements and £10million on liposuction. Every week, NHS surgeons perform 164 nose jobs, 37 liposuction procedures, 22 facelifts and 273 breast-reshaping operations.

The NHS also spent £20.3million on breast reduction operations, £5.8million on tummy tucks and £5.7million on ear pinning. If you want to change your gender, Mullally’s Good Samaritan will sponsor a vaginoplasty or phalloplasty, as waiting lists for transgender patients demanding genital gender reassignment surgery (GRS) grow longer.

Mullally’s sermon goes on to wax lyrical on the pet theme of inequality.

"Despite the huge progress of the NHS … inequalities still abound. Baby boys born in Blackpool in 2014 can expect to live nine years less than those born in Kensington and Chelsea. Girls in Middlesborough (sic) will live an average of seven years less than girls born in Chiltern."

A colleague, who drew my attention to Mullally’s pious platitudes, pointed out that the Bishop of London was underlining differential in life expectancy between rich and poor areas while dodging the reality that much of the poverty arose from the state-sponsored destruction of the family. In 2007, 68.5% of children were born outside marriage in Knowsley. In Hartlepool, it was 68.1%, in Hull 67% and in Blackpool 66.9%. Compare this to 21.5% children born outside marriage in Harrow, 22.9% in St Albans and 23.6% in Kensington and Chelsea!

The established church will preach the state religion. And the highest-ranking deity in the pantheon of Britain’s civic religion is the NHS. It is "the closest thing the English have to a religion", quipped former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson. As the "most sacred of secular cows", the NHS "has become just about the only way for the state to establish a meaningful relationship between itself and its citizens. It provides the state with its moral purpose, and citizens with an idea not of the 'Good Life, but of the Healthy Life'", writes Tim Black.

"Almost like God himself, the NHS really does aspire to be present in our lives, guiding us through according to the disguised moral imperatives of health and wellbeing," Black concludes.

In the biblical story of Exodus, it is none other than the high priest Aaron who orders the Israelites to strip themselves of gold ornaments to fashion the Golden Calf. People will happily trade wealth for health. Even though today the NHS "is one of the worst healthcare systems in the advanced world – perhaps the very worst", Anglican bishops will happily substitute the gospel of socialist healthcare for the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jules Gomes

by Jules Gomes

The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.

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