As most Christians will be aware, one of the most frequent miracles performed by Jesus is the healing of the sick. Blindness, deafness, insanity, epilepsy, leprosy, paralysis, haemorrhage, and fever – all these maladies are included in the 27 separate occasions listed in the New Testament in which the Son of God brings the afflicted back to health or back to life.
These miracles are not carried out in order to further his reputation. On the contrary, Jesus frequently asks those he has healed not to announce that he was responsible. Despite his modesty and humility however, his reputation naturally spreads, to the point when Matthew 14:34-36 describes how people from all around the plain of Gennesarat near the Sea of Galilee carried their loved ones in their sickbeds to see Jesus and ask if they might ‘ just touch the edge of his cloak’.
Jesus gave his permission ‘ and all those who touched were healed’, according to Matthew. On none of these occasions does Jesus consider whether the beneficiaries of his curative powers deserve to be healed. More often than not, his willingness to relieve human suffering poses questions that are aimed at the willingness of his peers to impose such distinctions.
On one occasion he heals a man with dropsy on the Sabbath despite the disapproval of the Pharisees. In the week before his death he heals the ear of the High Priest’s servant, who has been attacked by one of his own apostles. He also heals despised and ostracized lepers. On every occasion Jesus acts out of instinctive pity, compassion and empathy.
I mention all this, not because I am a Christian, or because I believe that individuals with divine powers can make sick people well, but because Nigel Farage, Ukip parliamentary candidate for Thanet, claims that he is a Christian, and Farage is a man who has taken a great interest in the nation’s health.
During last week’s election debate, Farage suggested that 60 percent of the 7,000 annual HIV diagnoses in the UK were ‘not for British nationals’, but for foreigners who ‘can come to Britain, from anywhere in the world, and get diagnosed with HIV, and get the anti-retroviral drugs which cost up to £25,000 per year per patient.’
Why was this statistic significant? Firstly, because according to Farage these foreign patients came to the UK with the express intention of receiving such treatment, which qualifies them as ‘health tourists’, and secondly because the treatment they receive has reduced the ability of the NHS to look after ‘our people.’
Farage has insisted that his comments were based on ‘hard, cold facts,’ but like so much that comes out of Farage’s mouth these ‘facts’ have twisted and bent out of shape by cynical political calculation and prejudice to the point when bear little or no relation to the original information that supposedly produced them.
According to statistics published last year by Public Health England, 62 percent of people newly infected with the virus in 2012 were born in the UK – a statistic which means that Farage’s ‘hard, cold fact’ was neither hard nor factual but merely cold. Public Health also notes that 27 percent of the 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK are over fifty. This demographic is attributed to ‘improved survival and new diagnoses at older ages’ rather than a sudden influx of ‘health tourists.’
In other words those receiving treatment are likely to have been diagnosed after their entry into the UK, not because they entered the country specifically to get HIV treatment. Both the National Aids Trust and a 2005 House of Commons report on HIV have reached similar conclusions. In addition public health experts have argued again and again that imposing charges on HIV drugs and tests would create a public health hazard both inside the UK and beyond it, by spreading the disease still further.
Despite all this Farage insists that ‘ it seems rather clear to me that these people are coming here with the suspicion that they may have it, knowing that we as a country will treat them.’ The best that can be said about this ‘clarity’ is that it lack empirical rigor. The worst is that is simply a poisonous, divisive and vicious observation straight from the BNP’s playbook, which has been made purely out of political calculation.
According to the Telegraph, Farage made these comments as part of a ‘shock and awful’ strategy intended to ‘motivate’ his core voters. Over the Easter weekend however, Farage rejected suggestions that his comments were divisive or incompatible with his notion of a ‘Judeo-Christian’ UK.
Instead the Good Samaritan of Thanet insisted that he was a Christian and that it was ‘ a sensible Christian thing to look after your family and your own community first.’ After all, as he pointed out, ‘ What good Christian would say to an 85-year-old woman ” you can’t have breast cancer treatment because we can’t afford it”, whilst at the same time shovelling a billion pounds on foreign aid, allowing people from all over the world to fly into Britain as health tourists get an HIV test and drugs over £20,000 a year?’
Let no one believe for a milisecond that Farage is concerned about his putative 85-year-old cancer sufferer who cannot receive treatment because of HIV ‘health tourists’. This juxtaposition – like his HIV comments in general – is the result of pure demogoguery, aimed at the dank racist heartlands of his core voters and beyond.
For this despicable mountebank is only interested in the NHS insofar as he can use it to stigmatize foreigners and persuade the British public to become as callous, cynical and inhumane as he and his party – regardless of the risk to public health that these attitudes would pose if they were translated into policy.
And he is only interested in Christianity in order to further his insider/outsider nativism. Margaret Thatcher once argued that the Good Samaritan had to be a wealthy entrepreneur in order to perform his good deed. In the cheekie chappie’s version of Christianity, anyone wanting to be healed by Jesus would have had to produce their ID first, to establish whether were Jews or Gentiles, deserving insiders or undeserving foreigners or aliens, and if they didn’t belong to the right category he would have left them to suffer and die.
Because as any ‘sensible Christian’ knows, even the Son of God shouldn’t waste his healing powers on foreigners, outcasts and aliens, because we should always put our own people first.