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December 03, 2009

Comments

zero

bravo, mr chuck! i was hoping you would weigh in on the discussion from the previous post and you have done so. excellent. not being as versed as some of you in the theology it's great to be able to read and learn.

chuck

Zero! Thanks, and glad to have you one of the community here!

Philip Koplin

It can be useful to go back to first principles, which in discussions like this usually revolve around the answer to the question, "What does it mean to be human?" I appreciate at least the effort to begin in that way, though I don't think that referring to humanity's purported creation in the image of God helps at all. It can, however, be a starting point for stating assumptions and trying to find common ground for further discussion.

The global economy has evolved into quite a complex system of practices. Economic decision making involves many aspects of individual and communal behavior, and something significant will always elude any attempt to account for them all under a specific ideology or label.

A pragmatist would try to understand a given problem, with self-awareness of his or her preconceptions; find some feasible goals; and choose among the available to tools in order to get there. Thus could be seen as mere tinkering with a problem rather than attacking its roots, but applying a preconceived grand scheme to the messiness of human life is usually a recipe for doing more harm than good.

Doug

Having had some time to contemplate the discussion in the previous post, I think perhaps a good way to explain the thrust of my argument is as such: one facet of the ideal society is a society within which a human being has full capacity and freedom to manifest the imago dei (whatever definition we may assert that to be). I personally believe that the imago dei is in part a call to relationality—that is, to reflect the relational aspect of the Trinity by associations with one another that are peaceful and nonviolent. Wherever coercion is necessary, this aspect of our imago dei is not whole; wherever voluntary associations resulting in peaceful assembly flourishes, the imago dei is more fully manifested.

It was obvious that I believe a free economy under the rule of law to be such an ideal society, yet most of my refuters seem to read into what I said more than was there. There must be and should be boundaries of order, boundaries that are ethical, and mechanisms in place that protect against violence or aggression. It was also clear that I did not satisfactorily defend such a position, but I certainly did not intend to be self-sustaining as an argument.

Regarding self-interest, it is fallacious to believe that whatever we do in life can be anything other than self-interest. It is completely impossible to do something contrary to our own interest. Whatever it is that appears to be for the interest of somebody else, however sacrificial on the surface it may be, satisfaction is gained by way of intrinsic or internal pleasures derived from such an action. Human beings, by nature of our ability to act willingly, must act in accordance with our own desires. There is nothing wrong with seeking self-interest because it is impossible to do otherwise. Thus, seeking out what appears to be "in the interest of others" is merely an act of a higher quality of self-fulfillment by serving others than in not doing so. As John Piper puts it, our highest pleasure should be in Jesus Christ, and in following in his Way. When our self-interest seeks out what is the highest possible measure of pleasure, it is in seeking Jesus himself. Practically speaking, this results in what appears to be sacrifice. But it is still nothing less than self-interest derived from serving others.

As for so-called "libertarian freedom," that some/half/most of Protestantism does not esteem it highly is neither proof nor evidence that such a condition for humans ought to be defended. Is it not the case that human beings ought to be free to choose their own ends to the extent of their capabilities? Or is there a measure of servitude and slavery permitted in the name of a "greater good"? No one need cite a scripture verse to assume that when Jesus invites us to follow him, he does so with the implicit and tacit arrangement that we are free to do so, or free to decline. All human beings are slaves to something or someone. It is impossible to not "live for something." Given such a state, is it not accurate to say that we ought to be able to choose our master, whether Christ, ourselves, or something else? I wholeheartedly affirm that when we are free in Christ, we find ultimate freedom. But the irony is that we are free to enslave ourselves in order to be free.

With regards to the economic side of things, we could go on and on, of course. But let me ask a few questions: Should people be free to make voluntary exchanges, or should they be forced by some other agent to do something against their own will? If there is a case to be made for forceful exchange, one must then defend why it is moral, ethical, indeed biblical to deny somebody their God-given right to free choice. To deny somebody their freedom of the will is to reject human dignity. Jesus said to make disciples, but he did not say to "go make people become disciples." The idea is an invitation to follow, not a mandated action.

A last note about individualism. In the reading that I have done over the past several years, libertarians speak more of mutual cooperation and peaceful exchange as much as (if not more often) than so-called "progressives," who speak often (and rightfully so) about the need for social awareness, the value of community, and the rightful point that no man is an island. Libertarians are very strong on peaceful exchange, and whatever economic or social structures are in place, peaceful cooperation is an ideal to attain. Progressives, on the other hand, seem to be more often than not frustrated at the non-compliance of those who they wish would act according to the way they (progressives) believe they ought. It becomes, then, a quest for ensuring that whatever governing authorities exist, they exist to force people to behave and act according to the ideals of progressive thought (which, at face value, is a very good ideal).

Forced cooperation (which is an oxymoron) is entirely absent the gospel of the Kingdom. Jesus came into the world not to wield a sword and build a Kingdom, but to establish peace through servanthood and sacrificial love. The power of the gospel of peace will not need a sword. If you have no alternatives to seeking peace in society than legislation, perhaps your gospel and your Jesus isn’t as powerful as you believe him to be.

Doug

For what it's worth, and since Philip brought up the question, "What does it mean to be human?" the following article, written by a Christian, might be of interest.

http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/human-nature-and-the-free-society/print/

zero

doug, your position on self-interest isn't one that i can agree with.

and living for something does not equate with one being a slave to whatever that is.

oliver wendell holmes said, "if man were just there would be no need for law". that pretty much sums up how much we can expect others to do what is right. even those who profess faith in god/christ don't do as commanded. yes, we are free to choose but to what greater end is accomplished for self and others if the choice is wanton disregard for others in order for self gain?

your positions confound.

Doug

Zero, I think you're reading practical results into principles I'm stating. You are absolutely right that even the godliest among us do not obey the law or do not live or act peacefully with our fellow humans. My point about being free to choose is that if all folks are free to act according to their own desires, there is an inherent limitation in such freedom. My freedom to pursue my own ends ends when it conflicts with your freedom to pursue yours. That instantly takes care of fraud, theft, murder, rape, or any other type of aggression as "illegal" in a society of freedom. People are free to associate, make contracts, refuse contracts, and otherwise behave in such a way that does not violate the freedoms and rights of another person. Which means breaking a contract with somebody is punishable by law. It means aggression and theft are punishable by law. Your description for "wanton disregard for others in order for self gain" doesn't fall under what I'm describing in the least. Rather, it is a product of your imagination based on a misconception of the notion of freedom. There is not such thing permissible "at others' expense" in what I'm advocating. It is not a "might makes right" philosophy; rather, it is the opposite, because no matter how big somebody or some group is, they would be unable to violate the freedoms of anybody else. At least, that's my hope for society some day, where all are treated equally.

As for self-interest, I'm not sure which part you disagree with. Maybe you can help explain why you think I'm wrong. Or maybe you can name an act that is not in somebody's self-interest. I guarantee you you can't.

Living for something does not equate to being a slave, you are right. My point was that since it is true that we all serve, worship, or "live for" something, that something ought to be and is decided by each of us. We cannot not act, or make decisions, out of non-motive, non-interest, or non-gain. The ultimate "self-interest" would be (and I hope you'd agree) to find pleasure in delighting in Jesus Christ. I think it was CS Lewis who said that self-interest was not the problem, but that we are far too easily pleased by that which does not ultimately satisfy (Jesus Christ). In the end, being a "slave to Christ" is the ultimate freedom to live, because it frees us from the slavery of sin.

My positions confound you because you are (at least I think you are) implanting perceptions of "conservative" and other dastardly philosophies espoused by many republicans and conservatives throughout the decades, whereas my thoughts and philosophy on life falls very close to things folks like Greg Boyd, Ron Paul, and others in that vein of thought have advocated. Many of the economists that I've read are Christians who are very anti-conservativism. While a few of my views may overlap with other conservatives, it would be unfair and inaccurate to lump me in with that philosophy. And it would "unconfound" your perception of my thoughts. Again, my website has some more poignant and essay-style thoughts on these matters.

Roger D. McKinney

“According to Scripture, from early on til the end, the biblcal call for those who would follow God is to be motivated by the interest of others and not self-interest.”

“Captalism elevates and sanctifies self-interest; we are told to have the mind of Christ in elevating the interests of others over ourselves.”

Actually, you’re confusing self-interest with selfishness. Self-interest can include helping others. It’s in my self-interest to have a good reputation in the community, to obey the law, to care for my family and friends. And it’s in my self-interest to submit to God, repent and obey, which means helping the poor. Selfishness means only thinking of me to the exclusion of all others. Capitalism does not elevate self-interest; it merely assumes it as a matter of fact for any rational person.

Adam Smith first proposed the idea that in a free market, self-interest would limit selfishness more efficiently than any government could. That’s because selfish people bribe government officials to pass laws giving them special treatment, such as monopolies. The selfish use the state as a tool to fill their lusts. However, in a free market, the competitors of a selfish businessman will drive him out of business. Self-interest will force the selfish businessman to restrain his selfishness.

It’s absolutely ridiculous and ignorant to equate self-interest with selfishness because Adam Smith was a moral philosopher first. His “Theory of Moral Sentiments” was intended to demonstrate how we can achieve a moral society, that is, one free from selfishness as much as possible. “Wealth of Nations” was Smith’s application of “Moral Sentiments” to the sphere of commerce.

I would expect someone in Mr. Gutenson’s position to be better informed about church history. The church has always maintained the sanctity of private property as ordained by God. But no state protected property against theft by the king and nobility until the Dutch Republic of the 16th century. The godly leaders of that small nation took the Bible seriously and strove to create a nation built on Biblical principles. To protect property with the degree of respect that the Bible commands, the Dutch created institutions to protect property in a way that no other nation in history had. Those institutions included free markets, the rule of law, equality before the law, as well as honest courts and police. Free markets are absolutely necessary for the implementation of property rights; otherwise they remain just a nice idea. The rule of law is essential, too; otherwise chaos ensues. The English adopted the Dutch system after the Dutch Prince, William of Orange, became King of England in 1688. Later Karl Marx labeled the system “capitalism.”

As for the requirement that the state take care of the poor, I would challenge that interpretation of scripture as being very unsound. The only government that God created was the nation of Israel under the judges. In the laws of that nation (the Torah), God commands the people to take care of the poor out of their free will offerings to the poor and to the temple. No where did he command the state to take by force from the wealthy and give it to the poor.

Yes, the state is one of God’s instruments for exercising justice on the earth, but giving to the poor has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with charity. Charity is charity only when it is freely given of one’s own property. Taxation for redistribution to the poor is not charity, but theft. The end does not justify the means.

The sole purpose of government is to make sure justice reigns. It does so by protecting live, liberty and property. The state does not do the work of the church. The work of the church is to provide for the poor and promote the faith. If you want the state to begin doing the work of the church, then why stop with providing for the poor? Shouldn’t the state go back to burning heretics and unbelievers as well? Shouldn’t we execute adulterers?

Roger D. McKinney

PS, regarding church history, theologians debated the just price for over a thousand years. By the 1600's church scholars, especially those at the school of Salamanca, Spain, had determined that the only way a just price can be determined is in a free market. Those godly men were the first promoters of free markets. Their teachings reached the Dutch Republic through Lessius and Grotius.

Doug

Roger, your thoughts state some specifics I have in mind, yet oftentimes I tend to write principles rather than explanations. The distinctions you make are vital to this discussion.

Roger D. McKinney

Doug, you’re doing a good job and your principles are very sound. Talking to Christians about economic issues is very frustrating. Most Christians seem intent on advertising their ignorance. No Christian when confronted with an illness would recommend nothing but prayer and anointing with olive oil; they would see a doctor. Yet when it comes to discussing poverty and economics, they think the Bible says all that needs to be said. Economics is a science, and if all truth is God’s truth, then economics contains God’s truth. Of course, then you have to distinguish between good and bad economics. Most Christians stop with a few Marxist catch phrases and think they understand economics.

I started out as a missionary in the Middle East with a degree in theology. Marxism resonated with me to a large degree, especially when I saw the astounding poverty. Later I earned a masters degree in economics because I wanted to understand why some people are so rich and others so amazingly poor. In my search for the origins of capitalism, I stumbled upon the history I described above. Capitalism is Christian economics. History and logic, as you showed, prove it.

Take China as the most obvious example. The hundreds of millions of Chinese that have been lifted from the worst poverty on the planet to being among the wealthiest people on the planet are astounding. I call it a miracle. Every Christian should praise God for it. But what role did charity play? None whatsoever! Deng Xao Peng did nothing but free agricultural markets a tiny bit. That’s all! And the results are nothing but miraculous.

So what lesson have Evangelicals learned from China’s experience? Again, nothing at all! They can preach nothing but charity. They can’t see the miracles in S. Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Brazil, all of Eastern Europe and elsewhere in which charity played no role at all, but still hundreds of millions of people were lifted from the lowest depths of poverty. At the same time, so many preach an economic theory that has been discredited for over a century and which caused the excruciating poverty of the Chinese, Russians and East Europeans in the first place!

The willful blindness of evangelicals is absolutely awe inspiring!

chuck

Thanks to all for their comments, though I find Doug and Roger rather a bit on the other side of the issue from me on these matters, I still appreciate their comments. Let me just respond to a few points, in no particular order.

First, let me comment on Roger's "willful blindness" interjection:) You have stated one side of the issues, but as you well know, there are reasoned and widely accepted arguments on the other side. Perhaps one or more of us is being ignorant, or perhaps we are defending the position we take to be true:) I would suggest, since I do not think you are ignorant, that you know there are other takes on what you lay out as true, which disagree with your premises and conclusions.

Second, Doug, you have now basically agreed with my assessment of your position--you are stating what you believe to be true. I believe that you believe it, and thus, that you are speaking the truth. I disagree with you, believing otherwise, and have presented my arguments for why your believings are false. I would love to hear you defend the claims you make and go beyond merely telling us what you believe. This was, and remains, what Philip was asking for.

Third, you assert that it is fallacious to believe that folks can act on anything other than self-interest, but again, you do not tell us why it is false. You merely make assertions. I do not believe it is the case that folks can act only in accord with their long term best interests. A person who willingly sacrifices themselves (in the sense of dying for them), but who does not believe in an afterlife would be a clear example of someone acting outside their own long term best interest. Arguments for why folks can act only in their own self interest are notoriously circular. By that, I mean that when someone says that a person acting self-sacrificially, the claim is usually made that there is some long term interest that could be conceived as the motivation for action. In the end, then, the claim is that we know that people act in accord with their long term best interest because it is impossible for them to act otherwise. That there are other interpretations is simply dismissed. There has been no argument presented thus far that justifies the simple claim that people only act in accord with their own self-interest. One can get into more complex philosophical arguments if one wishes. But, again, if we are to go with you and take it that folks only act out of self-interest, you are going to have to do much more than simply claim it.

Fourth, still with Doug, quick point. I did not site the fact that half or more of the Protestant tradition does not believe in libertarian freedom to prove they were right. Go back and read more carefully. My point was simply that you seemed to be presuming that libertarian freedom was the summum bonum of existence. I was suggesting that this could not be presupposed as self-evidently true, since so many in the Christian tradition argue against it. You, again, are free to believe whatever you wish, but if you wish to persuade others to agree, you will have to provide an argument.

Fifth, quickly back to Roger:), no, the church has not always held to the sanctity of private property. You might try reading Acts 2:44ff. However, nothing in my post argues against private property, what my post does is refuse to make the ownership of property absolute. You will recall, I expect, that this was much the case in the early books of Scripture as well. On your disagreement with my read of Scripture, I accept that you disagree. However, I do think your claim is unsustainable at any one of a number of levels. To begin with, I already pointed out that all governmental authorities are affirmed as having been ordained by God. So the idea that God's only foray into governmental concerns is with OT Israel is simply and demonstrably false. Second, God did, again as I pointed out, punish those who did not freely obey his laws on care for the poor. In addition, as the second half of Matthew 25 shows, the ultimate test is whether or not we cared for the least of these. The idea that God would rather people freely not aid the "least of these" and have them starve than have them care for the least of these against their free choice is simply unsustainable on any biblical reading. I do not understand how one can read the plain meaning of the text any other way. I go into some of this more here:
http://blog.sojo.net/2009/12/03/governments-a-kingdom-agenda-and-reading-scripture-badly/

Sixth, and as a Christian this is perhaps my biggest objection, you both (Doug and Roger) seem unwilling to consider the possibility that Jesus really did intend for us to take his words seriously. You very quickly move to the claim that folks like me and my colleagues think that the bible has said all that needs to be said. However, my concern is that you too easily skirt what Scripture says and easily supplant it with some notion of "common sense" that just conveniently matches your own presuppositions. Some of us think that what God in Christ calls us to is far more radical than simply praying God's blessing over systems we arrive at on other grounds. As my writings elsewhere show, I am not arguing for directly importing biblical laws into 21st century economic systems, but I am arguing that the underlying principles are ones we are expected, as Christians, to adhere to. So, I would not argue for Laws of Jubilee, but I would argue that the goal of those laws was to prevent the vast accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, and thus would support laws consistent with that goal.

Finally, I disagree with the assessment that I have confused self-interest and selfishness:) The point I am making depends on neither, and that point is that throughout Scripture, we are enjoined to raise the interest of the other over our own (no, Doug, not some sort of enlightened self interest that recognizes that my good in somehow intertwined with others, but rather genuine other interest. By the way, that God repeatedly commands us to be so motivated I take as adequate refutation of your claim that we can only act out of self interest:)). This shows up again and again, and is often connected (Luke 12, Luke 16, Matthew 25, etc) with the basis God will use to judge us.

More later....I expect:)

Doug

Chuck, thank you for responding. Whether we agree or not, discussion is always gainful if we have an open mind (which I hope I do, despite my passionate retorts and replies).

You've inserted "long-term" into my notion of self-interest and acting. When a human being acts, it is ALWAYS in their self-interest. Why? Because we cannot choose that which does not please us. If I jumped in front of somebody to "take a bullet" for them, it is assumed that I'm doing this only for the other person and not out of my own self-interest. But that is simply not the case. I may indeed be wired to think of others more quickly than I do myself, but I am still taking that bullet because it I am more satisfied in doing so than had I not done so. It's as simple as that.

As for private property and historical defense of "capitalism," let me state a few brief things. I'm on a quick break at work, so I only have a limited amount of time at the moment. Acts 2:44 is an example of voluntary collectivism. Torah laws such as "don't steal" and others revolve squarely around what I like to call "stewardship rights," which is simply a way of claiming property rights as important, while also saying that what we "own" is not really ours, but is God's and ours to steward. I really do believe what Jesus said we ought to take seriously: I don't comport with Roger's statement that primarily "common sense" and economics will answer the social justice question for us, but Jesus' commands must be carried out ethically, and economics is one science that will help us do so.

In sum, I think you are confusing Christian ethics that both you and I believe all should live by with the ethics of posture toward others. It's one thing to say we should all live this way, but there is a unique difference between an invitation to follow Jesus and a compulsory law that requires people to do so. In other words, yes, we are ALL to follow Jesus, but the reception and choice must be voluntary, else it isn't genuine. What you believe to be a plain reading of Scripture confused the boundaries of social order with the ethics of the Kingdom. I'm sure you disagree, but I simply don't find that advocating a structure of society (a free society, that is) is advocating for greed or the sinful activities that may result in it. God permitted sin in the Garden, even though he didn't approve of it. Most "social justice" advocates who seek out a solution through state-based means are doing a similar thing that the Religious Right does: legislate morality and control the behavior of others.

Again, if we are to take the gospel seriously, all our means of social justice and following Jesus must be peaceful actions. Seeking the government to force the others around us who don't voluntarily do so is not peaceful. The gospel is powerful to transform society, yet Jesus himself neither advocated nor aligned himself with groups who advocated for social transformation by using Caesar's sword rather than the sacrificial service to others. "Joy in sacrifice" could be the mental and psychological posture of Kingdom people. But if you have no alternatives to seeking peace in society than through the government, perhaps your gospel and your Jesus isn’t as powerful as you believe him to be.

I've written on my own blog (www.liveloud.net) various articles on some of these issues.

Roger D. McKinney

Chuck: “…as you well know, there are reasoned and widely accepted arguments on the other side.”

No, I don’t know that. I have studied Marxism and its opponents, mainstream economics and Austrian economics. In economics, none of Marx’s ideas are accepted or widely held. The only professionals who cling to Marxism are theologians and professors in the social sciences and humanities. And no, I don’t think the Marxist position is well-reasoned at all. It mainly spouts platitudes while claiming polylogism.

Chuck: “Perhaps one or more of us is being ignorant, or perhaps we are defending the position we take to be true:) I would suggest, since I do not think you are ignorant, that you know there are other takes on what you lay out as true, which disagree with your premises and conclusions.”

So are you saying that there is no objective truth? We can’t arrive at truth through reason. We decide what we want to be true and then defend it? That’s a common position with Marxists. Marx taught that no objective truth exists. Truth is nothing but a tool of the powerful to oppress the working man. That’s why Marxists rarely read anything outside of Marxist literature. I think you must be an intelligent person, being in the position you’re in, and being a Christian you must be interested in the truth. Therefore I conclude that you must be ignorant of the arguments against Marxism because I have never met a Christian who rejected them once exposed to them.

Chuck: “no, the church has not always held to the sanctity of private property. You might try reading Acts 2:44ff.”

The Church has affirmed the sanctity of private property since at least Thomas Aquinas. And the incident in Acts reaffirms private property. No entity took by force the property of the early Christians and gave it to other Christians. It was always a voluntary giving of their own private property. “Christian” Marxists see communism in the sharing of property in the early church, but it is exactly the opposite. It is Christian charity; sharing of private property with others. It has nothing to do with Marx’s abolishing of private property. Besides, that structure of the early church lasted a very short time and wasn’t imitated by any other church.

Chuck: “So the idea that God's only foray into governmental concerns is with OT Israel is simply and demonstrably false.”

That’s not what I wrote. I wrote that the only government that God established was the nation of Israel. God ordained the institution of government, but he established only one government. All others have bee created by man. Certainly you don’t believe that God ordained all of the laws of the Roman Empire, do you? And certainly many of the laws of Israel under the Kings were contrary to Gods law. The OT prophets are full of challenges to the leadership of Israel for oppressing the poor.

Chuck: “ God did, again as I pointed out, punish those who did not freely obey his laws on care for the poor.”

Obviously, he did. But did he authorize other Christians or the state to punish them?

From you article “Governments, a Kingdom Agenda, and Reading Scripture Badly”: “In Colossians 2, we are told that Christ “laid bare” the powers on the cross. How did he do so? Just in this way: when the creator of these powers shows up, they show they have become demonic in that they turn against him and crucify him. In short, the cross shows that “the powers” can become demonic and fail to serve the agenda for which they were created.”

Exactly! Everything the state does is not ordained by God. God ordained the institution of government; he did not right every law of every government that has existed. We have to carefully read the scriptures to determine the role of the state and the role of the individual.

Also from the article: “Is it the case that God intends individuals to be engaged in care for the least of these? Of course! But, it is also the case that God intends societal structures to be structured in ways that serve the agenda of caring for the marginalized, and that means governments have a role to play.”

It’s good for Christians to be interest in charity, but it shouldn’t be the only thought that one has when it comes to helping the poor. As I wrote above, economics and history have proven that capitalism has done far more for the poor than the sum total of all charity given in the 20th century. Why be obsessed with charity when the structuring of society according to Biblical capitalism has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty? I simply don’t get it! Why do you insist on ignoring history?

“If one looks at various sections of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, it is clear that God gives laws that are to be implemented in society that are aimed at tending to the poorest. One thinks of the Laws of Jubilee, the Laws of Release, and the interesting Collateral Laws. These were not “options” that one “volunteered” to follow.”

1) Notice that there was no human enforcer. If people didn’t give voluntarily to the poor, God took care of those selfish people, not the state or any other agency. That’s why so many people say it was a theocracy. God personally acted as the executive branch of government.

2) The laws of Deuteronomy and Leviticus also include stoning adulterers, unruly children and homosexuals. Should we make those into laws, also? What about keeping the Sabbath, which happens to be Saturday and not Sunday? Why do you pick what you like from the OT and ignore the rest? Orthodox interpretation of the OT has generally taken the position that the law reflects God’s attitude toward certain practices, but we shouldn’t try to live by the law or recreate it today. God dealt directly with OT Israelis in a way that he doesn’t do with modern Christians.

Roger D. McKinney

“the destruction of Sodom came prior to the giving of the law, and Sodom was not part of the “chosen people.” Yet, God saw the need for the city state to take responsibility for caring for the poor and marginalized so obvious that God took the most serious punitive action against it.”

Yes, and notice that it was God who did it, not any government. I believe that God will judge people and nations who refuse to take care of the poor. But again, charity is not the only way to do it. Capitalism does far more than charity can ever hope to accomplish. Charity is for individuals to perform for the individuals we know have suffered misfortune. But more importantly, redistribution of wealth through taxation has nothing to do with charity. It does not accomplish the will of God; it violate the will of God.

“Selfishness, the need to be in control–these are all reasons why we resist the fact that God ordains governments to have a role in caring for the least.”

Well, if you’re going to judge motives, then I would say that socialism is motivated by envy. Socialists don’t care about the poor. They never have. Otherwise they wouldn’t have created such poverty in the USSR, Communist China, Cambodia and North Korea. If you care about the poor, you will give your own money to them. You won’t use the law to take someone else’s money and give it.

Strange that you see the church and the state as identical. I think that takes us back to the middle ages. A proper reading of the Bible demonstrates that the two institutions are distinct and have separate roles. God called the church to spread the gospel and take care of the poor, not the state. The state's role, as described by many passages in the Bible, is to carry out justice.

Chuck: “However, my concern is that you too easily skirt what Scripture says and easily supplant it with some notion of "common sense" that just conveniently matches your own presuppositions.”

Now you’re just being dishonest. Doug and I take the Bible far more seriously than you do. People show respect for the Bible by using sound hermeneutic principles. They don’t just try to use a crow bar to make the Bible conform to Marxism as you have done.

Chuck: “So, I would not argue for Laws of Jubilee, but I would argue that the goal of those laws was to prevent the vast accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, and thus would support laws consistent with that goal.”

You’re advertising your Marxism. Marx claimed that capitalism would result in the “vast accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few” and eventually starve the working classes. But history proved him wrong. Capitalism has reduced inequality in wealth and income everywhere it has been implemented. That’s why Marxists hate economics. It proves them wrong at every turn. Marxism faced a major crisis by WWII because it was obvious to everyone that Marx’s predictions had failed. But instead of accepting the truth, Marxist ideologues claimed that capitalists had merely exported their oppression to the third world. No amount of evidence will convince a Marxist that Marx was an idiot; but I expect more from Christians. Again, why do you ignore history and economics?

Chuck: “throughout Scripture, we are enjoined to raise the interest of the other over our own…”

You’re just obfuscating. Are we to starve and allow our family to die so that we can feed others? If we are to work to provide food, shelter and clothing for ourselves and our family, what do you call that motive if not self-interest? What does Paul mean when he instructs Christians to work with their hands and provide for themselves and their families so that they won’t be a burden to the Church and that they will have extra to give to the poor? Surely we are to take enough interest in ourselves that we will work to provide food and shelter. So what would you call that if not self-interest? And it is clearly not selfishness. And what do you call our motivation to repent and believe? Is that selfishness because we benefit from it?

Be honest. The only reason Marxists harp on the idea that capitalism promotes selfishness is because Adam Smith used the term “self-interest” in “Wealth of Nations.” But they treat Smith dishonestly and claim that he meant by it selfishness. Of course if socialists had to be honest, they would never have any followers. Do you honestly believe that Adam Smith was promoting selfishness in his books?

Doug

Roger, I think at a few points you're also misrepresenting Chuck, but I'm wholeheartedly behind you in your assessments and responses concerning biblical references.

An additional point I would like to make is the confusing of God's people and society at large. I think even Roger and I would agree that it would be great and wonderful if everybody was others-focused. But when we advocate a society where people are free, we are not advocating a society where people are free to aggress. Israel had a covenant with the Creator-god, who held them accountable to that covenant. Unless you want to parallel, equate, or otherwise infuse the idea of Israel with the United States or any nation, you cannot say that since God wanted Israel to do such-and-such, we must make our laws the same. Yes, Christians are to do and be all those things you advocate. Absolutely. With you 200%. But what about those who are not in covenant with God? What about the people who don't even believe in God? What about those who haven't discovered or don't want anything to do with Jesus Christ? Are we to use the State to make them behave according to our ethics and morals? Since when do Christians use the power of the sword rather than the power of the cross to change those who aren't (or aren't yet) followers of Christ?

Marxism or not, it's not even Christian to say that somehow we must get government on our side so that the rest of society—aka those who aren't already followers of Christ and are living the Kingdom—will fall in line. History has proven that whenever power gets into the hands of Christians, it is not a good outcome. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Advocating for power in the hands of a few over the masses is an improper delegation of power that we ought to be giving to God and God alone. God is our Master, King, and Authority; not the state. To say otherwise is indeed idolatrous.

Roger, I'd love to chat with you off-blog... check out my website. If you post a comment, I'll have your email if you'd like to correspond.

chuck

Doug, no, I am sorry, it is not as simple as that. First of all, I find no reason to think that people only act in accord with what "satisfies" them most. Note, of course, that this is rather different than claiming that someone is acting in accord with self-interest, you have conflated two different terms. And, adding 'it is as simple as that' does not make an argument, only an assertion. Again, the psychology of this is well worked over, and you are going to need a good deal more than assertion to get anywhere.

On the rest, you are correct that we disagree. I think you have failed to see the judgment that befalls those who do not follow the commands that God gives, that he raises prophets to speak against the very sorts of abuses that I believe arise from what you defend and the Scriptures attribute God with ordaining governments to serve his ends, as i pointed out. More in the other responses:)

chuck

Roger,
Before I start, let me say that I am going to skip over a good many of your comments because you attribute things to me that I do not claim. You seem to think that all of those who disagree with you fit into a particular mold and, thus, can be given stock responses. This is not the case.

IF you really do not know of writings other than the followers of Marx that disagree with your positions, then we probably don't have enough common ground to have a decent conversation. You continue to attribute "marxism" to all who disagree with you. One does not have to be a marxist to be a critic of capitalism (in fact, I am one!).

I would like to see the quote from Thomas that supports the "sanctity" of private property. That would be an odd way for him to think of it. I have not denied that private property is an acceptable notion, I own some things myself. I am simply pointing out that it is not as absolute as you hold and Scripture does not treat it as the greatest good, which you seem to do.

The rest is pretty much a misread of my claims. My point is not that all laws that governments make are good ones, but rather than God ordains governments to serve his ends, which means they have a role to play in caring for the least. We as Christians are not to argue against government, but rather against laws that do not serve God's agenda and for ones that do.

You read of the history of the successes of capitalism is very one sided, as I would expect. i am not opposed to a form of democratic capitalism, properly disciplined and chastened by public power--governmental regulation. You, again, create a straw man, attribute it to me and then act like that was my position:)

chuck

Roger's next post.

No, taxation does not violate God's law. I am surprised you'd even try to make such claim.

The vast majority of the rest of what you say in response misreads my arguments, again to try to fit them into your pre-constructed opponent:) Most of what i see there are either misreads, or mere assertions. You indicate that you and Doug take the bible more seriously than me, though you set aside the clear biblical claims. I really do not know what to make of that. You have provided no biblical arguments (made some assertions about what you think and applying that to the bible). I could do as you have done, cite your by paragraph and simply say, "no, this is not right," but what would be the point? I already knew you disagreed with me:). I was hoping to hear some arguments.....

chuck

Doug's last comment.

I am not arguing from the basis of the OT covenant (as I pointed out, Sodom would not have been under such a covenant). Rather, I am arguing that God has shown us in Scripture, in a wide variety of places, how it is that he intends us to live together. I am arguing that it is abundantly clear that governments are ordained by God. I pointed out that God has ordained governments to serve his agenda. I, then, argue that once we get a picture of how God intends us to live together (all humans, with Yoder), we can talk about the sorts of public policies and institutions would serve that agenda. We as Christians, then, should argue for public policies and institutions that empower that way of living together. I fear you guys have argued with too many marxists and not enough others:) You agree that we should have laws that protect from murder, from rape, etc. You like these laws just fine, don't mind their coercive nature, but as soon as we talk about care for the least and about creating just economic structures through legislation, you balk. Given God's repeated concern for those on the margins, I really cannot make sense of that.

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