Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bible as Socialist Tract

Recently Richard Beck observed that
for John [the Baptist], repentance is fundamentally about economics or, more precisely, getting right with money and our possessions. Preparing our hearts for the Lord begins with sharing, fairness, and contentment. That is, if someone is seeking a closer or better relationship with Jesus it seems the the first bit of advice John would give is pretty simple: Start with sharing your material possessions. That's the quickest way to Jesus.
Which to me makes perfect sense, but then I had the priviledge of being raised in a moderately left wing Christian family.  As a very general, and rapidly going out of date, rule non-conformists Christians in England (Methodists, Baptists, etc) have tended to be more red than blue. I know in America the assumption is usually the opposite, that evangelicals are right wing.  And I have been surprised to discover in NZ that the American model is followed pretty closely.  Something about colonies seems to turn non-conformists into capitalists. 

What I hear from people like Glenn Beck is that socialism is wrong because it forces people to do good instead of letting them do it off their own bats.  What Beck and his fans fail to understand is that although they complain that socialism is immoral wealth re-distribution from the rich to the poor capitalism is immoral redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich.  All property is theft, those who live in the colonies should know that best of all.  Tax is at least a more even handed form of theft and is at least stealing from those who can afford to lose a little (or even a lot) and does so politely, predicatably and without offering violence (initially).  This is why our modern western society works best when capitalism flourishes under the restraining hand of socialism.  Money rises to the top rewarding those who generate wealth and work hard but imbalances are periodically readjusted so that social and economic disparity never gets so great as to divide the society or leave some of its members without hope or resources for improvement. 

It is well understood that the greater the gap between the rich and the poor the greater conflict and insecurity between the two groups.  Of course the OT law is filled with provisions to avoid this happening, not least the numerous regulations concerning the release of those in indentured servitude at regular intervals and the return of land to families.  Those sort of checks and balances, if practised (and its doubtful that they ever fully were), would enable a society to give people economic second chances.  Today our society offers the lottery and scratch cards and criminal activity as the only hope for those who are unable to make ends meet and escape the poverty trap.  But of course, giving someone a million dolars doesn't actual solve their poverty. 

Another well understood fact is that lottery winners are usually both miserable and broke with a few years of their wins.  Which is why socialism can only ever be half the solution.  Poverty is as much a social/cultural legacy as it is a financial one.  Which is why true social justice is not just a matter of the redistribution of wealth, but also of the redistribution of the gospel, that well kept secret of the transforming power of God to radically change communities, families, and lives.  And that is something no government can do, that is the job of a much larger and more powerful organisation, the church. 

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