Augustine sparked my interest with a post on medicine and the possibility of considering some kind of universal health care. Augustine, as you probably know, is a Christian, and one of my own denomination. And therefore I found his statement particularly interesting-
Do I believe that socialized medicine is an evil because I have biblical basis for such a thought or because my culture has inculcated this thinking in me?
This is a necessary kind of thinking for us to engage in. We often confuse our Biblically based beliefs with our culturally-inculcated beliefs. We should not hold onto beliefs merely because we’ve been told to, when such beliefs are contrary to Scripture.
But the conservative impulse in me (I’m not a liberal, classical or otherwise) tells me that we ought to be slow to throw out all the old beliefs and reexamine everything constantly. None of us individually have the wisdom that our collective forefathers had. And there were reasons for many of those beliefs. Proverbs 22:28 tells us not to move the “ancient landmark” which our fathers have set. If we tear down a barrier, we ought first to know why that barrier was there. And in particular, I believe there are many good and fine Biblical principles on which the system of capitalism is based.
Augustine says this, in a follow-up post:
We need to examine the issue more fully. I do not believe there is a God ordained economic model. I think there are God ordained economic precepts which fit within mercantilist, capitalistic, socialist, or blended economies. Are we assuming that a capitalist economy is the economic model of God? If so, would equally as Reformed people disagree in Germany, Scotland, and the Netherlands?
Again, we do need to examine our assumptions. But is it actually the case that God has said nothing about an economic system? And if He has said anything, is there enough there to extrapolate a system?
1. The Eighth commandment: Thou shalt not steal. Exodus 20:15
Private property is recognized in the Bible as a grant from God. We have what we have because God has given it to us to use, and this applies to our neighbor as well. A good deal of the generally moral teaching of Jesus, John the Baptist and of the Apostles goes to applying this very principle in practice. Does it change the issue essentially when it is the government stealing my property instead of my neighbor? I don’t think so, and I’m guessing Augustine wouldn’t think so if it was his property. Was Ahab’s sin against Naboth only murder? If he had the right to simply take Naboth’s vineyard, why the elaborate plot? It’s ironic that the average city council in America today is more tyrannical than one of the worst kings in the Bible- today, Ahab would just declare a public use for Naboth’s vineyard, a desire to open it up to more people, or perhaps call it a federal wetlands.
And see how Paul applies the eighth commandment:
2. Ephesians 4:28- Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
Here we have the Biblically-based antithesis to stealing, as well as the solution to the very dilemma which Augustine proposed. First of all, the opposite of stealing in Paul’s “old-man / new-man” dichotomy is working for a living. The thief is the ultimate parasite. We like to glamorize him in our movies, ever since Robin Hood really, but the thief is a worm. He never produces anything, just takes from others. He is a net drain on the community. The redistributionist politician is no different. He may tell himself he’s a good guy because he steals from the rich and gives to the poor, but as a character in “Heist” says, “Who’d want to steal from the poor?” Private property does not become public property just because it’s a rich person who owns it. And therefore, if there are those in the community who have need, then the solution to that is for us to work hard so that we have extra to give to others.
They had welfare in the Roman Empire at the time Paul was writing. That welfare pretty much destroyed the Roman Empire, since it eventually took away everyone’s incentive to work. Nobody cared when the barbarians came. The state owned everything, which meant nobody did. So nobody cared when the barbarians came and stole what essentially belonged to nobody. Oh, they cared when they sacked Rome and burned their temples and slaughtered them. But they didn’t care when it mattered, when the barbarians were still at the borders. Today, we see the barbarians at our borders, and once again, everyone’s so used to stealing from everyone else that few care enough to do anything about it.
Welfare of any kind makes a man a parasite. It makes him a government-sanctioned thief. It teaches him the lesson that prosperity comes from your connections, who you know, how to work the system to get everything you can. When enough people learn that lesson, the society collapses. And unfortunately, all too many of us have been so bought. I have government-subsidized student loans. Lots of people get the big child tax credits which end up giving them more than they paid in taxes. I am sure I would take them too if I were eligible this year, because I would convince myself that I would not fall prey to the mindset of a parasite.
But the Bible speaks otherwise. The solution to poverty is hard work, both by the individual and by the community of God. We cannot solve everyone’s poverty. But we can do a lot for those in the household of God. On the other hand, “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” 2 Thess. 3.10.
3: The Prince of Ezekiel
One of the consistent problems listed throughout the book of Ezekiel is the oppression of the poor by the rulers of Israel. Through dishonesty, corruption and force they stole constantly from the poor. After the destruction of Jerusalem, which came in part because of this corruption, a new national order is envisioned by the prophet. I want to focus on the role of the prince in this new order. We see the ordinances for the prince scattered through Ezekiel 45-48.
First, his land allotment was divided. He had a portion on one side of the temple district and on the other. He was no longer the god of the land, treating the temple as his own private chapel, with his wall against God’s wall and his threshhold against God’s threshhold. He was separated and divided, so that he could not oppress the people.
Further, he was prohibited from acquiring any more land than what God had given him. And he was also foridden to give any of his land to any of his subjects. This is a common way that ancient kings would build their power and cement their hold on power, at the same time punishing their opponents, by stealing land from his enemies (either overtly or covertly by using the state coffers to buy it for himself) and then giving it to his friends. In an agrarian economy, without land you were nothing. Without land you were a vagabond.
Today we live in a capital-based economy, where a man can be very wealthy and established without owning a scrap of land. And if you substitute land with capital, a socialist, mercantilist or blended economy does precisely what the prince is forbidden to do, and it is the way they oppress the people and keep themselves in power.
In our economy, it’s done mostly through the tax code. The tax code is used to punish the political enemies of the party (the rich), in order to give handouts to those who will vote for the party. Both parties do it, though the Democrats are far more entrenched in this practice than the Republicans. In a mercantilist economy, this practice happens through protectionism and favored trade practices, giving valuable monopolies and guild rights to the political friends of the monarch or ruling power. And in a socialist economy, it happens by the wholesale theft of all of the land (read: capital) of the nation for the use of the ruling party, which party uses that wealth primarily to keep itself in power.
Only the capitalist system comes close to approximating what God has commanded here- that the prince be divided and limited, and that he be forbidden from using state power to manipulate the economic system for his own benefit. That everyone’s own property be guaranteed secure.
Once we accept the idea that our property is given to us by Caesar for him to take away and give whenever he deems fit, then we have become subjects of a totalitarian state, in our minds. We have become slaves in our minds. And lest all this economic stuff seem unimportant to you- remember, Jerusalem was destroyed partly because of wicked economic practices.