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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Socialism as it Relates to the Bible

Dan Trabue brought up my favorite book, the Bible, in an attempt to explain Socialism as a Biblical idea. This concept is not new to me. However, it may be new to many people, so I am posting this as my response.

Ancient Hebrew culture was defined by theology, the Law was divine, and it was to be strictly obeyed. What many people don’t realize is the symbolism and health benefits woven into the Law of Moses. I will not attempt to delve into all of them, just he ones mentioned as relating to socialism.

Under the Law the corners of the fields were to be left un-harvested so that the poor could glean them for food. Every seventh year the land was required to be left fallow. It is important to note that under this system the vast majority of the harvest went to the land owners. The corners of the fields were only a small bit of what was available to be harvested. This is functionally different from Socialism because it allows the accumulation of wealth, while Socialism requires that all wealth be distributed equally. The fallow years served the same function as crop rotation, and it is a practice that is carried out by farmers around the world to this day. Fields that are not allowed to go fallow once in a while loose their ability to nourish the food that is grown on them and eventually become useless. Including fallow years in the Law ensured continued food production for generations to come.

As for the seventh year being the one, numbers are very symbolic in the Bible, and the number seven is the number of rest. God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh. The Sabbath was the seventh day of the week. Every seventh year was a year of rest. For more I suggest you read up on Bible Numerology. It’s fascinating stuff.

There is also the matter of the fifty year Jubilee. In ancient times land was distributed among the tribes of Israel and was declared to belong to that tribe for all time. It was then further parceled among the various families within each tribe. This was during a time when not having land meant utter destitution and homelessness. The landless were forced to be nomads wandering the wilds scraping what nourishment they could from the desert. By returning the land to its tribal and familial owners every fifty years it was ensured that no tribe would be forced out of the land (nation). The price of the land when it was sold was strongly affected by how near the Jubilee was. If it was a long way off the land would fetch a higher price. If it was very near the land would go for less. Private ownership of land was very highly respected. In Socialism there is no private ownership of land as it belongs to everyone equally. No land purchases could be made because it would allow the purchaser to rise above his neighbors.

The Jubilee also affected slavery. As you undoubtedly know slavery is the ownership of another human being. In ancient times sometimes people couldn’t pay their debts or feed their families so they were forced by circumstance to sell themselves or their children into slavery. This would be unnecessary in a socialist society since everyone gets an equal share of everything, so, in theory, there should be no one so destitute that they need to sell themselves into slavery. By freeing the slaves every fifty years it ensured that no family would be continually born into slavery, as happened in the US pre-Civil War. This guaranteed freedom and the opportunity to grow wealthy, much like we have here today.

Ancient Hebrew society had its very wealthy, and its’ miserably poor, as allowed by law. This is the opposite of Socialism, it is capitalism, but with a certain amount of charity enforced under the law, just like we have in the US today! (Welfare is legally enforced charity)

Since the Old Testament doesn’t follow Socialism let’s take a look at the New Testament.

The very early Church was marked by nothing if not love and generosity. Members made a habit of selling everything and sharing among each other as was needed. This was not mandated by law or by Church decree. It was a voluntary system, and it should be noted that not everyone did this, and one couple is recorded as only half doing it, which is a different story altogether. Either way, it makes me wonder just how close the Jubilee was at this time, but that’s beside the point. This does follow the Socialist ideal, and it does so under the circumstances I have previously stated it actually does work under; a small community of like-minded people engaging willingly in the practice. However, it must be noted that during this a rule was put in place by the Apostle Paul that “He who does not work should not eat” which is contrary to the socialist ideal.

One could argue that the Jews were always very generous with tithing and with the giving of alms to the poor, and that that is indicative of Socialism. It is not. God Himself promised that “If you do these things I will pour out their treasures of Heaven upon you.” (Referring not only to donations but to obedience to the entire Law) They gave so they could get way more back from God. In ancient Hebrew society Rich men were seen as the most righteous because they were the most blessed. Once again, this is contrary to Socialism.

This is my take on how the Bible deals with Socialism. It is very capitalist, but demands a certain amount generosity, which is just plain the loving thing to do. So, Bible = Capitalist + Generous.

14 Comments:

  • Socialist and communistic communities were tried in Central New York in the mid 1800's. The theory was everyone gets the same compensation, no matter what your job was.

    They fell to ruin and demise over internal arguing (sound familiar). It seems the dude out in the hot sun all day growing the potatoes got the same amount of "potatoes" as the dude playing the violin for entertainment in the evening. Didn't seem fair to the guys busting hump, while the fiddler just sat under a tree fiddling.

    Thus, capitalism is the only system that works.

    Regards,

    Phantom

    By Blogger meesterjoneser, at 9:11 AM  

  • As we are farmers now, on a small scale, we let our land lie fallow about once every 5 years. We discussed (in Church) the ancient practice of letting the poor share in the harvesting of the corners of the field. I asked, "what would happen if I said in the paper the poor of my small town were welcome to harvest from the corners of my crops?" The majority concensus was that my crops would be stripped bare and we would be left with nothing! Probably true...

    Excellent post. I have linked you to My Republican Blog.

    By Blogger Gayle, at 1:18 PM  

  • Interesting post. My guess here is what would happen:

    A group of environmentalist socialistas would set up a food bank, use illegal immigrants to harvest the corners, then sue you for the blisters raised because YOU did not provide proper hand protection.

    Don't want to be pessimistic, but no good dead goes unpunished.

    Hoo-Ah!

    PD

    By Blogger meesterjoneser, at 1:49 PM  

  • Thank you for a very well thought out and writ commentary. One quick point on my original comment: I wasn't suggesting the biblical models were socialist, I was just saying that they're NOT capitalist.

    (I'll own up to suggesting it hinted of socialism, to make my point, but I was not really meaning socialism strictly defined - just that biblical economic teachings are closer to sounding socialist than capitalist.)

    Biblical economics are something Else.

    All in all, I don't think your commentary is too bad until you get to your suggestion that "It is very capitalist..." I'd challenge you to find support for capitalism in the bible, or even suggested at all, except by way of bad example.

    Yes, the ancient cultures (Hebrew included) had rich and poor. BUT God repeatedly rips them a new one for how they'd treated the poor, how they had failed to live by Jubilee laws.

    Great conversation, y'all! Even if you disagree with me, I'm glad to see economics discussed at all in a faith-context. Too often, it is a taboo topic.

    As one Jesuit priest says, "We spend our money as if we knew nothing of the Gospel and read the Gospel as if we had no money."

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 3:04 PM  

  • Great post and great reply from Dan. I've heard the "Jesus was a Socialist" argument before. It never rang true to me for many reasons. This post illustrates my thoughts nearly exactly.

    The mid 1800's experiment in New York wasn't the first time such an idea was tried in the New World. The early colonists set up a communist society but abandoned the concept because the people had no real incentive to be productive.

    By Blogger Nightcrawler, at 9:42 AM  

  • A well written piece!
    Thanks so much.

    Regards,
    jimmyb

    By Blogger The Conservative UAW Guy, at 9:49 AM  

  • I believe in capitalism, but I think that, human nature being what it is, there need to be oversights and regulations built into it to rein in excessive greed. Unfettered capitalism is as unrealistic as unfettered communism. Plus, we don't really work on the pure 'free market' laissez-faire concept, as we prop up plenty of industries. If it were pure free market, the businesses would just have to fail, but we obviously don't allow that to happen. So it has to be a mix; checks and balances, as I am always saying ad nauseum.

    By Blogger Alicia, at 12:25 PM  

  • I'm not much for government bailouts for private businesses myself.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 1:32 PM  

  • "Under the Law the corners of the fields were to be left un-harvested so that the poor could glean them for food"

    You missed an aspect of this in terms of socialism. The poor still had to work the harvest in order to gain from this practice. (As opposed to harvesting everything and then giving some to the poor.) As you later noted, Paul says if a man does not work, he should not eat. Note how this is actually consistent with the "un-harvested corners" practice.

    My own take on capitalism is that it's honest in its assessment of human nature. While socialism (communism if you like) maintains that greed can somehow be legislated away, capitalism says that this is impossible. However, capitalism also shows a faith that all things are turned to God's purpose, even greed. While socialism drives greed into murky corners, capitalism encourages greed - and the productivity it drives. While the New York Times in the past few years has noted 'the widening gap between rich and poor (in the USA)', this does not mean the poor are poorer but that the wealthy are more so. The fact is that greater numbers of people can support themselves in this society than ever before. Can they all live in Trump Towers (or want to)? No. Are their children begging in the street or sold into prostitution? Increasingly, the answer again is 'No', and that's the point. If the point of capitalism (and it IS, for some) to drag the überwealthy down to a more mundane level of subsistence, it has failed miserably. If the point of capitalism is to enable and average person to sustain life in a reasonable way - basic sustenance, a warm place to sleep, a chance to have a family - then it is a raving success.

    By Blogger Mr. Snitch, at 3:26 PM  

  • "I'd challenge you to find support for capitalism in the bible"

    This probably could be done, although I'm not putting that on MY plate. Certainly there's support for rights to individual ownership, respect for employer (and worker, for that matter), respect for labor and the rights to enjoy the fruits thereof. I'd mine Proverbs for one thing. (But I'm still not gonna, not without a book contract.)

    By Blogger Mr. Snitch, at 3:30 PM  

  • Good points there Snitch.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 3:39 PM  

  • I'm sure you can find some suggestions of support for capitalism. But all in all, the Bible's take on economy is not very capitalist-friendly.

    Nor does it suggest state-owned socialist practices. As I've stated, it's something Else.

    I'm just reacting to the assumption that socialism is evil. It is an economic practice with faults and good points. Just as capitalism is.

    Socialism ISN'T about rewarding folk who don't work. It isn't about totalitarianism. Those are ad hominem attacks, not reasonable critiques.

    Myself, I'm somewhere in the ballpark of Alicia - thinking maybe a regulated capitalism might be the best we can do (surprised?). But given humanity's fallen nature, as many have pointed out, nothing will be perfect.

    I'm just saying unfettered laissez faire capitalism is not a good thing and runs against biblical teachings.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 4:47 AM  

  • Do you really think someone out in the sun growing potatoes makes more than the violinist under capitalism?The hardest workers in our system are the lowest paid so where is your argument?capitalism is welfare for the rich and nothing more.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:36 PM  

  • What bible verse said that you cant borrow money with interest?But if a greasy,lazy,worthless capitalist does it then its ok?As people evolve past the monkey stealing bananas(yer only gonna eat one bro,you dont need thirteen)our system will surely stray away from capitalism.If our economy ever takes a massive hit(and it will)you will see the rich herded into the streets,and you can use common sense for the ending.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:58 PM  

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