Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is Socialism Biblical?

Under the current administration, the government and economy of the United States has taken a decidedly left turn. Many believers think that such concerns really do not matter, have nothing at all to do with the Gospel, and therefore should not be a concern to a strongly evangelical Christian. Whereas I agree with such sentiments on their face, that doesn't mean one form of government or economy is as good as any other, or more to the point, more biblical than another. Let's explore (superficially, I admit) the "biblicalness" of socialism.

The the notion of private property is firmly ensconced in the Bible: not just personal property but real property as well. Socialism, in its severest form, does not allow for private property and has a limited view of such in its more pragmatic forms. If God's design for the society of his people as espoused in the Old Testament gives us any clue, means of production are intended by God to be held by individuals as a basis of self-reliance and freedom for those individuals and their children after them. Political authority exercised over the individual's talents and the individual's use of his property was considered by God a detriment, not a noble goal.

Furthermore, trying to obliterate class distinctions in society is a fool's errand. Jesus said the poor will always be with us. In the kingdom, even in the eternal age, there will be distinctions in rewards. The petty jealousy of the natural human heart which can't stand seeing someone else have something that it does not should not be the driver of public policy. However, the economically powerful should not be allowed to benefit themselves while squeezing those that make their wealth accumulation possible. An equitable share of profits going to workers is good policy, whereas equality in earnings is a hopelessly misguided fantasy.

Personal initiative and responsibility is the foundation of personal righteousness. Taking care of the helpless, the resourceless, and the weak (the poor, widows, and orphans) is a biblical construct, but transferring personal responsibility to society is not. Whereas "helping the working man" fits within a biblical framework, welfare for the able but idle does not. In taking that concept to the nth degree, we hear the convoluted logic today that considers universal healthcare (or really, anything else that must be earned by the able) an inalienable right.

People, all of them, are sinful by nature: if there is a way to get without giving in return a sizable proportion of them will opt for that choice--some more, some less. This is just the reality of human nature. To assume that big government is capable of equitably administering the crash between demand and supply which will result from a policy of open access for all seems to me the most hubristic conception to come down the pike in the modern age. Supply will become inadequate and prices will rise despite the best intentioned interventions of socialistic public policy.

Sometimes socialism is said to be a biblical idea due to the experiment of the early church in Jerusalem. I would note that the model was not repeated anywhere else the church was planted; that Jerusalem was a pilgrim city where many would have been in town on a temporary basis without visible means of longer term support; and that the area was poor and subject to drought and shortage. People liquidating personal property to help out brothers and sisters in distress was never meant to model communal living, the weight of NT scripture makes that more than clear. So much, then, for "biblical socialism."

Concentrated human authority (e.g., a king) is not God's desired option for the government of his people. By extension, any authority (king or not) that can confiscate property, conscript sons and daughters, tax parasitically--in other words, endanger personal freedom--is not what's best for God's sons and daughters. Human beings are sinful: put power in their hands over others and they'll use it sinfully. Socialism, even if democratic, ignores this reality and puts sinners in stifling control over other humans.

Can such a thing ever be expected to produce anything other than bondage?

Should Christian voters support overreaching governmental control in America, or curse our descendants with the burden of a relatively large, permanently underemployed, feckless welfare class akin to what exists throughout socialist Europe? American believers are free to join unbelievers in constructing a Tower of Babel against acts of God (that is what socialism seems to be an attempt at to me), but it won't be the Bible that influences such a choice. The Bible, as I see it, is relatively clear in its support for personal property, personal responsibility, economic freedom and trusting in God. Socialism, on the other hand, can only produce the tyranny of the sinner.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Good Shepherd Discourse: Does Election Cause Faith?

The Good Shepherd discourse in John 10 (actually two addresses on the same subject) is undoubtedly allegorical, and as such involves some art in its interpretation. It seems to me, the chapter is more about the qualities of the Good Shepherd than it is about the qualities of sheep. However, what it does say about sheep can been seen in a rather exclusionary light (see e.g. vs. 8, 14, 16, and 26-7). I wonder, in regard to those sheep and their response to the Shepherd, are Jesus' statements meant to be a description of attributes or an attribution of causes?

Among other things, the text tells us that sheep (people) who hear (believe and respond to) the shepherd (Christ) do so because they are his, whereas people who do not believe in Christ do not because they are not his. What must be determined in order to understand the figure properly is if is it saying that the mere fact of ownership (which could be seen as akin to election) causes response in sheep. In other words, does ownership (election) of the sheep cause them to hear the shepherd or does "hearing" merely establish that they are, in fact, owned by the shepherd (something akin to a brand).

One viewpoint sees a cause, where the other sees a description.

Sheep in the real world imprint to their shepherds during the process of being raised and tended by those shepherds. Apart from the ability to imprint at all, there's nothing intrinsic (or genetic) in a sheep that connects it to its particular shepherd. Only the relationship that has been established over time between them connects one to the other. The preference resulting from discerning hearing in sheep is developmental, so the hearing of the sheep presupposes a trusting relationship with the shepherd.

Now, the Pharisees and others in the audience were oblivious to whatever points Christ was making by using this figure. They missed the gist of the allegory all together: namely, that Jesus (and not any other including them) is the means for those that follow him to have life and all it brings. They had shown no inclination to accept him as a shepherd (they called him a raving lunatic), nor any willingness to develop a relationship with with him that would have tuned them to his voice. Even his miracles did nothing to elicit any kind of trust from them.

All those God, the Father, has given to Christ as his sheep (followers) will trust in him, whereas those who have no faith in Christ cannot possibly be a follower of Christ. If one has faith in Christ it means that one is one of the ones the Father gave the Son, if not, that one isn't--mere description. I don't think Christ would have appropriated this figure to demonstrate something the figure would not have demonstrated to any shepherd in his day, nor something that would fly in the face of later scripture. It is not saying that mere ownership (or election) causes trust, but merely that trust in Christ demonstrates that one is part of the fold his Father gave him.

This is accentuated from the viewpoint of the shepherd in vs. 11-13. Though sheep will not listen thieves and robbers, they will listen to and follow a hireling who, as their shepherd, has formed a relationship with them. However, only an owner, who is actually a shepherd too, will rise to the level of a Good Shepherd by hazarding all dangers in order to save them. So relationship, not ownership, grows faith, although ownership is what makes faith truly beneficial.