Rethinking Christian Economics

By Todd Lewis

This paper will attempt to deal with an often under-discussed and misunderstood extension of the principle of Christian stewardship: Economics. Modern American Christians seem to espouse, whether implicitly or explicitly, one of three views on economics: 1) Laissez-faire Capitalism; 2) “Crony” Capitalism or 3) Socialism. Each of these economic models take modern economic systems and grafts Christianity onto them. They start with something else first and then add the Bible to it rather than grounding the systems upon the Bible itself. As in all world and life issues, the Christian is ought to ask first: What does the Bible say about this matter?

This paper is not exhaustive, as I have not dealt with all the possible formulations of Christian economics. Rather, I intend to bring central ideas to the reader’s attention and attempt to organize my thoughts on a hypothetical Christian economic order. In this paper, there are three main topics that I intend to cover: 1) Usury, 2) Distrubutism, and 3) Socialism. For transparency, I would like to inform the reader that I reject the first, have a qualified support for the second, and totally reject the third.

The Biblical Context of Usury

Usury is often considered the practice of charging unusually high rates of interest on money that is lent. Originally, however, usury denoted interest of any kind; that is, usury and interest were considered synonymous.  Thus, when I refer to usury throughout this paper, I will use the original definition.

In practice, usury requires the borrower to repay the lender a sum which is more than the principle of the amount borrowed. How much this additional amount will be is determined by the rate of interest and the period of capitalization (that is, the regularity at which the interest is added to the principle) agreed upon by the lender and borrower. The moral objection levied against usury asserts that if the borrower only borrowed the principle of the loan from the lender, then the borrower ought to be required to repay only the principle and no more. Within this framework, it is immoral for the lender to require more to be paid back to him than the original principle, for the lender would be in fact gaining money without doing any work. For example, if person A lends $1,000 to person B at 15% interest for 1 year to be capitalized annually, then the lender earns $150 without lifting a finger. The lender produced nothing and yet he earned money. It is understood that no man is entitled to either money which he has not worked for, or money that was not given to him. The borrower borrowed $1,000 dollars, not $1,150 dollars; therefore, the borrower does not owe the lender an additional $150. I will demonstrate that usury is a form of extortion and is hence not a legitimate obligation of the borrower. The Bible is very clear on the immorality and sinfulness of issuing loans with interest:

Exodus 22:25-27: 25 “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.”

Leviticus 25:35-38: “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.”

Nehemiah 5:6-10: 6 “And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, “Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.” So I called a great assembly against them. And I said to them, “According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?” Then they were silenced and found nothing to say. Then I said, “What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury!”

Psalms 15:5: “He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”

Proverbs 28:8: “One who increases his possessions by usury and extortion Gathers it for him who will pity the poor.”

Jeremiah 15:10: “Woe is me, my mother, That you have borne me, A man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent for interest, Nor have men lent to me for interest. Every one of them curses me.”

Ezekiel 18:13: “If he has exacted usury Or taken increase– Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him.”

Ezekiel 18:17: “Who has withdrawn his hand from the poor. And not received usury or increase, But has executed My judgments And walked in My statutes– He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live!”

Ezekiel 22:12: “In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take usury and increase; you have made profit from your neighbors by extortion, and have forgotten Me,” says the Lord God.”

The above verses provide a solid case that God did not want the Israelites to extort their fellow Israelites by means of usury. However, we see that in Deuteronomy 23:19-20: 19, although God prohibited usurious loans to His people, God allowed the Israelites to charge usurious loans to gentiles. This “loophole” was closed by Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-42), as well as by his command to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44, as well as in Luke 6:27 and 6:35. We see that we should treat our enemies as the Samaritan treated the Jew in the parable. We see that we should love and pray for our enemies and do them no wrong – and if usury is wrong to apply to a man, it necessarily stands in opposition to Christ’s command. If a man will die because of lending usuriously to his brother in Ezekiel 18:13, how greater will his punishment be for usuriously lending to his enemy under the New Covenant?

Someone might object to my interpretation of the prohibition of usury by reference to the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:27 and Luke 19:13. For proper exegesis, scripture must interpret scripture. We see that the master wanted the third servant to put the money into the bank to earn interest. But was the point of the parable to teach us lending practices? Patently, no. The purpose of the parable is to teach us that if we use what God gave us, then He will entrust us with more, and that if we squander His gifts, then what He has given us will be taken from us. Christ’s words in Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:34-35 clearly indicate that we should be liberal givers. Luke 6 even indicates that we should not even demand back the principle of the loan.

Now many will say that, “Yes we should give charitably with an open hand expecting nothing in return, but in the world of business and finance different rules apply.” This is not sound reasoning. Of course charity is interest-free, but loans and charity are clearly differentiated. We see that in Exodus 22:25-27 God is clearly not talking about charity, but a business transaction. For how could a loan ever be considered an act of charity? A loan is expected to be repaid, but charity is not. The prohibition of usury in business practices is also seen in Nehemiah 5:1-4, where heavily leveraged Jews were indebted for the mortgages of their land, vineyards and homes.  We also see in the Jewish Encyclopedia that according to scripture and rabbinical tradition that lending usuriously to a brother was prohibited in all cases: “There are three Biblical passages which forbid the taking of interest in the case of ‘brothers,’ but which permit, or seemingly enjoin, it when the borrower is a Gentile, namely, Ex. xxii. 24; Lev. xxv. 36, 37; Deut. xxiii. 20, 21. “[1]

The prohibition of usury in the New Testament is extended to the unsaved as seen in Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:34-35. We see that Jesus frequently expands the original promises and protections of the OT to cover not only Jews, but also Gentiles and the unsaved. Consider in Leviticus 19:18 that the Jews are commanded  to love their neighbors, yet the usage of “neighbors” here is actually a status reserved only for other Jews. Thus, the Jews were not required to love the Amalekites, Philistines or Edomites, among others; in fact, God ordered the Israelites to exterminate them. Followers of Christ are told also to love their neighbors in Matthew 5:43. Yet we learn in Luke 10:29-42 that our neighbor may be our worst enemy. We see that Christ has extended the definition of “neighbor” to even include those we consider enemies. It can be reasoned, then, that according to  Luke 6:34-35 the prohibition of usury includes everyone, because Christ does not specify Jew or Gentile when he states that we should lend to anyone who asks, without expecting repayment. Anyone must also include the Gentiles and the unsaved.

The critic might say that if we lend to anyone without even expecting the principle in return then we would all be taken advantage of and be left naked and bankrupt. This is not completely true. Of course Christ does not intend us to lend to people who 1) will spend the money on their pleasures, 2) who are affiliated with prohibited means of employment such as prostitution, pornography, drug dealing, the military industrial complex etc, or 3) people who will likely spend the money on criminal activity. We are to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. A lot of potential objections are already dealt with right here.

But what are we to do in the event that the person to whom we lent money does not repay the loan and seeks yet another loan from us? The answer is that we are not required to loan to that person again. Why? Firstly, we are not required to because retrospectively that person was unworthy of the loan in the first place, and secondly, given that the amount of money that most Christian’s possess is limited, the Christian should give where it will do the most good. If a Christian lends money to a person, then whether or not he continues to lend to that person will be contingent upon the borrower’s faithfulness to the agreement. If a Christian gives charity to a person, then whether or not he should give charity to that person in the future is contingent upon the how the recipient dispenses of the gift; that is, it ought to be based upon whether or not the charity accomplished its intended goal. In sum, Christians should seek out and aid those whose need is genuine. Furthermore, if a brother in a business transaction fails to pay back the loan and fails to make alternate provisions, then he has proven himself to be a liar and thief, thus forfeiting his right to the brotherhood. Liars have their place in the Lake of Fire Revelation 21:8.

Even with all this aside there is a lot of risk for a Christian lending money. For example, 1) he is not to expect even the principle of the loan back and 2) he is not allowed to leverage political power to obtain what is owed to him by another believer (1st Corinthians 6:1-11).

We see that 1) usury was prohibited between Jews in the OT, 2) in the New Testament usury is prohibited in all cases, 3) we are not required to lend to spiritual reprobates and 4) in 1st Corinthians 1:18, Paul writes: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Capitalism

Many Christians today either favor modern free-market capitalism or “crony” capitalism. Crony capitalism is distinguished between free-market capitalism in that the ‘crony’ capitalist earns wealth with the aid of government. A true capitalist succeeds solely in the basis of his entrepreneurial talent. Modern conservatism seeks to conflate crony capitalism with free-trade. Modern conservatives often assume that what we have in the US today is “free-market” capitalism when in fact it is no such thing. It is legalized mutual corruption of both the corporate and state apparatus. Such an economic model is based on nepotism and is obviously in conflict with Christian principles.

Free-market capitalism, which is endorsed by Classical Liberals, Randians, and Libertarians, is a much more competitive and just system than crony capitalism, but is not with out its flaws. As a disclaimer I do not reject the laws of economics (Say’s Law, Greshems Law etc.,), but I do reject the certain philosophical mindset that is often held by people who support free-markets.

The leading philosophical thinkers in free market ethics are, among others, Ayn Rand, Murry Rothbard and Walter Block. Both Ayn Rand and modern Libertarians are very hostile to the notion of charity and altruism. For example, Ayn Rand bases her ethics on rational egoism/self-interest, which is defined here:

“The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.”[2]

Rand also rails against Altruism and Charity:

“What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

“Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

“Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”[3]

“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”[4]

We see an atheistic man-centered worldview in the writings of Rand. She takes the liberal dictum of “do whatever you want as long as it hurts no one” to its logical conclusion. Or in other words, man has no positive obligations to anyone other than himself. Rothbard, though he does not trumpet selfishness and shout down charity as Rand does, still affirms the former and agrees with Rand’s views on the latter, (i.e. that man has no positive obligation other than to himself).

“I must here again comment on Professor Averitt’s statement about “greed.” It’s true: greed has had a very bad press. I frankly don’t see anything wrong with greed. I think that the people who are always attacking greed would be more consistent with their position if they refused their next salary increase. I don’t see even the most Left-Wing scholar in this country scornfully burning his salary check. In other words, “greed” simply means that you are trying to relieve the nature given scarcity that man was born with. Greed will continue until the Garden of Eden arrives, when everything is superabundant, and we don’t have to worry about economics at all. We haven’t of course reached that point yet; we haven’t reached the point where everybody is burning his salary increases, or salary checks in general. So the question then becomes: what kind of greed are we going to have, “productive greed,” where people produce and voluntarily exchange their products with others? Or exploitative greed, organized robbery and predation, where you achieve your wealth at the expense of others? These are the two real alternatives.”[5]

Rothbard monstrously redefines Charity as a self-interested greed:

“In fact, in the long run, the greatest “charity” is precisely not what we know by that name, but rather simple, “selfish” capital investment and the search for technological innovations. Poverty has been tamed by the enterprise and the capital investment of our ancestors, most of which was undoubtedly done for “selfish” motives. This is a fundamental illustration of the truth enunciated by Adam Smith that we generally help others most in those very activities in which we help ourselves.”[6]

We see also in Walter Block in his “Defending the Undefendable” that charity is criticized, among other reasons, because:

“On of the great evils of charity, and one of the most cogent reasons for refusing to contribute to it, is that it interferes with the survival of the human species. According to the Darwinian principle of the “survival of the fittest,” those organisms most able to exist in a given environment will be “naturally selected” (by showing a greater propensity to live until the age of procreation, and thus be more likely to leave offspring). One result, in the long run, is a species whose members have a greater ability to survive. This does not imply that the strong “kill off” the weak, as has been alleged. It merely suggests that the strong will be more successful than the weak in the procreation of the species. Thus the ablest perpetuate themselves and the species thrives.”[7]

We can see that modern capitalist philosophy is based on what is called “enlightened self-interest” or egoism. The problem for a Christian in this view is that man is the agent that determines value, goodness and morality. The egoist asks himself first how does this act benefit me, and if it does not then I will not perform it. Such a view is contradictory to the Christian requirement to love thy neighbor; see Matthew 19:9, Matthew 23:39, Mark 12:31, Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:8-9, Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8, accepting wrong Romans 12:17,  1st Corinthians 6:7, 1st Thessalonians 5:15, and 1st Peter 3:9.

The notion of loving one’s neighbor cannot be made compatible with running someone out of business in unlimited competition for the sake of personal gain. Is it in accord with Christian values to actively seek drive your brother out of business and render him unable to sustain himself and his family? This does not mean that one should not produce the highest quality goods possible which in turn might drive people out of business. Quality work should be produced not with the intent to destroy livelihood, but in order to do all things for the glory of God; see Colossians 3:17.  For the egoistic capitalist the world is seen in terms of conflict, i.e., between competitors. If people  look at the ruthless competition that is present in today’s marketplace as a kind of bloodless Darwinian struggle, it is plain to see that the ruthless desire to win at any price is the rotten fruit that necessarily grows out of  this “enlightened” self-interest. If self-interest becomes the basis for morality, why stop short of gratifying your self-interest at the expense of physically harming others? For example, in the 19th century American West the competing railroads would hire thugs to prevent each other’s crews from laying tracks, going so far as to  tear up each other’s tracks in order to get the upper hand.[8] [9]

In short, such a competitive mindset is inimical to the love of one’s brother. We see the ideal of Christian love towards brothers expressed in the Amish.  The products that the Amish are well known for, wood work and dairy products, are of the highest quality, but their goal is not to destroy the livelihood of their brothers. One could argue that this form of Christian economics is actually more efficient than traditional capitalist competition. Donald Kraybill explains in “Amish Enterprise: Plowshares to Profits” that while most small business fail, most Amish business succeed. The success is traced to numerous individual causes, but the major cause is that the Amish are a closely knit and disciplined community that helps its members out in times of need and trouble.

False Distributism

Distributism is the ideal that the economic goal of society should be to obtain the widest distribution of property amongst the most people. The end I agree to, but the means typically proposed to achieve that end I do not agree to. Distributists in theory are almost libertarian in their desire to decentralize society, but in fact are more often than not crypto-socialists. If one visits the Distributist Review you will see the same flawed Marxist theories used ostensibly to decentralize property. But one cannot purse Christian ends by Marxist means, as I will discuss in depth later. We see John Médaille[10], David W. Cooney[11], Hilaire Belloc[12], and Thomas Storck[13] all arguing for the grossly unjust notion of a graduated income tax. In Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto his second plank was the implementation of a progressive income tax: “2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.” This is unjust in that it charges the rich man more than the poor and privileges the poor over the rich. We see in Exodus 30:15 that when YHWH required the Children of Israel to pay for the offering it was a flat rate of a half-shekel. The rich were not to pay more than the poor nor the poor more than the rich. When Samuel describes to the Israelites what the tyranny of a king would look like, he stated in 1st Samuel 8:15: “He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants.” It is interesting to note the Children of Israel were required to tithe a tenth of their goods to God Leviticus 18:26. We see that when a state seeks to take more than a tenth of our earnings it is usurping God’s sovereignty. If God demanded a tenth of Israel’s produce, then the upper cap of taxation is set. If a state seeks a tenth or more of a person’s income, it is claiming that itself is greater than God. When Distributists endorse plunder under the guise of a progressive income tax they are rebelling against God’s justice and claim to be god’s themselves.

We see in Exodus 23:3, Leviticus 19:15, and Deuteronomy 16:19 that justice is blind and one is not to be partial to a poor man. According to Scripture, the Distributists are not inclined to justice, but to unrighteousness for they pervert justice toward the poor and take the blind fold off the eyes of justice. Why should a person be excessively taxed for having more than others? How wealthy are some of the proponents of Distributism? Why don’t they sell of all their superfluities of life and live a Spartan existence and give the surplus to the poor? Rather than personally acting out what they claim to believe, they instead plunder the rest of us through the violence of the state.  In his debate with George Bernard Shaw entitled “Do We Agree”[14], Chesterton foolishly argues that the coal industry should be nationalized by the British government. Mr. Chesterton’s arguments look quite silly after seeing the mismanagement of coal under English nationalization in 1946, which was undone through privatization in 1994 under the Coal Industry Act of 1994. This debate shows us again the crypto socialist nature of Distributism.

The other pseudo-socialist aspect of Distributism can be found in the works of David V. Cooney[15], Stratford Caldecott[16],  Hilaire Belloc[17], Thomas Stork[18], and Angus Sibley[19] who argue for Marx’s Eighth Plank: “Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies especially for agriculture.”

I am not opposed to Church influencing economic action and exerting a Godly influence in the marketplace, but I am opposed to economic charlatans who complain about corporate monopolies, granted by government, and seek to solve the problem by imposing government-granted monopolies of unions and guilds to resolve the resulting inequity.

In the Old Catholic encyclopedia, two types of guilds are mentioned: Merchant and Craftsmen Guilds. Merchant guilds were monopolies as described here:

“These differed from their predecessors, the religious or frith guilds, by being established primarily for the purpose of obtaining and maintaining the privilege of carrying on trade. Having secured this privilege the guilds guarded their monopoly jealously.”[20]

“The merchant guilds possessed extensive powers, including the control and monopoly of all the trades in the town, which involved the power of fining all traders who were not members of the guild for illicit trading, and of inflicting punishment for all breaches of honesty or offences against the regulations of the guild.”[21]

“The merchants’ guilds aimed at securing commercial advantages for their members and obtaining the monopoly of the trade of some country or some particular class of goods. Not alone in the German cities, but also in all foreign countries where German commerce prevailed, corporations of this sort, guilds, or Hansa (the word Hansa has the same signification as guild)”[22]

The craftsmen guilds sought to break down monopolies:

“Seeing that the merchant guilds had become identical with the municipality, the craftsmen, ever increasing in numbers, struggled to break down the trading monopoly of the merchant guilds and to win for themselves the right of supervision over their own body. The weavers and fullers were the first crafts to obtain royal recognition of their guilds, and by 1130 they had guilds established in London, Lincoln, and Oxford. Little by little through the next two centuries they broke down the power of the merchant guilds, which received their death-blow by the statute of Edward III which in 1335 allowed foreign merchants to trade freely in England.”[23]

Given that craftsmen guilds lead to the breakdown of the guild system in favor of free trade, I doubt the Distributists have any love lost for them. The Distributist answer to corporate monopolies is to have more corporate monopolies, only these corporate monopolies are good because the ‘good’ Catholics run them. Yet, if guilds were so great why did Pope Pius VII abolish guilds in the Papal States in 1807?[24]

Laborers forming fraternities or charities to take care of each others interests is not an un-Christian idea, but coercive and monopolistic enterprises are exactly what needs to be avoided, and to believe that another set of coercive monopolistic enterprises will counter the inequity is like believing that two wrongs can make a right.

Aristotle and Proto-Distributism

The positive argument for private property can be found in Book 1 of Aristotle’s Politics. Aristotle argues that man will work harder for the sake of what he owns. If all his possessions are held in collectively, then the tragedy of the commons will arise whereby resources and infrastructure are depleted but not replenished. This exploitation occurs because no one can lay claim to any of the produce of the land exclusively and each individual is given incentives to extract as much benefit as he can as quickly as he can. Furthermore, the virtues of continence and liberality cannot possibly be developed in a communist society. If all women are held in common, then the virtue of continence cannot be developed and if all land is held in common than liberality cannot be developed. The virtue of continence in general is related to self-control and in particular to sexual self-control. The virtue of liberality is giving from one’s own store to another at the right time, to the right person, for the right reason. Obviously both virtues would be impossible in a state of communism. Aristotle argues, correctly, that man’s desires are ultimately insatiable because they are unlimited, and thus they must be restrained by reason and force of habit, both of which being derived from education and the law. Widely distributed property is desirable because having a middle class is desirable. Aristotle points out in Book IV that the middle class is the mean between rich and poor, the former being in excess of wealth and the latter in a deficiency of wealth. The former seek to acquire total control over society, while the latter being envious are ungovernable. The middle class is thus in a position to serve as an impartial judge in disputes between  the rich and poor. For a middle class to exist it stands to reason that property must not be concentrated in the hands of a few, but be widely distributed. The middle class has just enough property to avoid poverty, but not so much property that they can act despotically against the less fortunate while avoiding and perverting the law.

Having outlined the secular argument for widely distributed property, I will now turn to Holy Scripture. We see in the Pentateuch that God feared the concentration of power in general and the concentration of property in particular. In Leviticus 25:10-13 we are told that Israel was required after every fifty years to return the land to its original owner. This mechanism was set in place by God to keep property from gathering into the hands of a few men. God’s law against usury serves the same purpose. We see in Leviticus 25:23-28 that if a man has to sell his property to pay some debt, then 1) his nearest of kin is to buy the land back or 2) the man who received the property as a pledge of debt should, once the means of the indebted man have recovered, sell the land back to him or 3) if both means fail the land is to be returned during the year of Jubilee. We see in Numbers 36:1-13 while Zelophehad’s daughters were married into the tribe of their cousins, Zelophehad’s property remained in his tribe and was not transferred to his brother. God did not want property to switch hands from tribe to tribe. We also see the same principle at work in Judges 21:17 where for the sake of an inheritance the errant tribe of Benjamin is allowed to essentially kidnap the daughters of Shiloh at Schecem to be their wives. It was considered so important that the land apportioned to Benjamin not leave their control it was necessary to ensure the tribe’s survival.

The basic principle of distributed property is clearly seen in the OT. Therefore, given the best secular wisdom found in Aristotle and in divine wisdom in Holy Scripture, the moral and utilitarian reasons for distributed property can be clearly seen.

The Commons

I also contend that the medieval concept of the commons should be restored or at least its spirit. For in the words of Ivan Illich:

“People called commons those parts of the environment for which customary law exacted specific forms of community respect. People called commons that part of the environment which lay beyond their own thresholds and outside of their own possessions, to which, however, they had recognized claims of usage, not to produce commodities but to provide for the subsistence of their households.”[25]

The commons are a place that is not commoditized or bought or sold, but is set in place for the sustenance of family life for those suffering from either chronic or terminal poverty (due to illness or injury or physical disability). It is a sacred place where sacred time and work is kept. It is an attempt to be faithful to the divine command of the gleanings or, in Aristotelian terms, to the public land of a well-balanced commonwealth, which ideally contains both public and private land.

The danger of having people being employed by corporations or government is that when they are fired or their wages are cut they usually have no alternative to fall back on. If a man had his “three acres and a cow,” to quote Chesterton, he would have something to fall back on so as to endure the vicissitudes of life. Or, to quote Lewis:

“I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind’. But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne, that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?”[26]

To be free man, one must own the land he stands on and be able to leave an inheritance for his children (Proverbs 13:22). All forms of property tax, inheritance tax, and death tax are unbiblical, for the state has no claim to a mans property (1st Kings 21:1-29).

The Anti-Christian Nature of Socialism

Socialism is incompatible with Christianity for two reasons: 1) its founders were Satanists/Atheists and 2) it destroys the Christian conception of charity.

Marx, Bakunin and Proudhon, all founders of Marxism and Anarchism were self-styled Satanists. In his younger years, Marx wrote a series of poems expressing his hatred of God, his desire to destroy because he could not create, and the selling of his soul to Satan. Below are excerpts from his poetic works:

On Hating God:

“Heaven I would comprehend
I would draw the world to me;
Living, hating, I intend
That my star shine brilliantly …”[27]

On Destruction:

“… Worlds I would destroy forever,
Since I can create no world;
Since my call they notice never …”[28]

“Then I will be able to walk triumphantly,
Like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom.
Every word of mine is fire and action.
My breast is equal to that of the Creator.”[29]

“I shall build my throne high overhead
Cold, tremendous shall its summit be.
For its bulwark — superstitious dread
For its marshal — blackest agony.” [30]

Satanism:

The Fiddler:

“See this sword?
the prince of darkness
Sold it to me.”[31]

“With Satan I have struck my deal,
He chalks the signs, beats time for me
I play the death march fast and free.”[32]

We see in Marx’s Oulanem, A Tragedy in the words of Oulanem his full hatred of God, creation and humanity:

“… I shall howl gigantic curses on mankind:
Ha! Eternity! She is an eternal grief …
Ourselves being clockwork, blindly mechanical,
Made to be the foul-calendars of Time and Space,
Having no purpose save to happen, to be ruined,
So that there shall be something to ruin …
If there is a something which devours,
I’ll leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins-
The world which bulks between me and the Abyss
I will smash to pieces with my enduring curses.
I’ll throw my arms around its harsh reality:
Embracing me, the world will dumbly pass away,
And then sink down to utter nothingness,
Perished, with no existence — that would be really living!”

“… the leaden world holds us fast,
And we are chained, shattered, empty, frightened,
Eternally chained to this marble block of Being …
and we —
We are the apes of a cold God.”

Further reading should be directed to Wumbrand’s Marx and Satan. Such ungodly hostility seems to be the product of a demon, and not a man.

On Proudhon

 “On the other hand, Proudhon understood and felt liberty much better than he. Proudhon, when not obsessed with metaphysical doctrine, was a revolutionary by instinct; he adored Satan and proclaimed Anarchy.”[33]

“The spirit of analysis, that untiring Satan who continually questions and denies, must sooner or later look for proof of religious dogmas. Now, whether the philosopher determine the idea of God, or declare it indeterminable; whether he approach it with his reason, or retreat from it, — I say that this idea receives a blow; and, as it is impossible for speculation to halt, the idea of God must at last disappear. Then the atheistic movement is the second act of the theologic drama; and this second act follows from the first, as effect from cause. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the Psalmist. Let us add, And their testimony dethrones him.”[34]

On Bakunin:

“But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.”[35]

“God admitted that Satan was right; he recognized that the devil did not deceive Adam and Eve in promising them knowledge and liberty as a reward for the act of disobedience which he bad induced them to commit; for, immediately they had eaten of the forbidden fruit, God himself said (see Bible): “Behold, man is become as of the Gods, knowing both good and evil; prevent him, therefore, from eating of the fruit of eternal life, lest he become immortal like Ourselves.”[36]

We see that the Russian anarchist Nikolai Ishutin named the inner circle of his anarchist organization “Hell”[37]. Such blasphemes are not uncommon for the Socialists. Their atheism or Satanism is manifested in their hatred of God and man. Because they cannot create with their own hands, they seek to destroy that which has been made by the hands of others. That any Christian should be so stupid to believe the words of such animals (for I will not call them men), to believe that this monstrous ideology is compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ just shows us the depths of human ignorance and depravity.

Ivan Illich in his “We the People Interview” summed the problem of socialism thus:

“Then, in 300 and something, finally the Church got recognition. The bishops were made into something like magistrates. The first things those guys do, these new bishops, is creating houses of hospitality, institutionalizing what can be only what was given to us as a vocation by Jesus, as a personal vocation, institutionalizing it, creating xenodocaea [?], roofs, refuges, for foreigners. Immediately, very interesting, quite a few of the great Christian thinkers of that time, the year 300, 1600 years ago, John Chrysostom is one, shout, if you do that, if you institutionalize charity, if you make charity or hospitality into an act of a non person, a community, Christians will cease to remain famous for what we are now famous for, for having always an extra mattress, a crust of old bread and a candle, for him who might knock at their door. But, for political reasons, the Church became, from the year 400, 500 on, the main device for a thousand years roughly of proving that the State can be Christian by paying the Church to take care institutionally of small fractions of those who had needs, relieving the ordinary Christian household of the most uncomfortable duty of having a door, having a threshold, but being open for him who might knock and whom I might choose. This is what I speak about as institutionalization of charity. Historical root of the idea of services, of the service economy. Now, I cannot imagine such a system being reformable even though it might be your task and the task of courageous people whom I greatly admire for the impossible task they take on to work at its reform, at making the evils the service system carries with it as small as possible. What I would have chosen and as Mitchum and other friends have chosen together as our task is to awaken in us the sense of what this Palestinian, I say always instead of saying Samaritan, example meant. I can choose. I have to choose. I have to make my mind up whom I will take into my arms, to whom I will lose myself, whom I will treat as that vis-a-vis that face into which I look which I lovingly touch with my fingering gaze, from whom I accept being who I am as a gift.”[38]

Welfarism, reaching back to Christendom, reduces the poor man to a social problem. The poor man ceases to be a fellow human being made in the image of God to be saved and fed, but a social problem to be solved, a statistic and a manifestation of a socio-historical class. Such terms are dehumanizing and render man a cog in a machine rather than the Jew or the Samaritan.

The failure of collectivism is seen in the words of Robert Dale, the son of Robert Owen of New Harmony: “All cooperative schemes which provide equal remuneration to the skilled and industrious and the ignorant and idle, must work their own downfall, for by this unjust plan of remuneration they must of necessity eliminate the valuable members –who find there services reaped by the indigent – and retain only the improvident, unskilled and vicious members.”[39]

Allow  me to outline for the reader the Christian view of work and remuneration and then compare it with Socialism.

We see in Exodus 20:9-10 that people should labor six days and rest on the seventh because God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. For a Christian his work is an imitation of God’s work of Creation. We are co-creators with God. We see in Proverbs 6:6 and Proverbs 26:14 that God hates a sluggard and wants man to work. In Ephesians 4:28, Paul tells us that the new man in Christ does no steal any longer and in Ephesians 6:6 and Colossians 3:22-23 that we work not for ourselves or to please men, but to please God. Work is part of our worship to God. Our work must be of the highest caliber and we must engage in work as a duty toward God. In 1st Timothy 5:8 we see that a man who does not provide for his family is an apostate worse than a pagan. We see also in Ephesians 4:28 that a man should stop stealing so he can earn his own living in order that he might have something to give to a needy brother. In taking care of the elderly, specifically widows, we see in 1st Timothy 5:1-16 that if one is found to be a widow having grandchildren, we are to first take care of her; only if she has no living relatives is the Church to step in and care for her.

We see that work is holy and pleasing to God and that charity is based on subsidiary. Subsidiary is the principle that solutions to problems are to be first sought within the social level that they arise in. Only after an inability to solve the problem is a solution sought at the next level of social organization. For example, if a family has some issues, then a solution should first be sought within the family; if that fails, then friends and community; and if that fails, lastly the Church. However, we are not to take our grievances toward our brothers and sisters to courts of the state, per 1st Corinthians 6:1-6.

Socialism is by nature satanic. Socialism seeks to make a god out of the state. It destroys the family by removing the necessity for children. As Paul says,” first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents.” The state promises to take care of the children’s parents, obviating them of the need to fulfill the familial duty. In usurping the role of familial piety, the state is preventing Christians from developing this Christian virtue. By usurping the provision of one’s parents the state is rendering those who take its services as worse than infidels since children delegate the wellbeing of their parents to the state. The state subsidizes sin as anyone can see with the government’s liberal provision of condoms and subsidies for single mothers and homosexuals. A basic rule of economics is: “You get what you subsidize”. If the state really wanted to eliminate poverty and single-motherhood then it would stop paying for such behaviors.

The virtue of charity is undermined when the government taxes you to such a degree that you have no money to give for the provision of the needy; honest labor, which is the Apostle Paul’s solution to stealing[40], is also penalized since, one is squeezed so hard that in order to make ends met he is tempted to steal; this in turn removes the disincentive to steal. Stealing is in fact encouraged since the government itself is engaged in legalized theft.

If people see the government  stealing they are 1) discouraged from working since they will lose the produce of their labor and 2) inclined to view theft as an ever-lesser offense. A Paul declares in 1st Corinthians 6:10, thieves shall have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. In short, the socialist state seeks to be God in that it demands more than 10% of our income, renders it impossible for one to practice familial piety and charity, and removes the disincentive to steal.

In conclusion I have shown that Christian economics is neither capitalist or communist. Both systems are based on ungodly humanist assumptions. The distributists are a disappointing providing an alternative, due to their crypto-socialism. A true Christian economics is the only truly radical solution to both capitalism and communism and the only one able to truly meet the needs of individuals.


[1] “Usury”, last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14615-usury

[2] “Selfishness,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/selfishness.html

[3] “Altruism,” last date modified January 30, 2014, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/altruism.html

[4] “Charity,” last date modified January 30, 2014, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/charity.html

[5] “A Future of Peace and Capitalism,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://mises.org/daily/1559

[6] “Ten Ethical Objections to the Market Economy,” last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://mises.org/daily/1469

[7] Walter Block, Defending the Undefendable, ( Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2012), 129-130.

[8] G. J. Graves. “The Placer Country Railroad War,” Last modified January 1, 2003. http://cprr.org/Museum/Ephemera/RIC_Rail_1864.html

[9] ” The Colorado Railroad War.” Last modified 2014.

http://www.explore-old-west-colorado.com/Colorado-Railroad-War.html

[10] “Taxes Fair or Foul,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2010/10/taxes-fair-or-foul/#comments

[11] “Justice fairness and taxation part four,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/04/justice-fairness-and-taxation-part-four/

[12] “The differential tax,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/07/the-differential-tax/

[13] “A short primer for protesters,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/10/a-short-primer-for-protestors/

[14] “Do We Agree?,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/debate.txt

[15] “The Common Good,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2012/08/the-common-good/

[16]   “A Distributist Education,” last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2012/07/a-Distributist-education/

[17]  “The Guild System,” last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/11/the-guild-system/

[18] “Jobs and the minimum wage,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/09/jobs-and-the-minimum-wage/

[19] “Errors of Libertarian Economics,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2012/07/errors-of-libertarian-economics/

[20]  “Guilds,” last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07066c.htm

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] ibid

[24] ibid

[25] Address at the “Asahi Symposium Science and Man – The computer-managed Society,” Tokyo, Japan (21 March 21 1982); as published in The CoEvolution Quarterly (Winter 1983)

[26] “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State”, last modified Janurary 30, 2014, http://cslewisjrrtolkien.classicalautographs.com/cslewis/bookexcerpts/willingslaveswelfarestate.html

[27] “Young Marx,”  last modified Janurary 30, 2014,  http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_Young_Marx.pdf

[28] ibid

[29] Richard Wumbrand, “Marx and Satan,” Living Sacrifice Book Co (December 1986), 13.

[30] “Marx’s Path to Communism”, last modified January 30, 2014, http://mises.org/daily/6179/Marxs-Path-to-Communism

[31] “The Player”

[32] “The Fiddler,” last modified Janurary 30, 2014, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1837-pre/marx/1837-wil.htm

[33] “Recollections on Marx and Engels,”  last modified Janurary 30, 2014, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/various/mebio.htm

[34] “The Philosophy of Poverty:VOLUME FIRST.INTRODUCTION.,” last modified Janurary 30, 2014, http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/proudhon/philosophy/intro.htm

[35] “ God and the State,” last modified Janurary 30, 2014,  http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/godstate/ch01.htm

[36] ibid

[37] Paul Avrich, Anarchist Portraits, Princeton University Press (February 1, 1990),  41

[38] “We the People, KPFA ,”  last modified Janurary 30, 2014,   http://www.wtp.org/archive/transcripts/ivan_illich_jerry.html

[39] George Browning Lockwood and Charles Allen Prosser, The New Harmony Movement, Augustus M Kelley Pubs; New issue of 1905 ed edition (June 1905), 185

[40] Ephesians 4:28

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Christian Economics”

  1. I’m rereading the article since you cover a lot of ground.

    I think you are caricaturing the libertarian and objectivist position. They all are strict on rights, especially and often to excess, property rights. They would say I would have no right to use extortion or arson against a competitor, but he has no “right” to stay in business if I better serve our mutual pool of customers. If his prices are higher, his products lower quality, his employees less helpful, his hours less convenient, and his policies more bothersome, why should customers be forced to shop there, or he be kept in business by some subsidy even though he has no customers?

    On distributivisim, a similar problem arises, but there are some things which scale, other things that don’t. Abusing economic power is no different than any other power, but the laws ought not worry about who wins as much as create a fair and level playing field.

    I need to read further, but here are my general rules:

    The market is about efficiency, not rights or justice. It is an amoral machine, but a very useful one. The moment it is regulated it is no longer a market – the transactions are no longer of free will. (Is free will important? Enough so that God permits a great deal of evil).

    Government is about force and coercion – and any power granted to do good is corrupted to do evil. Assume the judges and executive authorities are going to be demon possessed and out to kill you, then structure the laws accordingly. It is about forcing people against their will – but some are destructive and dangerous so must be forced. Choose scalpel or sword carefully.

    The church and charitable organizations are the ones with the authority, competence, and DUTY to fix the harms and help what is broken between the gaps. They cannot force membership – either for helpers or the helped. But they have a bully pulpit and power of shame and excommunication.

    1. “I think you are caricaturing the libertarian and objectivist position. They all are strict on rights, especially and often to excess, property rights. They would say I would have no right to use extortion or arson against a competitor, but he has no “right” to stay in business if I better serve our mutual pool of customers. If his prices are higher, his products lower quality, his employees less helpful, his hours less convenient, and his policies more bothersome, why should customers be forced to shop there, or he be kept in business by some subsidy even though he has no customers?”

      Your mistaking my objection to the pressuppositions of libertarianism and objectivism with a rejection in market forces, I do not. But also market forces are not a good in and of themselves and for some greater good can be curtailed such as Sunday closing laws and banning of prostitution, etc.

      “The market is about efficiency, not rights or justice. It is an amoral machine, but a very useful one.”

      To a point you are correct, but hammer’s are amoral blunt instruments as well that does not mean I can then bash someones brains out. There are rules on how a hammer can be used, ergo I believe their should be rules on how the market should be used.

      “It is about forcing people against their will – but some are destructive and dangerous so must be forced.”

      Since I never advocated a government solution this is a bit strange. Regardless I reject the notion that all involuntary acts are evil. If someone knocks you out of the way of a truck are you going to chide him for violating your person? If people do an intervention on a drug addict would libertarian courts rule that the addict friends violated his property rights? Would parents who compel their children to obedience be charged with property rights violations? If at least one involuntary act is justifiable then in principle other involuntary acts could be as well.

      “The church and charitable organizations are the ones with the authority, competence, and DUTY to fix the harms and help what is broken between the gaps. They cannot force membership – either for helpers or the helped. But they have a bully pulpit and power of shame and excommunication.”

      Agreed, but your solution seems to be mostly responsive. I.e. the Church cleans up the mess rather than prevents it. I think we should have preventative measures as well.

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