Guthrie's Gospel

Economic justice from a Christian perspective

Category: Economics

Music Monday: Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)

 

In honor of the holy Martin Luther King, Jr., here is a second song for this Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)” by Nina Simone

“Turn the other cheek
He’d plead.
Love thy neighbor
Was his creed.
Pain, humiliation, death
He did not dread.

With his Bible at his side
From his foes he did not hide
It’s hard to think
That this great man is dead.”

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Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Icon

Martin Luther King, Jr. Icon

On this late January day, let us remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all others who have struggled to live Christian lives and to bring the Kingdom of God to those who most need it. Let Rev. King’s example inspire us to work for the benefit of our neighbors, to better their lives and to create a better society for them to live in, because by acting out our love for our neighbors we are showing our love for God. The racial injustice Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. The economic injustice Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. The militarism and violence that Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. Let us take up his struggle, the struggle of many, many other people as well, and tear down the personal and institutional racism we see around us. Let us create an economic system based not on greed and inequality, but in line with the egalitarian spirit of the Bible. Let us beat our swords into plowshares. Let us do what God calls us to do and let water roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

I will leave you today with a few quotes from Martin Luther King himself:

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human system it fail victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.

The economics of Clement of Rome

Pope Clement I is one of the earliest Christian writers, outside of those included in the New Testament, to have any of his writings survive. He is alternatively listed as the second or fourth bishop of Rome by later Church Fathers and he offers us an important insight into the mind of the Church in the waning years of the first century. Only, one piece of his writing has come down to us today, his Letter to the Corinthians, also called the Epistle of Clement or 1 Clement. In it, among other topics, St. Clement discusses the proper Christian social order.

For St. Clement, the Christian community was one that focused on working together for the good of all. He writes:

37. Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage. Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

38. Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He has given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by words, but through good deeds.

St. Clement emphasizes the radical interdependence of Christian society. We are called to be subject to one another for the mutual advantage of all. We are called to share our wealth with the poor, to show our wisdom through good deeds, and to treat the weak and the powerful with the same respect and love. He does not describe Christian life as being driven by competition or the striving for profit, as the modern capitalist society is ordered. For St. Clement, proper Christian life is defined by unity, cooperation, and economic relationships that see to the basic needs of all people. The Christian life was not one of individualism, but one of community.

St. Clement takes special note of the plight of the poor and the weak when he offers up this prayer:

We would have You, Lord, to prove our help and succour. Those of us in affliction save, on the lowly take pity; the fallen raise; upon those in need arise; the sick heal; the wandering ones of Your people turn; fill the hungry; redeem those of us in bonds; raise up those that are weak; comfort the faint-hearted; (59)

Here, St. Clement is calling on God to aid those in affliction, pity those on society’s lowest rungs, to help those in need, to heal the sick, and to feed the hungry. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to infer that these are the very things we as Christians should do.

For Pope Clement, social concerns were not merely an issue of ethics, but were deeply intertwined with Christian spirituality. For St. Clement, such concerns were an outgrowth of Divine Love. St. Clement admonishes the Corinthians “Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ” because “Love unites us to God” and “In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls” (49). Love mystically unites us with Christ our God, who suffered bodily death because of His love for us. He has taken us to Himself. It is right and meet then that we set aside our personal pride and abundant self-esteem to live in community and subject to His will. It is right and meet that we should sacrifice our personal excess to make up for the personal lack of others, for this is a far easier sacrifice than Christ’s crucifixion.

The economics of the Didache

The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a pious work that gives a glimpse into the minds of some of the earliest Christians. The Didache probably originates in the latter half of the first century or the early part of the second century. While we certainly can’t accord it the same authority that we grant Scripture, we can use it to see how early Christian understood the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. With that in mind, let us look at how the writer or writers of the Didache understood the proper economic relationships Christians should cultivate.

The text begins by laying out a Way of Life and a Way of Death, echoing Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 21:8, and Matthew 7:13-14. The Didache defines the way of life as Christ’s twofold commandment:

The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord thy Creator and secondly they neighbour as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself.

This Way of Life has clear echos of Christ’s teachings in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 22:35-40, and Luke 10:25-38. The Way of Life also reflects Old Testament readings, including Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18, and Tobit 4:15. The Didache expands upon exactly what it would mean to live according to the Way of Life like so:

Give to everyone that asks, without looking for any repayment, for it is the Father’s pleasure that we should share His gracious bounty with all men. A giver who gives freely, as the commandment directs, is blessed; no fault can be found with him. But woe to the taker; for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not, an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about his action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny. The old saying is in point here:  “Let your alms grow damp with sweat in your hand, until you know who it is you are giving them to.”

The teaching here is clear: as Christians we should share whatever extra we have with everyone in need because this is what God wants us to do (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, James 2:15-17, Hebrews 13:16, Tobit 4:7-11, Tobit 4:16, Deuteronomy 15:7-11) . However, Christians should also not con people into giving when the receiver is not in need. The sort of avarice that seeks money even when one lives in comfort is condemned. The condemnation of greed is reconfirmed in more general terms when the Didache states “You are not to be avaricious or extortionate” which accords with St. Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The Didache also tells its readers:

Do not be like those who reach out to take, but draw back when the time comes for giving. If the labour of your hands has been productive, your giving will be a ransom for sins. Give without hesitating and without grumbling, and you will see Whose generosity will requite you. Never turn away the needy; share all your possessions with your brother, and do not claim that anything is your own (cf. Acts 2:44-45). If you and he are joint participators in things immortal, how much more so in things mortal?

Again, the understanding of Christ’s gospel is clear. We are to give to all who need unconditionally and not to view what we possess as our own property. All of Creation is a gift from God, but we are like sojourners passing through this world. What we may have gathered in it is no credit to us, but to God. This is what He taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 15:1-18 when he declares that every seventh year all debts are to be canceled and all Hebrew slaves freed, in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 when he commanded that those who farm leave some of their crops in the field because it belong not to those who toiled, but to those who could not provide for themselves, and in Leviticus where the Lord declares the Jubilee Year in which slaves are freed and property is returned to its previous owners because “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). While there may be room for Christians to possess property in private, there is no room in Christianity for private property in the modern sense. All we have comes from the Lord and belongs to our neighbors.

The Didache professes an economic stance that reflects the consistent message of both the Old and New Testaments. God’s people are to be generous and selfless. We are to seek economic relationships with one another that emphasize giving rather than receiving, that places the common good above personal profits. We should avoid, as much as possible, participating in or promoting economic systems that exploit the poor, and we should reject the notion of private property. That is the economy of the Way of Life.

In contrast to the Way of Life, which is characterized by generosity, humility, and selflessness, the Didache declares that the Way of Death is characterized by self-will and avarice, among many other sins, and is walked by those

who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgement; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentleness and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor or feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them; they make away with their infants and deface God’s image; they turn away the needy and oppress the afflicted; they aid and abet the rich but arbitrarily condemn the poor; they are utterly and altogether sunk into inequity.

Those who lack charity and generosity are soundly condemned. Those who ignore the plight of the poor and suffering, but who aid the rich and seek their own material benefit are “altogether sunk into inequity” and do not know God, no matter how much they might profess Him with their lips (cf. Luke 6:46-49). Every day we can see those who walk the Way of Death in America. They cut funding for food stamps and welfare. They seek to evict the homeless from their cities rather than helping to provide them with basic necessities. They pass beggars on the street and give them nothing because they think to themselves, “They’ll only spend it on drugs or booze.” They lay in bed plotting their next corporate merger or how much the next round of layoffs will line the pockets of their stock holders. These are the Godless and the condemned. Let us not choose their way, but the way of Christ, the Way of Life.

 

What I Mean by (Christian) Socialism

Socialism is a term fraught with meaning and misunderstanding. To many, especially in the tea party movement, socialism is equated with nearly everything that government does. To others, socialism is defined by the oppressive, totalitarian regimes of the Soviet Union, China, and even Nazi Germany. For some socialism is defined by the works of Karl Marx. For others, socialism is the desirable social services that governments can provide through taxes without fundamentally challenging the basic structures of capitalism. For some, socialism is a centralized, command economy run by bureaucrats. For others, socialism is the outgrowth of a healthy democracy. For some, socialism is big government. For others, it is anarchism.

Part of the problem is that there are many groups and individuals that advocate a wide variety of economic programs and political philosophies under the umbrella of socialism. These range from certain strands of anarchism and social democracy movements that emphasize varying degrees of volunteerism and democracy to hardline Marxist-Leninists and Maoists who advocate insurgency and full communism. These movements generally share the belief that the means of producing wealth (land, machinery, natural resources, etc.) should in some way be controlled by society, rather than by individuals with enough power to control others’ access to the means of production. How they seek to implement this social control of the means of production is where they diverge, often widely. Another part of the problem is that those who oppose socialism, intentionally and accidentally distort different versions of socialism, creating caricatures of the different movements.

The third part of the problem, with regards to this blog, is that I am somewhat vague in what I mean by socialism. This is because I don’t adhere to any particular dogma about how socialism is to be achieved. I’m not Leninist nor a Trotskyist. I’m not an anarchist (at least not strictly). I’m not a social democrat. I am not a De Leonist nor a Fourierist. I am a Christian socialist, and what that means for me is that…

…when I advocate socialism, I am not:

  • advocating a violent revolution,
  • advocating for totalitarian regime,
  • seeking to oppress the rich,
  • advocating a centralized, state-run economy,
  • necessarily advocating for a total dissolution of the market economy.

…when I advocate socialism, I am:

  • promoting a peaceful transition away from global capitalism and routine worker exploitation,
  • advocating a more equitable distribution of wealth,
  • seeking a less hierarchical, decentralized, worker-run economy,
  • advocating a society based on the ideas of liberty and equality,
  • seeking a community-centered way of life,
  • advocating a truly democratic form of government,
  • seeking an end to poverty and all forms of oppression.

…when I advocate Christian socialism, I am not:

  • advocating Marxism with a thin veneer of Christian symbolism,
  • calling for a theocracy that oppresses non-Christians,
  • advocating a society that requires all its members to be Christian,
  • promoting one particular branch of Christianity over all others.

…when I advocate Christian socialism, I am:

  • seeking to establish the Kingdom of God within my own heart,
  • seeking to establish the Kingdom of God in the world,
  • advocating an economic system that is faithful to the moral and economic teachings of the Bible,
  • advocating an economy, government, and society based on love for one’s neighbor rather than love of material things.

The first shall be last

To the Poor
By Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743–1825)

Child of distress, who meet’st the bitter scorn
Of fellow-men to happier prospects born,
Doomed Art and Nature’s various stores to see
Flow in full cups of joy—and not for thee;
Who seest the rich, to heaven and fate resigned,
Bear thy afflictions with a patient mind;
Whose bursting heart disdains unjust control,
Who feel’st oppression’s iron in thy soul,
Who dragg’st the load of faint and feeble years,
Whose bread is anguish, and whose water tears;
Bear, bear thy wrongs—fulfill thy destined hour,
Bend thy meek neck beneath the foot of Power;
But when thou feel’st the great deliverer nigh,
And thy freed spirit mounting seeks the sky,
Let no vain fears thy parting hour molest,
No whispered terrors shake thy quiet breast:
Think not their threats can work thy future woe,
Nor deem the Lord above like lords below;—
Safe in the bosom of that love repose
By whom the sun gives light, the ocean flows;
Prepare to meet a Father undismayed,
Nor fear the God whom priests and kings have made.

In 1795, Anna Lætitia Barbauld composed her poem “To the Poor” in response to “sermons in which the poor are addressed in a manner which evidently shows the design of making religion an engine of government” (Damrosch 31–2). In “To the Poor,” Barbauld masterfully uses the language of such sermons subvert their message and to call into question both established religion and government. By deftly developing a countercurrent alongside her condescending message of patience to the poor, Barbauld ultimately transforms “To the Poor” into a condemnation addressed to the rich and powerful.

Barbauld begins her dual message by addressing the poor as a “Child of distress” whom she calls “Doomed” and to “fate resign’d” (1, 3, 5). She treats poverty in these opening lines as an unchangeable condition, as a matter of destiny. She reinforces this point by juxtaposing the condition the rich and powerful whom she characterizes as “fellow men to happier prospects born” to whom “nature’s various stores…/ Flow in full cups of joy” (2, 3–4). If poverty is a matter of fate, then wealth and power are a birthright.

After establishing the naturalness of the existing social order, Barbauld advises a Job-like forbearance to the poor saying, “Bear thy afflictions with a patient mind” (6). In lines 7–10, she lists the afflictions the poor face before telling them again to accept fate in lines 11 and 12. In lines 13–21, Barbauld tell the poor not to worry when they die, for they will find repose “Safe in the bosom” of God (19). The poor may be fated to suffer, but if they quietly bear their suffering, Barbauld seems to say, they will be recompensed by the Lord.

Running parallel to this pablum is a social critique that continuously undercuts the comforting message Barbauld puts forward. Even as she establishes the roles of the rich and poor as predestined, Barbauld makes it clear that the rich, not fate, are the source of suffering for the child of distress. It is from those born to happier prospects that the poor receive “bitter scorn” (1). Even as the rich fill their cups with natures stores they share none of this earth-born bounty with the poor “Whose bread is anguish” (10).

Barbauld further indicts England’s existing social order when she enumerates the afflictions of the poor calling them “unjust” and “oppression” (7, 8). If the suffering of the poor were determined by God as a means of purifying their souls for heaven, their afflictions would be justified by the such a great reward. Being destined for heavenly freedom could not be oppressive. Barbauld furthers this point when she tells the poor a second time to bear what they are given. No longer to they face morally neutral afflictions, but they must bear “wrongs” (11).

As she moves toward the end of the poem, Barbauld’s subtle criticisms become more and more explicit. “Bend thy meek neck beneath the foot of power!” she tells the poor in line 12. This echos the Biblical “blessed are the meek” and the more dangerous “the meek shall inherit the earth,” but again Barbauld uses contrast to undercut the comfort of this allusion. The line establishes the image of the poor bending their necks in meek and humble prayer, yet they are not bending their necks to God, but because they are being trampled by earthly powers, which echoes the outrage of the prophet Amos in Amos 2:7 where he decries those “who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.”

It is through this contrasting of the heavenly and the earthly Barbauld brings her poem to its forceful conclusion. As she tells the poor to expect heaven after death, she tells them not to “deem the Lord above, like Lords below” (18). In contrast to the suffering they faced at the hands of earthly lords, the poor can repose in the love of God, “By whom the sun gives light” and “the ocean flows” (19–20). God, who made the earth, has destined the poor not for suffering, but for eternal happiness. Barbauld’s description of the real God as loving and kind gives an added power to the closing line of her poem when she tells the poor not to “fear the God whom priests and kings have made” (22). It is not the creating God that demands that the poor suffer, but the created god, made in the image of corrupt priests and rulers. It is not God, but the bitter scorn of the rich and powerful that have fated the poor to suffer. It is not the Lord, but lords below that predestined the poor to be trod beneath the oppressive foot of power while the rich drink from full cups of joy.

This powerful last line not only invalidates the surface message of patience, but inverts the entire poem. Instead of addressing the poor, Barbauld’s true audience is the rich and powerful. Instead of delivering a message of hope, Barbauld issues an unmistakable condemnation, accusing priests and political rulers not only of abusing the poor, but of blaspheming by preaching a false god.

By choosing not to directly address the true subject of her poem until the last line, Barbauld reinforces her argument by modeling her poem’s form on the biblical line “But many who are are first will be last, and the last will be first” (New Revised Standard Version, Matt. 19:30). She places the poor, those who are last in status on earth, first in her poem and address them directly throughout. The priest and kings she condemns she never address directly, placing them behind the poor in importance. Her initial reference to priests and kings are vague in the beginning, “fellow men to happier prospects born,” and are not made explicit until the last line (2). She has made the last first and the first last.

Barbauld’s poetic condemnations gain further strength when taking into account certain historical considerations. Barbauld’s advice of restraint and forbearance to those “Whose bread is anguish” takes on a sharply ironic tone when one becomes aware of the bread and grain shortages in the year Barbauld wrote “To the Poor.” As grain prices increased that year, desperate towns and cities appealed to the Privy Council for emergency grain and a few seized grain destined for other places. When such measured did not suffice, the hungry took matters into their own hands, not by bearing their wrongs, but by rioting (Stern 169–72). There were at least 13 riots in Devonshire county alone, where one group of rioters declared “if they were to suffer they might as well be hung as starved, and they would run the risk of making their situation better, for worse cou’d not be” (Bohstedt and Williams 5, 22).

Likewise, Barbauld’s condemnation of church and state gains added force when it is remembered she is was a Dissenter, one who belonged to a church other than the national Church of England. In addition to resenting sermons that supported the suffering of the poor, Barbauld also had personal reasons to feel rage toward church and state. As a result of the Test and Corporation Acts, those who, like Barbauld, did not belong to the state church were barred from holding any public office and from attending Oxford or Cambridge, a condition Barbauld publicly decried (Kramnick 508, 514). By the time she wrote “To the Poor,” Barbauld was already well in the habit of condemning the unjust practices of church and state.

Through her powerful use of language, Barbauld sought to turn the unjust world on its head. In “To the Poor,” Barbauld is able to emulate the language of conservative priests to pointedly attack them, the government that supported them, and to condemn the rich who cause the poor to suffer in the name of a false god.

The Tea Party and Ayn Rand versus Jesus Christ

This video imagines what a false Jesus would preach today if he were to stand on the National Mall and espouse the values of tea party Repbulicans and then contrasts those teachings with that of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The video is entertaining and manages to draw a clear line between Christianity and the tea party movement. However, it only tangentially alludes to the root of this difference when false-Jesus calls Ayn Rand his prophet. Herein, I will endeavor to make clear the foundational importance of Ayn Rand to tea party ideology and the contradictions between her philosophy, Objectivism, and authentic Christianity, which many of Rand’s admires still claim to confess.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is inextricably linked to the ideology of the tea party movement, and much of the contemporary Republican Party and many conservative political organizations. Paul Ryan, a professed Catholic, claimed Ayn Rand was the reason he got involved in public service and has said that:

“I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are…It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged…It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding principles are…there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.” (Audio available here)

Ron Paul, a professed Baptist, said Ayn Rand had a lot of influence on him.  His son Rand Paul, a Presbyterian, calls himself a “a big fan of Ayn Rand.”  Ted Cruz, a professed Baptist, read from Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged during his filibuster against Obamacare. Marco Rubio, a Catholic (or maybe a Baptist), read Atlas Shrugged twice during his first term in office. Ron Johnson, a Lutheran, called Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book.” Michelle Malkin, a professed Catholic, hyped the links between the tea party and Ayn Rand. Rush Limbaugh, a Methodist, is fond of talking about Rand. Many tea party groups promoted the 2011 movie Atlas Shrugged, based on Rand’s most famous novel. The Heritage Foundation hosted a special screening of Atlas Shrugged. FreedomWorks claimed it helped bring the movie to the big screen. Even where these groups draw their ideas from sources other than Rand, they usually manage to find thinkers who largely reinforce a worldview espoused by Ayn Rand and her disciples.

Some of the tea party’s canonized saints, like St. Ronald Reagan the Great, a member of the Disciples of Christ and later the Presbyterian traditions, and St. Barry Goldwater the Forerunner, an Episcopalian, have expressed appreciation for Ayn Rand. Even some more “establishment” Republicans have voiced their appreciation of Rand.

But what is the trouble with Christians drawing on the ideas of Ayn Rand? Surely many Christians have drawn on philosophies outside of Christianity to clarify their faith. While that might be the case, there are two major problems with any attempt to marry the philosophy of Ayn Rand with Christianity. The first is that Rand’s ideas fundamentally contradict the teaching of Christ, his apostles, and the prophets. Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27,35; Matthew 5:44). Ayn Rand said: “I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty” and that “You love those who deserve it.”

Another area where Rand diverges from Christ is on the issue of charity. Charity and giving are central to the Christian faith. Moses taught the importance of charity (Deuteronomy 14:22,28-29, 15:7-11, & 24:19-22). Christ commanded that we “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42) and St. John the Baptist proclaimed “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). St. Paul also taught the importance of giving (Hebrews 13:16) and Isaiah declared that aiding those in need was the form of worship God desired (Isaiah 58:6-7). Furthermore, Amos condemned those who ignored or exploited the poor (Amos 2:6-8) as did Christ in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31 ) and when He warned of His judgement to come (Matthew 25:31-46), St. John also condemns those who are uncharitable (1 John 3:17–18). But Rand told Playboy that:

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.

Rand also differs with Christianity on the issue of wealth. St. Paul taught us the desire for wealth is evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10) as did Christ in his parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). St. James condemned the wealthy (James 5:1-6) as did Amos (Amos 6:1,4-7) as did Christ when he told his disciples  about how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-24),  and when he declared “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20). Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged:

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

Christians are called to love all people and to do good for others even if it means suffering or death for oneself. Christ taught his disciples “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). St. Paul teaches “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Ayn Rand calls altruism and self-sacrifice “evil,” “immoral,” and “cannibalism”:

The second problem is that Ayn Rand was a vitriolic atheist. She openly hated Christianity and religion. In her novel Anthem Rand proclaimed that people should worship themselves: “And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.'” She told the pornographic magazine Playboy that she believed faith was a “negation of reason” that was “very detrimental to human life.” In a television interview, she declared she was “against God” and calling religion a psychological weakness:

And Rand’s atheism isn’t some quirky side note of her philosophy; atheism is the corner stone of her philosophy; atheism is the root from which her philosophy grows. Rand once condemned the National Review as “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America” for daring to try and link capitalism and Christianity. Ayn idolized human reason and human wisdom as the wellspring of her philosophy. Rand goes so far as to specifically disparage Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross:

According to the Christian mythology, [Christ] died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non-ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.

To preach the gospel of Ayn Rand while proclaiming oneself a Christian is an act of heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy. It is an open rebellion against God. Those who do so are false prophets, the wolves in sheep’s clothing Christ warned about and we know them by their evil fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). The dark, twisted, greed-driven philosophy of Ayn Rand can never be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus Christ, not even if we ignore her atheism. As Christ our Lord taught “You cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). We must either choose Christ or Rand. Let us pray that those who have fallen into the blasphemies of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy will repent and return to the Lord in both word and deed. Let us pray that those in the Republican Party and in conservative organizations across our nation publicly repudiate Rand’s philosophy and work to expunge her demonic teachings from their political goals and political works.

For more on how Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is antithetical to Christianity, check these out:

Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus

Ayn Rand Versus Christianity

Chuck Colson’s Two-Minute Warning: Atlas Shrugged and So Should You:

Christianity versus Objectivism

You Can’t Reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

Satanism and Objectivism

Ayn Rand’s Wikiquote page

The rich young man in context

Matthew 19:
16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18 He said to Him, “Which ones?”

Jesus said, “ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Not long ago I was at a local church where a woman interpreted this passage as applying only to this specific rich young man. She said Jesus’ statement should be understood in its context. She elaborated that Jesus said this to the young man because He knew it would grieve the rich man’s heart to give up his wealth. She saw it as a specific statement meant to elicit a specific reaction from a specific person. Her interpretation was met with general murmurs of agreement.

While I agree with her that it’s important to understand Jesus’ words in context, I disagree with her interpretation. Firstly, such an interpretation ignores Jesus’ words that follow in verses 23 and 24:

23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

He does not say it is hard for this one rich man, but for “a rich man,” for any rich man to enter heaven. He universalizes this particular incident with one rich man to speak to all rich people.

Such an interpretation also ignores Jesus’ words as recorded in Luke 12:

16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ 21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

22 Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. 23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? 25 And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? 29 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. 30 For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. 32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Here again Jesus speaks of a rich man in generic terms, making him a symbol of all wealthy persons. Here he tells not only the rich, but all His disciples to sell all they have and give to the poor.

To pretend that Jesus’ words to the rich young man applied only to that rich young man is not to put His words into context, but to intentionally ignore their context. But why would a faithful Christian go to such lengths to misinterpret the word of the Lord? To understand the appeal of such a false interpretation, it is important to view such an interpretation in it’s proper context. The interpreter was middle-class, white woman who worships at one of the oldest congregations in town. Those who vocally supported her were also middle class and white. These were people who, while perhaps not as wealthy as the Biblical young man, had much to lose should they follow Christ’s command in search of perfection. They were privileged people and to follow this particular command to the letter would likely grieve their hearts enormously. Understandably so, it is a harsh command that few follow.

But should such a command be brushed off so lightly as not applicable just because it grieves our hearts as greatly as it did the rich young man’s? Should we go away sorrowful from this unpalatable command? Matthew saw fit to record this incident in his gospel, something that seems unlikely if the early Church saw this statement as meaningless. To presume that this passage holds no applicability for Christians leaves open the door to suggest that other passages of the Bible can be dismissed with the same sort of exegetical gymnastics.

In it’s proper context the command to sell what one has to give to the poor fits perfectly with God’s teachings of economic justice, which pepper the Bible from Genesis onward. Christians ought to be poor both in spirit and in wealth. When we have excess, it is our duty to share with those who lack. As Christ, our Lord God, taught, “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back” and “You cannot serve God an mammon” (Luke 6:30, Matthew 6:24). When we are tempted by mammon, by wealth, by our middle-class comforts, we risk accepting facile interpretations that miss the depth of God’s word. We risk making a god in our image rather than living our lives as icons of Christ.

Now, of course, not all of us will give up every cent we have and trust in God alone to provide for us. Not all of us will seek perfection, but even for us, this passage still holds relevance. It reminds us that to serve God we must give up whatever we cherish more than the love of God and neighbor, even if it is not wealth, and that we must share our excess with those who lack, for the Lord taught:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

Jesus and Obamacare

With all the kerfuffle and brouhaha around Obamacare lately, I thought it was time to echo that famous wristband slogan and ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Despite being the 7th wealthiest nation in the world, according to Forbes, 79 million Americans struggle to pay their medical debts in 2008, in 2009 more than 60% of bankruptcy were due to medical bills, and 47 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2012, while America’s largest insurers have posted enormous profits. As a nation, we our failing our poor, working, and middle classes.

Whatever you think of the Affordable Care Act, (I personally think it has a lot of flaws) it is at least an attempt to alleviate some of the problems that deprive millions of Americans of access to basic health care. Instead of trying to defund and repeal Obamacare, perhaps those in Congress who cynically trot out Jesus’ name every election and then work to increase the suffering of the poor and the oppressed should heed Christ’s call to His apostles to “heal the sick” (Matthew 10:8). Instead of trying to tear down such an anemic attempt to fix our healthcare system, perhaps these self-proclaimed Christians can work to ensure that all Americans, even those our Lord calls the least of these His brethren (Matthew 25:40) have regular access to quality, affordable health care.

Jesus healed. Jesus healed without discrimination. Jesus healed the unclean. He healed outcasts and foreigners. He healed on the Sabbath. Jesus healed, but our current health care system locks the poor out of access to adequate health care or forces them into crushing debt to obtain services that many wealthier Americans take for granted. It is long past time that we remake our health care system in the image of Christ. Jesus would heal the sick. So should we.

Dear Christian conservatives

Dear Christian conservatives,

I understand that you fear big, secular government and that you prefer, in general, limited government and less regulated economics. I do not wish to discuss how the Bible makes no mention of a laissez-faire capitalism and libertarian interpretations of the Constitution or how Jesus said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and Paul tells us in Romans “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (13:7). What I wish to discuss is the reasons our government has grown so much in the last century and what Christians could have done and can do to stop it.

Jesus commands his followers to be charitable. To those who follow this commandment he promises eternal salvation, saying, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:34-36,40).

When the Great Depression struck Christian groups gave aid, but they did not give enough to meet the needs of America’s poor. To meet this need the government had to step in and provide work and support for those who could find none.

Christian groups have done much to aid the elderly, who can no longer work or care for themselves, but again they have not done enough. To meet the needs of the elderly poor, the government instituted Medicare and Social Security.

As America’s poor continued to be unable to find work that would pay them enough to avoid eviction and to feed their families, government again stepped in where Christians had failed to provide and instituted various welfare and food stamp programs.

When Christians failed to heal the sick, as Christ commanded, the government stepped in to try and provide health care reform that would aid those who could not afford basic medical necessities.

I make no arguments that these government programs are necessarily the best solution to the problems they address. I am not even arguing that they are always successful. Nor am I trying to denigrate the work of the many Christians who have worked hard and given of themselves to help those in need. Many have done good work and many will continue to.

What I am arguing is that the government steps in when the needs of the people are not met. The easiest way to prevent government from stepping into peoples’ lives is not to protest and carry signs. It is not to succumb, as many of us (including myself) sometimes do, to un-Christian hate and rage against those we perceive as enemies. It is not to try and tear down government aid programs without offering anything to take their place. It is to heed the call of Christ and provide for the needy. More than two-thirds of Americans identify as Christians, yet at least 39 million Americans live in poverty right now. Those are 39 million hungry, desperate voices crying out for succor and we have not given it.

Instead of protesting the charitable actions of the American government, step up your own charity. Provide for the hungry, the thirsty, the strange, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Employ those on welfare with good wages, so they won’t have to rely on the government. Open hospitals to provide free medical care for the elderly and the poor, so they will not need to rely on Medicare, Medicaid, or Obamacare. Give money, food, and housing to the elderly so they will not need Social Security. Feed those who cannot afford to buy food so they will not need food stamps. If you want to stop big government, then you must step in and provide the services so many Americans rely on to survive. If you want to stop big government, you will have to act like a Christian, because if we perform our Christian duty, perhaps the government won’t have to.