Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Biblical social justice

This is inspired by Beck redefines social justice: "forced redistribution of wealth with a hostility towards individual property":

In What Glenn Beck Doesn't Understand About Biblical Social Justice, Jim Wallis makes an excellent point in more moderate terms than I think he should. He says, "Private charity, which Beck and I are both for, wasn't enough to end the slave trade in Great Britain, end legal racial segregation in America, or end apartheid in South Africa. That took vital movements of faith which understood the connection between personal compassion and social justice. Those are the movements that have inspired me and shaped my life -- not BIG GOVERNMENT."

Wallis fails to take the next step, perhaps because he's trying very hard to give no ammunition to those who call him a commie: Ending slavery required BIG GOVERNMENT. Ending racial segregation required BIG GOVERNMENT. Ending apartheid required BIG GOVERNMENT. The "vital movements of faith" (including atheists who believe in social justice) needed BIG GOVERNMENT to pass BIG LAWS. Left to follow their consciences, the rich use a smaller percentage of their wealth to help others--see, for example, The Rich Less Generous Than Others? which notes "the rich in the United States are nearly half as generous as everyone else."

As for Beck's obsession with "forced" redistribution, every Christian should know that when Jesus drove the moneychangers from the Temple, he did not go to each one and say, "I really wish you'd stop."

Rich people are almost impossible to convince. When asked about the rich entering heaven, Jesus said, "With God, all things are possible," not "all things are likely." We don't know whether the young rich man ultimately followed Jesus's words about perfection for his followers, but we knew he left sadly on hearing it.

Jesus would've agreed with Gandhi's observation, "There's enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed." Why else would he tell the rich to sell all they have and give the money to the poor? Because when wealth is shared, the only poor people are the victims of disasters, and their poverty only lasts as long as it takes for others to learn of their need and come help.

O my brethren and sistren (I've always wanted to say that), Brother Will's Bible passage of the day is 1 Timothy 6:9-10:
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.


  1. Of course, Timothy is referring to *any* love of money, not just the love of money that people who have a lot of it have. You can be just as much a slave to mammon on minimum wage as you can in a mansion.

    The fact is that here in this vale of tears we are all pretty much on crack pretty much all of the time, doing all the wrong things and expecting them to work, and getting upset when they don't. This is true whether we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, fortunate or unfortunate. Jesus' words, like the ones you've quoted here, are the desperate attempt of a person who's broken the addiction to get us to wake up and leave off our stupid crack-addict habits while there's still time.

    Whenever we hear Jesus' words and think "these words were spoken for the benefit of that other person over there," we are on crack. For me, every single word was spoken for me, and for you, every single word was spoken for you. Not for that other guy over there.

  2. Heh... DSM and I use "brethren and sistren" all the time...

  3. You write: "Wallis fails to take the next step, perhaps because he's trying very hard to give no ammunition to those who call him a commie...."

    Well, OK, but at the same time, in the gospels Jesus appears to have had a fairly ambivalent relationship to the big government of his time, and I would imagine that Wallis is quite conscious of that.

    I'm aware that for myself, as both a follower of Jesus and an advocate of leftist big government, there is a tension between government reality and religious ideals. Even the best-intentioned big government is not going to live up to the highest ideals. From a religious point of view, I would say that big government is not, in of itself, sufficient. Maybe Wallis is merely playing politics, but maybe he's genuinely trying to state this kind of ambivalence.

    Of course, Glenn Beck rejects subtlety and ambivalence -- and no matter what Wallis says, Beck is going to misunderstand and misuse it.

  4. Dan, I hear that. It would be interesting to talk with Wallis about it. I want an extremely libertarian form of leftist big government. Which would probably make it the size of what most people call small government, but it would be able to kick ass on issues like universal health care.