20. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
21. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
22. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
23. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
24. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
25. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
Is the Religious Left right?
Should we invoke the might of the state in order to make people more charitable? Should we have a progressive income tax in order to keep the rich from getting too rich? Should the government have a wide array of welfare and entitlement programs to keep the poor from getting too poor? Should we use force to mandate mercy?
In some respects the case for the Religious Left’s agenda is stronger than that of the Religious Right. There is a leftward drift in the tone of the Bible over time. There is a shift in emphasis from ceremony and law enforcement to social justice and mercy as one goes from the torah to the prophets. The trend continues further in the New Testament, where Jesus deprecates enforcement of the Law by human agents while chastising the rich.
When I was a conservative, and later a purist libertarian, I claimed that the Left was wrong, that private charity should suffice. On religious ground I could cite the 8th and 10th Commandments against stealing and coveting. Using an income tax to take from the rich to give to the poor is stealing, and the steep upper tax rates prior to the Kennedy and Reagan reforms were the product of envy.
But over the years my New Testament upbringing has made me uncomfortable with this glib stance. The fate of the poor was rough in the days before income taxation and welfare. And the gospels make it clear that caring for the poor is a salvation issue (as we will explore later in this essay). Being in the position of calling for tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor began to make me a bit nervous.
So, for this, and admittedly other, reasons, I began to do research on how to decrease the wealth gap and improve the lot of the poor without so much robbery and bureaucracy. I found out quite a lot, as you can see by looking at the red articles on this site. There are many ways in which the rich are subsidized, and ways in which the poor are persecuted to this day. Get rid of these, and we offset some of the effects of tax and benefit reduction.
I also came across ways to make welfare more efficient, with less incentives for counterproductive behavior. Many of these ideas can be found in the Old Testament, as I point out in “God’s Welfare System.” These ideas do more than provide a safety net; they help the poor get launched into owning their own farm or business. If you don’t like wage slavery, study the Law of Moses.
Many of these ideas can be used in modern times to make private charity more effective. Some could be used for government charity and tax policy as well. By studying God’s welfare system I came across a loophole in the taxation is theft argument, so that some governmental wealth transfer is moral under the 8th Commandment. But that transfer would be far different from our current system of income taxation and welfare programs.
That said, we still need an increase in freely given charity if we are to have a free nation that takes proper care of the needy. The New Testament provides for this. There are some often neglected passages in the gospels that can inspire and enable Christians to give more to the needy. However, taking them to heart requires a rethinking of certain aspects of Christian organization and practice. The conclusions of this chapter are probably the most controversial on this site. They will make many members of the clergy quite uneasy. However, they may well reenergize much of Christendom.blog comments powered by Disqus
Copyright© 2007, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.
Quotations from the NET Bible®, copyright© 1996-2006 Biblical Studies Press L.L.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission from http://bible.org. (The NET Bible is available in its entirety as a free download or online use at http://netbible.org)