Monday, December 22, 2008

Economic Emergencies & "Socialism" in the Bible -- The Example of Joseph

On balance, I prefer smaller to bigger government. Nonetheless, I'm often surprised by the number of other politically conservative Christians who think that big government is somehow un- or anti-Biblical.

Do they forget the example of godly Joseph and the drought in Egypt?

Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream that Egypt would have seven good years, then face seven bad years. Pharaoh then placed Joseph in charge of the entire kingdom -- today I think we'd call Joseph Pharaoh's economic "czar," or something similar.

So what did Joseph do? He taxed every body's grain during the seven fat years. Then he sold the grain back to everyone during the bad years. As the bad years continued, everyone in Egypt ran out of money. So Joseph then traded food for their land and, "thus the land became Pharaoh's" (Gn 47.20).

So, note here that Joseph basically socialized the means of production in Egypt. He then used his control over the means of production to reorganize the social and economic life of the country, ordering everybody out of the country-side and into the cities ("As for the people, he removed them to the cities from one end of Egypt's border to the other," Gn 47.21).

Let me stress that I'm completely good with this not being normative for modern societies, and that there is a typological aspect to OT history. Further, given the experience later in Egypt's history, I think there's an important prudential question about the ultimate consequences of what Joseph implemented.

Nonetheless, we also have one of God's saints leading an entire nation into what is essentially (if anachronistically) a form of socialism.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Returning to the GOP's Roots in "Free Labor" Ideology

My impression is that most people think that the Republican party's "radical" ideology from around the time of the Civil War was ultimately lost as the party became more conservative.

I don't think that's the case, though. The GOP's anti-slavery stance came out of a more general commitment to a "free labor" ideology.

Now, "free labor" doesn't mean costless labor. It means instead that workers should be free to keep the fruits of their own work. The GOP's "free labor" ideology is the exact opposite of "slavery," because slaves are people who have no right to keep any part of the fruit of their labor.

But, of course, "free labor" doesn't stand only against slavery. It stands for the proposition that there should be a presumption that workers should get to keep the fruit of their labor unless there is a solid public-policy rationale for the government to tax it away to provide for the general welfare, or to regulate it for the same purpose.

I think this kernel of GOP ideology still resonates with Americans, and can serve as a source for renewal of the GOP today if recovered by the party.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How the Future Affects the Now

So if you won the lottery, but would not receive the check for, say, a month or so, would it affect your behavior today?

I suspect for most the answer is, yes, our behavior would change today, perhaps even radically -- we might quit our jobs, we might spend our current income more freely (whether on charity or on ourselves), we might forgive debts that others owe to us (sums that seemed so large when we had so little, but now are just trivial sums).

Further, our behavioral changes in no way represent attempts to "merit" the lottery payment that we've already won -- that makes no sense; we've already won the lottery and what we do doesn't affect that. Our changed behavior merely reflects our expectation of a new life as a lottery winner.

While salvation is a "lottery" that anyone can win simply by receiving Jesus' finished work, it seems to work analogously. We are heirs of life in Jesus Christ. While we do not yet see our full inheritance, our expectation of that inheritance cannot help but affect how we live today.

Why fear living in accord with our new life as Christ's heir (necessary changes being made for it not yet being fully revealed to us)? To the extent that we trust that we inherit from Christ, to that extent, like the lottery winner who has not yet received his check, our life changes now. Indeed, it cannot help but change now.

And similarly, those life changes in no way "merit" our inheritance. In fact, our life changes are fully the reflection of our inheritance, not the cause of it. We give away freely because of what we have already received from Christ, not to earn our inheritance in Christ. It doesn't even make sense to talk about our behavior meriting something from Christ in this framework.

Nonetheless, whether our behavior changes in response to winning the lottery does reflect whether we "trust" the agency in charge of the lottery. If we do not trust it to pay out, then our behavior will change little; if we trust much, then our behavior will change much.

And so with Christ. To the extent that we trust Jesus much, then our behavior will change a lot. If we trust little, then our behavior will change very little.

I should probably add that we also need to trust that what Christ offers us -- the opportunity to dwell with God -- are riches indeed, of greater value than gold or silver. (It seems to me that Adam and Eve's sin was that they believed that God wanted to deprive them of good things -- life, beauty, and wisdom -- and so did not trust God.)

Nonetheless, if we confess that our riches are in Christ, then that cannot help but change our behavior in this age, perhaps change it radically. And, futhermore, our changed behavior in no way represents an attempt to "merit" the Age to Come, but is fully a reflection of our expectation of the Age to Come.

Christians & the Age to Come

This might be obvious, but while "in" this age, Christians nonetheless "enact" the Age to Come, don't we? There is no hunger in the Age to Come, so we feed the hungry in this age. There are no naked in the Age to Come, so we clothe the naked in this age. There is none in prison in the Age to Come, so we fellowship with those in prison in this age as though the prison walls did not exist, etc.

There's a weird sort of mutatis mutandis aspect to it all, but it still seems correct. "Righteousness" isn't so much "righteousness" -- as if making up some moral quality that doesn't already exist in us -- as it is acting in accord with our new nature, derived from our union with Jesus, the new Adam of the new Creation.

And, thus, the Christian's good works are not so much "good works" as they are an eschatological witness to both us and to the world of the Age to Come. Mutatis mutandis, the Christian acts as if already in the Age to Come. That's why the world doesn't understand us -- why it thinks that we are fools -- and even why it hates us, as sort of alien beings in this world.