Social and Economic Justice, that is the restructuring of society in such a manner as to eradicate poverty and it's attendant anti-social behavioural patterns, regardless of the imagined expense or consequences, is not just consistent with the bible it is the very basis and centre of the bible, and to ignore that you will miss the book's key message:
Help Each Other While We Are Alive.
God in the Old and New Testament and as Jesus Christ, his human incarnation, requires radically transformed social and economic relationships among his people and the world, however the current state of affairs, characterised by the might of malevolent transglobal business where all values and morality has been subordinated to profiteering or has sought to legitimise this motivation through it's integration in strains of thought in such a manner unintended by the founders of these strains of thought originally, should be attacked rather than defended by sincere Christians.
God has been to often invoked to defend mammon, state, social and ethical authoritarian judgementalism and iron punishments and I for one think it is time that an alternative account where given, or rather a statement of fact since it is not difficult to detect anti-capitalist accounts in the bible, they are not socialist however, I would not suggest that since socialism is ardently secularist (if not purely rationalistic), but none the less the indictment of those who so often herald the bible as their manifesto, neo-conservatives, heartless proponents of laissez faire and the pernicious "Christen" Right. I might before I go any further respond to individuals who would accuse me of trying to exploit the respect, honour, esteem or veneration with which Jesus Christ is held to a political end while denying his deification. First I do not intend to exploit his teaching for political ends but the evidence is here that it is an indictment of the present order and not primarily because of the divergent lifestyle choices or amoralism, secondly given that Jesus is recognised as a figure of historical importance, such as, Ghandi his example can be understood or accepted without embracing the religious dimension. I mean Ghandi acquired deity status while alive and Christians can respect his pacifist philosophy without embracing Hinduism.
A biblical historical perspective demonstrates how possessiveness, selfishness, structural injustice, economic oppression and the complacency of those with the ability to effect change has resulted in catastrophic wars and violence, how listening to the pleas of the poor, rather than judging them, blaming them for their condition or considering them worthless, has pleased God, created harmony and solidarity, and caused things to turn out differently.
First let us consider property, if we are all honest, as opposed to rhetorical or dogmatic, we favour it in some degree, even Proudhon who infamously declared What is Property? Property is Theft! Maintained that it was beneficial because it ensured independence from the government or intrusive neighbours but suggested that possession was more justified. A great account of how sincere socialism does not threaten property is given by the sociologist Durkheim in Socialism and Saint-Simon. To give an example my toothbrush is mine, my comb and clothes (I might add to that a small selection of books) and I might be reluctant to share them but the rejection of the right to roam by land owners? A contradiction of an right of assembly or freedom of movement, if their ever was one. Or the global order that prevents the exercise of national or local sovereignty, increases dependency upon the benevolent foreign policies of western might and the planning of economies by the IMF, WTO or World Bank (all of which are justified by the advocates of laissez faire and elitism as out growths of property rights)?
God and the prophets make it clear that land, and all things by degrees are products of the land with the application of labour, belong to him, human ownership, which was intended as 'family ownership', the association of these extended families constituting the community, was really a form of stewardship.
There are striking differences between the way in which the chosen people conduct their affairs and organise their communities and the manner in which the surrounding societies and social orders where constituted/organised. Most of the surrounding countries where in the clasp of feudal land ownership and subjugation. The king granted large tracts of land, worked by landless labourers, slaves and non-citizens, to a small number of royal vassals. Israel on the other hand was a decentralised and egalitarian society. Family ownership, which was socialistic if not communistic in ownership and sharing of possessions and wealth, was the norm. Joshua 18 and Numbers 26 contain accounts of the fair division of land.
The story of Naboth's Vineyard (1 Kings 21) demonstrates the importance of the ancestral division of each family's land. The Old Testament is full of frequent references about not moving ancient boundaries, this reinforces the idea that each family would have the available land needed to supply lifes necessities, not to mention indicts modern land lust and monopoly (Duet. 19:14, 27:17, Job 24:2, Poverbs 22:28, Hosea 5:10)
Consider the radical social and economic justice of Leviticus 25 and Dueteronomy 15. Leviticus 25 calls for a return of the land to it's original 'ownership's' every 25 years, increasingly extreme divisions between the rich and poor was not to be tolerated, whether they resulted from physical handicap, death of a bread winner, bad luck, lack of ability or incompetence etc. The actual word of God on the matter is: 'The land shall not be sold in pertpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me' (Lev. 25:23). Infact the land was not sold at all, but the number of harvests (25:16).
Deuteronomy calls for the release of debts every seven years and people aren't to be reluctant to make loans in the sixth incase they never see them returned. Hardly in keeping with current WTO, IMF or Federal or central banking, not to mention the multitude of international or national loan sharks and finance gangsters. The land is also to be allowed to rest every seven years, what spontaneously grew was to be open to consumption or possession by the poor, travellers and the beasts that happened upon it. First century Christians took this to heart and demonstrated their beliefs by the way they lived, in communistic communities, they shared a common purse and believed that each should live by and organise his own work without interference with others work or idealness (John 16:6, Galatians 5:1, 3:18, Acts 2:42-47, Matthew 5:1-12). My favourite instances are Thessalonians 3:7-12 'We gave you a rule when we were with you not to let anyone have any food if he refused to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idealness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else's'. Is that the Capitalist elites that are being referred to? How difficult it must be to be a Christian and an employer! Or Acts 4:32-35: 'The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; not one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common …None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need'. In Jerusalem: 'Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common' (Acts 4:32).
Giving surplus to the needy was not enough. They regularly dipped into their reserves, selling property to aid the needy. Barnabas sold a field he owned. 'There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them;…and distributin was made to each as any had need' (Acts 4:34 -35).
Acts 6 is an example of the social policy every conservative and laissez faire activist hates, affirmative action, the minority Hellenists spoke Greek, and their widows were neglected and overlooked. When the injustice was brought to the Christians attention the reponded by choosing seven men of Greek background to look after the matter. The church turned over it's funds to the minority group without any premeditated view to convert these people or moralise to them or compel them to conform, as a result the people where freely persuaded to become Christians.
Paul spent most of his life sharing and raising money for the needy, excluded or oppressed. Class divisions in inequity in the system that led to feasting among sections of the population and hunger among the rest. 'All who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves' (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Paul also praised the Macedoniand for giving 'beyond their means'(2 Corinthians 8:3). He also assured all that charity wouldn't create hardship or selfish anti-social behaviour that the modern prophets of capitalism like Charles Murray, with his theory of a welfare created 'underclass', have insisted upon.
'I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, so that there may be equality' (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). He also adds reference to the Exodus 16:13 - 21 account of the manna collecting, when greedy people gathered extra, but when it was all accounted there was just enough for everyone. 'he that gathered much had no over, and he that gathered little had no lack'. What causes wars? James asked this question in his day and his response would be fitting in this era where resistance to global capitalism and sovereignty threatening trade agreements, such as NAFTA, are met by aggression and military might. 'What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you?…You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain;so you fight and wage war''(James 4:1-2). Instances and indictments of forgetting the poor abound (Isaiah 5:8-10, Amos 6:4-7, Luke 16:19-31, James 5:1-5 are just a brief selection). If the advice and wisdom of the prophets is not enough there is the example and logic of Jesus Christ himself. 'Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions' (Luke 12:15).
Jesus was telling this to the rich man obsessed with material things, and whose land produced abundantly, and the man thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said 'I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for may years; relax eat, drink, be merry.' ' But God said to him 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God or the people of God, people made in his image and due respect. The cries of the poor is the voice of God. Jesus insisted it wasn't an easy thing for the rich to experience the serenity or freedom that was to be derived from a life not revolving around wealth or possessive individualism (Matthew 19:16; Luke 18:18; Mark 10:17-28). Jesus's view that 'it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10:23-26) can be interpreted in two ways, literally or as historians have suggested that Jesus was referring to an arch way in Israel called 'the needle' through which camels carrying goods or property could not pass but unburdened camels could pass.
The defenders of the status quo invoke certain passages (Ecl. 5:7-8, 4:1-8; Sir. 8:1-3) to justify the perpetuation of elites much in the way that fuedalists did to defend the order of their day (Proverbs 16:10 and 24:21). However Jesus's perspective on leadership or government was radically different and pre-emptive of any later democratic formulation. 'As you know, the so - called rulers of the nations act as tyrants and their great ones oppress them. But it shall not be so among you; Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you shall make himself slave of all' (Mark 10:42-45, aslo see Matthew 20:20 or Luke 22:24). The bible is often invoked by people seeking to justify capital punishment and harsh treatment of dissent or non-conformity, how can they do this when Jesus was executed following his dissidence and non-conformist anti-clericalism by a conspiracy of Church and State?! Jesus himself attacked the worldly notions of vengeance and retribution while he was alive telling people not to stand in judgement least they be judged, to befriend their enemies and be aware of their own status as equal in some way to the criminal. When questioned as to whether or not stoning an adulteress was justified he responded with a plea for self-governance 'Let anyone among you who has no sin be the first to throw a stone at her' (John 8:1-17). In fact Jesus was no friend of judegemental religious authority, 'A curse is on you…teachers of the law. For you prepare unbearable burdens and load them on the people, while you yourselves don't move a finger to help them' (Luke 11:46-48). Jesus is more radical than some socialists when he speaks about how his brotherhood is more important than his immediate family, and definitely more important than 'rational self interest' 'The crowd sitting around Jesus told him, 'Your mother and your brother are outside asking for you he replied, 'who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking around at those who sat there he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.'' (Mark 3:31-34)
There can be no mistake about the will of God either. Human fraternity and social and economic justice that people may be free to follow their conscience. Christ speaks of the time of judgement and he does not speak of religious qualifications or sectarian divisions of faith as his followers have done since his death but of Mutual Aid. 'When the son of Man comes…All the nations will be brought before him, and as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, so will he do with them…The king will say to those…'Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom…For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your home; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to see me.' Then the good people will ask him: 'Lord, when did we see you and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to see you?' The king will answer, 'Truly. I say to you whenever you did this to these little ones who are my brothers and sisters, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:31-46)
All these examples are contrary to what the Church and State preach in defence of Capitalism and they find ready support amongst the intolerant masses that like to parade themselves as Christians while passing judgement and condoning inequity and injustice. The system of profiteering and interest and loans is not condoned in the bible (Exodus 22:25, Duet 23:19, Leviticus 25:35-38). If you believe that the bible is a blue print for how the Christian should live, whether you believe that religion is a human invention or the actual Word of God (in which case the case for social change is far more imperative), the central instruction can not be ignored:
Take care of each other while you are alive, live fairly and free from strife, in peace, and help those around you to enjoy 'creation' that is for all and not to hoarded by the few.
Let it be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.
P.S. I'll apologise to the secularists but I wont apologise for moralising.