Friday, September 30, 2016

JC falls short of JC?

Giles Fraser writes a column which has a zinger start but does it run out of zing by the end?

Here are a few words near the beginning:

"Absolutely nothing that has been said by Jeremy Corbyn over the past few months is anything like as hostile to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few as the Bible. Indeed, compared to the book of Amos and the gospel of Luke, the campaign group Momentum are a bunch of bland soft-pedalling apologists for the status quo. So how, then, can middle England sit through these readings [last Sunday in lectionary-abiding churches] without storming out, but apparently find Corbyn unelectable? Have they not been listening?"

Giles is absolutely correct to make the point that the Bible is intensely socialist when it comes to wealth: it attacks the rich, especially the corrupt rich and the ignore-the-poor rich and it paints word pictures in which goods and services are shared equally among property-sharing Christians (e.g. the early chapters of Acts).

But is this the whole story about the Bible and wealth? Is one JC as good as the JC of the gospels? Or does the 21st century version fall short of the 1st century JC?

Jesus welcomes the support of wealthy women who finance his movement (Luke 8:1-3). Paul gratefully acknowledges the help of deacon Phoebe, a benefactor to many (Romans 16). Neither asks that their wealthy supporters simultaneously give up their wealth as they offer assistance from that wealth. Although Paul is grateful for Phoebe's support, he is mostly independently minded to earn a living from his own hands, making tents. That is, Paul is an artisan, drawing payment from the normal trading conditions of his day.

One might even hazard a guess that both Jesus and Paul were economically literate enough to understand that wealth distributed first needs to be created. Giles, aghast that the Tories seem better acquainted with church than Labourites and that the Queen, as head of the C of E and of Great Britain, seems unperturbed by the general economic conditions of her country, seems either unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge that the facts of economic life might be more complex than his opening remarks imply.

That is why I think his column is out of zing by its end. The zing would have come from an ending which highlighted the importance of a simple aim within the complexities of wealth creation and wealth distribution, an aim both Tories and Labourites, especially Christian ones might aspire to: that no one ever loses sight of obligations to treat all people well, to love one's neighbour as oneself, to bind up the wounds of even our enemies.

4 comments:

Shawn Herles said...

"Giles is absolutely correct to make the point that the Bible is intensely socialist when it comes to wealth"

Actually, no, you're both wrong! Well, sort of.

The culture of the Hebrews was a tribal/clan culture. Thus it's world view and it's social ethics need to be understood from that point of view. It's ethics are always personalist rather than abstract, and based on maintaining unity, justice, and good relations in the family and clan.

Socialism is an economic theory about the ownership of the means of production in an industrial economy, with the view that the State is the most efficient and just owner, rather than the private sector. That's it. That is all socialism is. Having concerns about the dangers of concentrations of wealth, even those as fierce as the Bible, does not make the Bible socialist. In fact having concerns about wealth concentration and the poor does not make anyone socialist. Now this might sound like nitpicking, but I think the distinction is important, and is related to the whole modernity thing I'm always on about. The prophets of the Bible, and Jesus, would I suspect be horrified with modern socialism, not because it wants to re-distribute wealth and help the poor, but because it replaces the family and clan with the State.

Of course they would be equally be horrified with free market neo-liberal economic theory, which is the reigning orthodoxy, more or less, in the West at this time, and they would be horrified for the same reason they would be horrified with socialism, because neo-liberal theory replaces the family and clan with the market and corporations.

So the only economic policy that would be consistent with the Bible is one which begins with the family and the clan and places them at the center of it's concerns. And the only economic theories I am aware of that do so are agrarianism and Chestertonian Distributism.

All of that aside, what worries me about Corbyn is not his economic ideas, naive and unworkable though I think they are, but his hatred of his own ethnic tribe and nation (the whole Britain and white people are evil crap), his embrace of mass immigration and open borders, and his disturbingly cosy relationship with militant Islam. Several weeks before the 911 attacks he tried to get Al-Qaeda removed from an official list of terrorist groups. On those issues alone, why anyone thinks he is fit to lead Britain is a mystery to me, and I'm inclined to believe that his supporters are good candidates for a padded cell and a wrap around jacket.

Andrei said...

Today apparently is dedicated to this

Shawn Herles said...

While as a Protestant Popes are not overly relevant to me, one of the best places to start looking for a genuinely Christian approach to economic issues is Rerum Novarum, the encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. RN rejected both socialism and unrestrained capitalism, and was the primary influence on Distributist thinking.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rerum_novarum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism

"According to distributists, property ownership is a fundamental right, and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism), a few individuals (plutocracy), or corporations (corporatocracy). Distributism, therefore, advocates a society marked by widespread property ownership. Co-operative economist Race Mathews argues that such a system is key to bringing about a just social order.

Distributism has often been described in opposition to both socialism and capitalism, which distributists see as equally flawed and exploitive. Thomas Storck argues: "both socialism and capitalism are products of the European Enlightenment and are thus modernizing and anti-traditional forces."

Andrei said...

Capitalism at its finest

What are hundreds of thousands dead Yemenis in the scheme of things anyway?