Sunday, April 15, 2012

Occupy: Biblical Property Rights

In the last exciting blog post, I outlined the similarities between the Occupy Movement and the Communist agenda, which (in the words of Karl Marx) boil down to this: “The abolition of private property.” At the end of that post, I posed the following questions for further investigation:

Is private property really a right?

Why would we think that the abolition of private property is a bad thing?

What does the Bible say about the Christian view of property rights and charity?



Is private property really a right?

“No one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions(property).” - John Locke

“The right to private property meant at the same time the right and duty to be personally concerned about your own well-being, to be personally concerned about your family's income, to be personally concerned about your future. This is hard work.” ~Mikhail Khodorkovsky


From this and other writings, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self–evident,

That all men are created equal,

That they are endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable Rights,

That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,

Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

“Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.” ~John Adams

“The dichotomy between personal liberties and property rights is a false one. Property does not have rights. People have rights.” ~Potter Stewart

All rights come from God. They do not come from the government (though if they did, then all government-sanctioned slavery or genocide is morally acceptable), and rights do not come from the majority (though if they did, then any minorities which the majority see as having less rights really DO have less rights). America is founded upon the idea that all unalienable rights come from God – and only God can revoke those rights. Any government which tries to tread on those rights is acting wrongfully.

Locke spoke of the rights of life, liberty, and property. To gain property is seen as being personally concerned about one's future, and so Jefferson penned the famous line about our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Property rights are a subset of personal rights, since the right to private property means to be personally concerned with your future and your families well being through hard work.

Yet, those are all just ideas and claims. To verify the claim that property rights come from God, we will later in this look at what the Bible says specifically about private property rights.



Why would we think that the abolition of private property

is a bad thing?

There would be several reasons.


#1 - There would be disincentive to work. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

#2 - A socialist economic system has been shown again and again to result in increasing poverty for the whole country.

“'Who were the first Communists?' asked a farmer named Aristar.

'You tell us,' said the rest of the ward.

'Adam and Eve,' came the reply. 'And why? Because they had no clothes, no house, they had to share the same apple — and still thought they were in paradise!'” - Richard Wurmbrand (a pastor who was imprisoned in Communist Romania for 14 years)

#3 - Personal inability to provide for self, family, or tithe. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

#4 – Such a system would attempt to justify forcible taking of property from those who had done nothing wrong to deserve it.

#5 – Such a system would also give more power to government than is rightfully within the role of the government, and would take away the liberty of everyone in the country under that government.



The Christian view of property rights and charity (according to Karl Marx)

It's interested to note that Karl Marx addressed the same question of whether the abolition of private property was just or in line with Scriptural/Religious principles:

“The charges against Communism made from a religious, a philosophical and, generally, from an ideological standpoint, are not deserving of serious examination.”

“(The opponents will say:) 'There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc., that are common to all states of society. But Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience.'

...Whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas [the aforementioned religion, freedom, justice,etc], which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms.”

Karl Marx, then, did believe that the abolition of private property went against religious principles, and put forward the idea that religious principles (along with freedom and justice) were relics of unfair civilizations and needed to be thrown out along with those structures of civilization. But let's look at what the word of God says, because God's law has the highest authority, and God's law judges human law - not the other way around.



What does the Bible say about the Christian view of property rights and charity?


What is a right? Basically, a human right is some part of a person's existence that God forbids other people to threaten without just cause.

For instance, humans have the right to life: “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) Therefore, no one is allowed to take away the life of another human, except with just cause: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed.”(Genesis 9:6)

Additionally, humans have the right to personal property: God also forbids people from taking another person's property without just cause.

“The right to personal property is embraced within the command -"Thou shall not steal." Certainly nothing could be stolen if it did not belong to someone. In other words, if a right to something did not exist there could be no theft. God thus recognized the right of property by preserving and protecting that right with a law, a law that forbids any one else from taking possession of what another owns. Thus, the right to property has always been regarded as a natural and inalienable right, for it comes from God.” - Charles A. Weisman


Biblical laws and principles regarding taking property from another without just cause:


#1 – Stealing is forbidden (Exod. 20:15; Lev. 19:11, 13; Psa. 62:10; Prov. 21:7; Amos 3:10; Deut 5:19; Matt. 19:18; Mark 10: 19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9; 1 Cor. 6:10; 1 Pet 4:15.)

#2 - Theft from the poor is especially wrong. (Proverbs 22:22)

#3 - If one strikes a thief, who is breaking into a building, and that thief dies, it does not qualify as murder. (Exodus 22:2)

#4 - We are exhorted to stop theft in the land by having a thief labor with his hands. (Ephesians 4:28)

Not even kings are above this law – King Ahab killed Nabaoth in order to take forcible possession of his vineyard, and the prophet of God reproaches him two-fold: “Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?” The wrongs listed include murder and violating the right of private property.


What would be just cause for taking someone's property?

#1 – Under the Old Testament judges, one who has stolen property is to repay double to the owner. (Exodus 22:7-9)

#2 – Under Old Testament Kings, one who steals due to hunger should not be despised, but must later pay back sevenfold when he can afford it. (Proverbs 6:30)


In the Old Testament, there were many passages dedicated to specific property rights and designated territories for each of the tribes of Israel (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribal_allotments_of_Israel).


In the New Testament, we read about private property rights very specifically – for both land and money:

Acts 5:4 “While [your land] remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?”

And Christ said specifically, in His parable: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (Mt. 20:15)


Finally, there are many commands that cannot be obeyed without having private property:

  • Give Tithe to the House of the Lord (from your own resources): “Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days.” (Amos 4:4)
  • Work to provide goods for your own household: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
  • Give from your own property to benefit the poor:"A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor." (Proverbs 22:9) "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." (Luke 12:33)
  • Reward men individually according to their labor: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”(2 Thessalonians 3:10) “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)



What about Biblical Communism?

Acts 2:45-47
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

This form of “communism” involved the voluntary giving of private property – the principle of sowing and reaping was still the form of income, each man was providing for his family, and also voluntarily giving to provide for the poor. This upheld the rights of private property because all giving was voluntary and charitable, not forced, which is what charity is:

“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver'” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)



References:

Charles A. Weisman, http://www.giveshare.org/BibleLaw/lawhandbook/18.html

New King James Version (for all Scripture quoted)

9 comments:

Francois Tremblay said...

"All rights come from God. They do not come from the government (though if they did, then all government-sanctioned slavery or genocide is morally acceptable)"

As opposed to the slavery and genocide sanctioned by the Bible?

Charles Anthony said...

OK. So, we have established that the Bible honors property rights. That is the easy part.
Now, the hard part, a question that the Bible does NOT answer: What are our private property rights?

I am standing on land that was "stolen" from the Natives and I am not even sure how. Am I supposed to give it back? To whom? Where do I go??




For what it is worth and as if he listens, Francois, here is your answer: "[i]Yes, as opposed to the slavery and genocide that dishonest atheists present as a Biblical sanction.[/i]" We are called Christians for a reason. Come back when you know what you are criticizing.

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