Tag Archives: socialism

Liberty or Equality?

Liberty. Equality. In our American way of life, which is more important? Last Friday, Mark Levin opened his program with this question. Before you read further, please stop and consider these terms. Think about what our way of life is all about. Think about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Think about our Revolutionary War. What were our ancestors fighting for? Liberty? or Equality?

 

When the French, much inspired by the American Revolution and particularly by Benjamin Franklin, set out to topple their king, they marched to the rhythms of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Their revolution never brought to France the stability, the tranquility and the prosperity enjoyed by the USA. Why? What was more important? Liberty? Or Equality?

 

When Russian peasants inspired by the ideas of Marx and under the cunning leadership of V I Lenin threw down the Czar and his empire, what did they want? Liberty? Or Equality?

 

What did they get? To work backwards, the Russian peasants took charge of themselves and created communes. They gave up their land and quite a bit of liberty in order to become equal. They all became equally poor, equally privileged to stand in line for simple necessities such as toilet paper and bread. They gave up the liberty to work for anybody they wished in order to have a guaranteed job in the commune. Everybody ultimately worked for the government, because nobody was allowed to be an employer, except the government. They all had equality in their choice of employer. The government ran the factories that made the tractors, which were all alike. The tractors were all equal, and they all equally fell apart and failed to run. The peasants of Russia obtained equality, but they were all so equally oppressed that they all equally desired to leave. Russia did not have an immigration problem; Russia had an emigration problem.

 

The French were pretty concerned with equality, too. In fact, anyone who reads deeply into the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution quickly discerns a number of common threads. Men and women lost their identity as men and women and became neutered fellow revolutionaries. They engaged in committees where their high-minded ideals of a prosperous liberated future fell victim to human egos, and before they knew it, an artful speaker had high-jacked their revolution and run it into the ground in the wicked winter of 1812. They got a lot more equality than liberty. They sold their liberty for a pack of fine words.

 

The British colonists who undertook to become independent in 1776 were accustomed to English Common Law, and in the context of that legal environment, they knew the difference between liberty and equality. In the litany of their complaints against the king of England, they demanded to recover rights they knew are theirs because they were the rights of all English citizens, but the dominant theme is an insistence on their freedom to procure and protect those rights for themselves. In the bloody, frozen battlefields of the Revolution, men did not give their lives in order to have equal rights. They gave their lives in order to obtain the liberty to protect rights they knew God had already given them. They declared their liberty by naming the rights they intended to protect, but it was liberty, the escape from the tyranny of the empire, that they wanted most of all.

They knew something very important, something the French and the Russian and contemporary liberal politicians do not know. (You may call them progressive if you like, The politics don’t change; just the nomenclature.)They could look at ten homesteads on the edge of a wilderness, ten family farms, ten households, and see ten different lifestyles and incomes. Of the ten some would successfully feed, clothe and shelter their growing families. Others would barely make ends meet. Yet all were at liberty to do the best they could imagine or dream with the opportunity before them. The colonists turned American citizens knew that if everyone was free, then everyone had the same shot at success, because the hindrances to success imposed by oppressive laws and the machinations of politics did not matter out there at the edge of civilization. The truth was the same for all locations, but it was most clearly visible at the frontiers. That is where they could most readily see the truth that if a man has liberty, he can make his own way, but he only has equality, he is oppressed.

We know it here in the mooring field where our boat is currently located. There are probably 200 boats in this mooring field. They are all sizes, all sorts of designs. Each is truly unique, as unique as each owner. The boats in the mooring field are not equal by any means. They vary widely from extremely luxurious to extremely utilitarian. They are not equal, but they are all equally at liberty to come and go as they please. Each has the same right to moor as all the others, and nobody owes the others anything but common courtesy. They are not equal, but they are all equally free. That is the root of the real happiness of the cruisers who reside in these boats. They are free, and they don’t really worry much about being equal. They didn’t all want to be the same, and that is why no two boats are ever alike.

The most important element of our national government, the element proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution is our liberty. Our form of government was never intended to procure equality, because that objective so easily leads to tyranny. Just listen to all the scathing words about “the rich.” As soon as everyone is economically equal, somebody squanders his allotment, and then you must redistribute everything. As soon as all the skin-colors have been mollified, those with red hair start feeling picked on. Do you require everyone to have red hair? Or at least wear a red wig in order to achieve equality in hair color? Where does it end? If you start giving everyone equal vehicles, can you manufacture them rapidly enough to give everyone a new one at the same time? If you spread it out, will you have given everyone a new one before the first folks need a replacement? Then is it equal or not? Can you give the first folks something different when you start the new round of distribution?

America is not the land of equality. We have always prided ourselves on assuring equality before the law, which is to say, we pride ourselves that a rich man and a poor man stand before blind Justice and receive the just disposition of their conflict. Being human, we have found that an elusive goal at times. Nevertheless, what we value above equality is liberty. Equality becomes tyranny. The goal of equality has eroded our conversation as we struggle to find just the right word to avoid offending anyone. We want all our words to be completely neutral. The goal of equality is eroding the meaning of family, even the meaning of humanity. America has not been the land of equality, because equality becomes oppression. Who gets to say what equal means? Who gets to distribute the equal gifts? Who is more equal than others? Read 1984 and find out what happens when equality is the goal.

America has always been the land of the free. Above all other things, people came to this country to be free. If you read what immigrants say about us, you will find that they don’t much talk about equality. They want to be free so they can be whatever they dream. Not equal. Better than that.

Liberty? Or Equality? I’ll take liberty any day.

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What is so Wrong About Being Rich?

The latest brouhaha in the world of taxation is a big push called the “Buffet Rule.” It is only one of many assaults on people who have been successful in building wealth. It is part of a mindset that I find extremely offensive. I am not a wealthy person myself, and I have never been wealthy, but I have never been able to dredge up the pseudo-moral outrage that is expressed publicly against people who have become wealthy.

This kind of attitude is in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus never said that it was okay to hate rich people or steal their wealth. If you think I am wrong about this, please point me to the teaching you have in mind. I can think of two times Jesus spoke about the difficulty rich people have with spiritual growth, but I am not aware of even one place where Jesus said that anybody should steal from the rich and give to the poor.

 (1-A rich man came to him to ask how to have eternal life. Jesus told him to be perfect ((keep the Law)) but the man said he was already perfect. Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor. Notice that he said nothing about the man’s riches until the man alleged to be perfect. It was the man’s failure to put God first, not his possession of wealth, that was the problem. 2-Jesus said it was as hard for a rich man to get into heaven as for a camel to go through a needle’s eye. This doesn’t mean that Jesus thought wealthy people were wickeder than others. He simply observed that it was hard for them to put God first. Notice that he doesn’t say poor people get in easily. He just says that riches can make it hard for people to put God first.)

When I was a child I really liked the Robin Hood story, because I thought of Robin Hood in the same way I thought of Superman and Mighty Mouse. These were magical and mythical characters who fixed what was broken at the snap of a finger. They thumbed their noses at those who doubted them. I still like a good story that smacks of David’s victory over Goliath. We all do. However, in the real world, the idea of anything or anyone forcibly appropriating things that do not belong to them is repugnant.

The envy, anger and outright hatred directed against “the rich” in current political rhetoric, however, is not David versus Goliath. It is not the sheep against the goats in the final judgment. It is simple jealousy fueling gang warfare. It is mob violence. It is beneath contempt for anyone who claims the name of Christ to join in.

The rhetoric goes something like this. Look at that evil rich person. He doesn’t need all that money. He should be glad to give it away to help poor people. If he doesn’t voluntarily give it all away, we should take it away from him by force. We won’t personally steal it from him. We’ll go get our big brother, the federal government to do it for us.

As I listen to speakers, starting with our president and moving through his entire administration, all spokespersons for Democrats, some spokespersons for Republicans, numerous religious leaders, most of the media, and assorted private individuals I have encountered, I am appalled at the number who actually believe that this attitude is something Jesus would be proud of. I am also appalled at the number who believe they can define ‘the rich’ according to their annual taxable income. I am appalled at the number who seem to believe they have the right and the obligation to say what is “enough” for someone else. Even jurnalists, who of all people ought to be even-handed in their quest for truth, join in the assault. They freely label and classify everyone according to income, and they all feel qualified and authorized to cast aspersions on anyone who does not fit their approved model for income and lifestyle. They have appointed themselves to run other people’s lives. One wonders, who tells these critics what they can keep out of their personal income.

None of this is consistent with Jesus’ teaching that we are not to judge others. Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged,”[1] Imagine that the CBS News anchor says of a hypothetical Mr. Brown that he “doesn’t need three cars and he has no right to jet off to Las Vegas every year. Why does he need two houses? One is enough for anybody.” According to Jesus, that kind of attitude calls down a similar judgment on the speaker. Such statements imply that God has authorized some people to judge what other people deserve to possess. This is not Jesus’ way.

Jesus teaches us to love everyone – even the rich. Jesus teaches us to speak well of everyone. Jesus teaches us not to envy what others have, but rather, to be content with what we have.

In case you think this rule is relaxed as long as you don’t try to take the wealth of others for yourself, think again. God does not authorize people to define fiscal classes of people and steal from one class in order to pretend to benefit another. Keep in mind that God never gives out possessions evenly. You and I might think every person ought to have exactly the same as all the others, but that is not God’s way. Even if we pass a lot of laws to grab up wealth from some people and hand it over to others, you can be sure that all people in the world will not wind up with the same amount of money. Some of the inequity will be due to human venality, and some of the inequity will be a result of failure to show stewardship of God’s gifts.

The human campaign to make sure everyone has the same amount of possessions, including money, is exactly that: human. It has nothing to do with Jesus or his teaching. Jesus did not teach that any of us has the right or the scriptural obligation to tell others what they can or cannot possess. Jesus did confront people individually about the way they used their possessions, but he never said that some of us have the right to judge or steal from the rest of us.

In simple words: Do not envy people who happen to have more possessions or wealth or whatever other advantages you care to envy. Jesus taught us to love everyone and be grateful for what God has given us. Jesus is as disturbed by envy of the rich as he is disturbed by disdain for the poor.

There is a political agenda that is fueled by hatred and aggression toward “the rich.” In that political world, everyone who achieves great power in the administration of wealth redistribution becomes personally wealthy. Everybody else winds up with nothing. The national motto of that way of life was: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” The nation was the former USSR. The USSR was an atheistic socialistic heaven on earth that collapsed politically under the weight of its multitude of failures to serve its population. This nation is exactly what you get when you turn away from Christ and choose to follow the economic and political philosophy of socialism.

When you follow Christ, you are individually responsible for what you do with every gift God gives you. You help poor people personally and through private charities. You don’t empower government to steal from everyone. Jesus never said that we should worship and serve the state. Jesus said we should put God ahead of everything. Our two most important laws in obedience to Christ are first, love God above all else, and second, love your neighbor (even your wealthy neighbor) as yourself. That is what Jesus taught.

I repeat here my original comment. If you think Jesus taught us to judge and steal from the rich in the name of charity to the poor, please point me to that teaching in the Bible. I welcome your comments, and I love the conversation.


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 7:1–2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Where is the real power center?

This weekend I read an interesting statement. “One of the hardest lessons for a follower of Christ is that visible power is not always the highest level of power.” (Thibault, Jane Marie, 10 Gospel Promises for Later Life, copyright 2004, Upper Room Books, Nashville, p. 52)  The author was actually talking about the apparent powerlessness in people’s lives as they age, but when I read the statement, I realized that it applies to everyone. The feeling that we have lost control of our lives is a crazy-making experience at any age.

 I feel that way often these days. It is not my health, or even my finances. It is actually my country. I see this country do things and go places and harm people in ways that are completely incomprehensible to me. I feel simultaneous amazement, despair and total incredulity. Is this really happening? Why can’t I do anything about it?

I don’t think I could feel more despair if a soldier had suddenly arrived at my door and escorted me in handcuffs to a re-education camp. I used to read stories of the Israelites going into exile because their conquerors wanted to erase their memories of the way it was when Israel was an independent kingdom, and I had no idea what they were feeling. In those days, I imagined that relocation was like taking a permanent vacation to another country, and as a child, I thought that might be fun. Today I feel that without being moved out of my country, I am constantly subjected to a barrage of re-education by the press with the objective of making me forget what it is like to live in a country governed according to the Constitution of the United States. Somebody, obviously a lot of somebodies, intend for me to learn to live a different sort of life. I experience the visible sources of power as both oppressive and confusing.

 You may not agree with my political despair, but you probably experience your own sort of despair. We both know that sick feeling as we examine our options and discover that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do to push back against the power being brought to bear on our lives, power that is taking us where we do not want to go, regardless of our wishes or even our deep convictions. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, you know how I feel. If you just discovered that the person to whom you committed your life “till death do us part” has no such reciprocal commitment, you know how I feel. If you have been laid off from a job that was both personally fulfilling and well compensated, giving you means to care for your family and enjoy a few things above the survival level, and now when you search for work, that kind of work is no longer available, you know how I feel.

 We all have to go through times, sometimes very long periods of time, when we are in the grip of power we cannot resist or defeat. The days look hopeless. The nights seem endless. There seems not to be any light at the end of the tunnel where we live our dark days. Maybe there is no end to this tunnel of doom.

 What do we do about this situation? Despair and dismay destroy our ability to appreciate anything beautiful. They crush our hope that we can accomplish even small things. What do we do?

 If we truly believe that we are completely at the mercy of only the powers we can see in the world of time and space, then we are truly doomed. In fact, if we believe that the reality we observe in time and space is the only reality, then we are doomed. This reality has a propensity to cave in to evil intentions and monstrous egotistical power. Furthermore, nothing in the world of time and space lasts forever – not the happiest life, not the best of people, not the most beautiful bridge or the finest painting. Nothing at all lasts forever. Everything ends and everything dies. Our best survival strategies still end in death. What can we do?

 Our only hope is that this world we can see, hear, smell, taste and feel is not all there is. Our only hope is God.

 This message is the whole point of the Bible. The Bible tells us from the first word to the last that this reality is not all there is. God himself created this reality for our joy and blessing, but when we allowed ourselves to be deceived by Satan, then we allowed ourselves to believe that this world is all there is, and that is when we lost hope. The Bible tells us that we can have hope, because the evil, destructive power we can see at work around us is not the strongest power and is certainly not destined to hold sway forever. There is hope.

 In the days of the Roman Empire, a lot of people had reason to feel hopeless. The might of Rome was greater than anyone in Galilee or Judea had ever seen before. Rome’s power had conquered nations across the entirety of the world Mediterranean peoples had known. Roman power suppressed all power but its own, and eventually the emperors of Rome demanded not only submission, but actual worship. The book of Revelation was written to Christians who were in danger of losing hope in God while living under the boot of the Roman Empire. They were being tempted and/or threatened to worship the emperor of Rome, and the impetus behind that demand was to shore up Rome’s political power. The emperor wanted all his subjects to look to him for what they needed, and he wanted to be the one who decided what they needed. Christians had to ask themselves whether they wanted to be subject to the power of Rome, the power they could see at work in the time/space reality, or if they were actually subject to the power of God, the eternal, infinite Creator who had given his Son’s life for theirs. They had to decide if this world we can experience with our physical senses was all there was, or if there were something more, a higher order of power, a different and more compelling Savior than the emperor of Rome. The author of Revelation instructed them to hope in God, not the Empire, and he recorded the promise of Christ to those who hang on to that hope.

  •  To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
  • Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
  • To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
  • To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. ( Revelation 2:28)
  • If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life. (Revelation 3:5)
  • If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. (Revelation 3:12)
  • To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)

 According to the author of Revelation, we conquer when we put our hope in God alone. We conquer by testifying to our faith in Christ, by living according to his call and his claim on our lives. According to Revelation, Christ says, “hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Revelation 3:11) If we have faith in Christ and live our testimony, putting him ahead of everything else, we do not succumb to despair because the Roman emperor thinks he is God or because a twenty-first century socialist government enslaves and impoverishes its citizens. If we put our hope in Christ, we will not despair at terminal diagnoses or give up on life when betrayed or be defeated by the job market.

When I face my hopeless situation, I remember that this world is not all there is. I remember that God sits on his throne, and that he has power and sovereignty over everything that happens. I trust him to be with me as he promised, no matter what happens in this earthly reality. That is the only antidote that gives me peace and happiness in my time of despair. I believe it is the antidote we all need when we feel powerless. It is not for me alone; it is for you as well. Hope in God. He is on his throne. You can count on the One who gave Himself for you. You can count on the One who is the real power in the real reality beyond the limit of time and space.

Government is not God

In ancient Israel, citizens were persecuted for failing to honor Baal, the patron god of the government. It was considered tantamount to treason, because the government relied on Baal for success. One of the classic confrontations between government/god and heavenly God took place on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire to burn their sacrifices to Baal. The fact that Elijah succeeded after they had failed did not change the government position in the matter. The government, and all its followers, continued to worship Baal and reject the God of all the earth. Serving God became a sure way to be chased into the wilderness where a person would likely starve or die of dehydration even if the government were unsuccessful in its pursuit.

 In the first century Roman empire, emperors began to claim status as deities, and that claim led to an expectation that citizens would worship the emperor. He claimed the authority and power to take care of citizens, and he expected thankful, respectful worship. Although merely an expectation or a politically correct act at first, it became a mandate and the excuse for persecution of those who did not worship the man claiming godhood. It was tantamount to treason to act as if the emperor were not a god.

 In twenty-first century USA, our government is increasingly taking on the role and expecting the worship of a god. It wants to deliver commandments, receive offerings and dole out blessings. Moreover, it wants worship, in the form of no criticism. So far, the expectation of compliance with government thinking has not progressed to the accusation of treason for those who disagree, but disagreeable speech is not well received. Historically, governments that began by suggesting that arguments against government are thoughtless progressed to actually censoring or forbidding free speech.

 There are Christian leaders, surprisingly, who seem to believe that government can, even should, be God’s agent to bring his kingdom to pass. They applaud a government role in social services for provision of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and transportation. They believe that when the government guarantees to provide for all human needs, it is creating the kingdom of heaven on earth. They seem to believe that when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” that we are praying for the government to bring that kingdom to pass.

 The author of Revelation warns us in twenty-two riveting chapters of the futility of believing that government can replace God. John of Patmos was granted a vision that transported him into heaven where he could look back at the earth and the time/space continuum, and there he could see what becomes of a world in which people worship government instead of God. This world is full of ever-increasing chaos and destruction, all overseen by a bloated, besotted, whorish government that wants and needs the worship of the people who are being destroyed by the boulders that government oppression drags down upon them. The book of Revelation is completely relevant to our world today, not as a timeline for the end of the age, but as a real vision of what is happening right now.

 The big lesson of Revelation is that God does not call upon government to do his work on earth. He calls on his faithful followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and share his love with everyone. God rightly expects that his followers will worship him, and those who love him rejoice in the opportunity to do so. Their worship and testimony pushes back the evil that runs rampant over lives and property when government replaces God in people’s hearts.

 The sad part of it is that some Christians seem willing to pay exorbitant taxes to government under the impression that all that money will bring the kingdom of God to pass. They forget that money we give to government seldom comes back to bless anyone. All that money builds bureaucracies and builds buildings to house bureaucracies and buys computers and papers to process the rules and regulations of bureaucracies. Very little of it ever gets into the hand of poor, starving, homeless people. Those who do receive any benefit have been so thoroughly demeaned by the process that they can never do anything more than survive to apply for more aid.

 Contrast this outcome with the results of the World Hunger Project of Lutheran World Relief. People who participate in this project are the beneficiaries of giving motivated not by tax laws but by the love of God and people. Of every dollar that LWR puts into this project, 92 cents is placed in the hands of the people the project helps. That money funds deliveries of animals and plants to farmers along with water projects and training in agriculture skills that increase productivity of both plant and animal culture. Families are not simply fed three times a day; they receive livestock and training that set them on a path to self-sufficiency. The family does not become dependent on the program. Rather, the program leads them to become independent of the program. They take away skills and encouragement to help others as they themselves have been helped.

 For that matter, contrast government charity with the results achieved by the Heifer Project, a completely secular and private project that also provides livestock and training for hungry people. The people helped by Heifer Project also are led to independence and self-sufficiency, unlike the sad dependents of government charity in housing projects across the country.

 The people who are “helped” by government become defeated and dependent. The people who receive help from projects like the World Hunger Project retain their personal dignity and become independent, self-sufficient, and prosperous. It is not government that brings the kingdom of God to earth. It is God’s people following the Holy Spirit in love and service to others.

 Government has an important role on earth, a role ordained by God. It provides security and good order to allow free people to thrive and to serve God in safety. Government clears the playing field for free commerce, providing opportunity, not benefits. Government has no God-given right to supersede the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. When we try to make government an agent of charity we only beggar both the taxpayer and the recipient. As Christians, we all need to work very hard to reverse the trend of trying to replace God with government by means of social programs. We should not put our faith in government. We must  put our faith in God and serve him obediently and faithfully, doing the work he calls us to do, “love your neighbor as yourself.”