Socialist Jesus vs. Libertarian Jesus

James Knight, on his blog The Philosophical Muser, posted the above image, with comments to the effect that individual generosity is better than collective generosity. His post reflects the false antithesis that, if a society works together for change, somehow that means individuals are not generous. But can it not rather show (1) that generous people know that working together as a society is more effective than individual efforts, and (2) experience shows that one cannot effectively deal with issues of social justice by assuming the powerful will help the powerless, and (3) that keeping the poor poor and dependent on the rich perpetuates injustice rather than addressing its underlying causes?

The notion that taxes in a democracy are “stealing” from those who voted for the representatives that legislated them is ludicrous misrepresentation.

Here’s what I wrote in a comment in response:

[What you wrote] ignores the existence of laws in the Jewish Scriptures requiring that people leave the edges of their fields for the poor, return property to its owners once every 50 years, and so on. The truth is that the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament offers only a theocratic vision for an agrarian society that can’t be implemented in a modern democracy, and the teaching of Jesus reflects the fact that he was not in a position to make laws for the society of the time. The best we can do is discuss the best ways to tackle social issues, allowing ourselves if we are Christians to be guided by the teachings of Jesus. It is clear from history that leaving the plight of the poor up to the generosity or lack thereof is not an effective solution. It is also clear that social ills require social solutions in order to deal with the root causes and not simply the symptoms. And so the notion that we should roll things back to the way they were in the past, suggests to me that you do not know how much worse things were for the poor in the past.

It is as dubious to depict Jesus as a libertarian as to depict him as a capitalist or a communist or a socialist. But that doesn’t mean that, in a modern context, socialism might not be the best way for his followers to seek to apply his teachings to their socio-economic context.

Here’s an image I shared here once before, which nicely satirizes the message of “Libertarian Jesus” in the first image:

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    This is a test, since comments seem not to be working on this post…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I apologize that comments apparently were not working on this post. I expected this one to be controversial, so hopefully all the things that you were hoping to say, you can now say! :-)

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

      Comments were down throughout Patheos yesterday.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    I can’t see how the first image here has anything to do with the second.

    It is also clear that social ills require social solutions in order to deal with the root causes and not simply the symptoms.

    -Why the lack of explicitness in this quote and throughout this post? Why not say coercive solutions, which is apparently what you mean? Also, do present-day coercive transfer programs deal with the root causes? As far as I can see, no.

    http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2014/01/a-brief-note-on-the-war-on-poverty.html

    Also, “society” doesn’t act. Individuals do.

    one cannot effectively deal with issues of social justice by assuming the powerful will help the powerless

    -So the welfare state is powerless. Got it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      If you mean by “coercive” that wealthy employers do not simply pay workers fairly or provide safe working environments or anything else of that sort without coercion, whether in law or through the collaborative efforts of workers in unions, then that is true, but hardly a criticism.

      Your last statement makes no sense. And individuals act in unified ways all the time. A military action is not just a bunch of individuals acting as individuals.

      Can you please take this topic seriously enough to write serious things about it?

      • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

        My last statement (about the welfare state) made no sense because it was sarcastic. Also, see this comment by someone else:
        http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2013/11/the-nyt-on-filibusters-and-a-note-on-methodological-individualism.html#comment-83843

        wealthy employers do not simply pay workers fairly or provide safe working environments or anything else of that sort without coercion

        -This is sometimes, but nowhere near always, the case. The idea that safe working conditions and high pay are always something enforced coercively by unions or governments rather than voluntarily by, say, competition between employers for workers, is nonsense.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          History does not show employers, landowners, or other wealthy people acting consistently for the benefit of those whom they employ usually in the interest of their own profit, and not for the sake of the employee.

          • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

            I think this is half-true. Here’s an amalgam of manufacturing wages series (in 1982 dollars per hour):
            http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=C8T

            • arcseconds

              How does this graph show employers are interested in benefiting their employees?

              In fact, how does this show anything about the attitude of employers to their employees at all? Or even anything about the activities of employers at all — there are a lot of things that affect wages, and there was a lot that happened over that period of time!

              • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

                Read James’s comment I was replying to again.

                • arcseconds

                  I read it very carefully the first time, thanks.

                  How does your graph show that employers sometimes act for the sake of the employees, and not for their own profits?

                  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

                    I read James as saying the opposite of what you apparently think he said. I’ve never said businesses are selfless.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      What did you understand me to be saying, then, and why?

                    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

                      That employers typically do not improve working conditions for their employees due to the normally functioning (i.e., largely uninfluenced by government intervention, consumer groups, or unions) profit motive, but due to union agitation, government intervention, the threat of public opinion influencing government intervention, etc.

                    • arcseconds

                      That’s not quite what he was saying, but it is an obvious consequence of what he was saying.

                      Now what do you think your graph shows?

  • Michael Wilson

    James, first let me say I agree that the notion that taxes are theft is ridiculous. I have recently rethought my position on the meaning of Jesus’ charges to give to others. I had taken it to be rather absolute and that the expectation was that his followers be penniless slaves of society, however I have come to the conclusion that this really would not be in the SPIRIT of what Jesus was saying. His goal I think was to actually improve the lot of the poor and not just display personal piety by living as an ascetic of some stripe. For instance Jesus says to give to all that ask, but if a rich man ask for you cloak so he can wipe his ass with it, ones giving is not going to help the poor. Jesus calls to absolute generosity are not to be carried out literally but to challenge ones notions that they have given enough. Have you? it ask, not that poor Christians should give to thieves and kings when they ask. I think with that in mind Christian generosity and the states obligation to work toward the progress of all its citizens is not incompatible.

    • Michael Wilson

      However, that would I think preclude socialism as a Christian ideology for the reason that it has demonstrably filed to improve the lot of the poor. As a general rule, states that lean socialist provide less to the poor than those which lean toward free markets. Socialist policies don’t move wealth from the top to the bottom, it mostly just destroys wealth. The dollar difference between N. Korea’s bottom 5th and top 5th may not be as great as in S. Korea, but I would argue it is better to be in the bottom 5th in S. Korea. I would bet, (and I haven’t the figures on hand) that this rings true for the material wealth of our bottom 5th and Western Europe’s, though to be fair the distinction is not nearly as great as the earlier example, but Western Europe is hardly a socialist paradise either, the place is crawling with private enterprises.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        You are running communism together with societies with a free market but a strong element of socialism in the mix. It is not clear to me that socialist policies destroy wealth, but even if that were true, it is clear that the plight of the poor is less severe in societies that make a point of ensuring that everyone has the possibility of a home, some income, and access to health care, and so many of us would say that having a less profitable overall economy is a perfectly acceptable price to pay for having an overall more just one.

        • Michael Wilson

          Well, I think there all on a spectrum with the far ends terminating in systems quite unlike what is promised. If I get rid of all taxes and government, I don’t get a free market paradise, I get Somalia, if I put all economic activity in the hands of the state I don’t get a workers paradise, I get the Kim family’s god-king theocracy. The trick is finding the sweet spot.

          Regarding socialist destruction of wealth, perhaps if we could identify a socialist nation we could look at the state of their wealth.

          I do agree that states with programs to ensure some measure of survival to its citizens provide better outcomes than those that don’t and further, I think any state has a mandate to provide basic necessities to all, which ultimately means we all have a mandate to provide for ourselves.

          I agree to extent that a less profitable overall economy is worth a more “just” one. The problem is economics cannot be cheated. No matter how just we are, if we end each day with less than we started, whatever our enterprise, it will come to an end. Societies that have curbed economic growth to provide more equal distribution over time find that the goods available to even the poor of their less “just” neighbors exceed what their shriveled economy can provide. This is why states ranging from China to Cuba to France have been backing away from socialism (in know, France Has elected a socialist, but he is the first in over decade, and if your tasking bets on whether he gets another term, I’m in) The welfare state is positive for capitalist society because while it cost some productivity it pays back by alleviating anxiety among the working class. Before the reforms of the 30′s, the economy rose and crashed with alarming regularity, its was scary for any one living paycheck to pay check and scared people do stupid things, like support fascism and communism.

          However their is a limit to what we can effectively provide. For example, in another response you said that employers ought to pay fair wages to employees. Well who determines that? If McDonalds has stacks upon stacks of applicants willing to work for $7.50 an hour why should we second guess them and say they ought not to apply for less than $15 and hour. They are $15 dollar an hour jobs available. They are $20 and $40 an hour jobs available. If those applicants think they are as productive as the people working for those wages, let them apply for those jobs. The fact is that the 3% or so of society making the minimum wage are not as productive for whatever reason as those making more. If you insist on paying people picking 50 apples an hour 100 apples an hour, your going to run out of apples. You may second guess whether or not Wal-Mart or McDonalds is paying as much as they could, but I don’t think the voters or their representatives are so smart as to know what everyone ought to be paid for each job, especially if we presume that they so dumb as to apply for jobs that will get them less than what there really worth. I would argue that if the folks at Micki D’s decide willy nilly that their CEO’s and shareholders are getting to much and the workers not enough, they run the risk of falling behind those that offer more profit to investors and payment for executives and eventually closing their doors and the workers left to put in applications at the stores that payed less. By the same measure, If Wal Mart and McDonalds are paying to much for CEO’s and settling for unmotivated underpaid workers they will get pushed out by a company paying the correct price for its employees. You can’t cheat the market.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            We can quibble about the details, such as whether it isn’t inevitable that some may not even find employment, much less employment that pays what they are worth, in a situation in which employers can mechanize, outsource, and take any and all measures to maximize profits for the corporation rather than the workers.

            But your statement at the start was great, and perhaps even meme-worthy:

            I think [they're] all on a spectrum with the far ends terminating in systems quite unlike what is promised. If I get rid of all taxes and government, I don’t get a free market paradise, I get Somalia, if I put all economic activity in the hands of the state I don’t get a workers paradise, I get the Kim family’s god-king theocracy. The trick is finding the sweet spot.

            Nicely put.

            • Michael Wilson

              Thanks James. I often find a lot of American politics is quibiling over details in histrionic tone. It’s a lot of show to get bored voters to turn out for elections. I read an article the other day from Paul Krugman called “saving the world is cheap” It descrived the Chamber of Commerce’s problem with Obama’s propised new EPA regulation. Basically they were up in arms over less than 1% of GDP cost. We will hardly notice the cost, but the energy lobby assures us the regulation will ruin the economy. Of course to be fair, the modest reductions in carbon emissions will not stop global warming or save Miami from flooding in 2030. Each side us merely bargaining by putting its position in the most dire terms plausible.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Of course you can cheat the markets.

    • Straw Man

      “James, first let me say I agree that the notion that taxes are theft is ridiculous.”

      On what do you base this unsubstantiated assertion? It is taking without consent, upon pain of imprisonment; by what reasoning do you classify this differently from me taking from you, on pain of locking you in my basement?

      • Michael Wilson

        Straw Man, I can read my own mind, so im sure I agree with James, no unsubstantiated assertion there;-)

        Do you think I have something of yours? In my opinion, a tax is wealth owed to society, to refuse to surrender it is theft. You dont need consent to take what is yours from a theif.

  • Michael Wilson

    James,
    I would like to address your critiques of “Libertarian Jesus” beyond
    the notion of tax=theft. I don’t believe that it reflects a false
    antithesis. Generosity is giving from your own wealth. It is not at all
    generous to demand that some one else give. When Warren Buffet thinks the
    rich should pay higher taxes, he is being generous, when I say they should
    I’m not being generous. I don’t think it suggest that people who demand that
    that others pay more taxes cannot be themselves generous, only that the demand
    that others give is not generosity, your own giving is. We tend to give a pass
    to people that advocate for justice but are personally unjust. That’s wrong.

    Regarding points 1, 2, and 3, I think it is mistake to conflate
    government and society. the government is just one of societies cogs. most
    people know that many charitable functions are best performed as a group just
    as McDonalds knows it is more profitable to sell McNuggets as a group. hence
    our society produces outfits like the Salvation Army and Red Cross. Now, I’m no
    libertarian or anarchist and so I think a basic government assistance program
    is needed for simplicities sake in the same way we demand that the government
    provide basic police or fire fighting services, but I agree with Knight
    that the fact that we have to provide a legally mandated compulsorily funded
    welfare system is an indictment that our society is not generous. If we were
    then the Warren Buffets, Bill Gates, and Donald Trumps would have their own
    private corporation for uplifting the poor out of the bounty of their wealth.
    If we did not tax them, I imagine that a lot more wealth would be directed
    toward private islands and gold plated yachts. The reason we had to form a
    safety net for the poor in the 30′s is not because the rich in America could
    not properly organize all the wealth they were spending on the poor, it was
    because the rich were not spending enough.

    Which addresses point two, the powerful do not do enough to help the powerless.
    So the powerless have to gain power by banding together and forcing the
    powerful to help, which is not an act of generosity on their part or ours. It
    is justice which is not generosity because it is ones obligation to do that
    which is just. That we have to drag the rich kicking and screaming to contribute to poor relief is not a sign were generous (though to be fair, about half the rich voted democratic last election, a good sign that their level of taxation is on the low side of fair).

    On point three, I’m not really sure what you mean by keeping the poor poor. We don’t have slaves or laws mandating class distinction and it is certainly not a part of any libertarian ideology. It seems to be a leftist misconception that free market economics requires poverty. Quite the opposite, industrialist need rising incomes to increase markets. Poor people don’t buy enough stuff to make a merchant rich.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I do not see any evidence that, when the only or primary way poverty is addressed is by the wealthy giving to the poor, it ever brings about the reduction or elimination of poverty itself.

      A pure free market would obviously never benefit the majority of ordinary workers, and even the U.S. does not embrace unadulterated capitalism.

      • Michael Wilson

        I agree James that a pure free market would not benefit most workers. it also wouldn’t benefit most capitalist. A pure free market is in my observation a pink unicorn that cannot be. There is no such thing as unadulterated capitalism. This is the folly of “anarchocapitalist.” In order to have a concept like property, we have to have rules governing who owns what objects and this requires the basic element of government. Its the pie in the sky musing of unlovable militia types and dorm room philosophers. Even so called libertarians like Ron and Rand Paul acknowledge the legality of the US government and the right to tax so I doubt we will have to confront any genuine no tax societies. We may well discuses government by super powered X-Men.

        Now on the reduction of poverty by wealthy people giving to the poor, historically there are some problems there. First is whether any large scale society has eliminated poverty by any means. Probably not, so that might be a high bar. The other problem is what do we call poverty being addressed by the wealthy giving to the poor. For many places in time in history, government was privately owned, feudal and monarchial, so would the gifts to the poor from the king of France be private or public poverty relief? I would argue that historically, the chief way poverty was addressed was the poor obtaining things for themselves. the primary means for advancing the wealth of the poor has been technical advances. when you look at the trajectory of human history, you will note a steady and increasing rise in population. that rise represents the reduction of the ultimate form of poverty, death. I have heard that the invention of agriculture led to a 10 fold increase in human population. That is an increase in wealth. Every time a peasant doesn’t bury a malnourished baby or leave it to be exposed, that is a reduction in poverty. So even before any sort of social safety net, the poor made steady gains. Now this has never been part of any sort of pure free market, but I would argue that the poor made gains even before the adoption liberal welfare state practices. Not that those practices are bad or that they are not an improvement over previous systems, I only mean that whatever the system, poverty has been slowly reducing for at least 10,000 years.

  • arcseconds

    I’ve seen quantitative data that shows fairly convincingly that while Americans are indeed more generous in their private giving than in the social democratic countries in Europe, they are not anywhere near as generous as the state is in those countries.

    This was probably in The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, which I encourage anyone who’s actually interested in what can be proven to work to read.

  • arcseconds

    Right-wing Christians sometimes say things to indicate that they think helping the poor is all about developing their own virtue, and not really about getting good outcomes for the poor.

    To someone who honestly believes this, a really effective welfare state, or indeed any arrangement that results in no poor people or at least is fairly successful in eliminating the worst aspects of poverty, would be actually undesirable because it reduces the possibility for exercising personal virtue.

    While I don’t think it’s plausible to think this is what Jesus is proposing, I wonder whether it’s really the case that the number one thing for him is to help the poor. I grant that this is also seen as a desirable outcome, but it seems to me it might not be his primary concern.

    I wonder instead whether the point is more about your relationship with God, and riches are an impediment to that, so it is better to be rid of them, and adopt a lifestyle more conducive to godliness (which might be living in a semi-itinerant commune like community). While you’re getting rid of them, you may as well benefit those who need more resources, but that’s a side-effect.

    That seems to me to make the most sense of his statements to the rich young man, including the famous quote about the eye of the needle. It also is consistent with the ‘there will always be poor’ business and the nonchalance about government expressed in the ‘give unto Caesar’ stuff.

    • Michael Wilson

      ahh wealth as the impediment to real communion with God. This troubling notion. I think about those monks that subsist of a grain of rice a day. I suppose if we are holier if we are doing with the minimum our advice to the poor ought to be to quite asking for stuff and take advantage of the blessing of getting to prove all one needs is God. You know though, I think if you look at Jesus’ teaching, he always seems to err in favor of eliminating material suffering over maintaining piety. He could have showed how much the Sabbath meant to him by going hungry rather than picking grain, but he didn’t. I would argue that for Jesus, helping people is your relationship with God and a person who is rich is one who to easily declines helping others. Our first lady is complimented on her $3000 Vera Wang dresses while her in laws live in poverty in Africa. You have to question the quality of our moral judgment. It may be the case that all the truely good people never manage to grab the brass ring. On his “there will always be the poor” I wonder if this is Jesus’ remark since it implies he was aware he was going to die soon. Non the less, Jesus was also a gluten and a drunk so at some level he didn’t mind letting others treat him to a good time, but its another if he would have treated himself.

      • James Knight

        James McGrath – not like you, but you’ve ludicrously misrepresented
        my Blog with some strange leftist assumptions. Your whole critique is based on arguments
        against things I didn’t say, which makes it easier for you to write your blog
        post, but makes it without much merit.

        >>James Knight, on his blog The Philosophical
        Muser, posted the above image, with comments to the effect that individual
        generosity is better than collective generosity.<>His post reflects the false antithesis that, if a
        society works together for change, somehow that means individuals are not
        generous. <>The notion that taxes in a democracy are
        “stealing” from those who voted for the representatives that legislated them is
        ludicrous misrepresentation.<<

        Here's what I actually said: "It doesn't mean being
        forced to give away something over which you have no control. If I draw out a quarter of my month's earnings and give it to WaterAid, I have been generous – but I have been generous because I wanted to do my bit to help out some desperate people. If, however, the government taxes me with the threat of
        imprisonment and gives the money to WaterAid on my behalf then I have not been generous, because I had no say in the matter."

        I never mentioned 'theft' once!! I'd suggest you re-read
        my blog more carefully – it doesn't say what you claim it does.

        • James Knight

          Sorry Michael Wilson, I was responding to James McGrath, not you.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I didn’t realize that you live in a non-democratic context. I apologize for assuming that you did. As someone who is able to vote for representatives and in other ways influence the government of my country regarding such matters, it is all too easy for me to forget that sometimes I may be talking with someone who lives in a dictatorship, where taxation might indeed constitute a form of robbery.

          In my own democratic context, it does not seem persuasive to me that, if millions of generous people work together to bring about the creation of a government program to address social issues at a level that none of them could individually, somehow their collective efforts undermine their generosity. But perhaps your context is different.

          • James Knight

            The reality, James, is that this doesn’t happen. “millions of generous people work together to bring about the creation of a government program to address social issues at a level that none of them could individually” is a nice idea, but that’s not what happens in any realistic way. Instead we have politicians making policies that will keep them popular.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              As someone who has benefitted from the socialized medical systems that other countries have, I am not persuaded that you are correct. But even if you were, presumably the appropriate course of action would be to try to change things within the system, or work to bring about a revolution. I know of no social issue that was solved simply by people being generous individually, with no implementation of more fundamental change of a communal and social sort.

        • Michael Wilson

          James Knight, the picture accompanying your post suggest that taxed money is stolen money. I understand the sentiment behind it and agree, except that I don’t think it is proper to substitute steal for tax.

        • Michael Wilson

          On government generosity, I do thin we can speak of a state collectively being generous in regards some group or another. This the same for any group that gives charitably. If First Baptist Church gives $10 K to a soup kitchen, its proper to say that First Baptist is generous even if not every member tithes or is some members disagreed with the gift. The US was generous when it aided Indonesian tidal wave survivors and it is generous when it gives food stamps to the poor. My disagreement is over the notion that we can claim a group’s generosity as our own. People that don’t tithe at first Baptist or don’t think its tithes should go to the poor are not generous because they are members of First Baptist.

          I disagree with the idea that we can fulfill Jesus’ commands by making laws to mandate others to fulfill his commands. We can insist that the government do more to help the poor, but it is only our contribution that matters and no state should be imagined to be the body of Christ. No one should be fined or thrown in jail for the sake of Christ, that is Caesar’s job. Christians should apply their principles to their actions as citizens of states but ought to keep separate the duties of individuals and collectives. For instance, a Christian might forgive a person who wronged them, may ask clemency for someone that wronged them, but I think it would be improper for Christians to demand that judges forgive criminals as policy. We can ask that appropriate mercy be handed out or that the state work to make life better for the powerless.

          Ultimately I don’t think Christian charity is completely incompatible with a secular state. As I mentioned above, I no longer think Jesus just intended his followers to be paupers for piety’s sake but as a means to help the poor. I don’t think Christian charity would be selling your work tools to give to the poor that you will now join. A person has an obligation to make sure they are in a position to help others, not to allow themselves to become beggars. So it is with states. A state that impoverishes itself to give to the poor is no longer able to give to the poor. Examples, Detroit and Greece. Their supposedly generous policies are leaving its retirees in a lurch. That is not generosity, that is foolishness. Nor is it generosity to give gifts to poor who intend only to use the gifts unwisely. That’s why it is more generous to give to soup kitchen or shelter than individual pan handlers. For these reason, I think that we should be wary to call any increase in a government welfare service generosity or fulfillment of Jesus’ commands without evidence that it really is helping people over come poverty or can be sustained.

  • Straw Man

    What you call “collective generosity” is not “collective” if some participants are forced upon pain of prison to participate. It is also not necessarily “generosity,” if in fact it gives privileges to the rich while harming the poor.

    Obviously people can band together voluntarily to be generous. The question is, if I force you on pain of prison to give me money, which I then give to the poor, who was generous? You were acting under compulsion, and I gave away what was not mine and so cost me nothing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Simply giving some money to the poor isn’t a solution to the underlying causes of poverty anyway. What is needed is something more substantive, and if we as a nation choose to work for social justice in such ways, the programs are funded through taxes as are all similar ventures. Not everyone approves of war, but are those who fell that way being robbed when they are taxed and then the money goes to fund military costs?

      • Michael Wilson

        I suspect Straw Man doesn’t like his money going to wars eithier. He can look out for himself thank you very much.

        Straw Man, I would argue it is still collective. Of couse the reluctant participant is not generous but the ones calling the shots are. Im not sure why pain of prison is such a special line here. If I am a partner in company that decides to sponser a little league team over my objection, I’m being punished right? I eithier see the company toss out part of my bottom line on the snots or I sell my part at a disadvantage. Does that mean my partnership isn’t generous, its just stealing from a partner? Ultimately it is still action under pain of imprisonment. If I go and take what of mine they squandered on tee ball out of their hands, I’m the theif! I think that despite the penalty for refusing to accept the vote, the partnership as a group is generouse because it gives freely as a voting unit. The little leauge didn’t steal it. That I’m personaly a tight wad doesnt nulify the gift. If I give you a gift but have reservations, I still generously gave it even if I’m not 100% convinced it was what I wanted to do. The US is generous regarding the needy even though not every one would want to be that generous. That there are penalties for refusing to contribute to poor relief doesn’t seem to change that equation for me.

  • Eric

    I could see Jesus as a libertarian socialist but not a socialist that uses the state and coercive force to bring about charity.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Coercive force and charity are mutually exclusive and so I have no idea what you are talking about, but it isn’t socialism. When a society taxes everyone to fund public schooling, for instance, that isn’t charity, it is a communal solution to an issue that requires a societal solution in order to be dealt with effectively.

      • Eric

        Sorry James, I didn’t explain that very well. When individuals are required to provide for others by coercive force (the type that a state uses to enforce its policies), it’s not charity, you are right about that.
        I was trying to suggest that I cannot see Jesus being someone who would look to the state (and its coercive methods) to require people to give and help. Rather, I can see Jesus promoting a kingdom where people are prompted by godly compassion to give charitably and voluntarily. I can see him advocating for a kingdom where all things are in common, where trust in God for provision removes greed, worldly striving and anxiety. Finally (and in political terms), I can see this type of living being consistent with libertarian socialism.

        • Michael Wilson

          I don’t see this politicaly as socialism of any stripe since the giving is up to the individual because the property is individualy held. Its just libertarianism with a bunch of really generous libertarians. But a agree to a degree, I dont think Jesus’s hope was for his followers to pressure kings and emperors to spend more on bread and circuses and less on their luxury villas. It seems more personal than that.

          James, to some degree our spending for things like school is charitable don’t you think? I’m not sure we the people necessarily think out our expected personal benifit while figuring what to spend to educate those that couldn’t afford it otherwise. If we all expected to get what we put in back, then sure it would be no more charitable than a bank loan, but I think the public’s motive is more pure here. Though I think their is an interesting relation between self interest and altruism. Basicaly, I think in many scenarios altruism pays.

          • Eric

            Hey Michael – I think libertarian socialism is socialism in
            the sense that production means or property of economic significance is not privately held but rather in the control of something like a democratic cooperative or the workers themselves. It’s libertarian in that it does not default to the state as the entity that should control the means of production assuming it’s not privately held (as is the
            case in state socialism). Clearly, libertarian
            socialism is obviously not likely to happen anytime soon. The power structures of this world (the politically and financially connected) would completely object (not to mention most people think it’s a contradiction in terms). Of course, Jesus wasn’t too popular with the power structures of his day either. Maybe that’s the point.

            • Michael Wilson

              Thanks for clarifying. It sounds like anarchy. Libertarianism depends on government to protect rights. Anarchy is inspired by an unsubstantiated belief that humans are naturaly wise and good. Libertarian-socialism would have to explain how it would produce property of economic significance. Why would a group take initiative to make a printing press or water mill if once built its profit would be shared with all. How would the distribution be enforced?

              Now, if within the context of a government that protects rights, a group decided to hold common property, like a commune, then this could work as a parallel social structure. It can be pacifist so long as it recognizes that the state has the right to protect rights. Thus it is not the individual that uses violence but the state. You may turn the cheek when your rights are violated, the state must not. It can then contract to determine how the control if its property will be handeled and enforced by the state.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                I think the only thing that might fit the use of the word “charity” is when some of a nation’s tax revenues are given in foreign aid to other nations. But in general, when we fund healthcare or schools or trash collection we do it in the interest of the society of which individual taxpayers are a part, even if some individuals may not benefit directly for some reason. And despite what Eric wrote, I don’t see Jesus as likely to be opposed to such things. One can argue that Jesus envisaged a kingdom where education, healthcare, and trash collection would miraculously be rendered unnecessary. But that doesn’t imply opposition to such things in ordinary human societies.

                • Michael Wilson

                  Your right in that Jesus likely supported the state. However to say that state spending for social programs isn’t charity supports the position of the first meme, at least the first part. Jesus seems to want people to go the extra mile, not just what they owe, which means charity. A state may have a self interested reason to extend a benifit to those not fully contributing to promote unity or prevent hazards, as even the libertarian economist, Milton Friedman, argued, but I think we could also describe a state as generous if it provided more than a bare necessity.

                  • Eric

                    I think the most interesting part of this whole thread is simply the notion of depicting Jesus in our political framework. There is so much radical, compelling and controversial about Jesus that he doesn’t fit in any paradigm that we could construct or even fathom. Because of his claims about who he was, the world rejected him, put him on a cruel roman cross and executed him. His claims about his identity are either insane or the most incredible fact in the history of the world. If we wrestle with those claims and find them to be true, we can’t see the world the same way any longer. We have to recognize, serve the poor and live to carry out his mission. What government officials or capitalists or culture police say about it really doesn’t make a hill bean of difference. To try to make him fit in any political understanding that we have or worse yet be used by those with a political agenda is (as the author of this blog post calls it) dubious.


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