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Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things February 3, 2012

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson: “Biblical Economic Justice: Supply and Demand Isn’t Enough

The Bible itself provides ample examples of laws that modify the unbridled rights of property owners: we are commanded to leave the corners of our fields unharvested, and to harvest our crops but once. Any remaining produce becomes the property of the poor, and they are legally entitled to access to that yield. Mandatory funds are established so the poor can sustain themselves, and the rich were obligated to provide food, clothing and sustenance for the widow, the orphan and the poor. Ancient Israel provided community education for all (male) children. One legal standard applied to rich and poor alike, with all contributing their fair share in tax revenue. Fields are to lie fallow every seventh (Sabbatical) and 50th (Jubilee) years to renew their bounty. While the market forces of supply and demand were the baseline for ancient Israel’s economic activity, both Bible and Talmud delineate a prohibition of excessive profits, which were held to be sinful and impermissible.

… An economy that ignores supply and demand may find itself lacking the resources to sustain itself. We properly work with market economics as the starting point for our economic activity.

But an extremism that elevates supply and demand to its solitary and highest priority rejects a more encompassing Biblical commitment to care for the widow and the orphan, to provide food and clothing for the poor, to educate and nurture all its children, to live harmoniously with creation. Such a idolatrous dogmatism must be rejected, both in the name of our Founding Fathers and in the name of the world’s wisdom traditions.

Tim King: “Gary Bauer Is Wrong About the Bible

Bauer claims, “But nowhere in the Bible are we told that government should take one man’s money by force of law and give it to another man.”

This is false.

Both the Year of Jubilee (when all debts were forgiven, slaves released and land returned to its original owners and related to the “sabbatical” year) and “gleaning” laws (mandate to leave grapes or grain on the vines or in the field for the poor to collect) are forms of government mandated redistribution of wealth.

They were laws concerned with justice not encouragements to charity.

To read up on gleaning you can flip to Leviticus 19:9; 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19-21 or the story of Ruth and Boaz in Ruth chapter 2. To read up on Jubilee and “sabbatical” years I recommend Leviticus 25 and then later scriptural references of Isaiah 61 and Luke 4.

… Prophets regularly criticized rulers for denying justice to the poor and oppressed. If you read Isaiah and Amos you will clearly see that God wasn’t happy that His people weren’t doing a better job making sure that those in need were taken care of.

… Bauer’s argument is Biblically ignorant. The antidote is obvious.

Read the Bible.

Barack Obama: “Remarks by the President at the National Prayer Breakfast

Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great — when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.

And today, with as many challenges as we face, these are the values I believe we’re going to have to return to in the hopes that God will buttress our efforts.

Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.”

Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often. So instead, it is our hope that people of goodwill can pursue their values and common ground and the common good as best they know how, with respect for each other.

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