In discussing the issues surrounding the economic system known as the Free Market System (FMS, aka Capitalism), we need to delve into the notion of property rights, especially regarding what the Bible has to say on the subject.
First, it’s always good to define our terms. What do I mean by “property rights”? It’s not a phrase that a lot of people use every day, but it’s an important one. According to investopedia, they are “[laws] created by governments in regards to how individuals can control, benefit from and transfer property.” That’s the legal definition, but to me, it’s more than that. It’s an attitude, a mindset. The most important question is not “What does the law say?” The question I’m going to mainly address here is “What are peoples’ attitudes towards property rights? Do they understand and respect the concept?” The reason for that is because law tends to follow the zeitgeist. When people have a certain attitude or worldview, in a democratic/representative society that common worldview will work itself out into law eventually.
Here are the clarifying questions we need to consider: “Is my property my own?” “Do I have the right—for the most part, as the default setting—to do what I want with my own property?”
Quite a few people, both today and in the past, would either say “no” or say “yes,” but with so many exceptions as to make it a practical “no.” Marxists have long said that “Property is theft.” They completely deny the concept, saying that the default setting for wealth and resources should be in the hands of “the people.” Of course, that translates into “the government.” Or if you supposedly own your property, they’d claim that the “people” (i.e. the government) have the right to take that property from you if it so chooses. Your house, your money, your car, and your other property don't ultimately belong to you. It really belongs to the “community,” or “the people,” or “the public interest.”
Again, just to be clear, just because you believe in property rights doesn’t mean that you’re an absolutist on the issue. If a nation is attacked and is under existential threat, it might be necessary to expropriate someone’s property temporarily in order for the nation to survive in the short term. In the West, particularly in America, we’ve tended to have our default setting on respecting property rights unless there’s an actual emergency. But during World War 2, the federal government pretty much forced businesses from manufacturing what they wanted into manufacturing what was needed to fight the Axis. Citizens were forced into a food rationing system. All of these restrictions went away after the war was over and the threat eliminated. I have no problem with this, and I don’t think any reasonable person would. If we’re threatened by a nation or entity that doesn’t acknowledge our property rights, then resisting our government if they needed something necessary to defend us would be pretty counterproductive.
That’s my position. Is it biblical? Is holding property actually theft, according to the Bible?
Well, first and foremost we need to understand that when we talk about property rights, we’re referring to our “horizontal” relationships, not our “vertical” relationship with God. Ultimately he owns everything and everyone. He owns me twice over, first by creating me and second by virtue of redeeming me. If the Lord came to me and told me, like he said to the rich young ruler, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (a requirement he did not make of every one of his followers, btw), that would be his absolute prerogative. The only legitimate response to that command would be unquestioning obedience with a smile on my face.
But we’re talking about our horizontal relationships here. This includes my relationship with government, which after all is a group of people. Just a quick note: Remember what I mentioned in the last post about how people on the Left view our relationship with government? They tend to mistake the little “g” (government) for the big “G” (God). They see us as children and the government as parents.
But government is not God, so this is a horizontal relationship. And in our horizontal relationships, this concept (i.e. property rights) seems to be undergirded by two of the Ten Commandments: “Do not steal” and “Do not covet.” Let’s talk about the 8th Commandment first. As far as you’re concerned, your neighbor’s property belongs to him, not to you. If you break into his home and steal his TV, that’s theft. Most people would recognize that as such. But imagine a different scenario: I get together with some people in your neighborhood and show up at your door and say “We took a vote, and we think you have enough, so we’re going to take your TV and give it back to the community. Kindly step aside so we can come in and take it.” If we decided by majority vote to take someone’s property, would that not be theft? If not, why not?
The Tenth Commandment, the one that forbids you from coveting, is the only one that explicitly only deals with an attitude rather than an action. And here’s the principle behind it: As far you’re concerned, how God chooses to bless another person is between them and God and— quite frankly— it’s none of your business. Let me reiterate and clarify: If the Lord chooses to make your neighbor a multi-billionaire, that’s none of your business. You might try to persuade him to use his property in a certain way, e.g. you ask him to contribute to charity. But to go to his house, point a gun at him, and say “I don’t think you’re generous enough” is theft, and that action starts out with the mindset that how someone else is prospering should be of direct interest to you. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (look it up on Google if you don't know what a record is), it's none of your business.
Just to be brutally frank, as I mentioned in my précis, the whole Leftist enterprise is based upon a partial or wholesale denial of the truths stated in the two paragraphs above. It encourages coveting, trying to persuade people that that reason they’re poor is because someone else is rich. In an FMS, that’s not true. But even if it were, the 10th Commandment still applies.
And then once it gets enough people to break the 10th Commandment, it’s a short step to breaking the 8th. Of course, they’ll never call it stealing. It’s not an individual who’s pulling a gun on you and loading your TV into his truck. No, they pretend that if they get a majority vote for it, stealing is not stealing.
I can hear the objections coming: But what about taxes? That’s people taking a vote on taking your property (money). Are you calling that theft? Not necessarily. And that’s the topic for the next post.
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