Monday, October 16, 2006

Reply to a Critic on Chilton's God's Law and Economics: Part 1 - The Law of Impartial Judgement

In response to my earlier posting of an excerpt from David Chilton's excellent book, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, a critic, one who is more amenable to government wealth-redistribution programmes than I am, had some comments on several passages.

Her first complaint was in regard to Chilton's use of the Law of Impartial Judgement (Leviticus 19:15).
CHILTON: This is not to suggest that the rich have no responsibility to help the poor. But it does mean that the poor have a responsibility not to steal from the rich. “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15)—which does not mean Karl Marx’s definition of a “fair” distribution of wealth, but rather according to the standard of God’s law. Any judgment of a man on the basis of his property (or his lack of it) is theft.
CRITIC: ANOTHER twisting of Scripture. This has nothing to do with theft of property. This has to do with not being partial in judging complaints either (out of sentimentality) to the poor or (out of snobbery and so forth) to the rich.

This is not, of course, a twisting of Scripture, as our critic would aver. She simply chooses to interpret the verse in the narrowest possible sense, so that it relates solely to preferential treatment given to individuals in any given case before the bench.

While such is certainly one valid application of this legislation, it is not the only one. Let's break the verse down into its constituent parts:

LEGAL PRINCIPLE: You shall do no injustice [unrighteousness, iniquity, perverseness, wickedness] in judgment [justice, verdict, sentencing] - you are to judge your neighbor fairly [in righteousness, justice, equity].

CASE LAW EXAMPLE: you shall not be partial to [lit. - lift] the poor nor defer to [lit. - swell up] the great

This verse is the basis for the principle of equal standing before the Law, and that of the responsibility for the civil magistrate to provide impartial justice - justice without respect to persons [lit. - accepting the face] - which is a strict analogue to Divine Justice (Deut 10:17; 2 Chr 19:7; Acts 10:34; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; James 2:9).

This does not apply only to the rich and the poor - it applies across the board, whether rich or poor, black or white, Jew or Greek. It is the basic reason why coercive redistribution of wealth is fundamentally unjust; it is the basic reason that mandated affirmative action and quota-systems are fundamentally unjust. Such programmes are never a reflection of social justice in any Biblical sense; they are pure social engineering by a Messianic State that wishes to transform equality before the Law into equality of economic result. They are purely based in what the Scriptures call "respect of persons" - that is, they are a verdict based on purely external, conditional considerations, and they do not at all take justice, in the way God has defined it for us (as opposed to the way Humanist social engineers have defined it), into account.

Thus, that result of the unjust judgement that, since the poor man has less than the rich man, without any measure of fraud or compulsion on the rich man's part, the rich man must be coerced to relinquish his property to the poor man, whether directly through force or indirectly through taxation and redistribution, is that the civil magistrate, rather than rendering impartial justice, has committed theft in pursuit of a "justice" from below.

The immediate objection of those who share the same mind as our critic will be to invoke passages from the Holy Fathers that seem to contradict what I have here written. Our critic, in fact, did this in a prior post.

She writes:

Wealth will be good for its possessor if he does not spent it only on luxury, or on strong drink and harmful pleasures; if he enjoys luxury in moderation and distributes the rest to the poor, then wealth is a good thing.

St. John [Chrysostomos] acknowledged that wealth may be culpable not only because of the manner of its accumulation but also for its misuse.

Indeed Lazarus suffered no injustice from the rich man; for the rich man did not take Lazarus' money, but failed to share his own. If he is accused by the man he failed to pity because he did not share his own wealth, what pardon will the man receive who has stolen others' goods, when he is surrounded by those whom he has wronged? I shall bring you testimony from divine Scripture, saying that not only the theft of others' goods but also the failure to share one's own goods with others is theft and swindle and defraudation.

Thus St. John sees no moral distinction between wealth which the rich man obtained by theft, deceit and fraud or by inheritance, and wealth, howsoever acquired, which the rich man fails to share with the unfortunate.

... you have stolen the goods of the poor. [the] rich hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. Deprive not the poor of his living. To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others. By this we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we shall be punished just like those who steal. For money is the Lord's, however we may have gathered it.

The lesson I gather from this, read in the light of Romans 13:1-7, and The Commandment "Thou shalt not steal" and the general consensus that it is a good thing for government to oppose the evil of theft and correct it when possible........Is that government assistance in moving resources from the haves to the have-nots, provided it does not simply reverse their positions, whether it be by taxation or by writing tax laws that encourage charity by not taxing money given in charity, is a valid and godly action of government, whether defined as federal, state, county, city or some hereditary tribal primitive thing whether the later's enforcement is physical force or such exclusion from the community that one might starve or be eaten by wild animals for non compliance.

Our critic has, in this case, made one of the most basic errors possible in regard to the system of Biblical Law: she has failed to note that not all sins are crimes, and then gone on to legitimise socialist economic policy - theft for the purpose of redistribution - on the basis that St. John (as well as other Fathers and significant portions of Scripture itself) makes it clear that it is morally theft for a Christian not to provide alms to the poor.

What we do not see here from St. John is a call for the Roman government to mount a campaign of graduated income taxes and state-run welfare programmes. No - rather, he exhorts wealthy Christians to realise that all they have has come from God, who has made them stewards with a responsibility to give alms, to pay a reasonable wage, to show mercy.

There are many forms of theft that do not constitute a crime. Taking an extra 5 or 10 minutes on a paid break; failing to work diligently; inflating expense records; these and many other things are forms of theft that are not necessarily criminal acts. The remain immoral, but there is no civil sanction against them.

It is worthy of note that, under the Mosaic Law there are no civil sanctions to be imposed by the magistrate for failing to provide for the poor. The sanctions God imposes are both providential (He may destroy your wealth, health, family, or even your life) and spiritual (e.g., Matt 25). Perhaps the most notable feature of the demands of the Law in regard to providing for the poor is their voluntarism.

There is a great difference between the civil magistrate seizing assets to give them away in a humanistic social engineering scheme, and legislating tax incentives for charitable giving. That great difference is coercion under threat of violence and/or loss of liberty. Those who advocate such a system fail to realise that it is no longer even charitable - it is simply forced. And advancing the cause of one special interest by robbing others is, indeed, unrighteous partiality based on respect of persons - a violation of the basic principles of Divine Justice.

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