Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2/3 "Spread the wealth" and what the Bible says

Here are God’s first instructions about almsgiving and the giving of charity. This statement is part of the Law that is given to Moses by God, face to face.

Exodus 22:24. “If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

In those primitive times when everyone survived by working the land, either farming, gathering or herding, charity consisted of lending to a neighbor to carry him through a difficult day or short period of time. It was not a gift that God is describing here, but a loan. But it is a loan that should not be charged interest. How far has modern society come from that? When Jesus came with the New Covenant, he did not say, oh, by the way, it is now OK to charge interest on loans. God forbid the charging of interest in the Bible and that has not changed one iota. This is why modern Islamic banks need to structure themselves in a way that does not charge interest, and they tend to use other concepts that are acceptable to God, such as leasing in order to own what is being lent to you. God says it is alright to “hold collateral” for the loan, such as in this case, during a day long loan the loaner can hold onto the cloak (that serves as both the bedding and blanket) of the lendee. However, since the cloak is necessary for survival, being the only means that primitive people had bedding and warmth over night, the loaner is forbidden from keeping the collateral for longer than the sun is up for that day. You must pay attention to God’s first instructions regarding charity, or you will go very far astray from God’s will, as most of society has today, to God’s certain outrage. God states that the person in need will be heard by him if he cries out at being unjustly treated in his need. God clearly describes exactly what is “just treatment,” to lend without interest what is needed, and to only kindly and quickly hold collateral.

Further, kindly note that God is describing how “my people” should be treated. In other words, this is a religious law for the believers to use among the believers. Notice God is not saying that banks or governmental officials should do the lending. God is mandating how believers must have their almsgiving moral code as a mandate by God to the people individually, not “institutions,” “governments,” “banks,” or “agencies.” God does not give any right to secular entities to determine what is appropriate charity. Further, God is mandating that the essentials of life are not to be denied in this lending, including the collateral.

Let’s apply that to home foreclosures and car seizures. If one wants to be in obedience to what God has mandated, if a lender seizes a home or car due to lack of payment, the lender should give to the one being repossessed a bare minimum life saving replacement. Thus, if a banker throws a family out of their home and seizes the home, if they do not settle the family in an alternative “bare bones” housing accommodation, they are violating God’s law (as they certainly did in the first place, because of the common use of interest as usury). Likewise, if a person’s car is repossessed because they could not make the payments, but they need the car to get to their job, or to take the children to school, the lender should give a working car, even one that is considered a “clunker” and out of date, so that the person is not deprived of that tool that they need for life.

There, can you see what God has been “thinking” about how the economy and the “kind souls” have been conducting themselves over the past few decades? It is not good.

Another point about the “my people” comment. Throughout history Christians and Jews continued to follow this instruction by God, including into medieval and renaissance times. “Wiggle room” was discovered because Jews were able to consider Christians as being “not their people,” and thus they could lend and charge interest to Christians. This is how interest charging banking began. Muslims said, “Whoa, we are not having any part of this hair splitting with God.” This is why Muslims have maintained a mostly interest free, very cash based, highly individualized form of banking and charity. That’s why when people sought to trace money going to terrorists that they encountered what westerners think is a confusing maze of primitive banking among Muslims. It is because they alone continue to adhere in both spirit and the letter to what God has instructed in this matter. So the problem with Jews and Christians using each other when interest was first developed as a commercial entity is that each side thought they were maintaining sanctity, since Christians left it to the Jews to charge (and thus blamed them while using them) and Jews charged Christians interest (figuring God said it was “OK” to make money off of non-Jews). Both worked that “technicality” into grave spiritual error and now, as we can see, ultimately into grave economic health error. This, by the way, is one reason I wanted to work for a Saudi bank and tried to explore such a possibility in London in the early 1990’s.

By the way, before we go further, I have to explain that “charity” was not thought of or called “charity” until pretty much the Christian era, though there is occasional mention of charity in the Old Testament, as you will see in a bit. Charity was mandated by God in two forms: almsgiving and interest free lending.

Exodus 23: 10-11. “For six years you may sow your land and gather its produce. But the seventh year you shall let the land lie untilled and unharvested, that the poor among you may eat of it and the beasts of the field may eat what the poor leave. So also shall you do in regard to your vineyard and your olive grove.”

Yes, that is what God mandated, and no where did Jesus come along and say, “Oh, and it’s OK to ignore what God said about how to allow the poor to feed themselves and accumulate wealth themselves.” God mandated that those who owned land may conduct their regular farming business (which is what everyone did in those days, since there were not “occupations” and “paychecks”) for six years. Then on the seventh year they are to leave all of their fields and the recurring crops upon them for the poor, in total, completely. Thus the poor are entitled to harvest the olive grove for that year, and to harvest any recurring crops, or to grow their own, on all of that land. Not some of it, all of it. God does not forget the animals and mandates that what the poor do not need, then the wild animals must be allowed to forage among those lands. This is how poor people were able to enjoy the early “surplus” of capitalism that I described in my tutorials on the subject. Obviously God was not expecting the poor to eat only once every seven years, duh! But the early “capitalists” who owned land or, to be more precise, to include those who occupied that land (when they were migrants, as I described in my tutorial about Jacob’s children) were expected to “take the year off” from their very possessions and allow the poor to farm, herd and harvest on their lands for that seventh year.

How far have people come from this? It’s almost unrecognizable. No one has retained these instructions by God, in either the letter or the spirit of the law. Neither “income distributers” nor “socialists” nor “commune dwellers” nor “capitalists” have obeyed this admonition and instruction from God. By the way, humans had to learn the hard way about over tilling and the environmental dangers of not leaving some land fallow (for the poor and for the animals) during the Dust Storms in the USA in the 1920’s-30’s. If people had been following what God said that economic and environmental disaster would have been avoided too, as land would have been left fallow and ground cover, hedgerows and brush would have been a regular presence rather than being totally stripped away as it was then. But back to my main point. Successful “capitalists” were mandated by God to hand over their properties and the fruits of their labor to the poor to work once every seven years. Thus there was no “government spreading of wealth” (the leftie liberal socialist dream) nor the grasping greed of the right who sneer that the poor should just buck up and climb the ladder “like they did.” Both sides have been horrendous and wrong and in opposition to what God has mandated and most scandalously, actually try to cite the Bible, including Jesus, as their justification. Actually, as you will see, Jesus is the one who had to avail himself of this form of charity as described next here, as you’ll see in the third post of this tutorial.

Leviticus 19:9-10. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of grain. Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien [foreigners and migrants]. I, the Lord, am your God.”

Here God mandates that in the course of every day food production in the fields, everyone is expected to leave some for the poor to gather as they need. Thus, these were the original “food pantries.” But they were always there, not just at the largess of donors who donate the leftovers and cast offs on some basis and then call that charity. God mandated that the same food that those who farmed produced for themselves should be left in the field and on the vine so that the poor or the travelers passing through can eat and harvest for themselves, and this is to be done all of the time for all fields and goods. This is what Jesus and the Apostles and disciples availed themselves of as they traveled. I am totally steamed whenever people portray Jesus as some poor guy going around begging for food to be “humble.” You fools! God had mandated that every believer would leave food in their fields at all time for both the poor and the traveler. Thus, this is how people were able to travel in those days, and have food security. All they had to do is walk to whatever was in season to be gleaned from the fields or trees.

Another purpose of this is not to marginalize the poor or the traveler and yet this is exactly what modern people have done. God mandated that the poor should be part of other people’s success as it happens, not later through “redistribution” or “restitution” or “regular charitable giving.” The poor and the travelers were not viewed as being “others” to be either ignored or to be “tended to” as some isolated population needing “remediation” and “redistribution.” The poor and the travelers were on God’s mandate given the right to avail themselves of what is left for them on a daily basis in the regular course of subsistence, commerce, surplus and capitalism.

This is repeated word for word in Leviticus 23:22.

Also, shared resources were not to be sold out from under the feet of those who could not control them.

Leviticus 25: 34-43. “Moreover, the pasture land belonging to their cities shall not be sold at all; it must always remain their hereditary property.

When one of your fellow countrymen is reduced to poverty and is unable to hold out beside you, extend to him the privileges of an alien [foreigner] or a tenant, so that he may continue to live with you. Do not extract interest from your countryman either in money or in kind, but out of fear of God let him live with you. You are to lend him neither money at interest nor food at a profit. I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Chanaan and to be your God.

When, then, your countryman becomes so impoverished beside you that he sells you his services, do not make him work as a slave. Rather, let him be like a hired servant or like your tenant, working with you until the jubilee year, when he, together with his children, shall be released from your service and return to his kindred and to the property of his ancestors. Since those whom I brought out of the land of Egypt are servants of mine, they shall not be sold as slaves to any man. Do not lord it over them harshly, but stand in fear of your God.”

God describes two stages of a specific relationship that believers are to have with those in their community of believers (in other words, neighbors) that are designed to raise back on the feet those who fall on economic hardship. Again, this is not done by “income redistribution” or “expecting them to get up by their own bootstraps.” God details the exact relationship that is fully integrated and with dignity that the “haves” are to have with those of their neighbors who fall on hard times. So neither “layoffs” nor “handouts” are exactly the answer, to put it mildly. God always mandates that the poor and those who fall into misfortune are not to be isolated and marginalized, but they are to be brought into the household and workplace of those who continue to prosper. I can certainly testify in my life that this has not happened and that people are behaving both left and right, in direct defiance and the opposite of what God has instructed. The nerve of many of them “quoting” the Bible or Jesus is just icing on the scandalous cake.

Deuteronomy 15: 1-6. “At the end of every seven-year period you shall have a relaxation of debts, which shall be observed as follows. Every creditor shall relax his claim on what he has loaned his neighbor; he must not press his neighbor, his kinsman, because a relaxation in honor of the Lord has been proclaimed. You may press a foreigner, but you shall relax the claim on your kinsman for what is yours. Nay, more! Since the Lord, your God, will bless you abundantly in the land he will give you to occupy as your heritage, there should be no one of you in need. If you but heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and carefully observe all these commandments which I enjoin on you today, you will lend to many nations, and borrow from none; you will rule over many nations, and none will rule over you, since the Lord, your God, will bless you as he promised.”

Well, what country fits that description now? China is the only one I can think of, as they lend to many and while everyone else owes, and all because people who call themselves believers have totally abandoned what God instructed regarding all of these matters.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11. “ If one of your kinsmen in any community is in need in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand to him in his need. Instead, you shall open your hand to him and freely lend him enough to meet his need. Be on your guard lest, entertaining the mean thought that the seventh year, the year of relaxation, is near, you grudge help to your needy kinsman and give him nothing; else he will cry to the Lord against you and you will be held guilty. When you give to him, give freely and not with ill will; for the Lord, your God, will bless you for this in all your works and undertakings. The needy will never be lacking in the land; that is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy kinsman in your country.”

This is also a subtle warning for those in modern times who are miserly because they anticipate lowering profits. God is explaining it like this. As the six year cycle goes along, and a lender knows that in the seventh year he has to relax all debts, he should not be a greedy chiseler and scrooge and not want to lend if someone in need should come along in like the fifth or sixth year, right before all debts, including the new one, would have to be relaxed in the seventh year. You must apply that likewise to modern times. God does not approve of denying resources to those in need just because you think you will not get them paid back or because you anticipate losses in the near future. Again, this is the opposite of what everyone is doing today. God assures people that following his rules “makes good business sense” to put it in modern terms because God will “bless you for this in all your works and undertakings” and “the needy will never be lacking in the land,” since these rules ensure, rather than cut into, prosperity, though to both the greedy on the right and the socialists on the left this does not make obvious sense.

God repeats the admonitions to leave in the fields for the poor and beasts in Deuteronomy 24:19-22. Notice that God is spelling it out in colorful examples of how not to be greedy, by going back to pick up every bit of harvest that you missed. He is continually emphasizing that scouring one’s holdings for all the harvest is stinginess and greed. Further, God now mentions the widow and orphan specifically as those he expects to benefit from all harvests. This means that women and children should not be left without means. The reason they always use the term “widows and orphans” in the Bible is that in those days, they were the only ones who lacked a man to care for them. In modern times you must understand this to mean women and children in general, many of whom have been abandoned by fathers, spouses and sons.

“When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien [foreigner], the orphan or the widow, that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien [foreigner], the orphan and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. For remember that you were once slaves in Egypt; that is why I command you to observe this rule.”

In 3 Kings 17 you can read about how the great prophet Elias appeared as a poor traveler to a very poor widow woman with a son, and he asked for water, which she gave him, and for some bread, which she had none of, but only a small amount of meal (ground grain). Elias assured her to give him what she had and the Lord would reward her. God promised to keep that amount of meal and her oil replenished and he did. Then, when later the son passed away, Elias returned and through God brought the son back to life. This is why this is considered part of the almsgiving scripture of the Bible, to demonstrate that even the poorest of the poor are to help the traveler and each other as much as they can, and that all who obey God in the form of almsgiving as he commanded will be rewarded in their own lives and those of their loved ones.

Here Esdras, the scribe, who was the cupbearer to the King of Persia, explains the Law to the people of God after their return from exile, including the need to remember the poor during festive and holy days.

2 Esdras 8:10. And he said to them: Go, eat fat meats, and drink sweet wine, and send portions to them that have not prepared for themselves, because it is a holy day of the Lord, and be not sad, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.

In the next blog post I will cite from the time of Jesus and the Apostles. You will see that Jesus exercised and taught a continuation of what God mandated in charity, not a release from God’s instructions nor some capitalistic or touchy-feely substitute.

I must drive home a point. The reason God instructs about alms is that alms are for humans who are in need. Modern humans have started calling “charity” crap like donating to public television, museums, and other “good causes.” They may be “good causes” but SHAME on all who donate to those “good causes” and consider them charitable alms and testimony to their “goodness,” because they most certainly are not. I don’t exactly see food pantries or jobs for those who have lost theirs in the museums or public television studios. Instead I see temples of the false gods, but that is another subject for another day. Reading the above you must understand how far everyone has strayed from what God has ordered of his believers in regard to true charity and almsgiving, and the practice of lending. It is an outrage, especially because I can understand those who don’t know better, but how dare they cite the Bible in their ignorance as justification of their “generosity.” Don’t think God does not know every detail of the hypocrisy, and the tears of those who genuinely suffer, and how society has now been structured to force just about everyone to partake in this sin of neglect and of usury.