Economics of Christianity (Part 1)
February 1, 2007 3 Comments
The Right of Ownership
It is remarkable how frequently biblical principles and theories in “secular” disciplines coincide. To illustrate one such similarity between the Bible and economics I’d like to ask a very basic question:
Who owns you?
Yes, yes, yes, I know — God does. And yes, thideology is the application of proper theology to every aspect of life. But before you try to come up with the theological answer to the question (believe me, we’ll get to that in a moment) I want you to consider the question on a very basic level. When you get up in the morning, consider the decisions you make — like what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, how you will spend your time, etc. Who ultimately makes those decisions? You do. Now for all practical purposes…
Who owns you?
In fact, in most modern societies the living body is considered the sole property of the individual.
John Locke said, “Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”
That means you have an implied “bundle of rights” with regard to how you treat your body and how you spend your time. The following are traditionally considered the “bundle of rights” contained within your ownership of property:
1) Control of the use of that property.
2) The right to any benefit from the property.
3) A right to transfer or sell the property.
4) A right to exclude others from the property.
Control of the use of that property:
It is upon this principle that liberty-minded individuals oppose laws like: seatbelt laws, helmet laws, drug laws, and the like. Certainly using seatbelts and helmets and abstaining from drug use are good things, but if you own you then the decision whether or not to use these things should be yours. If the state assumes the authority to dictate what you may or may not do with regard to your own body it is, in effect, claiming ownership over certain areas of your life.
The right to any benefit from the property:
If you spend your time digging ditches at $10 an hour then this principle of ownership states you have the right to all the money earned digging ditches. This is the reason so many people oppose excess taxation. Again, the state that taxes to excess is, in effect, claiming the benefits of ownership from you.
A right to transfer or sell the property:
If you want to enlist in the army for a specific number of years in exchange for the pay and benefits the army will give you, you are certainly free to do that. You have essentially sold yourself (or at least rented yourself) to the government for an agreed upon period of time. No one made you do that. However, if the government comes and tells you that you MUST enlist even though you don’t want to — you know, the draft — then the government is claiming ownership of you and violating your right to transfer or sell your property. In other forms this practice has been known as “slavery.” Slavery is defined as one person (or persons) having the absolute legal ownership of another person (or persons), including the right to buy and sell them.
The right to exclude others from the property:
Basically you don’t have to hang out with people you don’t like — for whatever reason.
What’s all this got to do with biblical principles? I’m getting to that. But first you need to realize that the bundle of rights, which come with your ownership of you, also come with responsibilities. If you decide not to wear a seatbelt then you need to be prepared to accept the consequences of that action should you be involved in a wreck. If you use drugs then you need to be prepared to accept the ill effects that come with “getting high.” If you goof off when you should be digging ditches you should probably get ready to look for a new job (unless, of course, you dig ditches for the government — but that’s a topic for another time).
Okay, on to the theological application…
When you tried to answer the question, “Who owns you?” with “God does” you were absolutely right. He is Creator of all things and absolutely sovereign in creation and the administration thereof — and we will all, ultimately, be held accountable by Him for our conduct. But there is this interesting little twist; God allows us the freedom (for the time being) to conduct ourselves as if we were the sole owners of ourselves.
We all initially reject God’s rightful claim on our lives. This is what the Bible means when it characterizes us as “slaves to our sin,” and “ enemies of God.” When we are still in our sin we claim the entire bundle of rights attached to our lives for ourselves — and God allows it. Some of us — whom the Bible refers to as “the elect” — are quickened by the Holy Spirit and made painfully aware of our actual standing before a Holy God. We recognize, like Isaiah did, that we are completely undone and in desperate need of grace. It is at this point we willingly and eagerly exercise one of our rights of ownership — the right to sell or transfer our property.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians said this:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
In exchange for God’s offer of grace and mercy we transferred to Him the rights of ownership over our lives. Of course, in reality, all we did was recognize His rightful claim on our lives in the first place, but isn’t God good that he allowed us to make such an exchange?
In the meantime God allows others to continue to claim ownership over their own lives — even to their own detriment. For the time being they have the ability to exercise their bundle of rights. But, if they insist on retaining those rights for themselves they need to be prepared to accept the consequences which, in this case, have eternal implications.
All of this begs a question: Is God willing to exchange His grace for our lives because He finds some worth in us that makes this exchange beneficial to Him?
We’ll take a look at this question in “Economics of Christianity (Part 2).”