Saturday, March 23, 2019

Socialism vs Capitalism

 


The battle for the next presidential election is already starting to heat up. A number of people have already put their names into the pot for consideration and are already beginning to make their cases for why they should be selected. The potential candidates have already started trying to ingratiate themselves with the public, while attempting to tackle the tough topics that will play a factor in America’s upcoming decision. One particular point of contention is being raised more now than perhaps ever before in America. Currently, our system is mixed to some extent. It is largely capitalistic in nature, but we do have socialist style programs like welfare and medicare. Is a more capitalistic system than what we now have what’s really best for the country? Should we adopt a more socialistic system? Maybe an even more mixed economy would be best?

These questions will factor into whatever decision you choose to make when the time comes, but for Christians all such questions should be directed through an even more important question. “What does God want?” Sometimes the answer to that question might not always jump out at us. Fortunately, we have a couple of resources that will be of use. The most obvious resource is the Bible. It contains instructions on how we should live our lives in this world. However, before we can compare these concepts to the Word, it might first be useful to offer some general definitions for the terms being explored.
Capitalism - an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
Socialism - a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
Both concepts can be more complex than can be summarized by a two or three line definition. Still, for the purpose of this discussion these definitions will suffice. Which system at its core is more in-line with how Christians should live? Look at the definition for socialism above and then compare it to what the early Christians did when they began to come together.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. - Acts 4:32-35
What the Christians did sounds very much like a socialist system. That’s not to say it is the same as socialist systems that have been put in place in nations throughout history. In fact, it is far purer than any of those systems because there was no state forcing the people to divide their wealth and care for those in need. The people were just naturally inspired to take those actions after learning about Christ. 

On the flip side, capitalism is driven by every individual’s personal drive and desire to acquire wealth. Those who want more and have more ability will likely attain more. While in some instances, capitalism can reward altruism, there is no question that in a capitalist system, putting more attention into one’s own interests will be more beneficial than considering the needs of others. For some, capitalist systems almost breed a love for wealth, and we know what the Bible says about that:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. - 1 Timothy 6:10
So this all means that Christians should always vote for the candidate whose philosophy is closest to socialism right? Well, no, it’s not that easy. The problem is that neither concept is inherently bad. Sure in a capitalist system, success depends on a person’s drive to obtain wealth, but there is nothing stopping that person from spreading most of that gained wealth to people in need. In fact, history has plenty of examples of people who did just that. Even now, Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, has pledged to give 99% of his more than 80 billion dollars away to charity. A person that operates in that manner would surely be acting in accordance with Christian principles. Conversely, there is no shortage of examples where socialism was implemented to the detriment of the people. For example, the full name of the Nazi party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

People that walk in sin have a way of corrupting everything, while people who walk under God’s guidance can make good from anything. That’s where the Holy Spirit, the other of the two resources previously mentioned comes into play. We may hear politicians and others in our lives say the things that sound right and present ideas that seem godly, but we don’t always know if those people are genuine with their intentions. God knows though. We have to learn to trust the Spirit to lead. He will always guide us to the truth.

The Bible tells us to love our fellow people, and we as Christians should promote that philosophy. Maybe injecting some socialist ideas into the way we do things would be a step toward making Christian values more prominent in our society, or maybe God wants to use certain go-getters in the present system to demonstrate what true Christians look like as they give with sacrificial hearts Just as man’s sin can corrupt any philosophy, God can use anything to make His will manifest. In the end, we all have a duty to align ourselves with whatever line of thinking best represents our values as Christians, but first we must make an effort to put God first and allow him to lead us down the path he wants us to take.
Chris Lawyer
Image courtesy of democracyatwork.info

Friday, March 15, 2019

Let God Take the Wheel



Jesus, Take the Wheel – the phrase was popularized by a 2005 song by Carrie Underwood. The implication of the statement is that our lives are car rides and that we should put Jesus in the driver’s seat. The meaning of this metaphor is clear. We should direct our lives based on God’s will and what he tells us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. That is wise instruction for all Believers. However, a different take on the comparison between car rides and our lives may also be helpful.

In many ways, we live our lives like we drive our cars, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Have you been driven to rage by a driver that cut you off in traffic? Have you changed a lane too abruptly to avoid missing your exit at the expense of other drivers? Have you ever berated another driver, whether they were in a position to hear you or not, over a bad action that you yourself commit on occasion? Have you ever taken your focus off the road to put it on your phone or some other distraction? It’s unlikely any driver can say he or she hasn’t done any of those things. If we’re honest, at some point, most of us have committed all of those actions.

Are any of those things so different from what we do in our daily lives? We are easily offended or angered by every perceived slight or violation from other people. We prioritize our own self-interests even to the degree that we may harm others. We are quick to preach to others about their sins even though we commit a host of our own, some of which are the very ones we were preaching against. We say we live for God but are quick to shift our focus from him to the distractions the world offers.

The parallels between our bad driving habits and bad living habits are clear, but the consequences for those bad actions are no less congruent. Everyone has heard stories of road rage, inconsiderate driving, and distracted drivers leading to accidents? These bad driving habits often cause us to commit traffic violations, and such violations can have fatal consequences. Is it any different in our lives? Don’t anger, lack of consideration for others, hypocrisy, and a lack of focus on God in our lives lead to problems that can drag our lives down? Those bad living habits can lead to sin or themselves are sinful, and what does the Bible say about sin? For the wages of sin is death…(Romans 6:23).

Ideally, we would all work to eliminate our bad driving habits and make the roads safer for everyone. However, we are all humans and humans make mistakes. Even when we exercise our best behavior, it’s still possible that we may do something wrong. With millions of people on the road controlling vehicles, it would be virtually impossible to eliminate all accidents, even the serious and deadly kind. That is part of the reason why Google and other companies are exploring vehicles that drive themselves. The idea is that at some point with advanced artificial intelligence (A.I.) in control of vehicles and an integrated network that connects all the vehicles on the road, the kind of mistakes that lead to deadly accidents would become a thing of the past. Imperfect human drivers would be replaced by a better more efficient option and some believe the roads would be safer for it. The analog to vehicle A.I. already exists in our lives in the form of the Holy Spirit.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. - Romans 8:11
The Holy Spirit already exists within every Believer and can connect us on a deeper spiritual level. What if everyone in the world was led by God through the Holy Spirit? The sin that leads to death would disappear from this world and we’d all be better off.

The problem is that we don’t like giving up control. No matter how much data you present demonstrating that driverless vehicles are a safer, better option, there will be people who insist on driving themselves. Similarly, no matter how much God shows us that his way is the best way, we often still insist on doing things our own way. Here is the point where the two sides of this analogy diverge. Decades from now if technology evolves the way some believe it will and society adopts driverless vehicles as the standard, you won’t have a choice. If you want to be a part of society, you’ll have to accept the change. God doesn’t work like that though. He lets you choose. If you want complete control over your life without having to pay heed to anyone, you can have it. If you want to give God complete control and let him direct you where he wants you to go, you can also do that. The choice is yours. Will you let God take the wheel, or will you continue to drive yourself knowing that one day you may very well make that one big mistake that costs you everything?

Chris Lawyer



Friday, March 8, 2019

Imperfect Heroes

The Bible is full of good stories that serve to teach us important lessons about God and what is necessary to serve and follow him. Many of the stories revolve around characters, that, in many ways, seem larger than life. Almost everyone knows the story of Moses boldly standing against the Pharaoh of Egypt and leading the Israelites out of captivity. He performed magical feats like turning his staff into a snake and splitting the Red Sea (all done via God’s intervention of course). You also have the story of Samson who was blessed with superhuman strength and could take on armies of men by himself. When reading these stories, one might be reminded of fictional stories such as those found in comic books and other media, where heroes blessed with incredible abilities go up against the forces of evil and somehow always manage to save the day in the name of good. The characters in those stories, especially early in their histories, are often painted as paragons of good. If you read some of those classic Superman or Captain America stories, you’ll have little doubt which side those characters are on. In many stories, they were unerring symbols of all that is good.

Surely the same would be the case for the characters in the Bible. After all, the Bible is a religious and moral text, so the heroes in its stories have to be virtuous without fail, right? Not at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Almost all the protagonists in the Bible are full of flaws, and the Bible is clear to point out when those protagonists were in the wrong. Sometimes, the missteps of those heroes were as simple as disobeying orders from God. Such is the case for Moses and Samson. In Numbers 20:6-11, God gave Moses instructions on how to deal with a crisis facing the people. Moses acted on God’s behalf, but he did not follow God’s instructions. God took Moses’ actions as a lack of trust and honor. As a result, Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land. In Judges 16:1-22, we read about how Samson, against God’s expressed instructions, told Delilah the secret to his strength. Because of that disobedience, he wound up losing that strength and eventually his life.

Some sins from the Biblical heroes were far worse. David is perhaps one of the most important figures in the Bible, and he also committed one of the most egregious acts of sin against God. He took another man’s wife for his own and tried to cover up his sin, leading to the death of one of his best men (2 Samuel 11:1-27). That David was the same David who wrote so many great psalms dedicated to God. The same David that took down the giant, Goliath, with God’s help. The same David who became a great king for God’s people. If anyone should have been a faultless servant of God, it should have been David. He had basically spent his whole life up to that point doing God’s work, and because of his sinful actions, he spent most of the rest of his life experiencing the consequences for his sins.

Even when you get to the New Testament, we see that those used by God are clearly flawed. Peter, as Jesus called him in Matthew 16:18, was the rock upon which the Church was built. Yet, while Jesus was on the path of suffering for our sins, Peter was denying he knew Jesus. Paul was, without a doubt, the key figure in the Bible associated with the spreading of the Faith from the Jews to all other people. However, before that, he was an avid persecutor of those who held the Faith.

Why is the Bible so filled with these flawed symbols? Why does it make it so clear that these people were flawed? It’s simple. It’s all for our benefit.
For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

We Christians are painfully aware that we are sinners. We have to be aware. After all, repenting is one of the first steps of coming to the Faith. The Bible could have glossed over the flaws of the great figures in its stories, but would we have been able to relate to them the same if it had? We are capable of doing great things in the name of the Lord, and many of us do, but even in the midst of that greatness, the fact is, we still sin. It is more encouraging to read the unfiltered stories of God’s heroes and know that even though they did great works for God, they fell short too. If that can happen to the figures that God chose to have included in the Bible, then of course it can happen to us.

We also have to remember that when we fall short, all we need to do is repent and move forward with a resolution to do better. After all, those stories didn’t end with the heroes’ sins. Moses didn’t join his people in the Promised Land, but because of him, they still made it there. Through his faith and contrition, Samson was able to perform one last act of heroism in the name of God. David paid a heavy price for his sins, but in the end God still favored him enough to bring Jesus into the world through David’s lineage.

Only one person in the Bible was perfect, and that was Jesus. Our lives should be focused on being more like him, but in reality more often than not we’ll be more like Moses, Samson, and David. That is ok. In the end, all three were committed to God, and he was able to use them for his purpose, flaws and all. He certainly can and will do the same with us.


Chris Lawyer

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Black History is God's History



We humans have created many artificial divisions that we use to mistreat and ostracize others. This is not what God wanted for humanity, but it is what has resulted from our own sinful ways. Think about the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). It was man’s own hubris that led to God punishing us with language barriers. Barriers, which arguably led to the first major divisions among humankind.

The differences between the various peoples of the world only increased after that, but with the coming of Jesus and through Paul’s work with the Gentiles, God made it clear that such differences did not matter to him. He did not distinguish between people based on race, class, nationality, or anything else. 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28
If we Christians truly followed Christ as we should, such distinctions would be meaningless. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. After all, there is an old saying that the most segregated time in America is Sunday morning when everyone goes to church. If there is anything that demonstrates that America is not the Christian nation some claim it to be, it would be the nation’s history with things such as racism, classism, and sexism.

Once again, the Black experience in America perfectly highlights the failures of this nation and the people within. Blacks were slaves in this country and then freed only to be made into second class citizens. Even today, after the nation as a whole acknowledges the wrongs of the past with regards to how blacks have been treated, we still see much of the same problematic treatment directed towards blacks and other disenfranchised groups. Black history in America has been a history of struggling against oppression, cruelty, and discrimination. Some may wonder how any group could have survived through such an onslaught, but Christians should already know the answer.

The previous blog entry (The Double-Edged Sword) acknowledged that God has had a place within the black community ever since blacks were first brought to this country en masse as property. The parallels between the stories of the Jews and Christians in the Bible gave hope to the black slaves in America. The faith that those blacks developed helped many of them survive the harsh experiences that were forced upon them. The faith held by the abolitionists was what drove many of them to fight so hard against the unjust institution of slavery. Eventually, that institution fell, but the struggle of Blacks was not over and neither was God’s work in the community.

Blacks had to deal with government sanctioned discrimination in the form of the Jim Crow Laws, and race based violence perpetrated by the KKK and other groups. The fight against such forces was hard, and, at times, probably seemed unwinnable. Is there any surprise that the church served as the place from which most of the movements against those evil forces sprang? Paul Harvey wrote in a paper titled Civil Rights Movements and Religion in America*:
The civil rights revolution in American history was, to a considerable degree, a religious revolution, one whose social and spiritual impact inspired numerous other movements around the world.
and also:
The civil rights movement sought to achieve specific legal and legislative aims, many of which were achieved with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To that degree, it can be seen as a successful movement for political reform of the working of basic institutions of American public life. But the movement itself could not have been successful without the spiritual empowerment that arose from the culture developed over two centuries of black American Christianity. In other words, religious impulses derived from black religious traditions made the movement move.
Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps the most well known figure associated with the Civil Rights movement. He was also a Baptist minister, so it should come as no surprise that he had plenty to say about the church and its role in the fight, even if that part of his message is not always talked about. For example,
The Philosophy of Christianity is strongly opposed to the underlying philosophy of segregation. Therefore, every Christian is confronted with the basic responsibility of working courageously for a non-segregated society. The task of conquering segregation is an inescapable must confronting the Christian Churches.**
Christianity has always had a place in facilitating the black struggle, and God has always been an ally. The story of what African Americans have managed to survive and achieve is just one big testimony for what God can do if the faith is there. The black struggle is not finished. More remains to be done. The same can be said about the Christian struggle. In some ways they are one in the same because both should be rooted in the idea that all God’s children deserve to be treated with love and respect. So when we celebrate Black History, we should absolutely applaud all those men and women who worked to bring us where we are today. However, we should make sure not to forget that God was the one behind them making it all possible. We can’t celebrate them without celebrating Him because the history they made is just a small part of the history He created.




*http://oxfordre.com/religion/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-492
**https://juicyecumenism.com/2016/01/18/top-10-quotes-church-martin-luther-king-jr/


Chris Lawyer