February 20, 2013
Interesting article, though I wonder at the biblical (especially Levitical) support:
It seems to me that while the land-owning Israelites were certainly required by law to leave the corners and edges of fields unharvested, the poor Israelites had an active role in gathering and collecting the leftovers. They had to work for their harvest too.
In other words, this Levitical law doesn't provide a "handout" to any of the poor, but actually provides employment (and thereby food) for them. To me, that's a lot different than our supposedly advanced welfare system--at least in many cases.
What's the takeaway? For me, two things: (1) both our current welfare system and the gambling industry don't at all represent what God intended. (2) As hard as we fight for our "freedoms," it's often our individualistic desire to be excluded from the rules that actually helps to enslave us.
I'd rather see legislators working to do away with government-run gambling. That would make more sense to me when it comes to good stewardship of our collective resources.
I think this is a very important question, Adrian. How similar are programs like Welfare, food stamps and the like to the gleamings Ruth and Naomi lived off of? On the one hand they do have to go out there and pick it up, but on the other hand that's <i>all</i> they have to do. They don't have to grow the crops or obtain seeds or anything of that sort. Especially in the case of food that had been dropped during harvest, the amount of work seems like much less than the growers and harvesters put in (though certainly not nothing). Part of the problem is, there's no obvious way to do the same thing with our economy - it's not like an IT company can set aside a certain number of hours that any unemployed person can work in exchange for their welfare check.
For me, the takeaway message of passages like those I mention is that we don't make our good fortune out of nothing, it's part of the bounty God has trusted us to manage, so we should not think of the entire harvest as ours. You don't harvest every last grain but instead you let some of the harvest fall out of your grasp. You don't lay claim to it, and you don't try to control how it's used. Lately in our politics I've seen a real push not just to help the poor but to make sure they "deserve" it, which seems very different from the way I read the Bible. But of course you're right that the modern welfare state isn't a perfect parallel either. And that's important to keep in mind. We <i>should</i> try to find ways to let the poor "earn" their help. This is one thing I actually like about my state is that people receiving welfare have to spend a certain number of hours each week doing volunteer work that benefits the community. This is on top of requirements that they apply for jobs or train for work. This makes them givers as well as just being takers, and I think it's a good model to follow.
Btw, I didn't mean to defend the gambling industry. I'd be happy to see it die out. What bothers me is when we put restrictions on the poor we'd never consider putting on everyone. That attitude - that the well-off get to decide how the poor should live their lives - has never struck me as a very Christian approach.
So let's replace welfare with a WPA-style system where government is the employer of last resort and anyone who wants a job can get one, and put Americans to work building our country's infrastructure or doing other things that need to be done while picking up experience and skills in a useful field, while giving them living-wage paychecks they can support a family on.
(We can and should, of course, continue welfare payments for those who are unable to work, either because of disability or age.)
The problem, to me, is that we don't have one side of our political debate calling for welfare checks and the other side calling for people to work for a living, even though that's what one of our political parties would have you believe.
Rather, we've got one side of our political debate saying that we need to set up an economic system that serves the needs of the people, and the other side saying that the people should serve the needs of an economic system that benefits a very fewâ€”and if that economic system rejects a person, then they deserved to be rejected.
ou'll get no argument from me on that point, Tim. I'm no fan of the lottery. My concern was really something very different: should the well-off be deciding what the poor can spend their money on? I agree that we should all be good stewards, definitely, but I think it's also problematic to deny someone else that choice of how to spend their money, simply because they are poor. If we're going to restrict people, we need to do it for everyone, rich and poor alike.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks very much for responding, Marta! And I think you're exactly right. I like the model you describe in your community, but more than that, I can agree that the spirit of almost ALL of the OT laws is a reminder that the rich cannot lord it over the poor; eg. your personal value is not equivalent to your contribution to the GDP.
The problem, I think, is that we've ALL believed the lie that the two ARE equivalent--and that offers at least one incentive for poor people to play the lottery (eg. so they can be "worth" more).
IMHO, it seems that, like ancient Israel, we too turn from God and set up idols made by our own hands.
There is a key difference between the "law" in Lev 23:22 and our current welfare state: there was no enforcement mechanism or penalty for violating the "law" in Lev 23:22. In other words, this "law" was entirely voluntary. Not so with our welfare state, which obtains its funding by forcibly taking it away from the arbitrarily-defined wealthy.
Arguing about how the government should spend "its" money on the poor is a little too ivory-towered. It would make it a lot more personal to debate whether you would continue to give your hard-earned dollars as charity to someone who you knew was going to use it to buy lottery tickets. Or alcohol. Or drugs.
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