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Judeo-Christian Tradition

Robert V. Andelson  The Earth is the Lord's

For land value taxation is
  • not just a fiscal measure (although it is a fiscal measure, and a sound one);
  • not just a method of urban redevelopment (although it is a method of urban redevelopment, and an effective one);
  • not just a means of stimulating business (although it is a means of stimulating business, and a wholesome one);
  • not just an answer to unemployment (although it is an answer to unemployment, and a powerful one),
  • not just a way to better housing (although it is a way to better housing, and a proven one);
  • not just an approach to rational land use (although it is an approach to rational land use, and a non-bureaucratic one).
It is all of these things, but it is also something infinitely more: it is the affirmation, prosaic though it be, of a fundamental spiritual principle — that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof."
It is the affirmation of the same principle to which Moses gave embodiment in the institution of the Jubilee, and in the prohibition against removing ancient landmarks, and in the decree that the land shall not be sold forever. It is the affirmation of the same principle to which the prophets of old gave utterance when they inveighed against those who lay field to field, and who use their neighbor's service without wages. It is the affirmation of the same principle to which Koheleth gave voice when he asserted in the fifth chapter of Ecclesiastes that "the profit of the earth is for all."
The earth is the Lord's! Consider what this means.
  • It means that our God is not a pale abstraction.
  • Our God is not a remote being who sits enthroned on some ethereal height, absorbed in the contemplation of his own perfection, oblivious to this grubby realm in which we live.
  • Our God is concerned with the tangible, with the mundane, with what goes on in the field, in the factory, in the courthouse, in the exchange.
  • Our God is the maker of a material world — a world of eating and sleeping and working and begetting, a world he loved so much that he himself became flesh and blood for its salvation. In this sense, then,
  • our God is eminently materialistic, and nowhere is this more clearly recognized than in the Bible, which, for that very reason, has always been a stumbling-block and an offense to those Gnostics, past and present, whose delicacy is embarrassed by the fact that they inhabit bodies, and for whom religion is essentially the effort to escape from or deny that fact.
  • Our God is not a dainty aesthete who considers politics and economics subjects too crass or sordid for his notice.
  • Neither is he a capricious tyrant who has enjoined an order of distribution that condemns retirees after a lifetime of toil to subsist on cat food while parasitic sybarites titillate palates jaded by the most refined achievements of the haute cuisine.
It is men who have enjoined this order in denial of his sovereignty, in defiance of his righteous will. ...
This is what it comes down to: How can a person be "unhindered in the fulfilment of duty to God" if he be denied, on the one hand, fair access to nature, the raw material without which there can be no wealth; and on the other, the full and free ownership of his own labor and its earnings? ... Read the whole article

a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World

The Judeo-Christian meaning of liberation is clarified by some attention to Baal, the most active "foreign god" of the Canaanite pantheon. To the Canaanites, fertility depended upon sexual union between Baal and his sister and consort, Anath. Baal worship consisted in reenacting the mating of the gods in orgiastic rites with temple prostitutes. Beyond maintaining natural fertility and harmony, Baal religion was used by the aristocracy to uphold the social order. Canaanite tenants worked as dispossessed farmers on estates owned by magnates, the temple, and the king. They worshiped the landowners, the baals, who held dominion over both the land and the peasants themselves. Old Testament exhortations against Baalism emphasize the proper way to worship Yahweh: by acting with mercy and justice towards one's fellow humans.

Because justice does not prevail when some, like the baals, claim the land and its bounty while others are excluded from these privileges, Hosea denounces Israel for betraying its covenant to recognize God as the true owner of the earth. And Amos, referring to the greed for possessing the land and its fruits, said God is angered by those "who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end" (Amos 8:4). Amos' indictment of Israel mentions oppression of the poor and cultic prostitution as if they were one (Amos 2:6-8). This seems strange until one recognizes that the link between these two sins is a wrongful concept of land ownership. Recall that Baal-worship and its sexual rites glorified inequitable land possession and control. In the Prophets, the role of land is crucial in the divine providential scheme, and the flouting of just principles of land possession has grave consequences. Human beings are caretakers, not the owners, of God's creation.

Amos and Hosea underscored that being a caretaker of the earth, while defining people's relationship to the land, also defined people's relationship to one another. Being a caretaker meant loving justice and doing mercy, letting go of selfish possession and the desire for power over others by usurping their means of livelihood, and instead becoming, like God, compassionate. Consider what a revolutionary break this represents from Baal worship, which idolized control of the soil and deified the landowners! ...

Claiming the Promised Land: A New Jubilee for a New World
In the book of Joshua, we find that although the Promised Land is a gift from God, it is a gift that has to be claimed. Even before the actual conquest of the Promised Land, the Mosaic Law prescribed a method whereby possession of land was to be rendered pleasing in God's sight. The Canaanites' claim was forfeited by their idolatry, with human sacrifice and temple prostitution, and by their exploitive, monopolistic social order. By contrast, Israel, to make good its claim, had to institute a social order that would guard against the desecration, pollution, and injustices of which its predecessors were guilty, and would secure to each family and to every generation within the Hebrew commonwealth the equal right to the use of the land, of which the Lord was recognized as the sole absolute owner. Read the whole synopsis

Lindy Davies: Land and Justice

We were talking about the tendency for landowners to use land as an investment — a sensible thing to do — not to use it now if they don't need to, but to think in terms of enjoying its increase in value over time. We even identified that as the key to the problem of poverty. But — good heavens, what can we do about that? Isn't that just how the economy works? Isn't the private ownership of land a basic part of a modern economy? How can we do without such an important institution?

Or in other words — won't the poor always be with us?

Not necessarily. It has been plain, since very earliest days of civil society, that the private ownership of land leads to exploitation and great extremes of wealth and poverty. And, since the time of the Book of Leviticus, we have had a pretty good idea of what to do about it. In that book were recorded the words "The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is Mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."

This ideal was codified into a remarkable three-stage program for economic justice and social harmony: the land laws of Leviticus. The stages were:
1. The Sabbath. Every seventh day was the Lord's day; people were enjoined to keep it holy and refrain from work. Now, we were told in Sunday school that this was all about going to church, but, as so often happens, our teachers missed the deeper significance. Kids who try to get out of, say, taking out the garbage on the Sabbath realized that the prohibition was really against gainful work; folks were still allowed to weed the garden and stuff.
What the Sabbath did was to force people to focus on things that had meaning beyond striving and striving to get ahead. Indeed, if one did work on the Sabbath, while one's neighbors did not, one could become wealthier, at their expense — which was why the Sabbath was a very big deal: one of the ten commandments.
2. The Sabbatical. Every seventh year, the fields were to lie fallow — thus recognizing the right of the earth itself to be protected against depletion and misuse. And, in the sabbatical year, debts were to be forgiven. A debt that could not be paid off after six years was well on the way to becoming a usurious burden, a guaranteed flow from the labors of one into the coffers of another. The canceling of debts in the seventh year was designed to ensure that nobody got too far ahead, or too far behind.
3. The Jubilee. Even seven times seven years (actually, every 50th year), each family could return to its original allotment, or heritage, of land — even if it had been sold in the meantime. Under biblical law, then, land could not be sold for ever — never for more than a single generation.

Now it is interesting to note that the economic vision presented in the bible is not a precursor of communism. Two of the ten commandments explicitly support the institution of private property, and the prophets consistently railed against landlords and rulers who robbed the people of the fruits of their labor. The laws of Leviticus, which Jesus said he "came not to destroy but to fulfill," envisioned a community in which everyone was secure in his own home and property, "beneath his vine and fig tree".

(Incidentally, the quote on the American Liberty Bell, from Leviticus, chapter 25, was a direct reference to these principles : "Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the people thereof." It was a reference to the Jubilee, and the freedom it provided was from debt and servitude.)

The division is clear: there is to be a sacred right of private property in the things that are made by people. But people were not to own the things that were made by God. The 7th commandment sums up both principles in 4 words: Thou shalt not steal.

Modern society has looked away from these principles, calling them quaint, naive, inapplicable to the complexities of our time — yet, modern society finds itself mired in chronic economic and social problems for which it can find no solutions — and which threaten to pull down all the advances of civilization into a dark age — occasioned by some combination of war, financial implosion or ecological collapse.

If there is any way out of this dark future, it can only come by way of solving the problem of land and justice.

Fortunately, there exists a plan for that.

This plan takes the shape of a "fiscal reform", because it applies a definition of the relationship between the individual and the society that is consistent with both economic efficiency and moral law. It calls for us to respect the right of labor to create and to save wealth, and we acknowledge that the value of land is created not by its “owners”, but by the entire community.

Therefore, we will abolish all taxes on income, products and sales — and collect the full rental value of land and other natural resources for public revenue. ... read the whole speech
A University of Alabama School of Law Professor has asked God's forgiveness for the years she lived in the sin of ignorance about tax injustice. Susan Pace Hamill, a tax expert, business consultant, and dedicated United Methodist church goer, thought there was a misprint when she first read that personal incomes as low as $4,600 for a family of four were being taxed by the state, while timber owners holding 71% of the land of Alabama were paying less than $1 per acre in property taxes. Two hours later she found out there had been no mistake and that Alabama has the most regressive tax code in the country. Her righteous rage spawned a tax crusade that has reverberated onto the national scene. ...
While resoundingly condemning the current system (she uses words like "horrific" and "monstrous injustice") Hamill clearly articulates a tax reform approach which shifts taxes off of low wage earners and onto large land owners. Through a combination of her own reasoning, caring heart, and inherent sense of justice and a thorough investigation of Judeo-Christian ethics, Hamill arrived at a tax policy approach which bears remarkable similarities to the economic justice crusades of 19th century reformer, Henry George.

Her appeal is to the 93 percent of Alabama residents who call themselves Christians. Hamill challenges them to put their faith into practice. Her message fell on many already listening ears. The state's two largest denominations, United Methodists and Southern Baptists, had passed resolutions favoring tax reform in 2000. In 2001 the state's Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Catholics approved similar calls. The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the Business Council of Alabama had long clamored for tax change. In fact, tax reform is now supported by most of the state's religious organizations, according to Charles Durham, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa.

What makes Hamill's work so compelling is her deep grasp of the Alabama tax code combined with her thorough documentation of the scriptural bases for economic justice. She quotes chapters and verses which proclaim that the poor should not be oppressed and that society should create conditions for their advance. Among her favorites are Jesus' words in Matthew 25:45: "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Luke 16:19-31 is a parable of a rich man sent to hell because of his indifference to the disadvantaged and in Jeremiah 22:15-16, "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well."

While Hamill suspected she would be opposed by special interest groups like the Alabama Farmers Federation which represents big timber and agribusiness interests, she was not prepared for the attacks and underhanded tactics of the Alabama Christian Coalition under the leadership of President John Giles. While Giles agrees that tax relief to the less fortunate "is a noble thing" he says the care of the poor is the duty of private charity not of government and staunchly opposes tax increases. He tried to damage the Hamill campaign by smearing her personal integrity, pointing to her signing of a pro-choice petition as evidence that she therefore could not be a moral authority on tax reform. Opposing forces also called her a "Yankee carpetbagger" detailing her work history at two New York law firms. They said (wrongly so) that her tax proposals would bring huge property increases on the average home and business.

Bob Blalock, editorial page editor for The Birmingham News, says that the "real question about legitimacy should be aimed at the Christian Coalition. For whom does it speak when it attacks Hamill? Christians, many of whom would benefit from a fairer tax system, even one that raised more money? Or powerful special-interest groups (timber? agribusiness?) that want to protect their obscene tax breaks?" Blalock says there is no way to know because the law does not require the Christian Coalition to disclose what individuals or groups fund it. "When an organization places itself in the center of the debate over tax reform, citizens deserve to know who's funding its point of view." (3/14/03)

Hamill's conservative theology school responded to the attacks by firmly backing her stance. Faculty at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham passed a unanimous resolution endorsing her efforts. "We think what she has proposed is worthy support from the Christian community and we think it is in keeping with the evangelical community," said the school's dean, Timothy George (Anniston Star, 3/11/03).

Frank Thielman, Presbyterian Professor of Divinity at Beeson had this to say about their resolution: "Personally, I hope it does encourage dramatic tax reform that helps to relieve the burden of the poor. The reason I'm hopeful is because of my commitment as a Christian and my Christian vision. That is a vision that the poor should be dealt with equitably and fairly and that is a very biblical vision. It's because of my Christian commitment and the Bible and the word of God that I hope tax reform efforts succeed." (Anniston Star, 3/11/03) ... read the whole article



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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper