Property as Foundation for Freedom of Religion   1 comment

“Shame on you! As a Christian, you shouldn’t be for private property! Read your Bible!”

This was the reply to a comment I made in an Alaskan newspaper.

Don’t challenge me if you don’t want to hear my full opinion.

Many Christians, while they cherish religious liberty, are uncomfortable with the concept of property rights, and the commerce that arises from the establishment of property rights. They feel it is somehow un-Christlike to want to own land and stuff or to make a profit in business. This is contrasted with some of the agnostic free marketers I know who insist that all we need is property rights and the rest will take care of itself.

Pope Francis is often held up as an example of a Christian who reads the New Testament as a treatise on socialism. He views commerce as grubby business purely based on self-interest, tending inevitably toward exploitation, and the opposite of charity. This flawed reading of the New Testament is similar to Karl Marx. Marx was militantly opposed to religion, but praised Christianity in what he saw as its declamation against private property in the name of an otherworldly denial of self.

Christians had a hand in founding both the Fabian socialists in the United Kingdom and the Progressive Movement in the United States. Why? Well, a couple of reasons. Some of these future socialists took their inspiration from Jesus’s insistence that Christians should take care of the poor. That was an admirable basis. The second strain of Christian progressivism held that since Jesus came down to earth, our task as Christians is to build a heaven on earth. Many early Quakers believed that, although there is absolutely no Biblical basis for that teaching. Although many socialists were atheists, many Christians allied with them for either or both of these reasons.

In today’s America we can see the heart of the leftward movement in our government is a claim against property that insists that the divisions among us are as deep as they are because of economic inequality, and if we do not address that inequality today, it will worsen tomorrow. Many well-meaning and misguided Christians think this way.

The most formidable enemies of property rights are formidable precisely because they know better than to separate the issue of property rights from the issue of other freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religious liberty. They recognize human beings are an odd integrity of soul and body. Marx understood clearly that if you like the way the human being is organized then you are going to have to protect it all. If you do not like that integrity, then you are going to have to uproot it all. Thus he made clear in the Communist Manifesto that overthrowing the age-old institution of property will involve “the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.” If private property is going to be abolished, everything will have to be abolished. Marriage and religion are two prominent targets for elimination in Marx’s writings.

Several decades later, in the Fabian Essays in Socialism that led to the founding of the British Labour Party, George Bernard Shaw and others tried to downplay that side of Marxism. They claimed that they intended only to destroy property rights—that socialism is not about getting rid of the family or religion. They weren’t entirely convincing because they didn’t really believe their obfuscations. Shaw, for instance, wrote that “a married woman is a female slave chained to a male one; and a girl is a prisoner in the house and in the hands of her parents.” Graham Wallas, co-founder of the London School of Economics, argued that it is inefficient for families to eat their meals separately in their houses, and lamented that it would be a long time “before we cease to feel that an Englishman’s home [is] his castle, with free entrance and free egress alike forbidden.”

Clearly, the Fabians’ ideal society involved more than the redistribution of wealth.

There are obvious parallels in our own time and country. In 2008, President Obama campaigned on the idea that we should “spread the wealth around,” and had little to say about the family and religious liberty. Money wasn’t the only thing he and his allies wanted to change, however. After he was elected, the President altered his position about the nature of marriage, and now the enforcement of a new understanding of gender identity is pressed upon us through powerful legal and social means. A friend who is an administrator at a small Christianity college says the staff there have had conversations with their legal advisors on whether it will remain legal for them to separate their student body into dormitories for men and women. Will the swelling chorus that denies any connection between nature and sex to conjure up countless new so-called genders compel colleges built around faith concepts to join the new zeitgeist or close their doors? It is not inconceivable that Biblical teaching may soon be declared hate speech and therefore become illegal. So this fight is not just a fight about property.

On the other hand, let’s analyze it as if it were.

I own myself, which means I have a right to control my life. So, let’s say my son decides he wants to go to this college. He’s 18, so owns himself and that constitutes a right to control his own life. He wishes to live in a dormitory with similarly-minded other men because he recognizes that as a good way to not have sex until he’s married. The school owns the dormitory, so should be able to set standards for the facilities. They offer housing to students and to their parents, who are often footing the bill, based upon the contractual obligation that this is a good clean environment in which young people can concentrate on learning. That is the product they’re selling and the parents and students are buying. That’s a free monetary exchange of property value for property value.

If the school is forced by the government to open dormitories up across gender lines, then the school has been deprived of a primary marketing tool, which is another property value. They can no longer advertise their school as a wholesome environment for Christian students. Therefore, a theft has occurred. If parents and students decide students would rather remain at home and attend college digitally, then the school has been deprived of tuition and the students and parents have been deprived of the right to spend their money as they see fit (yet another property value).

A theft has occurred.

The converse of this is that there are private colleges that want to open dormitories across gender lines and market themselves as an exciting alternative to the Christian school experience. Again, the college has a right, by virtue of property ownership, to market themselves in this way and students and parents have a right, by virtue of their property stake in their money, to buy that experience. To deny them that right is to steal money from both the college and the parents/students.

I know a lot of Christians who would get angry that I am saying this, but the fact is that we have been denying “the world” its property rights for a long time, so now that the worst of secular society has decided to turn the tables on us, we shouldn’t be surprised. Which is not to say that we should embrace the tyranny. You do not recompense the theft of one person’s property rights by stealing the property rights of the original offender. The only moral solution is for all powers to stop stealing from one another.


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