In this unique time, to say the least, of an over-hyped pandemic (no doubt about that at this point), work and what it accomplishes, private property, is increasingly being seen for what it is, essential. How perverted is it when government tells us what is essential and what isn’t when it comes to providing for our families. Every job is essential! I’m reminded during this time how precious is our Christian faith and worldview, and the Jewish religion that gave it birth. In a book I referenced in my last post, How Christianity Changed the World, the author discusses private property as a uniquely Christian invention that goes back to our spiritual forebearers who brought us the law, the Ten Commandments. Nowhere in Scripture does God say such a thing as “private property” exists, but it is assumed everywhere, and two of the ten reflect that it is the God-given, natural order of things: 8, you shall not steal, and 10, you shall not covet. That which is stolen or coveted belongs to someone else, it is theirs, they own it, and have a right to it before God. The profound implications of this are difficult to overstate.
It might be best to make a contrast to the ultimate enemy of private property, Karl Marx. We read from his world-changing and world-destroying Communist Manifesto: “[T]he theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” Nothing more anti-God, anti-human, anti-civilization has ever been uttered. We know that private, personal property is imperative for our flourishing not just because God has revealed this to us in Scripture, but because of history. Anywhere property has been held in common (in reality by a very few) there has followed misery and death, and often a very lot of death. I’ll discuss that in a moment, but I want to give a brief testimony on my own awakening as I began to appreciate just how profoundly meaningful to all of existence was this Christian faith I had embraced. It’s not just a religion, or only about “spiritual” things.
When I was 24 I was introduced to Reformed theology, which turned my Christian world upside down. As I began to study I realized it had implications for much more than my salvation (soteriology). My mentor at the time suggested I read Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology, and I was so hungry for knowledge that I dug right in. It was mind-blowing. I distinctly remember (this would have been 1984-85) getting to the third volume where Hodge addresses the Ten Commandments, and specifically the eighth. I underlined these words:
The doctrine of the divine right of property is the only security for the individual or for society. If it be made to rest on any other foundation, it is insecure and unstable. It is only by making property sacred, guarded by the fiery sword of divine justice, that it can be saved from the dangers to which it is everywhere and always exposed.
Keep in mind this was written in the 1870s, well before the horrors of communism and Nazism showed just how exposed private property, and the freedom it makes possible, could be. We saw “the divine right of property” ripped from populations in the 20th century, and over one hundred million people killed as a result. In fact, Hodge addresses communism and socialism well before its practice revealed its true evil, and writes these prophetic words: “If materialism and atheism are practically embraced by the mass of any community, it will inevitably perish.” Inevitably.
The thing that struck me most, though, was not the larger political and economic implications of “thou shalt not steal,” but the personal ones. Specifically, that private property (and by extension money) develops and reveals character. A few statements from Hodge to this effect:
- Property is the means for the development of the individuality of the man. The manner which it is acquired, and used, reveals what the man is.
- [In all the ways money is used], these in their totality as they rest on the right of property, makes out a man’s portrait.
- Property is specially designed to enable a man to discharge his moral duties . . . . Therefore he must have what is exclusively his own.
Prior to reading Hodge I thought money was just, well money, it helps you buy stuff. The reason was that the Christian environment I had been part of for six years didn’t teach me a comprehensive view of all of reality, and I’m afraid too many Christians are just like I was. Christianity is the religious stuff I do, and then there is everything else. No! We need to understand how Christianity impacts our understanding of everything, including economics.