I realize my last post did not directly address some questions asked about the notion of “absolute ownership” and “fraudulent autonomy.” I think the answers are inherent in the biblical idea of economics based on right relationship to the land and each other. However, I will try to spell out clearly to what I think the terms in this article are referring, or at least my own interpretation in light of my own beliefs.
The BIble clearly recognizes that stealing is not healthy for communities and that some system of ownership is necessary where there is scarcity or maybe the temptation to accumulate (I’m still not convinced about the assumption of scarcity though). I would suggest that these commands are relational admonitions and not inherent or inalienable rights. For example, Paul and Peter both cautioned early Christians to try to live at peace with the governing authorities as much as possible. This did not mean that they condoned the Roman system of oppression or any other doctrine of that government. (I generally follow Yoder’s interpretation of Romans 13 for what it’s worth) So, if we agree that the general biblical stance toward possessions is to hold them loosely and give generously, then this is not the same as the notion that property rights are an absolute ownership of that object or plot of land. It seems to me that our economic system relies heavily on the idea of absolute ownership, that I have certain rights and claims to anything that I “own.” I don’t expect the government or anyone else to make this distinction, but I do expect Christians to make the distinction and not claim that the commands in Scripture are equivalent to (and/or the basis for) our modern system of property rights.
I understand commandments about property ownership, theft, etc. to concern how we are to live in the reality of a broken world, not a prescription for how things should be.
For Christians the question is clearly whether I own my possessions or my possessions own me. This is a relational question, not a question of absolute rights. According to the government and our economic system I have absolute right to my possessions. I can break all of my plates and throw them in the garbage for no good reason if I want, because I am the absolute owner of those objects. As a Christian I recognize that I am not the absolute owner of these objects. 1) They are to be understood as gifts from God, not as something deserved or earned. 2) They represent a connection to the land that I am called to uphold and maintain justly and 3) I am cautioned that my relationship to the objects can easily become a dangerous and corrupting force.
This phrase represents the disconnection from the land that I previously described. When we come to believe, and base our economics, on the idea that we are able to exist apart from the land we have created a monster that could ultimately destroy us and are in direct defiance of Scripture. Those with wealth in our global economy have the possibility of believing that they exist independently of the earth. There lives do not encounter the realities of the resources they consume and extract from the earth through the products and food they consume on a daily basis. In my experience, the poor of the world live with the reality on a daily basis that their survival is closely linked to the land. The possibility of believing that you exist (or perhaps it’s more like ignorance) independently of the land and soil is a fraudulent concept and a lie.
I hope to explore connections to our current context more in my final post, but wanted to clarify what I believe about these phrases that others had questions about.