What Scripture Teaches Us About Debt and Poverty
Preface: If you are an atheist and believe that religion is crazy, please remember that some 85% of the American population identifies itself as Christian and millions more identify themselves as Jewish. Very few Americans are atheists. (And the majority don’t trust atheists.) Therefore, knowing a few bible verses may be essential for atheists to be able to speak to people of faith.
In America today, quite a few priests, ministers, pastors and rabbis teach that “greed is good” … and that the poor should all be ignored s lazy.
This is not, in fact, what scripture teaches.
This is not what history or economics teaches, either. For example, economist Michael Hudson notes that debt grows exponentially, while economies only grow in an s-curve. That means that debt will always outrun economic growth if we don’t do something about it.
Hudson explains that the ancient Babylonians understood this basic mathematical truth. That’s why the Babylonians included periodic debt forgiveness or debt “jubilees” as a basic part of their cultures.
So did the original Jews and Christians.
Remember that Matthew 6:12 says:
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Reverend Howard Bess writes:
According to the Israelite tradition, their God, Yahweh, laid down strict rules about the land which was distributed by priests to the clans of Israel, but Yahweh retained the title to the land. Leviticus 25:23 states the principle: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine; with me, you are but aliens and tenants.”
The use of the land given to Israelites was conditioned. The tenant was obligated to care for the needs of priests, aliens, widows and orphans. Then every 50 years a great redistribution was to take place. All land was to be returned to the priests and reassigned to new tenants. At the same time, all debts were canceled and all slaves were set free.
There is no record that these provisions of Torah were ever practiced. After all, wealth and ownership are addicting; ownership becomes obsessive. Israelites forgot about the 50th year distribution as well as their commitment to generosity.
Wealth grew and the poor became poorer and more desperate. According to the Gospel tradition (Luke 4:18), Jesus from the beginning of his teaching demanded/announced a reestablished year of Jubilee (a 50th year redistribution). Only when these teachings of Jesus are put into the context of the Galilean rural poor of the first century CE, can the radical commitment of Jesus to this world be fully appreciated.
David Graeber, author of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” told Democracy Now:
If you look at the history of world religions, of social movements what you find is for much of world history what is sacred is not debt, but the ability to make debt disappear to forgive it and that’s where concepts of redemption originally come from.
Indeed, the first recorded word for “freedom” in any human language is the word meaning freedom rom debt.
Financial journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in 2009:
In the end, the only way out of all this global debt may prove to be a Biblical debt Jubilee.
Economist Steve Keen agrees:
[We’ll have] a never-ending depression unless we repudiate the debt, which never should have been extended in the first place.
What Scripture Teaches Us About Greed
Anthony Freda/Daniel Zollinger
Some powerful Wall Street titans claim that they are “doing God’s work”, and that they shouldn’t have to follow the same laws that the rest of us must follow.
That’s not what the Bible teaches.
Both the Old and New Testaments teach us that fraud, manipulation, or oppression of the poor should be punished … no matter how high and mighty the wrong-doer is.
Indeed, the Bible teaches us that God wants us to do everything in our power to act as “God’s hands” in bringing justice.
Once again, economists agree … unpunished fraud caused the Great Depression and the Great Recession, and a strong rule of law – i.e. punishing financial crimes – is the main determinant of a nation’s prosperity.
Failing to punish financial criminals will doom our economy.