We’re into stewardship season at church. That’s usually a drag, but I’m finding renewed significance in the messages given the political debates in our nation.
The underlying message of every stewardship sermon is no less profound for its repetition. Our stuff is not ours at all. God provided us with the stuff and he can take it away. We can brag all we want about our unique talents or our hard work in acquiring the stuff, but God provided the talents and the drive and the health necessary to accumulate the materials that we value so highly.
When we debate health insurance reform or income redistribution, we prefer to leave God out of the equation. We shouldn’t. Through mandated insurance, the healthy help the sick. Through a public option, the financially comfortable help the 30 million or so people who cannot obtain adequate health care.
But rather than preach Gospel, I want to analogize.
At least in Alabama, not many would openly argue the central stewardship thesis: God gave us everything and he can take it away.
From a secular standpoint, in a democracy, the same can be said of the people. My ability to accumulate material possessions depends entirely on the state, the organized manifestation of the people. My house is titled to me because the people decided to protect my right to private property. The dollars I receive from my employer have value only because the people agree they should. The people could take all of my earnings and return to me only what I need. My talents, such as they are, have value only because the people have assigned them value.
Capitalism achieves its efficiencies through greed, our individual desire to accumulate material possessions. That’s OK, because capitalism usually works. The people allow capitalism to continue, even though most of them get only a tiny portion of the spoils. If they get what they need, they collectively recognize that capitalism has succeeded, despite the inequality-by-design it incorporates.
Just as we recognize that our possessions come from God, however, we are deluding ourselves — from a secular perspective — if we think we “earned” what we have. Our ability to obtain and accumulate come from the people’s decision to enforce those rights. When we refuse to allow 30 million people to obtain adequate health care, we are spitting in the faces of those that consent to our success.