I’ve been playing around with this thought for a while. After thinking about collections and how I think that they are in many ways anti-kingdom, James sent me this quote:
All of the computers on Ebay are mine. In fact, everything on Ebayis already mine. All of those things are just in long term storage that I pay nothing for. Storage is free.
When I want to take something out of storage, I just pay the for the storage costs for that particular thing up to that point, plus a nominal shipping fee, and my things are delivered to me so I can use them. When I am done with them, I return them to storage via Craigslist or Ebay, and I am given a fee as compensation for freeing up the storage facilities resources.
This is also the case with all of my stuff that Amazon and Walmart are holding for me. I have antiques, priceless art, cars, estates, and jewels beyond the dreams of avarice.
The world is my museum, displaying my collections on loan. The James Savages of the world are merely curators.
As I am the curator of their things, and thus together we all share the world.
While realistically this is not how we have setup the world. Our culture and deep greed make this unthinkable, and in many ways, it makes this entire way of thinking pretty stupid. I think however, that there is an argument for this that needs some more air time. In fact, I think we are one of the first cultures where present leading Christian thinkers talk about this very little. Ask a Christian leader to sell his library of books today and he will accuse you of all sorts of things and give you plenty of excuses. However, Origen got to the point in his journey of following Jesus that lead him to sell even his books. Why are we so afraid? What are we really holding on to?
I’ve said things like this before to friends while playing around with this idea of common possessions for all. Typically the response is “ok fine, give me your Ipod.” Which only tells me that the reason we don’t like a belief system like this is because it means we have to give up the possessions we value far too much to anyone who wants it. They think I don’t actually believe in this system because I am selfish like the rest of them. It is true that I am selfish, but it doesn’t follow that I don’t really believe in this, or that it is not true. If you don’t see the world with private possessions, then someone taking your Ipod wouldn’t mean much to you. Also it would mean that you could take it back whenever because it’s not theirs either. I realize, because of the culture we are in, that this is a highly idealistic way to see the world. However, I don’t think that prevents it from being true or real or good.
If we are working along side of God in the realization of the kingdom of God, I have a feeling it looks a lot more like the commonality of all things rather than everyone having their own private possessions. Private possessions are for those who have not learned to share. Private possessions are for those who see something they have not created as their own.
I picked up a book called Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance and Use of Money by Justo Gonzalez and I realized I am not alone. Most early church fathers had lots to say about money, possessions and ownership. Most of them agree that the idea of private ownership is pretty far from the gospel. Instead of making a case for it myself, here is a bunch of quotes from different early church thinkers. I wrote a few quotes from this book already here, but these ones are going to focus more on the commonality of goods.
According to Clement, the commonality of goods-or at least of their use-is not a strange notion taught by some philosophical schools or fanatical groups. It is part of the original order of creation. Clement’s argument is that whatever we own we possess only for use; that any use beyond the necessary is superfluous and a burden to the Christian life; that the only way in which we can truly possess what we do not need is by giving it away; and that therefore the best management of private property is to make it available for common use. God created humanity for sharing and began this process by sharing the divine logos. Is is our sharing in this logos that makes us human. Therefore, not to share is inhuman and goes against the verykoinonia that is the basis of our creation (ouk anthropinon, oude, koinonikon).
– Clement of Alexandria
God created our race for sharing (koininia), beginning by giving out what belonged to God, God’s own Word, making is common (kinos) to all humans, and creating all things for all (panta poiesas yper panton). Therefore all things are common (koina oun ta panta); and let not the rich claim more than the rest. To say therefore “I have more tha nI need, why not enjoy?” is neither human nor proper to sharing (ouk anthropinon, oude koinonikon)…For I know well that God has given us the power to use; but only to the limit of that which is necessary: and that God also willed that the use be in common.
– Clement of Alexandria
To own things is to be indebted to Caesar-or, in some of the passages, to “the prince of the world”-and therefore the closer one is to being free of material possessions the less hold Caeser has on one.
Why do you (the rich) drive out of their inheritance people whose nature is the same as yours, claiming for yourselves alone the possession of the land? The land was made to be common to all, the poor and the rich. Why do you, oh rich, claim for yourselves alone the right to the land?
The world has been made for all, and a few of you rich try to keep it for yourselves. For not only the ownership of the land, but even the sky, the air and the sea, a few rich people claim for themselves…Do the angels divide the space in heaven, as you do when you set up property marks on earth?
When you give to the poor, you give not of your own, but simply return what is his, for you have usurped that which is common and has been given for the common use of all. The land belongs to all, not to the rich; and yet those who are deprived of its use are many more than those who enjoy it.
God our Lord willed that this land be the common possession of all and give it fruit to all. but greed distributed the right of possessions. Therefore if you claim as your private property part of what was granted in common to all human beings and to all animals, it is only fair that you share some of this with the poor, so that you will not deny nourishment to those who are also partakers of your right (by which you hold this land).
Greed is the cause of our want. The birds have abundant natural food because they have received in common that which is necessary for their nourishment, and they do not know how to claim private ownership. By claiming the private we (humans) lose the common.
Why do you consider things in the world as possessions, when the world is common? Why do you consider the fruits of the land private, when the land is common?…Birds who own nothing, lack nothing.
Nothing graces the Christian soul so much as mercy: mercy as shown chiefly towards the poor, that thou mayest treat them as sharers in common with thee in the produce of nature, which brings forth the fruit of the earth for use to all.
But this is not even in accord with nature, for nature has poured forth all things for all men for common use. God has ordered all things to be produced, so that there should be good in common to all, and that the earth should be the common possession to all. Nature, therefore, has produced a common right for all, but greed has made it a right for a few.”
Let no one regard anything as theirs, or as private. On the contrary, to all of us were given, as gifts from the same Father, not only the same beginning of life, but also things in order that we might use them. We must emulate God’s goodness poured upon us, following the excellent example of the Lord who has given us all these things. Therefore, in order to be good, we must consider all things as being common to everybody, and not allow ourselves to be corrupted by the pride of luxury of the world, nor by greed after wealth, nor by seeking after vainglory. On the contrary, we are to submit to God and remain in the love of every common life, living in communion.
Let us not be more beastly than the beasts. For them, all things are common: the earth, the springs, the pastures, the mountains, the valleys. One does not have more than another. You, however, who call yourself human, the tamest of animals, become fiercer than the beasts and shut up in a single house the sustenance for thousands of poor people. And even so, it is not only our nature that is common to us all, but also many other things: the sky and the sun, and the moon, and the choir of stars, and the air, and the sea, and the fire, and the water, and the earth, and life, and death, and growth, and old age, and sickness, and health, and hte need to eat and be clothed. Also common to us all is the spirutual, the sacred table and the body of the Lord and his precious blood, and the promise of hte Kingdom….Is it not then absurd, that we who have so many great things in common….will be so greedy when it comes to riches, and rather than maintaining that commonality we become fiercer than the wild beasts.
Whence, then, does such great equality arise? It arises from the greed and the arrogance of the rich. But I ask that in the future you act in a different manner: closely bound together in those things that are common and most needful, let us not be rent asunder by those that are earthly and lower, such as riches and poverty.”
– John Chrysostom
Any who wish to serve the Lord must not rejoice in the private, but in the common. The earliest Christians made common property of their private good. Did they lose what was theirs? … It is because of our private possessions that there are disagreements, enmity, dissension, wars…”
It’s pretty clear to me that one of the chief reasons the world is in the state it is in is because of a poor view of commonality of things. How we determined that certain people deserve more than others is beyond me. The only way we could get to such a massive unequal distribution that we see today is to allow a system of greed and privatization to run rampant. If we seriously insist in following Jesus, and his most earliest followers in ushering in the Kingdom of God we should begin to uplift and support more commonality. I don’t know what exactly this looks like in reality but I do know its a direction we must go. We need to loosen our grip on our possessions and let them flow in and our of our lives more easily to constantly be ready to be used by anyone in need. We need to be in more relationships with those that actually need the things that we have. We need to remember that we all came from the same place, we all have the same destiny and none of us has earned any extra favour beyond the grace of God, and to act like we have is to forsake our humanity. We need to remember that when we give and share, we are not sharing that which is ours, but that which is in common to all of humanity.