Saturday, May 26, 2012

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Law and Private Property

 The Arabic original can be found here.

As the Train Whistles

Law is a failed project. In human terms, it is a failure... But we cannot do without it!

In theory, law is an instrument to preserve what are considered to be "human rights": the right to life, the right to  property, the right to work, the right to dignity... However, these are ambiguous words even if they are granted  as postulates and considered axiomatic! Why? Because law, in its content, is an instrument for legislation and the protection of people's right (!) to be selfish and to freely practice their selfishness according to their whim and with the protection of the law and of the authority that ensures the application of the law.

In legal practice, each person seeks their own interest over an issue. It is "his right," they say! The space in which law is effective fluctuates between making it possible for you to gain possession of what is actually yours, on the one hand and, on the other, what is not yours, because you are greedy for it as though it was yours, through the claim that it is yours. When you succeed, it is through manipulating the law or exploiting it, overtly or covertly, by means of your cleverness, power, influence, and tact, to corrupt things for your private goals!

For this reason, the law is, in all simplicity, a failure. Its scope is a failure because the horizon within which it moves is in every case at its base human selfishness, even if we do not allow ourselves to call things in this matter by their real name!

However, there is no doing without law and the practice of law because its basic concern, which is implicitly conceded, is for society, unfortunately with only a few exceptions, not to escape its selfishness but to preserve it, to consider it to be an axiom of human existence, to unquestioningly uphold it safe and sound! And so the law is a project of social organization whose goal is to order people's selfishness among themselves by establishing basic rules for common selfishness and by placing safeguards to prevent the collision of social selfishness in such a way that would constitute a danger for individuals' rights (!) and general life, by upholding the "constitutionality" of selfishness for all citizens! All this so that society does not become a jungle of wild beasts preying on each other to the point of mutual destruction! But wait! The choice is not between being or not being a wild beast. Within this context, except for a tiny group, the choice in the best of situations is between being a wild and savage beast and being a polite, civilized beast! In any case, selfishness is being content with your being an individual, valuing remaining in your internal isolation, in solitude. That is, effectively, in a state of savageness of the passions. You are content with it and are satisfied with it because it is your lot. You rely on your weapon, inwardly, to defend your right (!) against those whom you feel constitute a threat to the individual, passionate environment that is your own, with the teeth and claws of anger! I say your right(!) to live as king in the lair of your own isolation and self-worship... until death!

This, more or less, is the existential climate in which what is known as "human rights" are dealt with. But are these things rights? I don't think so! I think that this is what general social consciousness falsely considers to be a person's "rights" but it is not a right at all! What is not a right is not the "right" of someone to use! He can use it if he desires. His free will permits him to use it, not his right within society. As for us, within the context of true humanity, we cannot permit it to anyone or encourage anyone toward it. We do not have the right to permit someone to use something that is false. The truth has to be our concern and what we encourage people toward.  But selfishness is false! As long as selfishness is a false value, it is not possible to mandate falsehood as a general right, to attribute falsehood to truth, to call falsehood truth, or to consider falsehood to be a human right!

Once, while Jesus was passing through a field, His disciples took corns of wheat as they were walking, hungry, rubbed them, and ate them (Mark 2:23). The Pharisees objected because this was on the Sabbath. The Lord did not say to His disciples, "Do not do this!" To the contrary, He let them eat and defended them regarding the Sabbath. I do not want to go into a discussion of the Sabbath here. It is enough to proceed with the topic of this investigation: did Jesus' disciples have the right to enter a field that probably was not theirs and eat its fruits? Legally, according to today's practice, this was theft and they were trespassing on someone else's property! And so, it was the right (!) of the property's owner to accuse Jesus and His disciples and for them to be fined or even imprisoned! The Lord Jesus is found here violating our social norms! But this does not condemn Jesus. Rather, it condemns the law!

The Lord Jesus' understanding of the issue is different from that of the law. He has a different approach to matters related to this. "The earth is the Lord’s in all its fullness,the world and those who dwell therein," (Psalm 24:1) said the Psalmist. And so no one is the possessor of even a clod of dirt on the earth! The Lord's is the earth in all its fullness! Someone who claims that he has private ownership of it here is either a fantasist or an embezzler! When the Lord God took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, He wanted him to "tend it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15), not to possess it! When he fell, He said to him, "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground from which you were taken" (Genesis 3:19). And so man tends the earth in order to eat from it through his toil, not just for himself and not so that he can store its produce in warehouses, like the foolish rish man whose estate was fertile (Luke 12:16-21). Naturally, the laborer deserves his wage (Luke 10: 7), but as a faithful and wise steward, "whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season" (Luke 12:42). Everyone is a servant! Everyone serves the Lord and is made a servant and steward for the servants of the Lord within the scope of the Lord's gifts. The servant, in the understanding of that time, is a slave. That is, he is not anything in himself and he does not own anything. Rather, he derives his identity and his value from belonging to his lord. What he possesses, even the smallest thing, is not his but his lord's. Among humans, there is no lord upon this earth, not one! The Lord is one and he is in heaven. He alone is Lord of heaven and earth. The rest is just pretense and fantasy! For us to be honest, our view of ourselves must be that we are slaves before Him! What we must keep in mind is that we must realize His purposes in complete trustworthiness and otherwise we shall be cast outside! Only, if we regard ourselves as slaves before Him, in His great goodness He gives us everything! He allows us to become His beloved ones (John 15:15)! He gives us the kingdom of heaven (Luke 12:32)! We possess everything (2 Corinthians 6:10)! He allows us to become gods (John 10:34)!

And so, when someone is hungry it is self-evident that he may eat anything in the world that is edible, here, there, and everywhere. This is like the parable of the birds. There is no law that has the right to prevent a person from taking food when he is hungry and there is food in front of him! Even if he eats food that is not considered to be his own, according to the standards of this age, he is not considered by his Lord to be a transgressor! What he does is self-evident, and the Law is from above! On the contrary, those who impose arbitrary human laws are transgressors and rapists! Everything in the earth belongs to those who need it, not to those who put their hands on it and confiscate it! It is granted from your Lord that you may fill your hunger with the good things of the earth with joy, peace of mind, and thankfulness, wherever you may be! No law has the right to protect those who accumulate those good things for themselves when they have no immediate need for them. Rather, it protects those who meet their need from anyone preventing them from doing so! The theif is the one whose cupboard  is full while the hungry are outside, unable to find anything with which to assuage their hunger! This is the one that the law must prosecute, seize everything in excess of his needs, give it to those who have a right to it, and punish him! True law opens the storehouses of the monopolists so that the needy may eat freely. It does not protect the merchants whose concern is to hoard gold that they have acquired through selling that which in principle belongs to those who go starving and are shivering outside in the cold! The law that protects the wealthy against the widow, the strong against the weak, those clothed in silk against the naked, is a savage law, devoted to human savageness!

And so, you may eat whenever you are hungry, and no law on earth has the right to prevent you from this! But be careful! You may only meet your need for today. Do not extend your hand to save up for tomorrow! If you do this, then you are a thief, from the perspective of what belongs to others in a society of law and private property, and ungrateful from the perspective of the Lord of all this earth. For the One who feeds you today when you are hungry, will feed you tomorrow when you are in need! Perhaps you may wonder and ask, and you are fully within your rights to do so: Are we not all, those of us walking in God's truth and those who are not, gathering up in storehouses and saving away in banks? Indeed! This is an effect that the general corruption of conscience has on us! The best way to be is not like this! The best way to be is the way that the Paradise of the Fathers talks about, one who works every day in order to eat, without adding to his need and without sleeping before distributing the rest to others who need it, only to start completely over again the next day! And if his Lord provides him with someone in need, even of his own food, he gives it to him completely and remains hungry until the next day, putting his hope in the One who is capable of all things, believing and submitting to the divine words, "The eyes of all look expectantly to You and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Psalm 145: 15-16). I do not say this to make comparisons. We are blessed by the coat-tails of such as these. However, it is not enough for us to point out what is desirable! We who bear the name of Jesus must, even if we save, be aware that what we save is strictly speaking not our'. Rather, all of it is for us and for those who need it. We should treat what we save as ones who have been entrusted with it, as stewards for the provision of the needy. If the Lord provides us with someone who is in greater need of what we have than we are, we must be prepared to give it to him and place our hope more perfectly on the One who chose us, so that we might not be considered unjust stewards! The Knower of hearts, in any case, knows the content of hearts and judges! It is only when we honestly walk in spirit and in truth that we are able to turn what has been corrupted by the Fall into what has been repaired by the Lord Jesus in His flesh, by walking in the newness of life that He has entrusted with us, for our happiness and for us to contribute to the salvation of the universe!

For this reason, we forever anticipate a law that protects love in society and not people's selfishness, that encourages giving and not keeping, that makes up for lack of human initiative in loving each other. It is not for human rights to preserve individual ownership, but rather to preserve the right of the people of all the earth to all the good things of the earth, according to need. It is not to provide each person the opportunity to express himself according to his whim, but rather to direct freedom of expression toward that which builds up others, their well-being, and their interest. In reality, expressing yourself is cannot exist in isolation from the building up or the tearing down and exploitation of others. Tearing others down or exploiting them is a crime. One who expresses himself and does not pay attention to the impact of his expression on others is harmful chatter, even if, in this corrupt age, it is considered to be clever politics, great art, or outstanding literature!

Are these mere hopes and dreams in a society where most people have become mired in self-love? Perhaps! It is our conviction that this fallen world in its narcissism judges, through its continued existence, not persistence in brutality and its excesses of existential isolation, but rather that handful of madmen who still cling to love and prayer as a point of ascension and a horizon. These are the salt of the earth. These are the ones who remain unseen until the final hour. But as for the train that most people thought was a fable, the hour will inevitably come when it will whistle and all the nations will hear its sound! We look to what is to come because even now we can taste it. "That which we have seen and heard we declare to you" (1 John 1:3).

"Come, Lord Jesus!"

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite- Douma
27 May, 2012

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