Jubilee: The Social Gospel - Revival of Socialism
A Jubilee means the redistribution of wealth, the protection of the earth, and the celebration of community. Out of the nation's Jubilee revivals come redistribution of churches by force. The urge to socialize the nation or the churches is like Dracula, it keeps rising during the night when the citizens sleep. The solution is to shed light on these communial movements.
We know of similar Jubilee movements which feel the need to overpower existing churches and restructure them along an Old Testament pattern. At times it means using deceit and force to take over the property to redistribute the wealth in a socialist system.
The following is a Jewish pattern and we will look at a Catholic pattern.
Jubilee: An Integrated Political Program for Religious Progressives
By Arthur Waskow
The beginnings of the Clinton Administration have reinforced the ancient truth that social change can come only from the grass roots. What might religiously committed progressives see as a language and program for pushing forward the necessary healing and transformation of America?
We might divide this question into two parts: first, what is the content of a social program that we might draw from wrestling with the biblical tradition? And second, what language would be most authentic and effective in communicating such a program to American society as a whole?
In all the biblical tradition, perhaps the most remarkable programmatic assertion of empathy for the earth and for all human beings atthe same time is the Biblical passage about the sabbatical and Jubilee years, in Leviticus 25.
In that passage, the redistribution of wealth, the protection of the earth, and the celebration of community are all seen as crucial expressions of love. And not only each of them separately, but all intertwined.
From the standpoint of that passage, three intertwined social diseases are eating at the heart of America:
o An extreme, and worsening, maldistribution of wealth and income.
o An overwhelming, and worsening, threat to the environment;
o A collapse of community and social solidarity -- what has been called both fraternite and sisterhood -- at the levels of family,neighborhood, workplace, and society as a whole.
Leviticus 25 proposed three basic elements of a program to end just such sicknesses: redistribution of the land (the investment capital of that day) so that each family would begin again on an equal economic base; rest for the land for a year; and strengthening of the clan/ neighborhood.
Let us look at the Bible's "Jubilee program" in more detail. It is rooted in a sense of sacred time, sacred cycles of work-time and rest-time that are defined partly by the earth and partly by society. These cycles (on the model of Sabbath rest and contemplation, celebration and material sharing on the seventh day) are shaped by treating the seventh year and the fiftieth year (the year after the seventh seventh year) as a special time.
Every seventh year, all debts are cancelled. The land is not subjected to organized cultivation or harvest; whatever freely grows from it may in that year be freely gathered by any family for its own food. What has been stored before is shared.
In the fiftieth year, the land rests again, and every family returns to the equal share of productive land that it was allotted when Israelitesociety began. The poor become equal, the rich give up the extra wealth they had accumulated.
And all this is done not by a central government's taxation or police power, but by the direct action of each family, each clan, each tribe in its own region.
What would it mean, in our society, to draw on this Biblical teaching, this almost-messianic vision, to create a program that could address in a serious way the three intertwined sicknesses -- economic, environmental, and compassional -- of our generation? And what would it mean to make this not only a program but a strategy -- to build a movement and constituency around a "Jubilee program" that would bring more energy and political power to bear than would ordinary secular progressive coalitions?
Most of us may not have the Biblical chutzpah to propose shutting down the whole society one year of every seven. But let us imagine three major structural reforms as a Jubilee Program:
Venture capital recycling;
Real sabbaticals on research and development;
Neighborhood empowerment and celebration.
Venture capital recycling
The policy goal is to shift massive amounts of investment capital from the control of giant, longstanding corporations to decentralized grass-roots businesses -- especially those that are worker-owned, consumer coops, family-operated, and neighborhood-operated.
How to do this? By very high taxes on the wealth (not merely the income) of very large, very highly concentrated, and very old businesses like Dupont Chemical Company, the great global oil companies, and the Chase Manhattan Bank.
The proceeds of this "capital recycling tax" would go not to the general treasury but directly to a number of publicly controlled banks that would make loans available to help workers buy their factories, farms, insurance companies, etc. and to help neighborhood associations, churches and synagogues, and similar grass-roots groups start co-op food stores, restaurants, pharmacies, bicycle factories, fish hatcheries, and solar power stations.
To prevent liquidity problems, it might be made possible for corporations to pay the recycling tax not in money but by turning over to a Community Ownership Trust the proper portion of ownership rights (for example, stock certificates). Ownership could then be transferred to workers or communities via the Trust.
The primary requirement for receipt of such venture-capital loans or ownership rights would be that the recipients be a face-to-face community whose average income and wealth fell below some cut-off point.
The face-to-face community might be made up of co-workers at a single workplace, students and faculty at a school, members of a neighborhood association, a religious congregation, or a family.
Specially favorable interest rates would be built in for firms that were using renewable energy sources, using recyclable materials in production, recycling their waste products, and otherwise respecting the environment
By focusing on face-to-face groups, the program would empower rather than shatter ethnic, racial, labor-union, and similar communities. But it would do so -- and thus benefit such excluded groups as Blacks and Hispanics -- without excluding the white poor. Disadvantage would be seen in economic rather than ethnic or gender terms, but by requiring face-to-face communities as recipients, the program would assist not fragmented and marginalized individuals, but communities.
Such a wealth-recycling program would deal with one of the major problems posed by conventional tax-reform proposals and conventional welfare programs. That problem is the need for investment capital. Many people are caught between two fears. They fear that taxing large corporations too heavily will keep them from investing, and thus precipitate depression. And they fear that national "investment" whether through projects like TVA, or massive employment projects in public works, or outright welfare grants, creates a larger unresponsive bureaucracy and a disempowered, irresponsible underclass.
If investment capital were to be taxed away from the corporations to be recycled not to giant bureaucracies but into the hands of grass-roots community-controlled enterprises, that would be a way out of this dilemma. It would encourage investment -- indeed, stimulate creative forms of investment by shifting capital to new hands -- and empower, rather than subjugate, the recipients. It would strengthen community, rather than isolated individualism.
Sabbaticals on research and development
On the environmental issue, most official programs have focused on clean-up and recycling. There has been very little reexamination of the production end. The Biblical teaching of the Sabbatical / Jubilee cycle is that issues of production must be faced if the earth is to be protected. In an agricultural/ pastoral society, this was to be accomplished by pausing from production altogether, one year out of every seven. In a technological- scientific society, what would it mean?
Two proposals: -- Both are intended to draw on the Sabbatical/ Jubilee teaching about the value of pausing from production for a period of sacred reflective time. Both are intended to prevent ourselves from treating production and technology as ends in themselves, and to train ourselves to review them in the light of their environmental and social effect:
First, that all corporate investments of more than a defined amount -- one billion dollars? -- for a single program -- e.g. the production of a new car, the invention of a new pesticide -- be subject to a one-year "sabbatical" delay while there is a public review of its effect on society and especially on the air, earth, and water.
Secondly, that for one year out of every seven, all scientific-technological research and development (with one exception) halt, and the society support a real sabbatical for scientists and engineers. The one exception would be research on the prevention and cure of mortal diseases.
What do I mean by a "real sabbatical"? A time for scientists and engineers and those who allocate their time and capital to reflect and contemplate, to reevaluate the direction, intent, and results of technology. The intent is not to stop technological development, but to interrupt it periodically, long enough for it to address questions of purpose and effect.
Both kinds of sabbatical "pause" to catch our breath would have both physical effects on the environment, and profound cultural effects. Physically, they would slow down the process of invasion of the web of planetary life, and might encourage reevaluations deep enough to make renewal of the web as important as invading it. Culturally, these pauses would teach the society -- and of course the campaign to get them adopted would already have gone far toward teaching the society -- that there are values other than producing, making, doing; and indeed that the "producing" values need to be governed by larger issues of long-term effects on human beings, the earth, community.
Neighborhood celebration and empowerment
The provisions of Leviticus 25 look toward the strengthening of local grass-roots communities. In the biblical era, that mostly meant clans within a tribal region. For us, that probably means a neighborhood. All too few are now "neighborly" -- as the assumptions of compassion have broken down in the face of both the content and the form of the mass media, despair over permanent impoverishment juxtaposed to quick riches from illegal drugs, the collapse of face-to-face education.
And public policy has not been shaped with an eye to strengthening community or compassion. Just one example: All the effort to cut down demand for drugs has focused on creating more fear -- despite (or because of?) the likelihood that more fear and more despair are quite likely to lead straight to more drug use. What would it mean for public policy to focus on creating more depth of community, rather than more fear?
A Jubilee proposal: Suppose that the Federal government set aside one day a month and one week a year
for decentralized but universal Folk Festivals.
Suppose it invited every town or neighborhood of no less than 20,000 and no more than 40,000 residents to came forward with a plan to hold a neighborly celebration on those days,
and then provided the seed money necessary to hold the event.
These occasions might be the first of every month, or one Monday a month keyed to the traditional holidays,
plus perhaps the entire week of July 4
or of New Year's Day, or the newer, more globally and environmentally conscious times of Hiroshima Day and Martin Luther King's Birthday, or a revitalized Earth Day. On these occasions -- 19 days a year -- there would be a universal national shut-down not only of factories and offices but also of highways, gas stations, trains, hotels, television stations, newspapers, all but life-preserving emergency services.
Such a pause would let us rediscover walking and talking, singing and cooking, our nearby neighbors.
And it would buttress the other two proposals, as the others would strengthen neighborhood. Neighborhoods that have a strong common cultural life are more likely to seek a shared economic life. And combining neighborhood folk festivals with a national shut-down of all business would, like sabbaticals on technological research and development, give both a physical and a cultural pause to the technology addiction that is devouring the earth. For 19 days out of 365 -- about 5% of the time -- we would not be slurping up gasoline from the earth, pouring it into the air, cutting down forests, poisoning the rain, or doing all the other destructive acts of the modern economy. The 5% pause would itself be an important step.
And still more important, we would be teaching ourselves how to refocus our consciousness and our desires not on the latest, most lavish material production and consumption but on celebration that affirms instead of undermining the natural rhythms of the earth.
* * *
These proposals make up a Jubilee Program. What about a strategy to bring them about? They all challenge powerful institutions in our society. It will take great waves of empowerment of people at our grass roots to make any of it possible. How to begin?
Can the initiators of a Jubilee Program be the churches and synagogues?
What chance does a program that is rooted in a biblical passage and begins with churches and synagogues to win adherents in the broad American society?
To create a politically effective empathy requires both a face-to-face experience of caring, and a shared language of vision and change. A language that is not only shared on paper by otherwise isolated individuals, but has a content of actual sharing. A language, a myth, that goes beyond the conventional "shared" American myth of individualism, which is exactly about not sharing and which makes impossible serious concern for the earth and for other human beings.
Such a shared language would have to be shared across class lines -- and especially between social critics and activists, on the one hand, and "the people," on the other.
The Bible remains the only piece of "high culture" that connects large numbers of Americans. Especially the only one that white and Black workers both have. This is part of the reason that Jesse Jackson has resonated across race (and to some extent class) lines. It is part of the reason that William Clinton's "New Covenant" speech at the Democratic National Convention resonated so deeply with voters and began the process that has swept him into the Presidency.
Even taking into account that Jews and Catholics and Protestants mean different things when they say "the Bible," even taking into account that Muslims and Buddhists and Native Americans and secularists and some of the forms of feminist spirituality are skeptical of the Bible altogether, it still speaks to more Americans than any other language of compassion, community, and sharing.
Not only is the language still shared language, our society still remembers that religious communities can be great sources of empowerment and change -- as some churches were the seeds and some synagogues the support of the civil rights movement, as some churches and synagogues nurtured the anti-war movement of the '60s and the disarmament movement of the '80s, as some religious communities were among the homes of anti- slavery efforts and among the defenders of the labor movement.
To organize well means, at very best, to infuse the means with the end. In this case, synagogues and churches might begin by creating in miniature the Jubilee that we envision, and use these miniatures to organize toward the broader Jubilee Program.
What is a miniature Jubilee?
In a particular city, for perhaps the nine days from a Friday night to the next week's Sunday, a cluster of synagogues and churches hold a Jubilee Festival. The Festival would address the economic renewal of the city and its neighborhoods by inviting co-ops and worker-managed firms, innovative small businesses, etc., to explain their work; by demonstrating equipment for energy conservation and the local generation of solar/renewable energy; by turning empty lots or part of the church or synagogue grounds into communal vegetable gardens; by holding workshops on how tenants can buy apartment houses and turn them into co-ops; by setting up a temporary food co-op and helping people organize a more permanent one, etc.
It would address the psychological and cultural renewal of the neighborhood through song, dance, story-telling, sharing food, etc.
It would address the basic political empowerment of the neighborhood by gathering people to discuss in open town meetings some of the major issues of our society -- energy, jobs, environment, prices, families, etc. -- and how to apply the Jubilee Program to them.
It would encourage all the people of the neighborhood to pool and exchange their talents, skills, and memories.
Obviously this would not be a one-to-one transcription of the Biblical Jubilee, even for nine days; but it would be an experiment in translating the Jubilee into modern terms. Approaches that began or were
stimulated by the Jubilee Festival would continue and grow through the year.
Their work would intertwine the day-to-day problems of people in the neighborhood with study of both the Biblically rooted religious traditions and the modern analytical knowledge of social relations. In this way, the Jubilee Festival would create the context for a North American equivalent of the "communidades de base" that have revivified and renewed the church in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.
People who experienced just a glimpse of the Jubilee could use that moment to begin imagining how to translate the Jubilee into post-modern practice. And they could start building the political power that could bring about the kinds of change that they imagine.
How to get the Jubilee Festival process going? In a given city, some of the rabbis, ministers, priests -- and also the lay members of synagogues, havurot, churches, mosques -- probably know who in the various religious communities share the vision.
If they created a local Jubilee Committee and
got a few congregations to agree to host or to sponsor the Jubilee Festival,
the project would grow through outreach to co-ops, labor unions, innovative businesses, etc., and to singers, dancers, storytellers, and cooks of the local traditions.
In all these practical proposals, there is an underlying thread of belief: that "ritual" and "politics" should not be separated from each other, but rather intertwined. This may seem fuzzy-minded to the practical politician and irreverent to the ritually observant; but those responses are both symptoms of the modern age.
What the Jubilee passages in the Bible teach is that the most effective politics has a powerful ritual element in it, engaging not only material interests but deep emotional, intellectual, and spiritual energies; and that when ritual is made fully communal and focused on reality, it becomes precisely the politics not of status quo but of transformation.
Waskow is the director of The Shalom Center, which involves North American Jews in working to prevent global environmental disaster, and a Fellow of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. He is the co-author with his brother Howard of Becoming Brothers (Free Press, 1993), an intertwined dialogue on their conflicts and reconciliations; author of Godwrestling (Schocken) and Seasons of Our Joy (Beacon); and the founder and co-editor of New Menorah, a journal of Jewish renewal.
From American Jubilee:
By definition, the Jubilee Principle is a Jewish concept. It does not recognize that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbaths, the Passovers and the Jubilee and set us all free. That freedom is from those who seek to take away individual freedom and thereby deny the Atonement which was a fundamental part of the Jubilee.
The Catholic idea for the Jubilee movement in 1987 claims that it has the power to grant remission of sins and atonement.
It is not possible to be involved with these movements without denying Christ and being party to the take over of property by the members of the new religious-political institution.