Alanna Hartzok, Co-Director of the Earth Rights Institute and United Nations NGO Representative, presented this paper at the Christianity and Human Rights Conference at a few years ago.
This presentation suddenly seems particularly relevant in light of the recent UN resolution to give Mother Earth the same rights as humans.
In this 2004 speech, Ms. Hartzok points out this quick history:
The United Nations Millennium Declaration that was adopted by the world’s leaders at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000 was really just an attempt to remind the member nations of their stated commitment to human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was first brought up and adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Article I states that All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 25 says that Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Then in 1976, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted. The Covenant proclaims these economic human rights, among others: the right to wages sufficient to support a minimum standard of living, to equal pay for equal work, and equal opportunity for advancement. In addition, the Covenant forbids exploitation of children, and requires all nations to cooperate to end world hunger.
However, the US never ratified this covenant, so in 2000 it was brought up again as the UN Millennium Declaration.
Finally, In 2004, UN rep, Alanna Hartzok, recapped these events and making points from biblical history justifying follow-through of the commitments the UN has made and renewed for over 60 years now!
Skipping over the deplorable world-wide economic conditions and lack of improvement in those conditions, which you can read in the transcript of her speech, I’ll just jump into the basic problem and biblical justifications for some simple solutions.
Here are some excerpts from that speech:
THE problem is that about 3% of the population owns 95% of the privately held land in the US.
…The basic human need for food and shelter requires access of labor to land. With access to land people can produce the basic requirements of life. Access to land provides an enabling environment for life itself and thus meets the minimum requirement…based on the fundamental equal right to exist.
…Early Christian teachings on the Land Problem… were clear and precise. The question of “Who Should Own the Earth?” was unequivocally answered. The land ethic of the early Christian communities was that of “koinonia” meaning essentially that God was the sole owner of the earth which was given as a gift to all…
When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire, the early Christian teachings on land were overtaken by the Roman land laws of “dominium” – a legalization of property in land originally obtained by conquest and plunder. A largely corrupted Christianity, uprooted from its early teachings on land ownership, too often went hand in hand with the exploitation and degradation…
For more info on that see this profoundly important book: Ownership: Early Christian Teachings.
Here are a few examples of opinions held by Christian figures on the immoral ownership of Mother Earth as compiled by the author of that book:
St. George the Great (Pope 590 – 604) rebuked the Romans when he said: They wrongfully think they are innocent who claim for themselves the common gift of God.
Clement of Alexandria: (The functions of property) -“to be shared,” “to minister to” and serve “the welfare of all” .
St. John Chrystostom: God in the beginning did not make one man rich and another poor; nor did he afterwards take and show to anyone treasures of gold, and deny to the others the right of searching for it; rather he left the earth free to all alike. Why then, if it is common, have you so many acres of land, while your neighbor has not a portion of it?
Augustine: The poor are poor because they have been deprived by the propertied few of the wealth that should belong to all. He laid the blame for this unjust situation squarely on the doorstep of an absolutist and exclusivist legal right of private ownership of real property, ie. Mother Earth.
Basil the Great: Taught a philosophy of ownership based on the view that God was Father and giver and Provider for all, and that therefore a few must cease stealing the food-producing resources that God had destined for the use of all.
Basil admits a certain right of laborers to the product of their labor but asks the landlords by what right they exercise ownership over their vast estates: Which things, tell me, are yours? Whence have you brought them into being? Whatever you have produced, or brought into being, may justly be yours. However, …land is not something they have brought into being.
Pope John Paul II, Bahia Blanca, Brazil, 1986:The land is a gift of the Creator to all men and therefore its richness cannot be distributed among a limited number of people while others are excluded from its benefits.
God intended the earth and all things in it for the use of all peoples, in such a way that the goods of creation should abound equitably in the hands of all, according to the dictate of justice, which is inseparable from charity. – from Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Vatican II
Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 1967: The right of land ownership and of free bargaining in land are subordinated to the fundamental right of man to obtain the necessities of life. In the force of the fundamental claim of the Commonwealth there is no unconditional right of land ownership.
Pope Pius XII: Every man, as a living being gifted with reason, has in fact from nature the fundamental right to make use of the material goods of the earth. – Pope Pius XII
According to some contemporary theologians, one of the tasks of the mission of Jesus was to restore the original intent of the Jubilee. In Luke 4:18 (by way of Isaiah 61:1-3): He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.. to proclaim release of captives… To set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Leviticus 25:23 The land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.
Eccles. 5:9 The profit of the earth is for all.
Isaiah 5:8 Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place.
Nehemiah 5:11 Restore, I pray you, to them even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive yards, and their houses.
Slavery – the act of ownership of one human by another was a time honored tradition until after centuries of suffering, it gradually dawned on the majority of people that it was unjust. Hopefully, people will have a similar awakening regarding the slavery of Mother Earth buy today’s elite.
In the meantime, a system of increased taxation on Real property (as opposed to personal property and earnings) would go a long way toward righting this wrong.
And Christian figures have been pointing this out for centuries:
A great deal of what is amiss alike in rural and in urban areas could be remedied by the taxation of the value of sites as distinct from the buildings erected upon them. – William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, in Christianity and Social Order
Equity insists that we cease levying taxes on the fruits of human toil, and make the monopoly value of land be the exclusive basis of taxation. – Episcopal Bishop C.D. Williams
Let’s end this summary of Allana Hartzok’s speech with a quote from someone you’ll all recognize:
The ruling class… has the schools and press, usually the Church as well, under its thumb. This enables it to organize and sway the emotions of the masses, and make its tool of them. – Albert Einstein
Don’t be a tool. Support land reform!
For a complete transcript of Hartzok’s speech on Earth Rights Democracy: Public Finance based on Early Christian Teachings or to find out what you can do, see this site.