2 Thessalonians: The Difference Between the Religious Left and the Religious Right


What is the difference between the religious Left and the religious Right? The key – believe it or not – may well lie in the interpretation of a biblical verse, 2 Thessalonians 3: 10:

He who does not work, neither shall he eat.

Let us compare the interpretations of Tony Abbott (a conservative, religious politician in Australia) and Lenin. In a speech from 1999, Abbott opines, ‘Disincentives to work have been recognised at least since the time of St Paul (who said that those who did not work should not eat)’. The speech itself concerned unemployment and the work-for-the-dole programme. For Abbott, of course, those who do not work are those who are at the bottom of the social heap, the unemployed, the riff-raff, the no-hopers. For conservatives like Abbott, they really don’t want to work and must therefore be given incentives to do so, such as cut their benefits or get them to engage in government-designated slave labour, euphemistically called ‘work-for-the-dole’. By contrast, the owners of capital, the multi-billionaires, work hardest of all, for otherwise how would they have become rich?

As for Lenin, it is precisely the rich capitalists, as well as the bourgeoisie who do no work, for they rely upon the labour of others for their obscene profits. During the famine of 1918, brought about not through a shortage of grain but through the destruction of the transport network by the First World War and the White Armies, Lenin addressed a crowd of workers in Petrograd as follows:

The bourgeoisie are disrupting the fixed prices, they are profiteering in grain, they are making a hundred, two hundred and more rubles’ profit on every pood of grain; they are disrupting the grain monopoly and the proper distribution of grain by resorting to bribery and corruption and by deliberately supporting everything tending to destroy the power of the workers, which is endeavouring to put into effect the prime, basic and root principle of socialism: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’. ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’ – every toiler understands that. Every worker, every poor and even middle peasant, everybody who has suffered need in his lifetime, everybody who has ever lived by his own labour, is in agreement with this. Nine-tenths of the population of Russia are in agreement with this truth. In this simple, elementary and perfectly obvious truth lies the basis of socialism, the indefeasible source of its strength, the indestructible pledge of its final victory (Collected Works, volume 27, pp. 391-2).

It looks like this biblical text may well be a shibboleth between reactionary and revolutionary approaches to the Bible.

As an afterword: this slogan was plastered throughout cities, towns and villages during the dire situation of the ‘civil’ war (1917-23). The Metropolitan Vvedensky, a left-leaning priest and a leader of the Renovationist Church that sought to work with the communists, comments on this slogan in a debate with Anatoly Lunacharsky:

When you say you are for the principle of work, I remind you of the slogan, ‘he who does not work shall not eat’. I have seen this in a number of different cities on revolutionary posters. I am just upset that there was no reference to the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, from where the slogan is taken.

Roland Boer, on the road in Russia.

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