Basic Income: A Christian Perspective

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A central tenet of Christianity is that Jesus’ love for us is unconditional. A person does not have to do good things, nor have high-ranking friends to receive God’s love. Nor does one have to work hard or go to Church. One simply has to follow Jesus. Unconditional love for others is God’s example for us to follow. 

Jesus also tells us to love our neighbour. In fact, it is His only command:

“All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbor as yourself.“”

Note that Jesus does not specify any conditions that the neighbour must fulfil in order to be worthy of our love. We are commanded to love our neighbor, regardless of his own circumstances and faults.

Of course, loving our neighbour is a far more organised affair than it was a few generations ago. The government now takes some steps to help the less fortunate. However, it is a system which is far from the ideal. 

Contrast the philosophy of universal love with the extant system of help available for the unemployed in Canada. In order to collect Employment Insurance, a person must have:

-been working previously;

-have lost their job through no fault of their own; and

-be actively looking for work. 

"We are called to create God’s kingdom on earth. Basic income is a step toward the ultimate goal, and it is a step whose time has come. "

In common with other social insurance programs, actually getting EI is a complex process involving paperwork, deadlines, and a good deal of waiting. A person wishing to receive EI must have excellent comprehension skills, good organisational ability, and be computer literate. The system is not tolerant of people who are a bit forgetful or not very good at learning rather counterintuitive rules. This is a far cry from Jesus’ call for unconditional love. 

But even if a person manages to navigate all the bureaucratic hurdles, there are plenty of people who are left by the wayside. What about a young person who has never had a chance to work? What about a person who was fired from their job? These people are not eligible for EI. (Perhaps you have little sympathy for the latter example. But consider this: some employers are simply not very nice people, and will not flinch to fire their employee for the most minor of transgressions. I am sure you know of such people.)

Someone who is not eligible for EI may be eligible for the much less generous Income Support. Again, there is the requirement to be actively searching for work. In both cases, “work” means “paid work” - voluntary work does not count. It may even count against the person, if it appears to the agency responsible that the volunteering interferes with the candidate’s ability to search for and undertake paid work. The implication is that only paid work is useful work. Followed to its extreme, our present system deems a person who devotes their life to helping others to be unworthy of any income to afford even their own basic necessities of life. 

 Scripture makes it clear that work is not just something we need to do to sustain ourselves. It should also bring us closer to God through personal fulfilment. Does the minimum wage fast-food worker feel fulfilled? It is something of a taboo, but as Christians we should not balk at truth. So here is a secret which you already know: many people dislike their jobs and find them boring. Indeed, most jobs include a deliberate element of makework. Our government encourages it. The success of our society is judged by employment figures, not life satisfaction. Is drudgery the path to enlightenment? No. But unfettered from the task of scraping together enough to pay the rent, who knows what creativity, passions, and zest for life the poor and meek may express. 

We are called to create God’s kingdom on earth. Basic income is a step toward the ultimate goal, and it is a step whose time has come. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Earlier this year, a group of 41 bishops sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in support of a Guaranteed Basic Income. You can read the letter here.

Further reading 


- By Dominic Thompson

(Guest writer Dominic Kealan Thompson is an engineering graduate of the University of Alberta and Cambridge University. His interests include sustainable development, history, and attempting to fix things.)