The times that our world today is experiencing are unprecedented and unparalleled in human history. Collective humanity believes itself to be highly advanced, its humanistic views the peak of enlightenment. The coming endpoints … a series of them … couldn’t contrast more sharply with the beginnings.
In that light, we begin a short 3-part series. The intent is simply to update you as to the state of a number of “late, great, planet earth” conditions (to borrow a phrase from Hal Lindsey). Just how far has mankind traveled down a road of godlessness and complicity with the Evil One?
What will be the extent of the pathos of Christ, when He returns to earth and witnesses its faithless condition? Christ knew that he would find mankind wholly succumbed to his three primordial weaknesses. These are the “[…] the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). It is these very same worldly temptations that Satan targeted when he tested Christ during his 40-day fast in the wilderness. While Jesus withstood Satan’s entreaties for our sake, mankind (seen collectively or individually) would sell Him out on these same proposals.
Christ questioned the disciples: “When I return, will I find any faith in the world?” While he said this in the form of a question, it should really be read as an endtime prophecy. There will be very little “faith” found upon earth when He returns. And, that could be very, very soon. Then, mankind and its leadership will be shown to have staked their faith in their lusts like Sodom, “overfed and unconcerned” (Ezekiel 16:49); worshiping manmade idols of wood and stone (greater economic growth, wealth and ownership); and lastly, charting their own destiny and goodness outside of God.
In this “Woolly Mammon” series, we propose to mainly focus on the 2ndand 3rd of the three lusts—that “of the eyes” (“the desire for possession” ISV) and the “pride of life” (“worldly arrogance” ISV). We will cover three separate but related topics: 1. Earth Repossessed; 2. Pomp, Circumstance and Splendor; and 3. Ruling Elites and the Great Wealth Transfer.
Ownership of the Creation
Who owns the earth? This is a question that will attract many different answers today. Some will argue that the earth belongs to itself. Human life is therefore no more valuable than any animal life, and must be sacrificed to save the future of earth. Geopolitical strategists will argue differently. Their craft of possessing “space and time” is in the hands of nations and its leaders. Then there are the merchants and economists. They will be inclined to see ownership more as a matter of law and title.
Christians believe the Bible will have the answer to this question. However, in consulting Scripture, we encounter some seemingly confusing perspectives.
Firstly, we read this: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14). We learn here that everything is the Lord’s. Also, the Lord says that “[…] the whole earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5) and that “[…] the cattle on a thousand hills” are His (Psalm 50:10-11).
Yet, the Psalmist also says something on this subject which, at first glance, appears contradictory. He says, “The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind” (Psalm 115:16). Here it clearly says that “earth He has given to mankind.” How can the earth be the Lord’s (i.e. … Deuteronomy 10:14), but also be given to mankind? We are not scholars of the Greek language. However, a brief study of Psalm 50 suggests the view that earth is being assigned to mankind more as a domain and conservatorship for a time.
This aligns with the command found in Genesis. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:28). The world is not possessed by mankind, but rather the earth is put under his dominion.
The Earth Up for Grabs
At the very beginning, after God created the earth and the heavens and He saw that it was good, there were only two people on the entire earth. There were yet no landowner frictions. They were fully provided for in the Garden of Eden and were not subjected to hard labor.
But something happened down through the past millennia after the Fall. The concept of human ownership intervened, and with that the manifestations of the lust of the eyes. Over time, a globalized, commercially-dominated world would emerge where the concepts of possession, ownership, wealth and consumption were to become the very essence of the meaning of life and existence.
Ownership Then and Now
There are two key aspects of ownership as it exists today that are instructive to review. First, most all the valuable parts of creation are now under the legal ownership of man. Second, ownership of all these domains is held by relatively few individuals and entities. If not by government or kings and queens, then by individuals … some of these very rich. Today, mankind has created conventions that convey ownership rights to literally everything that God created.
International organizations exist to help mediate on these issues in almost every domain. It is amazing what can be owned today. We next provide a short anecdotal illustration of the state of ownership of the world today.
Human Labor. Most people think of world financial markets and underlying economic systems as representing wealth. Yes and no. Firstly, we would say financial markets play a greater role in the distribution of wealth, rather than its creation. They are not its source. All wealth comes from God, either in the form of His creation or His life-giving capacity. In the human realm, that translates into the fruits of labor.
All the wealth of the world today (as we humans would recognize it) cannot exist apart from humans and their labor. It is a simple fact that is too rarely recognized. Human labor—past, present, and future—comprises the bulk of what is wealth today. Its ownership may be highly skewed, as it surely is in our time (Please see Part II of this series for further documentation). The use of debt allows a very small group of people to own a disproportionately large output of human labor. How much is world wealth? There are many estimates, all of them flawed. Credit Suisse in its last World Wealth Report 2012 estimated total world wealth at $222.7 trillion. Other surveys predict this value will grow 60% or more by 2020.
Resources and Mineral Rights. It is no accident that resource-rich nations are often run by despots and client states. Minerals and resources are valuable, provided that they can be mined or excavated. Many people will have discovered that though they owned a piece of land, they may in fact not own the minerals that lie underneath. Prospectors may be given exploration rights and development rights, sometimes to the great inconvenience of the owner. The Bible says, “Him […] who created […] the earth and all that is in it” (Revelation 10:6). The ownership of these deposits, whether gold or copper, has built many massive fortunes.
Land and Real Estate—Kings and Churches. Large swathes of the earth’s land masses are owned by someone. According to legal definition, the largest five individual landowners on earth are Queen Elizabeth II (6,600 million acres); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (553 million acres); King Bhumibol of Thailand (126 million acres); King Mohammed IV of Morocco (113 million acres); and Sultan Quaboos of Oman (76 million acres). An incredible 21 percent of this land is owned by a short list of landowners, according to The New Statesman.
An enormous amount of land is held by the Australian Colonian Agricultural (owned by the Kidman family). Their land mass is larger than 90 of the world’s smaller states. Colonial Agricultural is bigger than the world’s smallest 43 countries combined.
At one time, between 20 and 30 percent of Europe and the same proportion of South America was owned by the Roman Catholic Church. Most of those lands have since been lost, but the Pope is understood to own all the land of the Catholic Church’s institutions, religious orders and dioceses as monarch, on much the same basis as the Queen owns her acres. The estimated total of land held by the Pope is around 177 million acres. Approximately a decade ago, an association of 8 major denominations (which included the Catholic Church) made the claim that they collectively owned “7% of the inhabitable real estate on earth.”
Genomes: With the advent of the Human Genome Project, the notion of patenting human genes arose. There are now patents associated with around a quarter of the genes in the human genome.1 Imagine, that today, even the gene sequences of human life have ownership rights in the form of patents. In effect, simply having knowledge of “how wondrously made” (Psalm 139:14) is something that has become an item with monetary worth and therefore cannot be used by another party. Some medical research cannot be performed without the prior permission of the patent holder.
Biological Molecules, Genetically Modified. Today, pharmaceutical and seed companies will stake ownership rights upon life forms (seeds) and biological molecules. They may alter these biological materials (GMOs or genetically modified organisms) and thereby stake their claims. This has been an extremely lucrative business.
Color Spectrum: In our materialistically-mad society, believe it or not, there are legal disputes over colors. How could that be? Isn’t color a function of the natural spectrum and the created human capacity to see them? Nevertheless, various ownership battles are raging. Here is just one example: Pantone (owned by Lawrence Herbert and family) has developed a color category spectrum which is intellectual property and can only be used if licensed. 2
Life Savers, a well-known candy company, has used a multi-colored striped background on the wrapper for its multi-flavored hard candies. Later, Curtiss Candy Co. introduced their brand of hard candies in a multi-colored striped background wrapper. Life Savers sued. Do they have the right to get a permanent injunction against Curtiss to stop their use of a multi-colored striped label? While in this case the issue concerns several colors and its basic striped design, it is illustrative none-the-less, involving the matter of trademarks.
Brand Values: Companies today can be worth many times what is indicated by their financial balance sheets through “brand value.” For example, the brand value (not the company itself, only its brand name identity) of Apple (the electronic consumer good company, best known for the i-Phone), is estimated to be worth $104.5 billion, according to Forbesmagazine’s most recent World’s Most Valuable Brands survey.
Intellectual Property Rights: All the inventions, intellectual concepts, writings, compositions and creations of mankind are eligible for patents. Patents do eventually expire for the most part. Nevertheless, these can have great value. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that some patent rights are being extended very significantly.
Air Waves: Radio frequencies are viewed as ownable space even though they are invisible. Though the spectrum range is large, there are only a finite number of frequencies. Auctions of frequencies for cell phone use over the recent decade, provide some indication of just how valuable is this space. For example, a 2008 auction in Canada of just one spectrum (a spot on the dial, in old-fashioned radio terms) raised $4.25 billion. The spectrum auctions of the German government back in 2010 raised a staggering $98.8 billion.
As we have partly illustrated, there are many more parts and portions of this earth that have been carved up into separate ownership rights. We have only touched upon a few.
Points to Ponder
The most unimaginable things in the earth’s sphere are now owned by humans. Even planets and stars can be owned (unofficially, of course). Humorously, according to one website, for $5, you can have a star named after you. Actually, a legitimate organization does exist, the International Astronomical Union,3 which assigns names to heavenly entities such as stars and comets. These names are for scientific documentation purposes, and are not for sale.
In all seriousness, we realize that the “lust of the eyes” at this “late, great state” in the world has been built up into a highly sophisticated ownership system, giving rise to massive and measurable wealth, riches and splendor. Property rights and their protection are indeed important. Seen in the aggregate, this huge, measurable pile of wealth, though much of it indeed is false wealth, serves as a great anchor for the materialists and humanists. Progress is defined as wealth continuing to increase. More is better. Its pursuit is the essence of the meaning of life. It is the value system of Mammon.
The world may think that everything is up for grabs for personal or corporate ownership, and that this will mark the advancement of mankind in the future, but one thing can never be owned by humans. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We do not own ourselves, whether we are Christians or not.
We are not our own. This brings great comfort to those that live unto the Lord. “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Can the world boast of the ownership that the Bible tells of here in this verse: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
One day, the ownership structure of the world will change completely. We will continue to review the late, great state of “lust of the eyes” and “the pride of life” in the world today in Part II.
1 National Human Genome Research Institute. Intellectual Property Accessed: October 27, 2007. http://www.genome.gov/19016590
2 Color Matters. http://www.colormatters.com/color_trademark.html
3 International Astronomical Union (IAU). Among other objectives, the IAU also serves as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and any surface features on them.http://www.iau.org/