Christianity and Libertarianism

My wife and I originally wrote this article back around 1998 or so in response to an article that was published in Christianity Today that held the position that Libertarianism and Christianity were mutually exclusive. This wasn't before the Internet, but it was before you could link to just about every article that was currently being published, so I don't have a link to the original.

We wrote this to publicly disagree with that. The title of their original opinion piece was something like, "Libertarianism is not a Viable Christian Position," so we entitled ours "Libertarianism is the Only Viable Christian Position." We submitted the article to Christianity Today and Liberty magazine, but both declined to publish it.

I came across the libertarian philosophy somewhere around 1996.  My mother-in-law was a supporter of Harry Browne and mentioned him as the man to vote for in the presidential election.  Since I wasn’t particularly happy with either Bill Clinton nor Bob Dole, I decided to check out his book, Why Government Doesn’t Work and found in it nothing I could disagree with.  So I voted for him, and continued on my quest for what exactly libertarianism meant.  I subscribed to the Advocates for Self Government’s mailing list, started reading Liberty magazine, and read a few more books, like David Bergland's Libertarianism in One Lesson.  All of these strengthened my believe in the libertarian cause.

As I become more educated, I started hearing about Ayn Rand and Objectivism.  On a recent vacation with some friends, I found that a couple of them subscribed to this philosophy, and I was interested to hear more about it.  After talking with them for a while, I came to the conclusion that Objectivism, in its culmination, would result in atheism.  I asked if this was correct, and was told I was right.

Now, honestly, I still don’t understand all of Objectivism, but atheism has always struck me as one of the most untenable religions.  And make no mistake, it is a religion.  Atheism, as much as Christianity, requires a leap of faith about the nature of the universe.  But while the Christian, or the religious Jew, or the Muslim, says there is a God, but we can’t know everything about Him, the Atheist says that there is no God.  How one can say this with any confidence is beyond me.  To be an atheist is to say not only that there is not God, but that if there was one, the atheist would recognize Him if He existed.

It seems that many libertarians come from this Objectivist point of view, and I wanted to point out another path to libertarianism:  Christianity.  I believe that there is no other political philosophy that is consistent with Christianity than libertarianism.

The basis of Christianity is a number of things.  First, that there is a Supreme God who created all that is.  Second, that this God is a morally perfect God, and that He requires morally perfect behavior from His creations.  Third, that His creations do not in fact behave morally perfectly, constantly choosing to be separated from Him, and, this is very important, He does not prevent them from doing so.  And last, that He loves His creations so much, that He was willing to come to them that they might be reunited with Him.

It is that third point that leads the thinking Christian to libertarianism.  God allows us to engage in unwise behavior, and allows us to reap the consequences of that behavior, be they good or bad.  He may do all He can to show us which path is the wisest, but the finally decision of which path to take is ours.

In this, how can we do any differently?  How can we, as Christians, enforce morality in any way, with the exception of preventing harm to others and ourselves by the use of force?  We can use force to prevent murder, theft, or any other violent action, because we are helping to protect one individual from another’s use of force.  But we have no theological right to use force to prevent people from harming themselves.  In doing so, we violate that person’s God given power of free will, and we are also a stumbling block to his spiritual growth by shielding him from the consequences of bad choices.

If a child lies constantly, and never has to live up to the negative consequences of lying, will that child ever repent of it?  If a person refuses to live an adult life, in charge of himself, and the state guarantees him the necessities of life, protecting him from the negative consequences of his choice, will that person ever decide that it is best to provide for himself?

Not that Christians shouldn’t help out the poor.  Let that never be said!  But in helping the poor, let us do so face to face, making sure that the recipient of our help understands that we do so willingly, not because a government agency has forced us to.  And let him understand that we do so to help his growth (for the receiving of help can be a source of spiritual growth).  Let him understand that the help he gains comes at the expense of others who have to work for his well being, and let him have the shame that comes with a lifelong dependence upon others for living necessities.  Only by this, will the person come to understand that he cannot continue in this way, and must be accountable for his own life.  That is something we all must learn in order to grow into spiritual adulthood.

Christianity also leads to libertarianism from another path:  namely, that of the sin of theft.  All government force is made possible with funds from taxes.  Taxes are simply theft by the government, in the end, at the point of a gun.  How can we as Christians endorse this act?  How can we say that it is theologically justified for anyone to steal another’s property, when the Word of God explicitly says otherwise?  The eighth commandment says “You shall not steal.”  It does not say, “You shall not steal unless it’s for a really great social good, or for the good of the individual you are stealing from.”

My family tries to give liberally of the income God has gifted us with.  But one thing we have decided is that we will not give of our time nor our money to charities that accept government money.  We do this to make it clear where our loyalties lay, and we make clear the reason why we do not give.  To give of our time or money to an organization that accepts government money is to condone, however subtlety, the fact that that money was stolen from people who did not want to give it, and would not have given it if they had had a choice.  We cannot abide this!

All charity work and giving must be voluntary.  It must be so for our own spiritual health and for the health of those we wish to help.

Persuasion is the path Christians must use to protect people from themselves.  If we see our brother or sister sinning, we must point out to them this fact, and we must show them what the consequences of that are.  We must do all in our power to show him or her that the wise path is away from drugs, pornography, alcoholic abuse, or that they should buckle up to protect the gift of life God has given them, or carry the child God has bless them with.  But “all in our power” does not include the right to hold a gun to their head and force them on threat of a bullet to comply with the laws of God.  That decision God leaves to them, and so should we.

To the Christian who has not considered these things, I ask that you pray about what your responsibility is the next time you enter the voting booth, or the next time you consider what position to take on an issue.

To the atheistic libertarian, I ask you to consider that the philosophy you come to by other means is the natural culmination of a philosophy you believe to be foolish.

And to both, let us do all we can to help our fellow child of God to see the full potential of what God intended them to be.

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