Theologica

a bible, theology, politics, news, networking, and discussion site

As the title suggests, I am looking at the compatibility of Christianity and Libertarianism. Over the past few weeks, I have been reevaluating my political ideology. The last time I did this was about 11 years ago when I transitioned from politically apathetic to political conservatism (as that is defined in America). As I converted to Christianity in 2001, that conservatism was slightly altered to social conservatism to be more in line with my new found Christian beliefs. I naively thought that all Christian were social conservatives; a belief reinforced by the suburban circles within which I traveled. It never occurred to me that there could be bible-believing Christians who were politically liberal; I had automatically assumed a Christian who was politically liberal was also theologically liberal (which is typically true, but certainly not 100% true).

In regards to libertarianism, I certainly didn’t think a libertarian would even entertain Christianity; libertarians were those who want to legalize marijuana, prostitution, gambling and live in a state-less society. As it stands, this too is a naïve belief. After some lively discussion with a Facebook friend, I began looking into libertarianism (my friend claimed to be a Libertarian Christian, something I was sure was an oxymoron). I took the world’s smallest political quiz and lo-and-behold, I came out libertarian (I scored 80 on “personal” freedom and 100 on “economic” freedom). I figured I needed to do some more research.

Now I want to distinguish political libertarianism from theological libertarianism. Theological libertarianism revolves around the debate of human free will in regards to God’s sovereignty. Libertarian Free Will (against which I have written here) argues that man’s will is autonomous and is able to make decisions that are free in an absolute sense (i.e., undetermined). I believe a consistent biblical view of man’s will argues against man having an autonomous free will. This is not to argue that man’s will isn’t free. Man is free to choose anything he desires to choose. The only caveat is that man’s free will choices fall under the umbrella of God’s eternal sovereign decree.

Political libertarianism doesn’t regard man in relation to God, but man in relation to man in the realm of society. Libertarianism argues that for human society to thrive personal freedom must be maximized and government control must be minimized. Put another way, the more control government has over the lives of the citizenry, the less free the people are. The less free the people are, the less prosperous the society as a whole will be. History bears this out to be true. The most prosperous civilizations have been those that maximized personal freedom and kept government intervention to a minimum.

Political libertarianism operates on a principle called the non-aggression principle. The principle of non-aggression states that it is unethical for a party to initiate aggression against another’s person or property through violence, theft or fraud. Stated positively, a person has the right to life, liberty and property. As such, he is free to do what he wishes as long as he doesn’t infringe on another’s right to life, liberty and property. Libertarianism also favors free market capitalism as the best way to achieve a prosperous society in which people are allowed to freely trade goods and services as well as make mutually agreed upon contracts. As far as the role of government is concerned, government (if it is desired at all) exists solely to protect the rights of individuals and to protect the country as a whole against aggression. As with all ideologies, there are varying flavors of libertarianism ranging from anarchists who argue for a total abolition of the state, to minarchists, who advocate for minimal government (seeing government as a necessary evil). The main libertarian objections to government in general is that governments tend to want to perpetuate their hold on power and can only survive on taxation; which can be argued is a violation of the non-aggression principle (taxation being a form of legalized theft).

That’s all well and good, but what about the social conservatism that marks many Christians (including myself)? How can Christianity, with its strict definitions of sin and its prohibitions against such, be compatible with libertarianism? That’s a good question, and one I struggled with for some time. As a Christian, I have strong views on abortion, homosexuality, substance abuse and other forms of sexual immorality.

For example, I am absolutely pro-life. I believe that abortion is the murder of an innocent life. Yet, an organization such as the United States Libertarian Party basically punts on the issue; refusing to take a stand either way. Some libertarians would argue that a woman has a right to her body (i.e., self-ownership), and if she wants to abort her baby, that’s her choice (the basic pro-choice argument). However, I would argue that to abort that baby is the ultimate violation of the non-aggression principle as it is a violation to that baby’s right to life. What about homosexuality? Again, I believe the bible is quite clear that homosexuality is sin. However, a libertarian stance would be to allow people the freedom to do what they want with their lives, including forming whatever relationships they want to enter into as long as they’re consensual. This means that libertarians would be against the ban on gay marriage. I know many Christians for whom these two issues are show stoppers.

The question I had to ask myself as I studied the issue further is this: Is it right for Christians to force their morality on the nation as a whole through the power of the government? Put another way, is it right for the government to coerce people to follow a moral code with which they don’t agree? With the exception of abortion, I cannot make an argument on libertarian grounds in favor of legislating against the immoral behaviors listed above. There is no reason, on libertarian grounds, to prohibit two homosexuals to “marry.” Additionally, there is no reason, on libertarian grounds, to protect special rights and privileges for heterosexual marriage and withhold them from homosexual relationships. The same can be said for legalizing marijuana, gambling, prostitution, etc. If anything, the libertarian arguments for legalizing marijuana, gambling and prostitution are very strong given our history with prohibition. What happened when alcohol was made illegal? Alcohol went underground and organized crime saw an opportunity. Crime went up and people were still drinking.

Here is where my social conservative friends would say to me: “By legalizing this immoral behavior, aren’t you giving your tacit approval for said behavior? Also aren’t you afraid of societal decay?” After careful consideration, my answers are “no” and “yes” respectively. Libertarianism is all about freedom and liberty, not about legalizing marijuana. Hand in hand with liberty is tolerance for how others decide to use their liberty. I do not approve of marijuana use, gambling or prostitution; all are prohibited in the bible. But I believe freedom is a principle that is more beneficial than legislating a particular moral code. If we value freedom, then we must allow people the ability to abuse that freedom in self-destructive or immoral ways. Tolerating homosexuality is not the same as condoning it; and in a free society, I would have the freedom to speak out against the sin of homosexuality, while at the same time tolerating my homosexual neighbor. In regards to societal decay, there is a chance that permitting such immoral behavior would lead to societal decay; but we’re already witnessing societal decay. And as with alcohol prohibition, the prohibitions against marijuana use, gambling, etc., haven’t prevented people from performing said behaviors. Plus, as with alcohol prohibition, to the extent that drug, gambling and prostitution are illegal, there will always be an organized criminal element involved. The unintended consequences of prohibition are devastating in money spent, lives lost, civil rights violated and property stolen or damaged.

Perhaps for my socially conservative Christian friends an analogy would help. I am a Calvinist. Suppose there was a way for me to be able to enforce the teaching and practice of Calvinism and Reformed Theology in all Christian churches. Would that be right? Would it be right for me to force all those with whom I disagree with theologically to believe the way I do because I’m right and their beliefs are aberrant? Should Christians in general force Jehovah’s Witnesses to reject their heretical views and adopt orthodox Christianity? This was precisely the predicament that came up during the Protestant Reformation. When Luther began distributing the word of God amongst the masses, the Roman Catholic Church protested that to do so would hopelessly fracture the church as each person would be free to interpret the Scriptures for themselves. Luther’s response was that it is better for the bible to be in the hands of the people, than for the people to be under the tyranny of Rome. The church is fractured and there are many bizarre interpretations of the bible, but I would argue that that’s better than everyone blindly following one (mistaken) interpretation. The freedom of having the Scriptures brings with it the freedom to be wrong.

As Christians, we know that the law does not justify; the law can only condemn. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Protestant Reformers identified three uses of the law: 1) to point out our sin and point us to Christ; 2) to regulate Christian behavior and 3) to restrain sin in civil society. Wait! See! The law can restrain sin in a civil society; therefore, we should legislate a biblical morality! However, most libertarians would agree in general with biblical morality. Murder, theft, lying, adultery are all violations of the non-aggression principle. In fact, most societies have such prohibitions because being made in the image of God we have the law written on our hearts. Many libertarians even like to quote Jesus’ Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). The point being, enforcing a biblical morality on society isn’t going to make society righteous. That only comes through faith in Christ. The unbelieving mind is inherently hostile to the things of God. We already see today, enemies of Christ utilizing the legal system to marginalize Christianity. How long before that marginalization turns to outright persecution? The means Christians would use to enforce a biblical morality are the same means the enemies of Christ would use to ban Christianity. However, in a truly libertarian society, Christians would be free to practice their faith as they see fit – the church would be free to be the church! And as we all know, true freedom is found in Christ and Christ alone!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Views: 329

Tags: Christianity, Libertarianism, Politics

Comment by Daniel on September 9, 2011 at 8:13pm
I have to admit that my reading comprehension didn't last all the way through the post, but I like what I've read so far. :)  Have a question though.  Which of the liberal, conservative, or libertarian approaches do you think is the MOST compatible with Christianity?  Which would Christ be?  Why?
Comment by Chad Gibbons on September 10, 2011 at 10:48am
It's always been helpful for me to simply point out the difference between the two terms 'Libertarian' - not imposing morals on others, and 'Libertine' - Not having any morals yourself. As you've pointed out, many people conflate the two.
Comment by Brandon Christopher Zaffini on September 15, 2011 at 2:53pm

That was quite a post, and there's much that could be said in response. Here's a couple quick thoughts to get the conversation going.

You argue that Christians should not force their morality on others through the heavy arm of the government. So, then, what law should be enforced, and upon what basis should the government even make laws? Are not laws based on some sort of morality? If they are, then does not the government legislate morality to some degree?

Certainly the government treads unstable ground when it begins to legislate belief. But what of prostitution and drug use? Should not the government have a say over these activities since they are harmful to society, creating a more dangerous environment for others and corrupting the ethics of the youth?

It seems we need to make some fine distinctions here. Protecting society from harmful activities is not the same as demanding doctrinal uniformity. One is legislating thought and belief, the other is enforcing the law--and laws are inevitably based on morality.

One more quick thought. Libertarians often argue that prohibiting certain things, like drugs, alcohol, or prostitution, will create an underground market. In other words, society may be less safe in the long run. Ron Paulites usually point to the Prohibition Act to make their point.

A quick response. There is a sense in which the Prohibition Act was successful. During that time, less people drank alcohol than in other eras. I have never heard a Libertarian contest this point. Unfortunately, a black market did creep up that had disastrous effects. The problem with this point, though, is that there probably should never have been a Prohibition Act. Alcohol simply has nowhere near the negative impact on a culture as does prostitution or drugs. So in the end, less people drinking less alcohol was not worth the black market. With drugs or prostitution, I would argue that the trade-off may be worth it. In either case, this argument is entirely utilitarian and says nothing about whether a government should be able to prohibit such activities if it chooses. 

Comment by Carl Gobelman on September 16, 2011 at 10:24am

Brandon,

 

Thanks for commenting....

 

You wrote: "You argue that Christians should not force their morality on others through the heavy arm of the government. So, then, what law should be enforced, and upon what basis should the government even make laws? Are not laws based on some sort of morality? If they are, then does not the government legislate morality to some degree?"

 

It is true, in my opinion, that every law is, in some way, legislating a morality. On that we're agreed. However, if your question is what law should be enforced, that would depend. The libertarian philosophy is based on the principle of non-aggression; that's its morality, if you will. Based on that principle, the laws a government would enact would be negative laws; i.e., "Don't do this" laws. Taken from the American perspective, our Constitution is meant to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens. We, the people, delegate to the federal government the authority to act within those parameters. The Constitution limits the reach of government and in Article I, section VIII, those limitations are specifically spelled out. Furthermore, in the Bill of Rights, the Constitution limits the power of the federal government from infringing upon the enumerated rights enshrined therein.

So aside from protecting the rights of the citizens to life, liberty and property, I would argue that the state has no other rightful duty. That means crimes such as murder, rape, theft, fraud, etc. would be adjudicated and punished at the level of the state. Other "victimless" crimes are not in the purview of the state from a libertarian perspective because they do not infringe upon the right to life, liberty and property of another individual.

 

You wrote: "But what of prostitution and drug use? Should not the government have a say over these activities since they are harmful to society, creating a more dangerous environment for others and corrupting the ethics of the youth?"

 

Two things can be said regarding this: 1) We already have laws against prostitution and drug use and they haven't prevented these things from happening. 2) The unintended consequences these laws have produced are much more harmful than the actions themselves.

 

Furthermore, I would argue is prostitution "harmful to society?" On what basis is it harmful? How does prostitution create a "more dangerous environment for others?" Why is prostitution harmful to society and adultery is not? Maybe we should have a law against adultery? The truth of the matter is that prostitution, like adultery, is not "harmful." It's a consensual act between two adults. Doesn't make it right, but it's not harmful.

As far as corrupting the ethics of our youth, there are so many things out there that corrupt the ethics of our youth. The only way to protect them in that case is to raise them in a bubble and make sure they have no contact with the outside world. I think most reasonable people would agree that if we teach our children a biblical morality, they should have the necessary information to make and form their own ethical and moral decisions. They won't always make the right choice, but then neither did we when we were young. The law and moral rules are no guarantee of ethical and moral behavior even amongst Christians.

 

You wrote: "There is a sense in which the Prohibition Act was successful. During that time, less people drank alcohol than in other eras. I have never heard a Libertarian contest this point. Unfortunately, a black market did creep up that had disastrous effects. The problem with this point, though, is that there probably should never have been a Prohibition Act. Alcohol simply has nowhere near the negative impact on a culture as does prostitution or drugs. So in the end, less people drinking less alcohol was not wor

Comment by Carl Gobelman on September 16, 2011 at 10:35am

Daniel,

 

Which of the liberal, conservative, or libertarian approaches do you think is the MOST compatible with Christianity?  Which would Christ be?  Why?

 

I can't speak for all Christians, but I think that the libertarian approach is the most compatible with Christianity. All of the exhortations in the NT are directed to Christians, not to the unbelieving world. Because of that, I don't think it's the purpose of the Church to enforce a Christian morality on the unbelieving world through the institution of the government. The Church is called to make disciples of all the world through teaching and baptizing (or through evangelization and preaching). The government uses the tools of force and aggression to get its way. The Church uses the tools of word and sacrament to get its message across.

As far as which would Christ be? I think Christ transcends political ideologies. He is the King, so it's not like he's going to worry about man's political ideologies. Christ didn't fit into the political molds of his day.

Comment by Casey Birch on September 22, 2011 at 4:28pm

Carl,

 

I must take exception to a few of your points.  To counter I will just make a few of my own points:

  • I believe the Biblical view of earthly governments is that their purpose is to execute and preserve justice to the honor of God.  This is very related to, yet importantly distinct from, protecting political and economic rights. and liberties, which are an Enlightenment concept (though at least partially based on scriptural principles).
  • This biblical view of justice is often applied to the protection of the weaker groups in society from exploitation from the more powerful groups in society.
  • Of course the government is one of those more powerful groups that can exploit as well.
  • Some of these principles, I think, can lead to some applications that would be at odds with some Libertatrian views.
  • For example...Prostitution.  I think an argument can be made that most of the time prostitution leads to the exploitation of the women and children involved.  Consenting or not, these women often are abused physically, emotionally, and economically.  I think that its likely a very rare situation that a woman really wants to be a prostitute, but she believes that there is not a better way to simply survive.  OFten they are drug addicts, have issues with disease and produce children who are aborted, neglected or abused.  Why would a just society allow such a business that is inherently unjust to its workers?
  • Under such a view, governments must avoid two extremes in any given policy or issue: 1) allowing injustice without involvement and 2) perpetrating injustice through involvement.  Between these two extremes I think there is a lot of room for subjective application.  
Comment by Casey Birch on September 22, 2011 at 4:50pm

One other issue:

 

You said that Christians should not legislate their morality on society (or somethign to that effect).  Well, whose morality should be legislated onto society?  Any legislation is the enforcement of a moral code.  your Libertarian concept of non aggression is a moral concept that you would have legislated on people.  Whose moral is that?  Is it Christian?  If so you are legislating a Christian moral on people.  If not, is there another code of morality that supercedes Christian morality?

Comment by Carl Gobelman on September 23, 2011 at 9:02am
Casey,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I will add my thoughts to your comments.

Regarding your comment that the "Biblical view of earthly governments is that their purpose is to execute and preserve justice to the honor of God." My initial thought is that this is too simplistic a statement to make and that it doesn't fully capture the biblical view. We know that in Romans 13:1-5 Paul says that all governing authorities have been "appointed" or "instituted" by God and that they are "God's servant for our good" and carry out "God's wrath on the wrongdoer." However, I would question the assumption that what Paul says in Romans 13 equates to the government's purpose to execute justice and preserve the honor of God.

I made the argument in another blog post that saying God institutes the governing authorities is not the same thing as God condoning the governing authorities. By God's eternal decree, he ordains all that comes to pass. God also not only ordains the ends (what comes to pass) but the means as well (how those ends come to pass). That means a human government could be established through the evil actions of evil men who begin to tyrannize the people they now govern. All those things have been ordained by God, but it can hardly be said that they are upholding God's justice and preserving his honor. In fact, can you show me a single example of human government that was directly established by God. The nation of Israel really doesn't count because when God established them in the land of Canaan, he was their king. In essence, Israel didn't have a human government until 1 Samuel 8 when they complained to God to have a king like the other nations around them. What happened when they did that? God warned them exactly what would happen if they got a king; nothing good. Did God ordain that? Yes. Did God condone that? No. The moment Israel rejected God as their king and wanted a human government, their collective fate was sealed. It was only a matter of time before they were removed from the land God gave to them.
Comment by Carl Gobelman on September 23, 2011 at 9:03am

Casey,

 

Regarding your comment about the biblical view of justice and the exploitation of weaker groups. Just examine the history of the human race. Human governments (let's just simplify this to the State) are the most egregious purveyors of exploitation. The State will exploit whomever they wish for their own ends. Whenever you take depraved human beings and consolidate the power of the State into the hands of one, or a few, depraved individuals, you will get exploitation; the more power they have, the more they will exploit. The exception are those rare times when those in power seek to serve and not exploit; but that's the exception, not the rule. The State is an institution born in the sinfulness of man; as such it will be evil and exploitative. It is only by God's common grace that the State can perform any 'good' at all; but for the grace of God, it will only be evil.

Regarding prostitution: Let me begin by saying that clearly prostitution is sin. Of that there can be no doubt. At the same time, I believe it is also self-evident that there is a huge difference between what is moral and what is legal. Not everything that is legal is moral; conversely, not everything that is immoral is illegal. From what I gather you're trying to say is that we should strive, as Christian, to match morality with legality. Please, correct me if I'm wrong. You believe prostitution should be kept illegal because you believe it's immoral and is a detriment to society. That it's immoral, there is no doubt. That it's a detriment to society, there is room for debate. Many of the exploitations you mention regarding prostitution stem from the fact that it's illegal and conducted in the black market. There's also the criminal element involved as well. All of that must be considered. Decriminalizing it, i.e., making it legal, would remove the criminal element that seeks to make a profit in prostitution.

Be that as it may, one must ask the question if it should be illegal for someone who wants to pay someone else for a sexual encounter. Morality aside, should it be illegal? If so, why stop at prostitution? Isn't adultery also immoral and detrimental to society? Let's make adultery illegal punishable by fines and jail time. How about lying? I'm not talking big things like fraud, but simple, everyday lying. It's immoral and detrimental to society. Let's make it illegal. How far do we go?

Making prostitution legal, like making alcohol legal and drug legal, etc., isn't going to turn everyone into a prostitute. I don't think there are a boat load of young girls that are just waiting for prostitution to become legal so they can start turning tricks without fear of reprisal. What it does do is allow people the freedom to make their own choices (bad or otherwise) and it also removes the element of organized crime and the black market from such vices. We saw it with prohibition, and there is no convincing argument I've heard that would suggest it wouldn't work for other vices.

I think the State needs to be radically limited. State intervention is rarely good and too often bad. Even the best of intentions has radically bad consequences. The founders had it right: the State to the extent that it exists at all, should reserve itself to protecting each individual's right to life, liberty and property. When the State tries to run our lives, that is when you get some of the worst forms of tyranny.

Comment by Carl Gobelman on September 23, 2011 at 9:21am
Casey (final comment),

You wrote: "You said that Christians should not legislate their morality on society (or somethign to that effect).  Well, whose morality should be legislated onto society?  Any legislation is the enforcement of a moral code.  your Libertarian concept of non aggression is a moral concept that you would have legislated on people.  Whose moral is that?  Is it Christian?  If so you are legislating a Christian moral on people.  If not, is there another code of morality that supercedes Christian morality?"

As I stated in an earlier comment (and I apologize for so many comments, but there must be a character limit), the State should be limited to protecting the rights of life, liberty and property. These 'natural' rights flow from our common humanity. Furthermore, the principle stated regarding protecting these rights stems from the "Golden Rule," which is really just a way of stating the concept of Natural Law. Natural Law is not distinctly Christian (or Jewish or Muslim, etc.), but human. As such, it can be applied in all civil society.

When I said that Christians should not legislate their morality on society, I am referring to certain Christian distinctives. Should we legislate church attendance? Who's church? Which denomination? You see where I'm going with this? In an open, pluralistic society like ours, you cannot do that. Even in relatively homogeneous Europe during the time of the Reformation when everyone was 'Christian' and you had a mingling of church and state, you had the intolerance between Catholics and Protestants. The minute you have some variation from a societal 'norm' you have to make a choice: tolerate it or criminalize it. Toleration is not acceptance, but rather peaceful coexistence.So if you want to make a complete Christian society, you could, but you would have to make it a closed society and exhibit a strong amount of control over it.

Personally, I don't see a biblical mandate for Christians to make a Christian society through taking the reins of political power and enforcing biblical morality on the world. If you believe this, please make an exegetical case for it. Christians are aliens in this world. We influence through the leaven of the gospel. The Reformers referred to the church as the Church Militant. In other words, we are expanding the kingdom of God through the proclamation of the gospel, but we will never ever feel at home in this world.

Comment

You need to be a member of Theologica to add comments!

Join Theologica

Sponsors

Linkologica

Blog Resources

Arminian Today

Anyabwile

Bock

Called to Communion

Challies

Classical Arminianism

Craig

Christian Answers For The New Age

Christians in Context

Conversation Diary (catholic)

Continuationism.com (marv & scott)

Desiring God blog

DeYoung

First Things

Fr. Stephen (eastern orthodox)

 

Internet Monk

KJV Only Debate (jason s.)

 

Köstenberger

Lisa Robinson - TheoThoughts

Mohler

McKnight

National Catholic Register (catholic)

Parchment & Pen

Pierce

Re-Fundamentals

Resurgence

Roberts

Roger Olson

Taylor

Team Pyro

The Apologist's Pen

Untamed Spirituality

WDTPRS (catholic)

Witherington

 

Theological Resources

BioLogos

Center for Reformed Study and Apologetics

Creeds and Confessions

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Council of Biblical Manhood and Womenhood (complementarian)

The Center for Bibical Equality (Egalitarian)

Evangelical Theological Society

Monergism.com

Reclaiming the Mind Ministries

Society of Evangelical Arminians

Theopedia

Theological Word of The Day

Tyndale House Bulletin

 

Church History

Early Christian Writings

Glimpes of Church History

 

Christian Traditions

Book of Concord

Catholic.com

Eastern Orthodox

Orthodox Catechism

 

Apologetics

CARM

Lennox

Reasonable Faith

RZIM

Stand to Reason

Tektonics

 

Bible Study

Bible Gateway

Bible Researcher

Blue Letter Bible

Bible.org

IVP New Testament Commentaries Online

 

Online Bible and Theology Education

Biblical Training

The Theology Program

 

Theology and Bible MP3s

Covenant Seminary

263 Theology Questions and Answers

Veritas Forum

 

Theologica Chat Room

MiRC Chat

Badge

Loading…

Get the Widget


Sponsor



Bible Options




© 2014   Created by Michael Patton.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

/*============================================================================================ /*============================================================================================