Project August: Day 4 – Are Libertarianism and Christianity Incompatible?

Today being a Sunday and myself being a Christian, I went looking for something theological to write about. And eventually I found something. Apparently, some people consider libertarianism to be incompatible with Christianity. Obviously, I disagree. So on this Sunday, August 4, 2013, I am going to look at an objection some Christians have to libertarianism.

The blog posts to which I am responding are this one, and this one and this one. Other posts in a similar vein are abundant. More so than I had suspected.

The almost nasty attack these posts make on libertarianism as incompatible with Christianity, summed up, goes something like this: Christian tradition says using the law to enforce Christian moral preferences is necessary, and since libertarianism opposes this, libertarianism is therefore incompatible with Christianity.

Um, no.

One of the main arguments against libertarianism these people seem to have is that Thomas Aquinas apparently argued that government using force to compel people to obey Christian ideas, like giving to the poor, is perfectly acceptable and indeed possibly even necessary for mankind. To which my initial counterargument is: So?

Don’t get me wrong. Thomas Aquinas was a great thinker and theologian. But that he said something does not make it so. My authority for Christian theology is not Thomas Aquinas or Christian tradition. My authority for Christian theology is the Bible. Am I a great Bible scholar? No. Do I sometimes use the words of others to help me understand what the Bible says? Yes, of course. But just because someone smart says something does not make it so. And the deference to Thomas Aquinas seems to me to fall into category of the fallacy known as argument from authority. Which in this case amounts to saying Thomas Aquinas was a great Christian theologian so therefore Christians should agree with him. Perhaps the case Aquinas makes is good and worthy of discussion but that he made it is, by itself, not sufficient reason for me to assume it must be correct.

And if we are going to talk about tradition, then I suggest we take a look at what the Bible has to say about these things. What society did God establish for Israel? A decentralized society with no central government. And when the nation of Israel demanded a king so that Israel could be like all the other nations, the Bible tells us God cautioned against it (1 Samuel 8:4-18). In His earthly ministry, Jesus did not preach the establishment of a society that forced His preferences on other people. Just the opposite. What did Jesus tell wealthy people? Did He say go forcibly take money from other people? No. Jesus told wealthy people they were responsible to use their own wealth to help the poor (Luke 18:18-23). When the collectors of the temple tax came calling, what did Jesus say? That those untaxed were free (Matthew 17:24-27). For whom did Jesus reserve His most severe criticism? The Pharisees and lawyers who had made obedience to God’s teachings a burden (Matthew 23:1-4) and who made “the word of God of no effect” by holding instead “the tradition of men” (Mark 7:1-13).  And what was the advice of Jesus for how his disciples were to exercise their authority?

Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”
—Luke 22:24-27 (NKJV)

The tradition that, as best I can tell, the Bible provides is contrary to ideas of authoritarianism and ideas which justify forcibly imposing Christian preferences on others. If anyone believes he or she can explain why I should accept the word of Thomas Aquinas over that, feel free to try. Indeed, I might be wrong, and I am open to being corrected, but something better than “Thomas Aquinas said so” is required to convince me. (Yes, I know, some of you out there may be thinking I seem very much stubborn. This is not stubbornness. This, in case the reader is unaware, is what is sometimes called being not “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine”.)

Another part of the argument against libertarianism is that libertarianism is somehow inherently opposed to Christian values. Sure, libertarianism supports freedom of speech and freedom of religion and all sorts of things good Christians support these days, but because it does not want X, Y and Z immoral actions to be illegal it then is immorally supporting these actions. Well, I have already discussed that in a couple of other posts. Basically, not desiring unjust laws in the name of morality does not mean one supports immoral actions. And on the other side of that coin, there are many things that are immoral and yet not illegal that I do not advocate making illegal. This also does not mean I support that sort of behavior.

For me (and your mileage may vary), libertarianism is not only compatible with Christianity, but my Christian faith and theology call me to a libertarian political philosophy. Even if I did not know of libertarianism, I think perhaps I would be a libertarian anyway. Certainly I very much leaned libertarian in my thinking and understanding of scripture even before I had even heard or read the word libertarian. And the arguments that claim libertarianism is incompatible with Christianity, I so far find lacking in persuasive substance.

As usual, there is a lot more I could say on the subject, but the end of August 4 is approaching, and this post is already almost 1000 words long. So let us stop here for now.

Do not worry, D/s fans. I have not forgotten you. I will be talking about D/s in the days to come. Project August still has twenty-seven days to go. 

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