Libertarianism versus the Modern Pharisees

Libertarianism. If you listen to some people, they will tell you that word, libertarianism, means selfishness and callousness, that it signifies a shallow and childish ideology that cannot address the complex problems of the complex world in which we live. Only liberal ideas, conservative ideas, progressive ideas, et cetera, can address the real and complex problems of the world. And of course, so they claim, libertarianism therefore cannot be considered compatible with the moral teachings of Christianity. Their solution? Have government do something, and by do something they mean make their moral preferences into laws. This makes them, in my opinion, equivalent to the depiction of the Pharisees seen in the Gospels of the New Testament.

Why do I say that?

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Matthew 23:1–4 (ESV)

That is why. These people who want to impose taxes on others for the sake of helping the poor and the needy, who claim opposition to taxes is opposition to helping the poor and the needy, ask them if they are going to claim deductions on their tax forms. Ask them if they ever send in more money to the government than their taxes require. Were I a betting man, I would bet that very nearly all if not all of them will answer yes to the first and no the second. It is morality that demands government tax people for social welfare programs they claim. Not supporting these programs and the taxation that funds them is immoral and greedy they say. Then why not send more money to the government? “I don’t need to,” they claim, “because I already support the government programs.”

Yes, seriously, that is exactly the answer I get when I ask these people whether they send in more money to the government than their taxes require. I wonder sometimes if these people ever pay attention to the things they say.

If you ever want to see self-righteousness on display, go check out the anti-libertarian articles and subsequent comments at places like Salon and the National Catholic Reporter. People there nearly break their arms to pat themselves on the back that they are smarter and more mature and more moral than libertarians. They are better than libertarians because they understand the “real” world, and they know that the only way is to use the government to force people to “contribute” to the common good.

A dispute also arose among them [the disciples of Jesus], as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
Luke 22:24–27 (ESV)

When they [Jesus and His disciples] came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for Me and for yourself.”
Matthew 17:24–27 (ESV)

Even Jesus sees that taxes are a burden. And He told His disciples to not attempt to claim authority over others. Sure, there are plenty of verses in the Bible and the New Testament in particular about obeying government. I am not advocating rebellion. I am pointing out what Jesus had to say about the notion that the moral way was to claim authority over other people. There is also a passage from the Old Testament that has relevance to this issue.

Before the nation of Israel had kings, it existed as a decentralized society. As the Book of Judges points out couple of times, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” When the people of Israel displeased the Lord, He would assign to someone the role of judge, to mete out punishment. The Lord very obviously was deliberately not giving Israel a king or a centralized government. Eventually, however, the people of Israel decided that they needed a king, that they needed a government to do something. What did God say about this?

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
First Samuel 8:4–18 (ESV)

In other words, God warned Israel against having a king. Oddly enough, God seems to think that some people gaining lots of power over other people is bad for society. Demanding that government do something, demanding that government impose moral constraints and taxes and conscription on other people is something God warns against. Hm.

So am I preaching anarchy? No, I am not preaching anarchy. I am suggesting that the “government must do something” crowd does not have the moral high ground they think they do. When Jesus admonishes people to give to the poor, He did not say give as little as tax rules allow and make sure other people are taxed for the sake of the poor. He said you give of your means to the poor.

So, suggesting that government-run social welfare programs—which are rife with fraud and waste and used for political purposes—are not the most moral way to help others, is that some how incompatible with Christianity? No. It is, in point of fact, a reflection of an understanding of scripture which indicates that the use of government power and authoritarianism is not the way Christians are called follow.

This post is long enough for now. More to follow.

2 Responses to “Libertarianism versus the Modern Pharisees”

  1. Hello . This topic has me remembering my Dad discussing this with great gusto among his friends and colleagues (Dad was a lecturer in Theology and a Christian. He described himself as a maverick Christian, he most certainly was too!)

    I had to go back over his notes files and essays plus the numerous page markers stickers and lolly sticks in his bible to find exact references.
    He always said the bible was contradictory over and over and often deeply frustrating to those to try
    to live a Christain life  to the very letter of the bible

    Romans 13. Holds a lot of questionable references
    which should make Christian go “what???”
    Here goes

    For because of this you also pay taxes, for the 
    authorities are ministers of God, attending to this 
    very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to
    whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue 
    is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

    Stalin and Hitler were concidered “authorities.” Were they not?
    My Dad took your stance on this (even found same bible references )and used to argue yes we are Christians but should not be mindless enough to follow poor, corupt, negligent leadership without challenging if not for ourselves then for the more needy and vunerable among us.
    I re read other bits and pieces in Romans but
    would be here all day wasting your valuable
    Thank you so much for giving me food for
    thought and the oppotunity to go through my
    Dads treasure trove of notes, thoughts and often very irreverent scribblings. 

  2. I could not have worded this any better and I am looking forward to your unspoken but, written promise of more to follow.

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