Libertarianism versus the Modern Pharisees, part 2

In the previous post, I started talking about the ways libertarianism is often attacked for being immoral, un-Christian, and unfit for society. Some people want to argue that moral path, the Christian path is to claim authority over other people, to use the authority of government to place legal burdens on other people. My response was (and is) that no, that is not the moral and Christian way. It is not the example laid out for us in the Bible. Today, I will talk about the idea that libertarianism is self-centered and callous, and that for this reason it is immoral or un-Christian. Spoiler Alert: I don’t agree.

I have seen a lot of nonsense about libertarianism being about focusing only on the self, or that libertarian ideas some how leave no room for caring about others. Often these comments come from people who claim to know all about libertarianism because they read Atlas Shrugged or because they have talked to libertarians before, or some similar shallow thought process that they use merely to confirm their own preconceived assumptions and biases against libertarianism. So let’s poke some of those assumptions and biases in the eye with a pointy stick.

Libertarians speak of individual rights. Individual human beings have rights. You know, unalienable rights. Rights that are not given by other people, or government, and that cannot be taken away by other people, or government. This idea frightens some people. “The common good!” they cry loudly. “The good of society!” “No man is an island!” And other similar objections. They insist very strongly and righteously that the common good must be remembered, and that libertarian ideas of individual rights ignores this good. What they miss in their eagerness to be righteous is that protecting individual rights is the common good. Protecting individual rights is in the best interests of society.

For what is society? A collection of individual human beings. No matter how much some people talk about the common good or the good of society, if they forget that society is collection of individual human beings then they are not advocating what is in the common good. Often I have found what those people advocate is far less about the good of society and far more about controlling society. They are going to make society better by imposing on society their preferences for how society should behave. And this way, they claim, is moral and good and the way Christians should choose.

I look to the example Jesus set for us. The Son of God comes to the earth via being born as a human child to poor parents of no political clout. Not even within Jewish society. And what does He do here? Does He promote authoritarian ideas? No, he attacks the authoritarians in Jewish society. Does He start a political rebellion so that He can impose His will on society? No, He does not. When His disciples talk about which of them would be the greatest, does Jesus tell them to use their position as His disciples to impose His teachings on society? No, He tells them to be not rulers but servants. So is the example and the teaching of Jesus that we should use political authority to bend people to our political or moral preferences? No, it is not.

But we live in a society. We live among other human beings. No man is an island. We cannot get by without the help of others. These things, the anti-libertarian folks claim, trump all libertarian ideas and prove how selfish and callous those ideas are. And maybe they would, if libertarianism was somehow set against society. On the contrary, libertarianism embraces society and people working together and helping each other.

Protecting individual rights promotes respect for other people. My rights are the same as your rights. They are of equal importance.  What does Jesus teach us? “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Whatever you wish others to do to you, do also to them. And the commandment exactly second behind loving God with all our being? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Treat others as if they are just as important as you are. There is nothing about that which is contrary to the concept of individual rights. In point of fact, the idea of individual rights and protecting those rights and respecting those rights is 100% in line with that teaching.

But what about homosexual marriage and smoking pot and abortion? Aren’t libertarians all for those things? Doesn’t that prove libertarianism is immoral? No. For one, most Christian libertarians are not supporters of abortion. They believe in protecting the rights of the unborn. Smoking pot is no more a moral danger than drinking alcohol. And ruining lives with jail time for it is not the loving way to help people who do it. And many Christian libertarians do oppose homosexual marriage (a position with which I do not agree). That said, many would prefer simply to stop the government from meddling in marriage.

But surely society needs to have government meddling in marriage and providing a social safety net and doing the things that strengthen society. But do these things strengthen society? Does making more and more people dependent on government for their means of sustaining themselves really strengthen society? Or does it strengthen government? Is giving the government more power over our lives really the Christian thing to do? Are we not thereby committing the same sin as the people who demanded that God give Israel a king?

Some will insist that we must have government run social programs to help the poor because otherwise there would not be enough help. Why? If the government can take your money to spend on social aid programs, why can’t you instead give that money to help the poor in other ways? If you and me and the rest of the people agree that the poor must be helped, why don’t you give that money to charities that exist to help the poor and needy? There are hospitals that beg for money every day so they can provide health care to the truly needy without charge. There are veterans charities and food pantries and social aid groups all over this country.

But let us speak for a moment of what libertarians generally see as truly helping people. Capitalism. Ooooh, oogidy boogidy! Yes, capitalism. No, not fat cat corporations who partner with government for power and money. Capitalism at the local and individual level. People creating new things, offering services, doing the things that help them succeed in life and stay off of government welfare. That is what strengthens society. That is what makes society stronger and safer and better. And libertarians seek to get government out of the way of people who are trying to achieve that. Libertarians seek to help others make their lives better by eliminating needless bureaucratic obstacles. Is that un-Christian?

Seems to me many people seem to think it is. Love your neighbor as yourself, is the commandment. Do I act in love if I seek a path that leaves my neighbor weak and dependent on welfare? Or do I act in love if I help my neighbor, and indeed all my neighbors, by trying to reduce man-made obstacles in their way? Am I acting in love if I seek to infringe on my neighbor’s rights or if I seek to protect his rights? Am I loving my neighbors as myself if I treat society as a bunch of children who need to be controlled, or if I treat my neighbors as individuals who are human beings with rights that should be respected?

To argue that libertarianism is inherently incompatible with Christianity is to argue from the position of authoritarianism, the position of Phariseeism, which Jesus told us not to do. 

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16:5–12 (ESV)

There may yet still be more to come. Stay tuned, students.

11 Responses to “Libertarianism versus the Modern Pharisees, part 2”

  1. Your posts always seem to grab me and challenge me, this is a good thing. I am very cautious and hesitant on replying to such entries but, nonetheless, my eagerness to learn and understand, has me commenting.

    More and more, few things are commonly misunderstood than the nature and meaning of idealism, theology, liberation, idealation, theocracy and of course, libertarianism. I for one, will not admit, that I fully and thoroughly understand, for I do not have this claim and do not have the right to make this claim. I am not a professional and I do not claim to be a professor in the theology of liberation or libertarnism, or even the idealism and morality of it but, is it as easy as stating that the theology of Liberation can be described as ‘an interpretation of Christian faith?’ Or so, that is how I had read it upon my small amount of research into it, or, is it more of a moral reaction to poverty seen, heard and lived and therefore the theology of it all is possibly a (non) or inter-denominational movement?

    Instead of arguing the semantics of whether it is a form of Christianity by biblical law, or a fundemental radical movement among various world religions, I will state that from my understanding of Liberation and it’s theology upon what I have read on numerous sites (again, I do not claim to be correct) that Liberation is more of the attempt to Unite theology and sociopolitical concerns and create a movement of Enlightenment and acceptance. yes? No?

    I feel the need to further research this topic..

    • Liberation theology is a movement mostly within the Catholic church. As best I can discover, it seeks to promote social change for the sake of the poor, though it seems to do so by advocating for socialist/communist rebellion against social order, including the Catholic church hierarchy. While I sympathize with the aims to help the poor, and I like the name, I am not a fan of the Liberation theology movement.

  2. Taxation is one deprivation of our liberties. The only countries I know of who do not impose taxes on their citizens are Islamic or Muslim ones and the same I know goes for interest which is prohibited by the religion. I do not believe this economic code will ever be applied in the western world.

  3. Not a fan of Liberation Theology either. It had in my humble opinion potential for great harm and could have put Christianity back centuries.
    However, I do like that it got the great leviathan, the Catholic Church to open at least one sleepy lethargic eye. That will always make grin.

  4. most people believe in individual freedom, letting people get on with their lives, less government and so on but not to the point of being libertarian. you almost sound republican to me.

    • Most people believe in individual freedom but not to the point of actually wanting people to have it, is what you’re saying to me.

  5. Gee, someone’s real defensive. krugman’s analysis, oh there’s no real libertarians left in America! but no that’s not what i’m saying to you. if we’re talking generally in terms of government and considering the history of political systems & not focusing on the United States, then it’s clear that power is best divided, dispersed in different sources to stop too much legal and political power being concentrated in a single body, which inevitably always leads to tyranny. so that’s Montesquieu’s tripartite seperation of powers. too much government involvement leads to tyranny, too little and they say you get anarchy. i like the Milton Friedman philosophy, leans toward a libertarian approach. you’re free to do whatsoever you like with the condition that it does not harm others.

  6. There are so many questions to consider with this topic. The extent to which people want to see their governments being liberally orientated varies, and the problem usually comes in with the favoring of state paternalism over the liberty of individuals. On the one hand you have the prohibition of harm against the individual and then there is also the question of safeguarding moral values.

    • Safeguarding whose moral values?

      • Well exactly, a question to consider, it is subjective though most people would refer to it as fundamental social values. Most times this whole thing boils down to social control.

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