Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Is libertarianism compatible with Christianity?

Not my question, but that of Mr. Stewart Cowan of Real Street, asked in a comment on a post on this blog.

It is a question that has been discussed a lot in other places, but why not have another discussion here? Blogs are for reinventing the wheel, are they not?

I. Stewart's question

Is libertarianism compatible with Christianity? We know that the truth will make us free and that behaving however we want will lead us into sin and enslave us.

To which I answered, in brief: "I agree with your second sentence. Libertarianism is about political freedom, not ultimate freedom. Politics cannot make anyone free, and operates in a completely different realm from the gospel - though politics can bring political freedom. So I'm not sure what the connection is between your first sentence and your second sentence.

If you can persuade me from Scripture that libertarianism is not compatible with Christianity, I shall be grateful. But my view is that it is more compatible with Christianity than any other form of politics in a sinful and fallen world."

II. Definitions of Libertarianism.

My definition: Libertarianism: the philosophy that holds that the ultimate political value is the freedom of the individual, and that the most effective way to uphold that freedom is to limit the scope of the state to those activities which directly defend that freedom.

Leg-Iron: Libertarianism . . . means fewer and simpler laws that are easy to understand and follow. . . . You are free to do whatever you want in Libertarianism as long as it hurts nobody else. Cause trouble and the proverbial ton of bricks comes into play.

Counting Cats: The basic principle is: "Thou shalt not initiate the use of violence." Everything else derives from that. Note, this is not pacifism; if someone initiates violence against you and yours, or your friends and allies and theirs, you are free to respond as you see fit. (And "violence" basically means "coercion", as I understand this definition.)

Bella Gerens: Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and that you must not coerce anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and that you must not interfere with anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and that you must not oppress anyone else. Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.

There are many more, but those give one a basic idea. (A lot of libertarians speak about "self-ownership" being the basic principle of libertarianism, though I find that philosophically problematic, and don't accept it.)

III. So,what are the options?

1. No philosophy of government is compatible with Christianity. All fall short. And so, by implication, Christians should not be involved in politics or waste time discussing political matters.

2. Christians have a duty to "christianise" society, and should use political (among other) means to do so. This implies using force on unbelievers. This is what many would call the Constantinian or "Christendom" model. However, in my opinion, 2000 years of church history show that this has a nasty habit of turning, er, nasty - though there are plenty of people working on non-nasty variants. But these often end up being virtually indistinguishable from mainstream western political parties.

(I have dealt with both those options, to some extent, here.)

3. Libertarianism is not compatible with Christianity, but some other (basically secular) political philosophies are.

4. Libertarianism is compatible with Christianity. Indeed, it may be more compatible with Christianity than other political philosophies.

IV. A brief vindication of the thesis that libertarianism is compatible with Christianity.

1. The New Testament nowhere suggests that Christians have a duty to use the power of the sword to christianise society by political means.

2. What is the main thing that Christians are to seek from government?

I Timothy 2:1-2 "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."

The main thing Christians are urged to pray for, when we pray for politicians, is that government will allow us to lead a peaceful and quiet life, and to let us get on with being Christians. This implies that the main thing that we are to look for from government is to basically leave us alone and protect us from those who would attack us. Which is basically the libertarianism position.

3. If we want to be allowed to lead a peaceful and quiet life, then we should want others to be allowed to lead a quiet life and do what they want to do. As a Christian, you cannot consistently ask the government to grant you the freedom to do what you want, if you, at the same time, want the government to deny others the freedom to do what they want (as long, of course, as it does not hurt someone else). Luke 6:31 "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

4. I have never seen anything in the Bible which suggests that libertarian principles are not compatible with Christianity.

If readers believe that I am wrong, then I invite them to point out my errors.

10 comments:

indigomyth said...

I broadly concur. However, out of curiosity, why do you not agree with the principle of self-ownership?

Stuart said...

Excellent, just what I have been waiting for. I'm going to cross post this one.

indigomyth said...

//...directly defend that freedom.//

The inclusion of the word "directly" is critical, I think, because it denies pre-emptive action against people who have not threatened, or even planned to use, violence. So, for example, having someone high on heroine may be an indirect threat to my safety (they may go mental and hit me), however, until I am directly threatened, I should not aggress.

Young Mr. Brown said...

"However, out of curiosity, why do you not agree with the principle of self-ownership?"

Biblical principle.

The Apostle Paul tells Christians "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price." (I Corinthians 6:19-20)(The price he refers to is the death of Christ).

In fact, one could argue from the Bible that God owns everyone and everything, by virtue of being our creator: "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
" (Psalm 24:1)

I guess it really depends on how one defines "self-ownership", but as a Christian, the idea that I own myself doesn't sound right.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Thanks, Stuart.

I appreciate your kind words about this blog.

indigomyth said...

YMB,
//Biblical principle.//

Fair enough.


//In fact, one could argue from the Bible that God owns everyone and everything, by virtue of being our creator://

I am not a theologian, however, would that not mean that Ford still owned my car, even though I paid money for it?

I suppose there is no equivalent with God is there? A way to buy yourself back off of God

Young Mr. Brown said...

Indigomyth,

You are quite correct.

You can buy your car from Ford, because you gave them your money.

But you cannot buy yourself off of God, because the money (or whatever) that you consider to be yours actually belongs to him, too.

Stewart Cowan said...

I feel bad about not contributing, although I have been thinking about this. To be honest, I don't know. Hope you find my honesty refreshing!

Personally, I prefer society to be constructed out of Christian values and so certain things, like abortion and homosexual behaviour, would be taboo.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hi Stewart,

Yes, I find your honesty very refreshing. And there are (of course) times when I don't really have anything to say, and hence say nothing.

"Personally, I prefer society to be constructed out of Christian values and so certain things, like abortion and homosexual behaviour, would be taboo."

There are many things that a Christian would prefer that people didn't do. But can all of them be made illegal? I doubt that many people really believe they can.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Oh, and by the way, abortion and homosexual behaviour are very different issues. While libertarians are unanimous in believing that homosexual behaviour should be legal, many libertarians believe that abortion is an act of aggression against an unborn child, and hence should be illegal.