Thursday, August 30, 2007

Why Christians Should Consider the Libertarian Alternative

(originally published July, 2004 - I'm posting older articles before adding newer stuff)

I'd like to take some time to write a few words to Christians who may be frustrated with the course of events in this country, concerned for the future, and disillusioned with the increasingly authoritarian bent of the Republican Party. Specifically, I'd like to encourage you to consider an alternative that may have been heretofore unknown or else unthinkable to you.

I'd like to encourage you to consider the libertarian alternative.

Growing up in a strong religious conservative environment—Baptist, and you don't get much more conservative than that—I knew little of libertarian ideals. Based on the input of others, I was under the impression that libertarians were essentially a group of neo-hippies in pursuit of the legal right to be immoral. The party of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, if you will. It was not until I was in college before I seriously began to consider what libertarians themselves had to say on the matter, and I had to admit that it was an eye-opener. It took a few years, but resistance eventually proved futile. I was ideologically assimilated.

Based upon my own experience and reflection, Christians, I believe that most in our ranks are actively contributing to their own frustrations when it comes to political considerations. I contend this for two reasons:

1. Moral laws do not make a moral society.

Many Christians are laboring under the delusion that they can reshape America into a haven of virtue if they can but wrest power from the Godless Left and pass laws that punish immoral or otherwise "objectionable" behavior. "If we could just get God back into the schools, things would be different." And so forth.

The problem here is two-fold. First, there is the old saying, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." People will not alter their convictions merely because you pass a law regulating their behavior. How many of you have become liberals because we have a welfare system? How many of you have become apostles of the public school system because you're taxed for its support? Second, morality and virtue will not endure if they are written in the statute books but not in the hearts of the people. Pass all the laws you like, but if those laws do not reflect the beliefs of the population at large, rest assured that people will subvert those laws and/or seek their repeal. In time, you will not even be able to pass such laws because you will find few willing to sponsor them. Our leaders are not hatched in incubators, after all; they are chosen from among the people. Thus, if the people themselves lack morality and virtue, where will you find moral and virtuous leaders to pass the laws you seek?

2. Moral laws must necessarily reflect the majority's morality.

Thomas Paine once said, "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." By seeking to enforce Christian views of morality and virtue upon all of society via the law, Christians are unconsciously establishing a precedent that will be used—is being used—against them. If government enforces morality and virtue, it must necessarily enforce someone's particular vision of morality and virtue; and that someone will invariably be the voting majority. The question we then have to ask ourselves is whether we are prepared to lay all that we hold dear at the feet of whoever musters the next majority vote.

So how does libertarianism address these issues?

Libertarian ideology suggests a system in which government merely exists to keep the peace. It defends individual liberty and property against force and fraud. It does not enforce moral or religious codes of personal behavior, nor does it redistribute wealth or play favorites. In short, it places responsibility for one's life back in one's own hands, treats people equally, and prevents the state from interfering in all affairs where one person's actions do not directly impact someone else.

Some Christians would object to this arrangement because a government that does not "legislate morality and virtue" cannot ban things that are "wrong," nor can it actively support things that are "right"; however, there is also another side to this libertarian coin. A government that does not involve itself in enforcing arbitrary standards of "what's right and good for America" will not empower socialists to steal your income to fund class-warfare; it will not tax you for the support of public schools or interfere in your educational decisions, such as homeschooling; it will not tell you how to raise your children; it will not run your business or punish your success; and it will not donate on your behalf to those who consider crosses immersed in urine and aborted fetuses in formaldehyde to be "art." Other examples could be provided of areas where government routinely offends the beliefs of Christians at their own expense, but space does not permit us to discuss them here.

Libertarianism, while certainly not a cure-all for our ills, it is a better alternative to the present winner-take-all system. It is an ideology that allows individuals to live their lives free of the influence of others to the greatest possible extent, both "us" and "them." Embracing it would end the majority of battles for domination of our government by removing the majority of reasons for which we fight over government: to control, and to keep from being controlled. It is a better solution to the political and cultural civil war currently raging in our midst than to merely keep fighting. It targets the underlying importance of the individual over the fickle whims of society. It defends your right to protect that which is most important to you. And it avoids the trap of setting a precedent that others will eventually use against you.

Be aware, however, that libertarianism also requires a willingness to be tolerant of behavior that Christians personally find objectionable, and this is its most difficult selling point among our ranks. To that end, I suggest that Christians reflect on two considerations: 1) that the freedom they allow others may measured back to them proportionately in the freedom they themselves are allowed, as Thomas Paine pointed out; and 2) the example of Christ Himself, who concentrated His ministry on individuals that came to Him or were simply willing to hear Him. The harshest words that He ever personally expressed toward anyone were directed at the Jewish religious leaders, people who devoted their lives to forcing others to conform to their own personal standards of belief and behavior. Was Jesus without conviction? Hardly. But His message was designed to change individual lives, not to force conformity to some arbitrary system that could only hold sway by force and intimidation.

I would suggest that it is high time we adopted the same stance toward our own modern political Pharisees. Few of us have any desire to live under such people; why should we then have any desire to be like them? Is tolerance for the behavior of others such a high price to pay for the freedom to live our own lives and raise our children as we see fit?

No other system offers such promise for so little sacrifice. Consider the libertarian alternative.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Government in the Wedding Chapel

(Originally published April 2004 - I'm posting past articles before adding new material)

The recent gay marriage debate has effectively re-ignited the culture war and drawn attention to fundamental assumptions concerning humankind’s most ancient and sacred institutions. Those in favor of allowing gays to wed plead their case in the name of equality; those opposed ask us to consider the potential ramifications for the sanctity of marriage and the integrity of the family itself. Recently, even President Bush stepped into the fray, advocating the passage of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The fate of this initiative has yet to be seen. Meanwhile, state governments are also taking up the issue.

Whether the Bush marriage amendment is successful or not, and no matter what steps state governments may take, our American culture has taken such a turn so as to ensure that this issue will not disappear from the social and political landscapes. A marriage amendment will not end debate over the institution of marriage or what constitutes a family any more than Prohibition eradicated booze or the desire for it. It will not silence those who claim that the law discriminates against them by denying them an equal footing with others. The issue will remain; and, at some point, a Bush marriage amendment will likely be overturned, just as Prohibition eventually was. Our governing officials are drawn from our society at large, not hatched in incubators, and if a majority of our society decides to accept gay marriages, ultimately, a majority of our elected officials will support them as well.

The point here is that American society shapes American law, not vice versa. We are not a dictatorship, a monarchy, or an oligarchy. No one person or exalted group of persons forces laws upon us. As distant as our representatives sometimes are from the will of their constituents, and as lax as those constituents often are in watching over the process, elected officials are still subject to recall or replacement. To gain and then maintain their office, they cannot afford to cross the majority too often, particularly on hot-button social issues. Our government may run behind the times, but it will eventually go where society itself is now heading.

Conservatives who back the Bush marriage amendment – and there are some fine, well-meaning individuals among them, make no mistake – have largely forgotten this simple truth of our way of life. In so doing, they ignore the real threats facing homes and families, and unwittingly make hypocrites of themselves by diluting their limited-government ideology in favor of promoting their own personal morality with the force of law. They allow the breakdown of the family to continue, and they set the stage for liberals and statists to use the precedents that they themselves have established for the enforcement of their own values, values conservatives are likely to eschew.

For example, consider how liberals often tell us that it is our duty to society to support the social welfare state. To their way of thinking, taxing me to give some portion of my income to someone they deem as less fortunate is leveling the playing field and helping the downtrodden. Conservatives respond that this is not government’s rightful place. They argue that the welfare state is socialist redistributionism, that we are not helping the poor by making them dependent upon the state, and that taxes appropriated for such purposes are tantamount to theft and class warfare. Conservatives say that, instead of creating government programs to address issues like poverty, we should promote stronger families, support private charities to aid the needy, lower taxes to free up capital that can be used for starting new businesses, pay existing employees better salaries, and boost economic activity overall. In other words, conservatives usually argue that improving society itself on a person-by-person basis is the key to addressing poverty, discrimination, and the other social ills that confront us. They make the point that government involvement only complicates things.

At this point, I have to ask: where is this rhetoric with regard to the gay marriage issue? Why is it suddenly necessary for government to intervene? "Because we must maintain our country's moral foundation," they answer. "Because we must defend the institution of marriage." So what? Liberals argue that their redistributionist schemes are also an essential part of our country's foundation. They argue that the social welfare state is the proper moral and compassionate response for us to make as a people. They argue that we must all "pay our faire share" and "protect the less fortunate."

Both sides claim the right to sway government to the cause of protecting what they view as essential, proper, and "good." The side that prevails is the side that wins the next election and holds power. Meanwhile, the defeated opposition schemes for new ways to come to power and reverse its loss. And so back and forth we go, vying with one another each election cycle over "what's right for America" when it really comes down to the issue of using government to enforce our morality and sense of what is best for everyone. Under the right circumstances, conservatives can be just as staunchly pro-government as their liberal counterparts.

Personally, I think there is a better way, and that way is for government to get out of the business of marriage altogether.

Let me ask you this (no matter what side of the gay marriage debate you may be on): why was it necessary for me to go and obtain a marriage license from the State of Florida in 1995? I wasn't holding my wedding on government property. No government official presided. I didn't take a state test to determine whether I would be a good spouse. My wife and I simply showed up in downtown Orlando, proved we were both over 18, and paid our fee. Then voila! The state handed us a pricey piece of paper authorizing us to be legally considered man and wife once a qualified person said the necessary words over us, which might as well have been "abracadabra," as long as the person was state-authorized.

Why? Why did the state have to sanction our union? The cynical side of me says that it was so that they could collect $88.00 for five minutes worth of work, and that is indeed part of the answer. Yet, I know it was also because the state desires to defend a certain legal interpretation of what comprises a "marriage."

But what if we hadn't gotten a marriage license? What then?

We could have simply saved the $88.00 and gone off and lived together. We could have shared a home, bought a car, paid bills, attended a church, raised children, and voted in each election, just like any legally married couple. Heck, we could have even purchased rings for one another. All of this without the state's sanction. It would've cost us something when we filed our taxes, but again, that has to do with what the state does or does not recognize. My wife and I could have acted as a marriage and a family in every commonly understood sense of the term without actually having the paper to prove it. And, if we had wanted it to be so, no one but the state would have known we were not married. My wife could have changed her last name in the courts and we could have referred to each other as mister and missus.

In that situation, the state refusing to accept our union as a marriage would have amounted to no more than sticking its legal tongue out at us, which is what conservatives are doing with their demand that government intervene in the gay marriage dispute. Denying gay couples the right to legally marry will not prevent them from living together, or raising children, or doing anything that a married couple and a family might otherwise do (except that they'd have to adopt the children). For that part, denying cousins or siblings the right to marry will not prevent their cohabitation any more than a wedding band prevents a married man or woman from cheating.

Divorce rates are at all-time highs. What do we do about this, President Bush? Pass an amendment forbidding divorce? Men routinely father children and then abandon them. What do we do about that, conservatives? Pass laws against sex outside of marriage? Would anyone actually want to try enforcing either one? Better yet, would anyone even try suggesting that such laws be passed? Yet, either of these actions could be taken with the justification of protecting marriage and the family, as the proponents of this marriage amendment claim their bill is designed to do.

President Bush and conservatives, this issue of government determining what constitutes a marriage or a family is, at best, so much tilting at windmills when it comes to "defending" those institutions, and is no more a legitimate or beneficial function of government than the welfare state. This is an issue that belongs in the purview of the family, the church, and the community; for, ultimately, society will take the issue from you anyway and do what it likes with the law based on the precedent you yourselves have established. Virtuous laws do not necessarily make for a virtuous society. At heart, the issue is one of individual morality and ideology, and it is there that the battle for the home will be won or lost. As the old saying goes, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." A Bush marriage amendment will not prevent gay couples from cohabiting and acting, in just about every other sense, as married couples and families. It will not end the debate about what marriages and families really are. As long as we continue to legally sanction a particular definition of "marriage," we will continue to fight one another over just what that definition should be; and this arguing over the definition of words, and pretending to be above what is happening under our noses, will not save the institution of marriage or the family unit.

Do you really want to defend the institution of marriage and the family unit, conservatives? Then spend less time crafting laws designed to enforce your vision of what is right on others. Go home. Be good husbands and good wives. Take the reins of your child's education back from the state and popular culture; teach them what a family is, and then demonstrate it for them. Offer a supportive hand to struggling single mothers. Encourage your friends to own up to their responsibilities, to stop creating welfare babies and headless households, to remain faithful to their spouses. Speak to the upcoming generations—warn them that they must save themselves by taking the business of love, sex, marriage, faithfulness, commitment and children seriously or else watch society crumble around them.

We do not need government or special interests in the wedding chapel or in the home. Government has no more business telling me who I can marry than it has telling me how often to brush my teeth, and those who think we can save our society merely by defending the definitions of certain words are deluding themselves. It's very easy to sit around passing laws about what it means to be a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, or a good parent, and then pat ourselves on the back and say that we've done something about what's wrong with America. It's another thing to go home and change ourselves and the way we live from day to day. This is the hard way to save marriages and families, but it's also the only way. Only by being committed to our own marriages will we save marriage; only by being committed to our own families will we save the family. Only by teaching our children what marriage and family mean, and then proving it with our own behavior, will those institutions endure.

Judicial Party Games

(originally posted Sept 15, 2002 -- I'm currently posting past articles before adding new material)

's culture war continues unabated, with each side hurling political salvos where and when they consider most expedient, and with little regard for whoever or whatever gets in the way. Unfortunately, it's usually the Constitution and founding ideologies of the United States that get hit the most in this continuous exchange of fire, and no matter how much we would prefer to stay out of harm's way, sooner or later all of us find ourselves in the crosshairs.

Consider the debate over Priscilla Owen, President Bush's nominee to fill a vacancy on the US federal circuit court. Senate Democrats recently united to defeat Owen's nomination, albeit by a razor-thin margin, on charges that she represented an 'extremist' agenda due to her decisions regarding abortion while serving on the Texas Supreme Court. "Our country is divided ideologically," Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) remarked, stating that because Bush did not win the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election, he has "no mandate from the American people to stack the courts with conservative ideologues".

California Senate Democrat Dianne Feinstein joined Schumer in casting dispersions on the legitimacy of the Bush presidency, stating: "President Bush did not have a large mandate. There is no mandate, in my view, to skew the courts to the right. I think you're going to see a Judiciary Committee that's really going to be looking for mainstream judges". Yet, mainstream or not, mandate or not, Feinstein made it clear to Tim Russert on Meet the Press that she was looking to approve judges who would uphold her own particular pet issues: "There are points that many of us feel passionately about, one of them being Roe vs. Wade,” Feinstein told Russert. “I don’t want to see Roe overturned. I’m in a position where I’m going to be very careful that a judge that I vote for to go to a circuit court will not do that.” As for Schumer, he claimed that he had "no litmus test at all," but cautioned that he certainly opposed nominations that would make the Supreme Court a group of nine "Scalias or Thomases." So Schumer apparently has a litmus test after all; if you are, in his opinion, a Scalia or a Thomas, you can pretty much deem yourself out of the running.

Therefore, gathering what we understand from the comments of Senators Schumer and Feinstein, there are basically two requirements that Senate Democrats will be looking for in federal court nominees: 1) What sort of "mandate" did the American electorate give the current President, and 2) Will the judicial nominee defend Senator "So-and-so's" pet issue(s). These two items in turn assume that federal judicial nominees should ultimately be chosen with only one real criteria in mind: agenda.

This should hardly come as a surprise to us. If nothing else, the presidential election of 2000 demonstrated one fact with crystal clarity: our court systems have become politicized. Some of you may remember the various news reports emanating from Florida when Al Gore's recount dispute was thrown into the courts; and if so, then perhaps you will also remember that most of the discussion among the various media talking heads had to do with whether "Judge so-and-so" was liberal or conservative, or who appointed him or her, or whether their decision record indicated a liberal or conservative agenda. The biggest story of the hour, in the media's view, was the contested presidential election, but what really stood out was the fact that the courts themselves had been transformed from dispensers of justice to enforcers of agenda.

It's way past time that Americans took a good, hard look at this fact. The court systems that supposedly exist to dispense justice to you and I are now political battlegrounds, and as a result, the laws under which we are expected to live have fallen into partisan hands. Every facet of American life is slowly coming under political scrutiny by the power-hungry, who then attempt to force their partisan agendas upon us by stacking the courts with ideological clones of themselves. And both political parties are guilty of this heinous crime against the liberties of the people, each citing their decisions as "what the American people want," or "what's right for America," when it all really boils down to what their favorite special interest groups want or what's right by their agenda.

The Constitution created the Supreme Court, and authorized the creation of lower federal courts, in order to "tend to all cases, in law or equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority." In other words, the federal courts were to uphold the provisions of the Constitution and laws made in compliance with those provisions, not to reflect Charles Schumer's "mainstream" concerns, and not to run blocker for issues that Dianne Feinstein feels "passionately about". If the selection of judges and the function of the court system is made to serve the whims of political agenda, then the cause of liberty has been dealt a crushing blow for all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations. For with the interpretation of the laws in the hands of an agenda-driven few, there is theoretically nothing beyond their grasp, no matter how sacred it might seem to you. We are then doomed to a perpetual power-struggle in which both sides of the aisle will continue to fight tooth and nail to fill the courts with ambassadors of their respective causes, with truth and justice relegated to the backburner in favor of all-important agenda.

The fact of the matter is that such judicial landscaping is wrong, not just when Democrats or Republicans do it, but when anyone does it. For although you may agree with filling the courts with your party's nominees today, what will you say when the political opposition seeks to fill the courts with their own nominees tomorrow? Will you appeal for "mainstream" judges? And who will determine what a "mainstream" judge is?

Instead, why not end the cycle of judicial political activism, by both sides of the aisle? Leave partisan politics for party conventions and keep it out of the courts. Return to the days when a judge was appointed to serve in office because he or she was qualified for that office by virtue of their credentials and a history of upholding the law, not by the designation on their voter ID card. If a judge wants to be politically active, that's long as they do it in the voting booth and not from the bench.