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.

No comments: