Libertarian Christianity: Fact or Fiction?

What’s the Bible’s ideal government?

Will Tew has written an excellent response to Morgan Freeman’s provocative Students for Liberty blog post on Libertarian Christianity. Will points out that God/Jesus routinely engage in unlibertarian behavior. I would simply like to add to his points while responding indirectly to Morgan’s article.

No doubt it is possible to be a libertarian Christian. Christians like Ron Paul, Tom Woods, Judge Napolitano, and others lead the fight for freedom today. But the Bible does little to support their case for a limited state, a free-market, or a free people. Not only does the divinely inspired book never endorse these principles, it rather explicitly denounces the liberty-ethic and toleration that underlies libertarian thought.

Morgan points to Samuel’s rejection of the king as libertarian. True, but it comes as an endorsement of a divine dictatorship where God’s prophets rule over Israel. The prior period of Judges was a truly stateless period where “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” But as Will points out, this was condemned.

Limited Government: Consider how explicitly God’s rule-by-prophet rejects democracy or limited government. In Numbers 16, a group of elders come to Moses and say, “You have taken too much power for yourself. All the congregation, every one of them, is holy before the LORD. Why do you then exalt yourself above the assembly of the LORD?” Their request was simple: for representation, for democracy, for limits on Moses power. Moses through God responds by killing those insolent democrats.

The New Testament also rejects limits on state power. I Peter 2 tells us to “honor the king” and “submit to every human authority” because rulers are “sent by God to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right.” Romans 13 tells us that the ruler “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil… This is why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants… so give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes.”

All this goes well beyond an endorsement of the state, taxation, and the monopoly on the use of force. The expansive view of government power here should terrify a libertarian. What libertarian would say that the bureaucrats and politicians are God’s servants who dole out favors to the good and punishments on the bad. Or that liberty is not to be defended and that we must submit to despots.

Non-aggression principle: The Ten Commandment’s condemnations of murder, theft, and false witness are admirable, but they are immediately countered by a laundry list of horrendous commands to commit genocide, infanticide, unprovoked war, and worst of all from the libertarian perspective, slavery. Slaves could be bought and sold like cattle, beaten and raped. The New Testament changed none of this. Jesus endorsed beating slaves (Lk 12:47) and stoning children (Mk 7:10) while Paul encouraged masters not to free their slaves, but treat them fairly, whatever that would mean to a person held in bondage.

Equal rights: The Bible was on the wrong side of the two most important civil rights battles in history: against slavery and for equal rights for women. Women in the Old Testament could be raped and forced to marry their rapist (Deut. 22:28-29), sold into sex slavery (Ex. 21:7-11), and killed if unable to prove their virginity on their wedding night (Deut. 22:20-21). They were obviously forbidden from being priests or entering the Temple.

In the New Testament, Paul describes women speaking in churches as “disgraceful” and if they want to “inquire about something, they should ask their husbands” (I Cor. 14:34-35). Women had no rights to divorce, were instructed to be submissive in all things and are forbidden from denying a man sex (I Cor. 7:5). In fact, the Bible does not permit a woman “to have authority over a man.” (I Tim 2:12). This inequality is in opposition to the fundamental principle of libertarianism, equal rights before the law.

But equality is not something the Bible is interested in. God’s preferential treatment towards the Jewish people, “the chosen people,” is nothing short of racist. It undermines the claim that all men should be treated the same, and was used as a justification for God’s apparent indifference toward the entire world except some lousy marauders in ancient Palestine.

Voluntary moral action: The libertarian view that people are capable of charity and moral actions without force is undermined by the fact that the entire ethic of the Bible is built on force. God is truly our master, and we the slave. We must “live as God’s slaves” (I Peter 2). He reigns by threats of violence as nearly every parable of Jesus demonstrates, and Revelation describes. According to Jesus, God will throw the unbelievers “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The concept of truly voluntary action is further undermined by the killing of Ananias and Sopphira in the New Testament for supposedly deceiving Peter about how much they gave to the church (though their side of the story is lost to history).

Worse from a practical perspective is the fundamental ethic of Jesus, altruism. Personal self-interest is clearly seen as an evil throughout the New Testament, which is why Jesus and Paul forbid things like loaning with interest, the fundamental element of capitalism.

Finally, some historical context is worth something here. The Bible was in fact used to defend war, torture, persecution, and slavery for years. Today it is used to make homosexuals second class citizens (after all “they are an abomination” (Romans 1) who deserve to be put to death (Lev. 20:13)). It is used to defend the death penalty, which was instituted by God in Genesis. It is used to support our military alliance with the modern state of Israel. All of which find support in the Bible, and like Will points out, Jesus is not above using violence to enforce his vision as driving merchants from the Temple shows. The “little Christs,” therefore, have no reason beyond practical wisdom to not do the same. The Bible does not oppose state action in the economy, our personal lives, or other nations. If anything, it provides justification for all of them, a fact borne out by history.