Christianity or Libertarianism?


Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

Yes, to my mind, this is almost an either/or, rather than a both/and, situation. I have said it before and I will say it again: those who are rugged libertarians cannot at the same time claim to be true biblical Christians – so take your pick. I have stated my rationale for this often before, so I won’t repeat all my reasoning here.

But let me say that just as I have almost zero tolerance for a whole range of perverse, immoral and unrighteous activities, so I have almost zero tolerance for those so-called Christian libertarians who spend all their time trying to justify all those lousy activities – at least in terms of foolishly claiming that governments should have absolutely no involvement with them, in the sense of prohibiting them, outlawing them, or seeking to constrain them.

I think this is sheer bunk, and I cannot in the slightest go along with it. Indeed, I think these “Christian” libertarians are fundamentally wrong. I will explain this more in a moment, but let me first say that when push comes to shove, most of these folks demonstrate what an oxymoron this term in fact is.

I have debated them for decades now and have found two main outcomes when they are heavily challenged. One is this: when I keep pointing out how inconsistent their libertarianism is with basic Christian truths, many of them will back down somewhat, make numerous qualifications, offer corrections or adjustments, and so on. In other words, when pressed, many of them come to see they are not so much Christian libertarians but actually Christians who are conservatives.

They will backtrack and say, ‘no I don’t believe this or that’, demonstrating that they in fact are not really true libertarians, but just small-government conservatives, much like I am. But there is a second group I have encountered far too often.

When push comes to shove, many of these folks reveal that they in fact prefer to let their secular ideological libertarianism trump their Christianity. Their biblical faith always ends up taking a back-seat to their political ideology. When the two clash, they will side with their libertarianism over biblical truth.

I have wrangled with far too many of these folks, and I have little patience for them. They are often just as belligerent, ornery, argumentative and troll-like as many angry atheists or homosexuals. And worse yet, anyone who allows a foreign ideology – no matter how good it may seem in itself – to trump clear biblical concerns is no ally of mine. Indeed, he is an opponent.

These folks have a rabid hatred of the state, and thus are also shaking their fists at God, since the State is an institution ordained by God. Sure, as I have said millions of times now, it must be limited and itself constrained, but many of these radical Christian libertarians on the right end up being indistinguishable from radical anarchists on the left.

Let me remind everyone what is really at stake here. We all know – or should know – what the two great commandments are which Jesus made so very clear: love God and love our neighbour. I am convinced that radical libertarians cannot readily keep either command. Loving God fully means agreeing with him about his desire to see righteousness and godliness prevail, not just in individuals, but even in societies.

There are so many verses which speak to God’s desire to see real justice and righteousness reign even in a fallen world, even on a social and governmental level. As but one representative verse, Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people”.

The Christian duty to be salt and light is not just a privatised affair, but is to include the political and social arenas around us. And that leads to the second great commandment, loving our neighbour as ourselves. The radical libertarians are ultimately interested only in naked individuals, not the community good.

Loving our neighbour means working to prevent great harm befalling them. And in a fallen world, God has ordained the state to be a part of the process. But the radical libertarians think the state should have nothing to do in so many of these areas: it should just be open slather, with no government interference on things like pornography, prostitution, drug use, and so on.

That of course is not loving one’s neighbour. That is an attitude which effectively says, ‘the hell with my neighbour – the only thing that really matters is my own personal freedom and autonomy.’ The social or community good is largely overlooked or treated contemptuously by the radical libertarians who think personal freedom is the greatest good, trumping all other considerations.

So as I say, I have very little patience indeed for “Christian” libertarians. As just one example of their bizarre mindset, I had one recently actually try to make this case when it comes to drug policy: “Our laws must reflect the Law of God (Matt 5:17-19), not what we think could be harmful if used excessively. Some things are sinful or harmful and should not be legislated against. Hemp is one such substance. Nowhere does God give the civil government the authority to outlaw this substance.”

I was utterly gobsmacked by that one. I hear that sort of sophomoric foolishness from atheists and secularists all the time. Indeed, when I was a heavy drug user in my radical youth, I actually used the same stupid argument: “Like hey man, don’t panic, it’s organic. The Bible nowhere condemns this.”

Indeed, I replied as follows, “The Bible also does not proscribe arsenic, poisons of various descriptions, and a whole range of dangerous substances. For that matter, the Bible does not proscribe Internet porn, IVF for lesbians, or the use of Sarin nerve gas. By your appalling logic, these should also be fully legalised and endorsed and championed by Christians. You are not pushing biblical Christianity here but moonbat libertarianism.”

And even more incredibly, I had another person defending this guy, and actually suggesting this: “Perhaps you should try reading some Greg Bahnsen to learn about Biblical standards.” I just about fell out of my chair reading that one! That really left me flabbergasted.

Not only do I likely have more of Bahnsen’s works than all these guys combined, but trying to defend this moonbat libertarianism by appealing to a theonomist is about as bizarre as it gets. I assured this person that not only have I read plenty of Bahnsen, but he certainly was no libertarian.

Indeed, I pulled out just one of his volumes, his 1978 book on homosexuality, and simply started sharing a few passages. Let me offer just four such passages from chapter 5 which discusses the response of society. In it he in fact takes head on the libertarian philosophy, or the “liberty ideal” as he refers to it. He specifically mentions John Stuart Mill and others as he contrasts this with the biblical Christian perspective:

“The Christian must attempt to bring society into conformity with Christian standards for human interaction and with justice as defined by God. The values of believers in the area of political ethics are not set by a rebellious world bent on destruction, nor are they molded by secular humanists striving for increasing tolerance of public immorality.”

“We can appropriately ask what the moral grounds are for this qualification on a man’s freedom. If liberty is of such high value as this theory purports, why should a man who is strong enough to get away with it (or even a man who thinks he is that strong) not ride roughshod over the liberties of others? Why should the state ever interfere with the actions of men? To believe that the state is morally unjustified in such interference is to turn men over to totalitarianism, where individual strongmen tyrannize others. To hold that the state is merely a voluntary association, in which case there should be competing governments (each with respective services, laws, courts, etc.) to which men freely submit or change their loyalties, is to reintroduce totalitarianism in the form of a warlord society. And thus the defense of freedom as the ideal for civil legislation or social relations ironically results in the loss of that very freedom. The tolerance of absolutely all opinions in a society will lead to relativism and to the destruction of the society as a body of men who relate by recognized laws to each other; for that reason the government requires its teachers to vow that they are not committed to its overthrow and passes laws against sedition.”

“God’s law is to be promoted publicly and not simply in our own private lives. Indeed, His law is to be advanced among kings and nations. Christians are obliged to reprove the unfruitful works of darkness with the light of God’s law; when they do not, they share in the guilt of sins committed through consent. The moment believers become complacent toward the perverse sins of their society, they have begun to relax their grip on the sanctity of God’s will.”

“All civil law will be legislated morality, in some sense infringing on someone’s freedom. The civil law does not aim to regenerate men but simply to restrain their outward behavior. Such laws are necessary to a social order, establishing the limits of liberty and the public standards to which all members of the community must conform.”

I suggest that not only this person but all Christian libertarians get his book and read it carefully. He is absolutely right to claim that the state has a God-given right and responsibility to help promote public morality, at least in part by prohibiting or curtailing public immorality.

In sum, let me make this quite clear: those who somehow think it is their Christian duty to defend every form of public perversion, unrighteousness, and selfish hedonism in the name of freedom and autonomy are not my allies. They are not the allies of Scripture either.

Those who think we must legalise/decriminalise drugs, prostitution, pornography, homosexual marriage, and so on, in the name of individual liberty, are not pushing biblical morality but secular libertarianism and moral anarchy. I want absolutely nothing to do with it.

If we claim to be Christians, at the bare minimum we must keep the two great commandments. We do neither by pushing such immoral and ungodly activity. Christianity is greatly concerned about the social good, not just rugged individualism and human autonomy. And God created government to help keep evil in check in a fallen world. I find this social antinomianism just as harmful and destructive as any unhelpful legalism.

And if these folks object, and claim they are not in favour of such immoral activities, the response is simple: “Of course you are. By telling God that he is wrong in ordaining the state to keep evil in check, you are in fact siding with all the immoral activities here, and allowing the open slather of evil in the public arena.”

So as I said, I have almost zero tolerance for these “Christian” libertarians. If they want to push their skewed and jaundiced agenda, that is fine. They can do it to their hearts’ content elsewhere. But I most certainly will not give them a free platform here to push their harmful and unbiblical agendas.

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