Christianity, Legalism and Libertarianism

As a Christian, I have, like many other Christians, been dismayed at the apparent sustained shift of our country and other “Christian” countries toward lawlessness.  By lawlessness, I mean the trend away from following the Ten Commandments in both their literal form and in the extension of their spirit.  This definition of lawlessness becomes an important point, because others would tend to look at lawlessness in a more legalistic way–disregard for the statutes in the Uniform Commercial Code.  As I have found in talking with many Christians over the years, the definitions of many things seem to get bent in whatever way is necessary to work for the individual.

First rule of Christianity: everyone is a law-breaker.   Here we do not talk of speed limits or substance prohibitions, but of the first and all-encompassing law of the world–honor the Lord who made it above all else.  This law went out the window with the very first people.  So, anyone who would dare call him or herself a Christian has to fess up to be a criminal in the universal court of law. Herein lies the first rub. One cannot be forgiven in this court and then refuse to forgive anyone who sins against oneself.  For this reason Jesus told the story of the man who was forgiven the ten million dollar debt by his boss and then turned around and threw his comrade in prison for failing to pay him the ten dollars he owed him.  This is not to say that we should never tell anyone that they are wrong.  But, as God also tells us, he will deal with law-breakers himself.  It’s not our job.  Our job is to pray for them that they might see their errors and turn to God for forgiveness and be saved.

3560* babies are killed by abortion each day.  Every week, we kill a large stadium full of people.  Do I condone this? Absolutely not!  I can’t conscience anything that takes away the right of a person to live, unless that person forfeits his right to live by committing the ultimate sin–taking the life of another with malice aforethought or with reckless disregard for life.  Again, I base this on scriptural teachings that only God should decide when one’s time is over, and anyone who takes life should be punished accordingly.  Yet that doesn’t give me the right to kill killers.  God has left that to the ruling authorities.  I can and should do everything in my power to steer the authorities to the same conclusion.

So, what is a Christian to do  as the government seems to be turning from Christian principles?  Should we redouble our efforts to legislate morality?  Should we throw in with anyone who subscribes to our pet agenda, be it marriage protection acts or anti-abortion bills, of the war on drugs, no matter whether they represent good leadership overall or not?  Should we rail and preach against the obviously godless?  Should we hold rallies and sing “God bless America” and throw all our time and money at the local conservative candidates?

I have news that may shock a lot of Christians.  America is not God’s country.  America is a secular state.  America has a constitution that limits what government can do.  By that document, states and municipalities are free to decide their own courses of action on most things.  Unfortunately, this document has been abrogated and bypassed so many times that it hardly functions as a working document.  Many people, Christians largely included, believe that, in order to make the constitution more relevant (which will supposedly return us to a more Christian society), we must pass new laws and amendments to such ends.

I’m afraid that legalism sets its own trap.   There were many, many Christians who praised the prohibition of the 1920’s.  After all, we all know the evils of drinking.  But, not drinking does not equal being more righteous or more in favor with God.  That is an idea that the Pharisees would have run with, but Jesus would not have.  Don’t forget, Jesus made a lot of good wine for a marriage feast.  The results of our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition were a huge increase in law-breakers.  After all, as St. Paul said (Romans 5), where is there no law, there is no sin.  Suddenly, my grandfather, a very godly and law-abiding man with a still in the back yard, a man who read his Bible daily and attended church and trusted God in all things, became a potential felon.  What was once a free choice became a crime.  And it was all done in the name of curbing alcoholism.  But, if anything, it created more drunks.  And, in the meantime, it created a whole new class of criminal.  And these new criminals weren’t petty, they were highly organized, infiltrated into all branches of government, and ruthless.  This new criminal class continues to blight our society to this day, even as it has managed to decriminalize itself and criminalize more law-abiding citizens with more “laws that protect the people.”

It is a known fact that most laws are conceived with the 5% in mind.  Because 5% of people behave badly or stupidly in a given situation, we must have a new regulation to prevent such stupid activity, even though it means greater hardship for the other 95% who need no such regulation to be a responsible citizen.  Crisis makes opportunity for legislation.  More legislation makes more money for lawyers and those that pull their strings.  (Not all lawyers are ambitious enough to climb into the ruling class.  Many are simply not brave enough to speak the truth and be disbarred.)  Slowly, but surely, we have given more and more power to those who rule us, in the name of trying to “conserve” our country, only to wake up and realize that entirely the opposite has happened.

For years I have been a libertarian.  I used to call myself a right-winged conservative libertarian.  Of course, that is an oxymoron.  But it is hard for me, who learned the ten commandments, was taught to live a godly life and pray for an orderly society, to come to terms with the laissez faire idea  of letting everyone just do what they want.   After all, there are a lot of scary people in the world who would seek to do harm to good citizens.  There are people who want to destroy their lives with drugs or sex or deviant lifestyles that I know are not good for society.  How can I just let them do it?

The truth is, people have and will always find a way to do what they want.  There will always be the 5 percent, no matter how many laws we try to make to stop them from acting stupid.  In fact, the more we try to make laws against stupidity, the more people, by virtue of their rebellious human nature, are inclined to help stupid people protect their stupid behavior under a different set of laws.  So, the answer certainly isn’t making more “laws”.

One of the problems with making “laws” is that most “laws” are not laws.  They are statutes.  True laws follow the instincts of everyone about what is right and wrong.   Even though people now try to say that truth is relative, almost everyone agrees that it’s wrong to take things from your neighbor or to whack him dead in the street.  These things are called the natural law.  People who despise libertarians feel that they want no law at all.  This is not true.  What libertarians want is for the law to start and end with natural law.  No, there will never be a consensus as to exactly where that line is.  And different places will deal with crime and punishment in different ways.  But what libertarians disagree with is all the rest.  This, they see, is what the founders intended when they spoke of a place where we all would have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  In other words, we should be free to try to live as good of a life as we can.

Part of freedom requires that stupid people be allow to live stupidly.  The truth is, as I said before, we are all guilty of being stupid at some point in our lives.  As I like to say, the difference between criminals and the rest of us is that the rest of us didn’t get caught.  It is unfortunately true that, the louder one rails against a particular sin, the more likely that person has strong feelings of guilt about something he did.  So it is that the homosexual rails against the child molester, and the adulterer rails against the homosexual, and the adulterous homosexual child-molesting legislator rails against them all.    But the truth is that we can’t throw everyone in prison.  At least we can’t do it yet, because the prison industry hasn’t expanded enough to keep up with business.

So, can I be a Christian and a libertarian?  Yes.  As an American, I believe that we were founded as a libertarian society, and we’d work best if we were returned to it.  That means I’m going to live my Christian life, with my Christian values, and try to promote Christianity wherever I go.  And, at the same time, I’m going to let everyone else live by his or her own creed, as long as no one infringes on my rights to practice my Christianity or threatens my life and liberty.  Seems to me that a good judge or jury will be just as or more able to determine an infringement of rights without stacks and stacks of legalese to “help” them.

As for whether or not I’d like to legislate Christianity, let’s look at what Jesus said.  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  “Be in the world, but not of the world.” “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  As for what I am supposed to do as a Christian, “Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  OK, I guess I should spend my time telling people about the kingdom of God and not worry so much about legislating the kingdom of man.

*My apologies for originally reporting 12,000 per day.  I probably was confused by the number of worldwide abortions, which is estimated at 125,000 per day.  In the US, 22% of pregnancies are terminated by abortion, a total of 1.3 million last year.  At the same time 4 to 5 million well-qualified couples are waiting to adopt a child, or about 3 to four times the number needed to adopt every aborted child last year.  These are couples who could give a child every economic advantage.  The fact that abortion continues is a testament only to the extreme selfishness of some and the greed of those in the abortion industry.  That does not even take into account the long-term medical dangers to the mothers who abort will cause many more deaths and countless health care costs to society.  So, we only kill a large stadium of people every month, not every week.  We lose 20 at a school, and the world has to stop.  But we can kill 100,000 a month because they are unwanted, except that they are desperately wanted by someone.  Now that it’s only 3560 per day, it’s not so bad, right?


1 Comment

Filed under Law and Politics

One response to “Christianity, Legalism and Libertarianism

  1. T

    Thank you. I’ve been working through in my own mind how libertarianism and Christianity interacted. Very helpful description!

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