Dan Popp
Is libertarianism anti-Christian?
By Dan Popp
October 21, 2014

Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians believe that each person owns his own life and property and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life and uses his property – as long as he simply respects the equal right of others to do the same. – Sharon Harris, President, Advocates for Self-Government

The answer to the question posed in my title may depend on our definition of "libertarianism." If we accept the broad meaning – a "belief in liberty" – then of course it is more than compatible with Christianity. But by that definition 99% of the population would call themselves libertarians, including Barack Obama.

When libertarians keep talking, you'll find that their "liberty" includes some things that Christians should identify as "license." That's the root of "licentiousness," a great word we don't use anymore because it hurts too much. These libertarians will say that everyone has a right to do as he pleases as long as he doesn't cause harm to others. This sounds wonderful until you realize that libertarians have a very narrow concept of "harm." As the libertarian continues to sing of his philosophy, the Christian will hear a sour note about "self-ownership." And he'll wonder whether the libertarians' view of the purpose of government can be squared with the Bible. When the explanation is over, the believer may come away with the impression that the libertarian started with God, as the grantor of individual rights, but ended up an atheist.

Let me take these problems one at a time. First, the liberty/license issue. You'll see the difference illuminated in these scriptures:

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. (1 Peter 2:16)

None of the above verses deals with civil government – that's not my point. My point is that there are things defended under the banner of "freedom" that are really slavery to the flesh. Liberty is good; these things are not good. Freedom is the gift of heaven; these things belong to hell.

Christianity and logic insist that there is no right to do wrong. So the "victimless crimes" that libertarians talk about do not exist. "Whatever two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom is not the government's business," they say. And again, it sounds good. But if sodomy and other perversions are wrong, then engaging in them cannot be a right – and so cannot have anything to do with "liberty." Christians have always held that true freedom is the opportunity to obey God's will, to do what is right; not to do whatever the corrupt human heart can desire. It's true that any two of us may have different views on God's will in a specific circumstance. That's the liberty the Founders fought for: freedom of conscience, the leave to do right, as I understand it. Still, those variances have limits. You and I may disagree about whether it's right to eat meat or drink wine or drive a car on Sundays. "Let each man be fully convinced" of his own view, the Bible says, and leave the other man to his. But there is no right to have sex with sheep, or to get stoned, or to kill the baby in your womb. If you believe that any of those is God's will, you need to go back to the folding table and let the grownups talk.

Let's move on to my charge that the libertarian has too narrow an understanding of harm.

The libertarian will say that those who engage in prostitution, drug abuse or perverse sexual acts harm only themselves. This is simply false. Prostitution is an attack on marriage, just as counterfeit ("gay") marriage is an attack on marriage and pornography is an attack on marriage. If marriage has value to society, then society is harmed by these attacks on marriage. Leaving aside the public health risk, the problem is that the entire group suffers as the social environment becomes more and more polluted. The libertarian is effectively saying that if you punch your neighbor, the government should use force against you, but if you punch everyone in the community, that's no problem.

This is where, it appears to me, libertarians become atheists. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of what some consenting adults did in the privacy of their bedrooms, and if He may do something similar again, then the state has a compelling interest to outlaw that behavior. It's not about breaking down doors and making sure that all sex occurs between a man and a woman who are married to each other. It's about the law being an educational tool. It's about human law reflecting God's law. It's about avoiding the capstone of all the sins: condoning (and thus encouraging) sin.

Now, let's talk about self-ownership.

It may be that a nonbeliever owns himself; I don't know. But a Christian is only a steward of himself.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20)

So it would be appropriate for government, as the agent of God, to pass laws against suicide. As a child I thought this was the silliest thing ever. But if even human law can be a teacher, this isn't silly at all. I do not own me. Neither does the government. If, however, I act unrighteously, the government as the minister of God may impose righteousness upon me. That is the Christian view, and it chafes libertarians harshly.

This leads us to a discussion of the conflicting views of the purpose of government.

The New Testament teaches that the civil authority is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (see Romans 13:4) And rulers are those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Peter 2:14)

If government is the agent of God, then we will have to accept God's ideas about government's functions. An administration that brings wrath on the one who practices evil will not look like a government that punishes only those who bring a limited kind of harm to other individuals, without regard to the first victim (the wrongdoer himself), or to the community, or to righteousness as an objective entity, or to God. And without doing what God commands it to do, a libertarian government would cease to be authorized by Him. It would be just as unlawful as the "liberal" government that libertarians and conservatives denounce.

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6, NKJV)

© Dan Popp


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