Dan Popp
To Sean Parr's defense of Christian libertarianism
By Dan Popp
March 23, 2015

How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. – Elijah (1 Kings 18:20b, NKJV)

It used to be that, when I met a libertarian I knew two things about him instantly: (1) He was an atheist, and (2) He was a pot smoker. Now there are a lot of Christians identifying themselves as libertarians. So five months ago I wrote an article asking, Is libertarianism anti-Christian? Recently Sean Parr answered in his own essay, "Libertarianism is not anti-Christian." It's unfortunate that Mr. Parr apparently saw my piece as an attack on libertarianism. It was not meant as such. There is a great deal of overlap in the Christian view of government and the libertarian view. But there are also points of contention.

As to the definition of libertarianism I will bow to Mr. Parr's expertise. Let's agree that it is "a branch of law" that is "concerned with the use of violence in society. That is all." But when Sean tries to separate the political from the moral he falls off the logic train. Every political system or act or program operates on certain moral assumptions. If government may act when I kick you in the shin, it has that political mandate either on a moral basis, or on no basis. These moral assumptions are derived from beliefs about ultimate reality. So we can't divorce the political from the moral from the religious.

Mr. Parr says that libertarianism is built on the "NAP," the "Non-Aggression Principle." This may be a fine standard on which to build a political philosophy, but it is not a sufficient ground on which to build a government. Governments must be interested in harm, which is the term I used. Let's say that Farmer Brown sprays pesticide on his crops, and this pesticide makes its way into the river, and this water is consumed by a pregnant woman whose baby is malformed by the tiny bit of poison in the water. Has Farmer Brown attacked this baby? No. He's not even aware of its existence. But government has an obligation to prevent that harm.

Given that harm is the true issue for government, I asked whether libertarianism doesn't assume the non-existence of God, or something close to that. I brought up the example of Sodom. Here I may not have been clear in my original article, and I assume responsibility for Mr. Parr's misunderstanding. Let me say it this way: There is a God. God brings harm to societies that condone sin. Governments must try to prevent harm to their citizens, whether that harm takes the form of an epidemic or a military invasion or an economic collapse or something else. If all these things are true, then a libertarian government is by nature a dysfunctional government. It cannot protect citizens from the biggest Danger of all.

God judges nations for sin. As Founder George Mason put it, "As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins, by national calamities." Sins like idolatry, sexual depravity, treaty-breaking, excessively harsh treatment of enemy nations, oppression of the poor and the weak, sacrilege, plunderous taxation, despising the Ten Commandments, irreverence, drunkenness and rampant divorce all provoke God to wrath, according to the biblical prophets. A libertarian government might suppress a few of these, but it would actively promote others.

By the way, it is not by accident that child killing and sexual perversion are linked to the worship of Molech and Baal, respectively. These acts are pagan by nature. They are anti-God. A government that allows them cannot be called a Christian government.

I noticed that Mr. Parr didn't quote the Bible in his essay. He started from the libertarian position and didn't really try to reconcile it with Scripture. Christianity insists that we begin with the Word of God.

Here are some passages to ponder.
    Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-7, NKJV)
In the passage above we learn that government isn't about a Non-Aggression Principle; it is about good works, and evil. The Greek word rendered "evil" here is kakos, "whatever is evil in character, base." (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.) It is not a specialized word that means only aggression; on the contrary, it's a broad term that incorporates "what is useless, incapable, bad."
    Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
The Christian understanding of government is that it is a deputized arm of the Kingdom of God, ordained for the purpose of punishing evildoers (not just aggressors) and rewarding those who do good. Daniel Webster put it simply: "The proper function of a government is to make it easy for the people to do good, and difficult for them to do evil."

We don't have to speculate as to whether a Christian government would be different than a libertarian government. We once had a Christian government in this country. While it was far from perfect, or perfectly Christian, it was probably the best example we'll see before the Lord returns. Under that Christian government sodomy, adultery and fornication were illegal; gambling was illegal; prostitution was illegal; abortion was illegal.

Under a libertarian government, all of those things could be legal.

When America was guided by Christian principles, divorce was difficult to obtain. So were intoxicants. As she becomes less and less Christian she becomes more and more libertarian, in those ways. No-fault divorce laws certainly sound like a triumph of personal freedom, but they harm women and children and are therefore anti-Christian.

Under a Christian government, to use an important current example, marriage could be defended against attacks by counterfeits because marriage is good and counterfeits are evil. Under a libertarian government, I fear there would be no protection for society's most vital institution.

I hope Mr. Parr auditions for "Dancing with the Stars" because his footwork on the question of self-ownership was breathtaking. When the fog-machine smoke clears, though, we're still presented with two stark statements: The New Testament's, You are not your own; you were bought with a price (See 1 Corinthians 6:19:20); and the libertarian's, "You own yourself." There is no way to reconcile those two views. A practical example of an application of this point is that a Christian will say that you do not have a right to kill yourself, while a libertarian will say that you do.

But I'm starting to repeat myself.

In short:

A Non-Aggression Principle works to distinguish some wrong actions from other wrong actions. This distinction is only valid if the God of the Bible does not exist.

Law and government are the last line of defense against immoral acts. Yes, the conscience, the family, the church etc. also plow this field; but if these prove insufficient in a particular case, government is the earthly authority charged with righting moral wrongs.

The Bible tells me so.

The Bible's stated purposes for government are not the libertarian purposes for government. Parr made this more clear.

Mr. Parr has given us an excellent illustration of how philosophy untethered from the Bible quickly becomes anti-Bible.

By the rules of logic and by definition, there is no right to do wrong.

If Sean Parr or anyone else wishes to convince me that libertarianism is Christian, he'll have to start with the Bible; then show how Christian men applied biblical principles to develop libertarianism; (bonus points for showing that atheists hate libertarianism because it's just so darned Christ-honoring); reconcile the irreconcilable differences; and explain why the government founded by Madison, Adams, et al was not Christian – because it certainly was not libertarian.

My thanks to Mr. Parr for his attention, and for helping all of us think through this issue.

© Dan Popp


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