The Pope is visiting during an election year, and that’s got me thinking about the relationship between politics and religion. A NPR reporter this morning said that the Pope and the President like each other, even though they disagree with each other on some issues, especially and most currently Iraq.
Consider that a Christian in politics will tend to err, if he’s on the right, by advocating state power for the enforcement of behavioral codes (moralistic laws); if he’s on the left, by advocating state power to force people to be compassionate with their money (tax code).
Why not have some Christians in politics who advocate freedom?
I think there’s space for Christians, especially those of the old liturgical traditions, to support libertarianism, even in this year of Obama versus McCain (OK, maybe Hillary still has a shot). Not that we can find a candidate representative of liturgical libertarianism.
Think about the ways in which New Testament teachings match up with libertarianism:
1. True morality comes from within, from a person’s character, when an individual has the opportunity to do wrong, yet chooses to do right. When someone cannot choose to do wrong, and therefore does not do wrong, that is no reflection of morality. Jesus criticized people who prided themselves on externally observable rules when their hearts were rotten. The rule-obeying was white-wash. In a related passage — and one that certainly suggests that liberty is a good thing — he condemns the Pharisess by saying, “They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders, yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them.” I think of regulations, moralistic laws, and even taxes (reference Exodus 5:6-9 as an example of a state burdening people).
2. Libertarianism teaches that coercion is wrong, and the New Testament would seem to provide ample teaching for that view. In the New Testament, Paul writes that repentance comes from recognizing God’s kindness; God is not forcing people into conversion or submission. At one point in the Gospels, Jesus rebuked his disciples for wanting to call down fire on a city. Plus, we know the familiar phrases “turn the other cheek, bless those who persecute you,” etc., but how many apply that to a view of state power? (I don’t say that to nullify Thomas Aquinas’ just war theory; it seems to me that governments, from time to time, will have to use force to protect people from violent aggressors.) Consider that in terms of victimless crimes and the tax burden of imprisoning people who commit them.
Some will say, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but can we really compare the U.S. to ancient Rome? Don’t you think the American people are supposed to be their own Caesar? “We the people,” democracy, and all that ought to de-centralize power, correct? The beneficiaries of de-centralization would be “we the people” in the U.S. For better or worse, we are Caesar. Or, maybe that’s too popular of a view. It’s probably better to say that we’re ruled by law, not by a king, and that the laws are formed within a representative democracy. We have a hand in creating our laws.
Of course, political libertarianism will be hard for many politically-active U.S. Christians to swallow, because whether they advocate state-enforced behavioral codes or state-enforced compassion, they believe the primary goal of the Christian faith is moral and ethical, so any means (including force) by which people will behave properly is good, when the actual goal of Christianity is for each individual to receive grace through faith, and then reflect grace to others.
No force involved, just freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.
-Colin Foote Burch
P.S. The Acton Institute has the right idea. Check out the Web site here.
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