Taking Stock: Christianity and the State

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The great libertarian activist and writer Frank Chodorov once wrote that while he could see how a libertarian might not be a Christian, he did not see how a Christian could not be a libertarian. Chodorov, the son of a Jewish immigrant, saw in Christianity the greatest and most lasting opponent to the power of the state. Lord Acton had said as much a century earlier when he noted that “liberty has not subsisted outside of Christianity.” Chodorov and Acton were not alone, of course. For centuries, scholars have noted the close relationship between Christianity and liberty. But why should this relationship exist? Murray Rothbard saw great value in the work of the scholastics and other scholars of Thomist thought who forwarded the idea that there is a natural law and order that we can know through reason, and which transcends man, society, and government, and is answerable only to God.

It is easy to see why those who worship the state would be so opposed to faith in such religious propositions. Marx declared religion to be the opiate of the masses because he saw religion, and specifically Christianity as an obstacle to his own messianic dreams of the proletarian revolution. In spite of the failure of Marxism in all its variations, governments everywhere in the modern world continue to condemn Christianity for its insistence that God is above government, and worse yet, that God’s law remains eternal no matter what governments may want to say about it. For in the Christian (and especially Catholic) tradition, no government can compel man to act against the laws of God and still remain a legitimate government.

Such a proposition becomes very inconvenient to states when engaging in their greatest tool of expansion and despotism: war. It was the Christians who invented just war theory, and it is that yoke from under which states are still trying to wriggle while they provide tortured explanations of why their latest and greatest war is in compliance with the basic rules of morality that Christianity has given us. Even in this mostly post-Christian age, the residue of Christian morality, and its independence from the state, remains a threat to modern governments everywhere. We see it under attack in every corner of the globe. We see it being explicitly condemned in places like China where men and women are put on trial for importing bibles into the country, but we also see it here in America where the judicial system does everything in its power to stamp out the free exercise of religion while Congress and the President do nothing. For everywhere that Christianity is stamped out, the cult of the state grows in its stead, unbound by adherence to natural law.

Such things are not lost on those who defend liberty, reason, and human dignity. Increasingly, we see scholarship pouring forth from libertarian publications illustrating the presence of Christian philosophy in virtually all opposition to the state. Such writings have warranted their own archive here at LewRockwell.com, while the recent Austrian Scholars Conference at the Mises Institute produced much original scholarship on the matter as well. These are not signs of a passing fad in the scholarship of liberty. The connection between liberty and Christianity has long been recognized, and thus, the state despises true Christianity everywhere.

In the first century, Jesus of Nazareth said an astonishing thing. While he did not prohibit Christians from giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, he did make one thing abundantly clear: God and Caesar are two very different things. God, who created the heavens and the earth, is the eternal ruler of an ordered and knowable universe. Caesar, on the other hand, is a temporary and arbitrary ruler, properly bound not by his own law, but by the immutable laws of nature as established by God. We may take such notions for granted now, but they are solely a product of Christian civilization, and without them, the state cannot be challenged, and then, liberty will surely die.

April 1, 2002

Ryan McMaken [send him mail] is editor of the Western Mercury.

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