Christian Morality and Libertarian Reality

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A
good friend of mine was the unfortunate victim of a burglary of
her home while she was away at work. This was Christmastime, and
among the items taken were all of the presents she had wrapped for
her loved ones just the night before. What stood out to me from
hearing her tale was that she felt more sadness for the burglar
than for her own personal loss. What was disappointing was that
someone would stoop so low as to steal Christmas presents.

It
is easy to judge such a person as some sort of low-life. But my
friend is correct: in reality, it is sad. It is sad that someone
would be so unhappy and with such a skewed value system that he
would steal not just other people's property, which is bad enough,
but their gifts as well. While it is right to seek justice and restitution,
on a more personal level we would do well to pray for genuine repentance
on the part of that individual. This is Christian compassion at
its best, not just giving to the poor, but reaching out to the genuine
bad guys.

The
only way – there is in fact no other possible way – to
reform a genuinely bad, depraved human being is to become friends
with him. Without a relationship – if the evangelism is only
about legalistic "sin" and intellectual "proofs"
about Christianity – then the entire point is missed. The central
point is about love, about relationship.

Making
friends is the anti-violence. Reaching out – not for the sake of
evangelism or "conversion" but rather to enjoy a relationship
for its own sake with a fellow human being – is the genuine call
of the Christian.

That
is, loving one's enemies. Loving the burglars, the murderers. And
the drug addicts and alcoholics and other non-violent violators.
But you can't love them for what they did, you can only love them
if you get to know them. That is, initiate a relationship.

It
is perhaps easier to love the "least of these" when they
are fetuses, or disabled people or impoverished children, then it
is to love the fully mature adult who would just as soon kill you
as look at you. But there is always something, if not likeable,
at least interesting, about every human being. It's not a "trick"
or "method" to bring one to Christ. Rather, it is a relationship
in which the "bad" guy begins to value something – the
relationship, which is, his love for you – just as much if not more
than his own selfish desires. The lack of experiencing genuine love
in one's life is no doubt a large contributor in criminality. How
can a person have a respect for the rights of strangers when even
the relationships closest to himself haven't been loving?

Visiting
people in prison is not a command by Jesus to pretend "compassion"
in order to show "good works." I think Jesus was suggesting
instead that if you visit a prison, you would find personalities
just as interesting and loveable as Jesus himself. And that's the
point. To reach out, not in order to try to convert people, but
to just enjoy whatever relationships you make with your "neighbors,"
such as they are. Your own life would be enriched, in the here and
now, by your outreach to the traditionally unloved and despised.
Not because you are doing "God's work" but because you
are yourself enjoying the new relationship.

The
same idea should, hopefully, restrain libertarians in their — almost
always just — tirades against the governing Establishment. Christians,
who should be sharing good news, often come across as uptight, mean,
and judgmental when speaking out on the moral issues of the day.
Likewise, libertarians would do well to tone down charges against
the governing class of maliciousness, mendacity, thievery, murder,
and willful unconstitutionality. It is easy to condemn all politicians
as socialists or fascists, and to refer to their followers as the
“sheeple.” But this often serves to alienate people and turn them
off to a very powerful and uplifting message. People will walk away
from the message if they are turned off by the messenger.

Most
politicians do not, in all good conscience, think of their own work
as evil, even if all of the practical effects of what they do are
entirely evil. They were raised, instead, to esteem public office
and to value it as a proper vehicle for ambition and social improvement.

They
may have been raised badly. But who, among libertarians, were not?
It took me thirty years of eclectic experiences to realize just
how badly our two-party system made a mess of things and how much
better libertarianism really was. And I was raised in a good Christian
home with very intelligent, moral, and loving parents, whose political
judgments were not based on cult-worship or self-enrichment but
rather from a genuine concern, and judgment based on their knowledge,
of what is best for America, the world, and social justice. It is
because I deferred to their moral authority for so long that I acquiesced
in their mistaken judgments. It is because they were mistaken, as
opposed to cravenly evil, that I myself was mistaken for a long
time.

If
my parents and other family and friends could be so mistaken about
right and wrong, good and bad, when their own judgments were based
on sincere search for the public good rather than personal enrichment,
can I then fairly accuse all politicians of our two-party monopoly
of criminal misconduct? I think not. Many if not most of our elected
office holders are doing, at least most of the time, what they think
is right.

But
their morality is based on the extension of the State: of threats,
of legality, of conformity. Yet genuine morality and freedom comes
from free association – from relationship. From love.

The
answer of Christianity happens to be the answer of libertarianism.
Instead of judgment, offer relationship. Instead of aggression,
offer non-violence. Instead of nationalism, love your enemies.

I
admit to enjoying the violent Matrix movies, just as I enjoy
the violent Lord
of the Rings
movies. In both stories, violence was employed
in, shall we say, "exceptional times." In The
Matrix
, the battles between Neo and Agent Smith are, in
the context of the world around them, akin more to battles between
God's angels and Satan's demons. In the Rings movies, the
story is about an end of an "Age" in which those who are
trying to remove a curse on humanity, are opposed by those who are
trying to obtain the very object of the curse in order to prolong
it for personal power. Therefore, I watched in suspense, but not
because I took pleasure in the violence per se.

This
makes a difference. This isn't Indiana Jones killing German conscripts
in the 1930’s, or Rambo doing the same to Soviet conscripts
in the 1980’s, or even some outrageous James Bond scenario
of killing dozens of goons on some small island owned by a power-mad
genius.

Nor
do war movies excite me either, not anymore. For every heroic death
of one of our guys, is at least one death for one of "their"
guys. And their guys were also conscripts, caught in the very same
nexus of patriotism, trust of authority, and religion (Romans 13
would apply to a German Christian every bit as much as it does to
an American Christian).

The
ideology of war, regardless of religion or culture, is the ideal
of killing and self-sacrifice, of kill and be killed. The survivors,
like Private Ryan in Steven Spielberg's movie, may feel guilty that
they survived the war when their comrades and friends did not. Not
dying meant they didn't completely fulfill their "duty."

What
makes war all the more tragic is retrospective judgment. FDR and
Churchill were, for all their grievous and unpardonable faults,
better than Hitler, and it is good that we won World War II. But
how would the German and Japanese conscripts have known that our
leaders were better than theirs? And why would the conscripts in
the Soviet Empire have known that they were "better" for
fighting for Stalin, as opposed to fighting for Hitler?

It
is the tendency of almost every one of us to believe the values
we were taught through our childhood years by all of the authority
figures in our lives: parents, teachers, clergy, politicians. We
teach violence – the "just" use of violence – to our children
through movies, television, and eventually history textbooks. We
teach that courage, honor, and duty, means to kill and risk death.

And
that ideal held me captive for a long time. Wars are good if fought
by the good guys, and by some dumb luck in a cosmic lottery, I happen
to be born in a country of good guys. When I was a teenager, I loved
the stylized violence of Brian de Palma's movie The
Untouchables
, whose title refers to the "incorruptible"
federal Treasury agents who would enforce Prohibition at all costs.
Federal cops good, Al Capone's guys – who were selling to otherwise
decent and law-abiding people something they wanted – bad.

Well,
I don't believe it any more. Enforcing the government's unjust policies
– even if the rulers are duly elected – is not a command
for a Christian or any moral being. God's command for us is to love
God, and his second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as
ourselves, is not a contradiction, or a set of priorities in which
God would force love for Him to "trump" love for neighbor:
Sorry, neighbor, you die because I love God more. That's not the
point. Rather, the more we love God, the more we love our neighbor,
and the more we love our neighbor, the more we love God.

There's
a difference between fictional, fantasized violence that provides
a metaphor for the world's spiritual and philosophical struggles,
and the gory violence that de-humanizes the select enemies of the
United States government, such as drug-dealers and citizens of certain
countries.

Once,
I had violent fantasies of killing bad guys. Now, I do not. You
learn what war really is, and what our police are really policing,
and the whole "use of force" business doesn't seem morally
worthwhile anymore. I'd like to think I'd have the courage to resist
aggressors to protect the innocent, but I no longer fantasize about
such scenarios, but rather hope they never come up. And if they
do, that the aggressor could be "talked down" or otherwise
prevented from wrongdoing without lethal force.

For
while I believe in the libertarian ethic of personal responsibility,
I view it as a moral standard, not a measure of moral judgment.
My ideal is not to condemn and remove all violent people – whether
they are criminals or craven politicians, but hope that they all
can enjoy the libertarian ideal of healthy, non-aggressive relationships
based on love instead of force.

February
17, 2004

James
Leroy Wilson [send him mail]
lives and works in Chicago and is a columnist for the Partial
Observer
.


        
        

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