I Confess: God Might Be a Libertarian

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"God isn’t
a Republican or a Democrat," a friend in my men’s prayer group
said to me a while ago after temporarily posting his Republican
political preference on his Facebook profile. This young friend
uses Facebook primarily to evangelize on behalf of Christ, and was
annoyed by a bunch of complaints from Democratic friends about how
the Republicans opposed Christian principles such as favoring war
and social justice.

"You’re
right," I jokingly replied. "God’s not a Republican or
a Democrat. But He might be a libertarian," But then I corrected
myself and added, "Of course, I’m only half kidding about that."

My friend reminded
me of a conversation I had a short while earlier with a different
Catholic friend after "World Food Day," who told me that
Catholic social teaching included the doctrine that food, clothing
and shelter were inalienable "rights." As a Catholic myself,
I know that the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference claim
that "All people have a right to life and a right to secure
the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education,
health care, a safe environment, and economic security)." In
practice, the U.S. Catholic bishops have backed government taxation
and force as the means of providing those "rights."

I disagreed
with my second friend, saying that there’s nothing in traditional
Catholic teaching (i.e., pre-Vatican II) that says if a person refuses
to work for his food that he should have a right to eat his fill.
To the contrary, I cited St. Paul’s command about people who don’t
work shouldn’t eat (2
Thessalonians 3:10-12
):

"When
we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling
to work, neither should that one eat. We hear that some are conducting
themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but
minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge
in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food."

I explained
to my friend that St. Paul understood one cannot describe a material
good as a "right," other than a right to what you’ve produced
(which accounts for "Thou
shall not steal" and "Thou shall not covet"
),
since creating unearned material rights imposes a type of slavery
on the persons who are obligated to provide those material goods.
And if there’s a social mechanism for providing those goods as "rights,"
such as government, rights can only be provided through the violence
of a barrel of a gun.

But my “World
Food Day” friend rejected St. Paul’s teaching. I mentioned that
latter conversation to a third Catholic friend of mine, who responded:
"Well, St. Paul was a bit crazy. He also said wives should
obey their husbands. You’ve got to understand that St. Paul’s was
a patriarchal society. Had it been a matriarchal society, he would
have said the reverse."

The ignorance
astounded me.

Paul’s commands
about marriage are a perfect example of Christian teaching, though
perhaps among his most misunderstood teachings. In Ephesians
(5:20-25)
, St. Paul instructs:

"Be subordinate
to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate
to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his
wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior
of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should
be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your
wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for
her…"

St. Paul gives
one set of instructions to wives, and another set of instructions
to husbands. They are differently worded, but they essentially say
the same thing, that each person in the marriage is told to serve
the other. Neither is told they have the right to boss the other
around. St. Paul’s instructions impose a personal moral burden,
but his instructions are based on freedom … not authority! In
St. Paul’s world, nobody has the right to demand anything from anyone
else, even if individuals are called to serve each other. What and
how much you give is based upon your own conscience, not the violence
of the state.

In the same
way Jesus talked about voluntary giving, not government socialism.
He imposed individual moral burdens, not social burdens. Probably
the best example of that teaching is the story of the Good Samaritan
from Luke’s
Gospel (10:30-35)
. Responding to a scholar in the law,

"Jesus
said ‘A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem
to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him
half-dead.

A priest
happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed
by on the opposite side.

Likewise
a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by
on the opposite side.

But a Samaritan
traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.

He approached
the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and
cared for him.

The next
day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper
with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than
what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’

‘Which of
these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’

He answered,
‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and
do likewise.’"

Note that Jesus
didn’t say that society or government should have provided him the
care he needed. Rather, he instructed the scholar to pay out of
his own pocket as the Good Samaritan had. It was an individualistic
charge, a personal burden for mercy and charity. In this story,
of course, the Rabbis and Levites may very well have been government
employees, as they had been at various times throughout Biblical
history.

The Bible and
long Catholic social experience is a story about individual moral
burdens and property rights, not social obligations and government
handouts, despite what a few Catholic bishops and liberal Protestant
ministers may say today. Christianity and Judaism are arguably the
most individualistic of all religions. The Bible devotes two of
the ten commandments to property rights issues, and many of the
other commandments deal with protecting what traditionalists would
call natural law, the inalienable rights of individuals. When it
comes to government and social burdens, Christianity and Judaism
warn that government can be a substitute for God himself. In 1
Samuel 8
, the Israelites begged Samuel for a king, which God
granted with the warning that they would be burdened by high taxes
and their sons dying in foreign wars for their blasphemy for wanting
a king other than Yahweh.

I’m not a theologian,
so I can’t say for sure that God is a voluntarist and libertarian.
But He sure sounds like one to me.

February
3, 2010

Thomas R.
Eddlem [send
him mail
] is a high school history teacher in
Southeastern Massachusetts and a freelance writer who contributes
to The New American,
Examiner.com,
AntiWar.com and — of
course — LewRockwell.com.

Thomas
R. Eddlem Archives

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