Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Reading the Bible Makes Me More Libertarian

Last week, a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook entitled, "10 Reasons Why Reading the Bible Makes Us More Progressive." To be frank, I was infuriated upon reading this article at its misuse of scripture to provide a rationale for a political viewpoint. I thought it worthwhile to respond to this article here.

The author begins by explaining how he became a Christian progressive because he decided to accept the whole Bible. I personally believe that if you are reading the Bible to determine your political viewpoints, you're probably doing something wrong. Nevertheless, I would like to go point by point to show the logical inconsistencies and Bible verses taken out of context within this article.

1. "The more I read my Bible, the more I realize I don't have it all together."
Our friendly author goes on to explain here that when he realizes how little he knows, and how sinful he truly is, he is a lot less likely to pass judgment onto others. This interpretation of scripture he gives here is worthy. We shouldn't condemn people because they have sin in their lives. That's God's job and place. But this has nothing to do with government or the left-right spectrum. Apparently, he is assuming here that to live on the right of the spectrum is to pass judgment on anything and everything, but that is an absurd and offensive assumption. Judging other people has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

2. "The more I read my Bible, the more I develop humility."
This point is really just a reiteration of his first point, so I will reiterate my earlier response. Yes, we as Christians need to be humble and not view others' sins as worse than our own. The great apostle Paul did himself say the he was the chief of sinners, showing us an excellent example in humility, but this has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

3. "The more I read my Bible, the more I discover that justice for the poor and oppressed is at the heart of it."
Here our author again makes a spiritual point I can definitely agree with. He concludes this point by saying, "God wants us to care for, serve, and love these people." That's exactly it right there. God wants US to care for, serve, and love these people, but quite frankly our responsibility to care for the people has nothing to do with the government, and by extension, has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

4. "The more I read my Bible, the more I realize “redistribution of wealth” wasn’t Obama’s idea– it was God’s."
Now we're getting into some more interesting material. The author insists that the Israelites had a system of redistribution of wealth through institutions such as the year of Jubilee, restrictions on gleaning your garden and other similar things. Although the Israelites were clearly told to care for the poor, it was a cultural decision not a governmental one. Each individual had a responsibility to help the poor, just as we each have a responsibility to help the poor today. No conservatives or libertarians have any problems with private redistribution of wealth as is being discussed here. No, we have a problem with government mandated redistribution, which is not discussed within these cultural norms. Indeed, these cultural norms and the responsibility to help the poor have nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

5. "The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that the early Christians actually practiced this re-distribution of wealth." 
Here our author opines,
"They rejected individual ownership, gave their wealth to leadership who in turn, redistributed it according to need... While this still seems too radical for me, it moves me in a right to left trajectory as I read it."

The fact that he refuses to accept this idea fully while accusing conservatives of ignoring parts of the Bible is interesting, to say the least.

I can only assume that he is getting this idea of rejecting property from Acts 4-5. Indeed it is stated in Acts 4 that several members of the church did sell their possessions and give the money to the Apostles to redistribute. However, there is no indication that this was common among all churches, or if this was just a custom at Antioch. It is also unclear whether the Apostles asked for the money from selling properties in the first place. In response, a Christian progressive loves to point out that Ananias and Sapphira were punished for keeping back some of the money they received from selling their property, but examining what the Apostles actually told them about their misdeeds, we see an entirely different story. In Acts 5:3-4, the Bible proclaims,
"But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God."

Not only does this passage show that the Lord was punishing them for their lying, not their refusal to fully participate in redistribution, but it also demonstrates that the Apostles in the early church did not "Reject individual ownership." It says that while it remained, and after is was sold, it was in "Thine own power."

Of course, I haven't even mentioned that even if this notion is true (as we have seen, it's not), we would be dealing with private redistribution of wealth, which no conservative or libertarian have any qualms with. Thus, his entire thesis on this point has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

6. "The more I read my Bible the more I realize Jesus taught we need to pay our taxes."
Finally, something the Bible actually says about government! Our friendly author would like to point out that it was the government's job and our private job to administer charity. To prove this, he cites another example where Jesus tells someone to sells their goods and give it to the poor, and also that Jesus tells us to pay our taxes. The former I have no qualms with as it is private redistribution. The latter however is guilty of the non sequitur fallacy. Non sequitur is Latin for "It does not follow." In this case, just because we must pay taxes to the federal government, it does not follow that we must support use of that taxation as government charity. Indeed, I can't think of a way in which those two can be linked together meaningfully. Thus, the fact that the Bible tells us to pay taxes has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

7. "The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God wants us to be people who are quick to show mercy."
He here once again assumes with no basis that progressivism is the ONLY system centered on the belief of radical mercy. This is another offensive and baseless assumption. Essentially, how merciful you are, and whether you support radical mercy in political areas has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

8. "The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God cares how we treat immigrants."
I agree wholeheartedly with everything he said (and even implies) here. I personally believe that our immigration standards should be much less restrictive. Is this a progressive belief? I guess this author thinks so, but I always thought of it as a libertarian belief. Oh well, I suppose even a broken clock (progressives) can be right twice! Regardless, your beliefs about immigration are hardly the most important thing in determining whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

9. "The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God will hold us accountable for how we care for the environment."
We are now back to the issue of what God expects from people, and not what God expects from the government. I agree that as Christians we are called to be good stewards of the earth, but as this has nothing to do with government, it has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

10. "The more I read my Bible, the more I realize that God isn’t judging us by whether or not we get all of our doctrine right– he’s judging us by whether or not we get the “love one another” part right."
Our author would like to point out the following,
"The more I read the Bible the more I realize that God is less concerned with us all sharing the same doctrine but is heavily concerned with whether or not we love each other. In fact, Jesus said this would be the calling card of his followers, and how others would realize we’re actually following Jesus– that we love one another. The more I read my Bible, the more I want to defer my position or preference and instead side with what is in the best interest of others– because that’s the loving thing to do."

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. Christians should be concerned with loving one another, and should side in all things with what is in the best interest of others. However, I disagree with the once again offensive assumption here that those who do not subscribe to progressivism clearly don't have the best interest of others in mind. I am a libertarian because I believe that libertarianism best upholds the principle of "loving one another." That principle itself however has nothing to do with whether you are progressive, conservative, or libertarian.

I have spent a lot of time responding to this article without pointing out why reading the Bible makes me more Libertarian. Going off my "Less is more" philosophy of life, which in this case, details that having fewer, well-developed points is preferable to a laundry list of poorly developed points, I have summarized below three reasons why the Bible supports the beliefs of Libertarianism

1. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize the Lord respects private property. 
We have already seen from the passage in Acts 5 that the Lord allowed Ananias and the other members of the church at Antioch to decide whether to sell their possessions or not for use in the apostles' "redistribution" scheme.

I also believe that several Jewish customs in the Old Testament, such as interest-free loans, were established to better allow the Jewish people to buy and sell land. Contrary to some beliefs, the Jewish people definitely had an idea and custom of private property. How else could Judas' thirty pieces of silver be used to buy a field if there was no custom of private property in the first place? How could Boaz own a field of wheat if ownership was not respected? How could David be keeping his father's sheep if all possessions were in common? Indeed Exodus 22 establishes the punishment of retribution for those guilty of theft of private property.

But I believe the better source of proof for the Lord's respect for private property comes from the verse I use in the title of this blog, 2 Timothy 2:6
"The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits." 

This verse is using the capitalist principle of wages and private ownership of the means of production to prove a greater point about how if you wish to reap the benefits of God's work, you must be willing to partake in the labour of it. Although we should always remember the metaphorical meaning of these words (every Friday's post expresses some truth about them), the literal meaning of the verse is still true and supports private property and the basis of all libertarian thought.

If I need to prove my point further, look to the ten commandments. As Messianic Jew Pastor Ted R. Weiland writes,
"Property is inherent to both the Fourth and Eighth Commandments. The Fourth Commandment’s stipulation concerning six days of labor provides a means of acquiring property, and the Eighth Commandment is predicated upon the right of ownership... Property implies ownership, and ownership entitles the owner to do with his property whatever he wishes, provided it does not violate the rights of others (Mathew 20:15) ... The Fourth and particularly the Eighth Commandment stand in stark contrast to the First Plank of the Communist Manifesto: “Abolition of private property and the application of all rent to public purpose.” 

So the Lord clearly value private property, and in our dealings with others including government, we must do so as well. This is the primary reason I am a libertarian.
2. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize the Lord does not like to coerce people into certain actions or beliefs. 
Jesus had power at many different times to just force the people to his beliefs. Although he would rebuke them, and sometimes use force, he never used his supernatural powers or any type of governmental force to coerce someone into protecting him or believing what he said.

Throughout the entirety of the Bible, the Israelites are not once told to use force to convince someone of their views. Immigrants are given the choice of changing to the Israelites' religion, but they are never coerced into doing so.

Indeed the only time we see someone using force to coerce someone into a belief system is when the Jewish elders try to coerce people into not believing the words of Jesus and his apostles, or when they try to prevent the apostles from sharing the gospel.

Why is this? Why do we only have negative notions of people being coerced into actions and beliefs they may not desire? Quite frankly, I don't think a positive notion of such things could exist. If we are to love one another, shouldn't that start by letting each person live his own life without threat of government coercion? This means everything from being able to retain one's property and not forced to give it to whatever the government considers "charity" to any lifestyle choices that are being made. (Not to mention that the Bible clearly shows the fallibility and corruptibility of man. Why should we trust men to use their power over other men in a way that glorifies God?) We can disagree with the decisions of others, and we can  and should speak out against them, but it is not very loving for us to use the government to force people to act by our (or even the Lord's) standard of right and wrong. At its core, that is libertarianism - protecting individual rights from the coercion of government because that's how you love one another when discussing governmental rules.

3. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize the Lord holds each individual accountable for his own actions. 
The Bible proclaims in Romans 14:12, 
"So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."

When I read my Bible, I learn that the Lord is not concerned with keeping governments moral, nor is he concerned with keeping the church moral. No, what the Lord is concerned with, is whether each individual is moral and living a life of obedience to him. When he gives his commands, he is not normally (ever?) directing them at institutions like government, but is almost always directing them at the individual. This tells me that the Lord believes as libertarians do, in individual responsibility. Responsibility that is skirted when we consider it the government's job, not ours to care for the poor and other things. As we analyzed last week, Davy Crockett's summary of Horatio  Bunce's words in Not Yours to Give gives voice to how government can be used to skirt individual responsibility,
"There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington , no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give."

Government charity is praised because it allows those individuals to avoid the responsibility to engage and help out the poor themselves. This same principle is true for principles of environmental stewardship, education of children, and most other systems progressives believe to be an essential part of government.

It's not the government's job to do these things. History tells us that government makes the problem worse.  The Bible never tells us that the government needs to act and obey him. The Lord is not concerned with obedience from the government (I do believe he would rather the government just step out of the way), but with obedience from his people.

That is why when I read the Bible, I look for my own spiritual guidance, and not for support for my political views.

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