Progressive Christians deride libertarian individualism as contrary to the value system of the Kingdom of God. In their minds, to start with society, rather than the individual, is a morally superior way of looking at the world, especially if Christians should be seeking justice and peace. “Community first,” or “People before profits,” are common phrases use to promote this ethic. Progressives believe that since individuals live and operate within society, the common good limits individual freedom.
Impressively positive ideas such as “social responsibility,” “fairness,” “the public good,” and “equality” that nobody would ever oppose are used to attract people to give up their rights for the Progressive agendas. Slippery definitions of “common good” or “human rights” (their favorite phrase) justify usurping power from individuals to help “the most vulnerable among us”—the elderly, poor, unhealthy, or immigrant. Since Jesus sacrificed his life for the good of the world, we are to do the same. A society built on this principle of love for one’s neighbor is the only way to create a just society. And, so the argument goes, sacrifice is the best, or only, way to abide by this principle.
This is a savvy way to win the hearts and minds of Christians (and non-Christians) who desire justice. The invitation to “think beyond ourselves” is attractive to those who preach self-sacrifice as the ultimate way to love for one’s neighbor. In a politicized society where democracy is among the highest ideals, people feel warm and fuzzy about collective solutions to the world’s problems. Acting together is better than acting alone, and statements like the following are common:
“We need to fight terrorism.”
“We need comprehensive immigration reform.”
“We need to have a social safety net.”
“We need to stop people from doing drugs.”
“We need to provide health care for everyone.”
Phrases like these abound each day, if not coming from our friends or coworkers, then on the news. Everyone wants to live in a better world. Everyone has an opinion (or three). Everyone wants solutions. Yet Progressives relish a grandiose politically-defined collective called “we,” where power and authority reside at the top. Attaching the sentiments of democracy doesn’t negate the inherent pyramid structure of their arrangement. Even the most purely moral society cannot be arranged this way because those at the top will lack the sufficient knowledge necessary to successfully meet society’s needs. It can only produce an imitation because people become arbitrarily grouped and defined by the supposed “experts” influencing those in power. Individual rights are subsumed under the banner of social justice.
“We” is a loaded word with multiple meanings that can be used to satisfy both cooperative and coercive efforts. It can be delineated in various ways. “We” could be the people of a county, a state, a nation, or a continent. “We” could be the people of a racial segment of society. “We” could be the people of the Gulf States, or the East Coast, or the West Coast. Less geographically, “we” can be a little league, a country club, or a church. Americans are accustomed to thinking about “we” in terms of national identity, in part because since early childhood government schools have conditioned us to think in terms of national boundaries. But the scope of 300 million people make the term “we” a precarious entity when the hands of power are concentrated at the top.
But is there a better way to achieve a just society than to define the word “we” by geopolitical identities? Is there a more ethical way for individuals to associate that not only respects their unique differences, but also allows for unity within the diversity of voices? Is there a peaceful way to come together for a common effort toward social justice? And if we find better ways to define “we,” can these groups be based on love and cooperation rather than on power and coercion in order to improve society effectively?
To answer this question, the Christian must think about how he regards his neighbor. Does he believe her to be a free and unique individual created to reflect one of the many diverse qualities of God’s image here on earth? If so, he must then respect her diverse and unique gifts and talents as complements to the rest of society, and permit her to associate with whomever she pleases. He cannot regard her as merely a single unit made to fit into the larger entity called “society” so that “society” can succeed? For him to scheme grandiose social arrangements by starting with “society” violates her by robbing her of respect and individuality.
The early church movement described in Acts 2 has been falsely labeled “Christian socialism.” What is ignored is the obvious point that the success of this new movement was due to the voluntary nature of the collective the early believers were placing themselves within. The Spirit of God guided them, to be sure, but there was nothing coercive about the movement. Everyone’s needs were met not because those involved had to but because everyone involved wanted to. In this way, doing justice is about more than good outcomes, it is about the ways in which those outcomes are brought about.
It is not a Christian duty to ensure that our subjective preferences are imposed upon those around us who may and do have very different preferences. It is our Christian duty to love our neighbor and fight injustice. To seek a just society means we must advocate for a free society where individuals are embraced as unique and worthy of being handed the power to their own lives. We must oppose a planned social order and seeking a free one because we know that groups that emerge spontaneously through free association are likelier to provide a social benefit because people are free to participate. Their benefit to the individual and to society depends largely on the extent to which these groups are joined voluntarily. Forcing people to belong to and identify with the collective effort of seeking social justice will create a society that is neither social nor just.