This article was jointly written by Doug Stuart and Jessica Hooker.
“…libertarianism is a values system of its own, and it’s an alternative, not a complement, to the values system that is Christianity.”
Such is the thesis of Elizabeth Stoker’s ongoing series on Christianity and libertarianism. She makes a strong case against what she thinks is an incompatibility between libertarian philosophy (as she understands it) and Christianity (as she understands it).
Stoker and these LCC authors share a common lineage. Like her, we grew up in “right-wing” homes, both distinctively Christian. While many of our beliefs were inherited from our parents, there was not a time when we didn’t believe for ourselves what the Bible said. Likewise, our families’ political ideology (staunch Republican) influenced the way we thought about politics for years. Over time Stoker became a hardcore leftist, while our journeys brought us to respect and embrace libertarianism. In some ways, we share a common dislike for the “right-wing” political ideology.
Stoker stated at the beginning of her first post, “The Curious Case of Christian Libertarians”, that she did not intend to shame or poke fun at anyone. Neither do we.
She wanted to share why she believes “the central concerns of libertarians are fundamentally different from the central concerns of Christianity.” Good for her.
She has written a succinct explanation of her position.
Now, it’s our turn. Read More→
Tags: charity, christian libertarianism, elizabeth Stoker, ethics, libertarianism
Blogger Elizabeth Stoker is attempting to convince her readers that libertarianism and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible. From the subsequent articles it appears as though this is a new hobby horse for her, and we welcome her questions. Libertarianism is often misunderstood by the Left and Right alike, and adding “Christian” as a familiar bedfellow throws a curve ball into the mix (though why a left-liberal like Stoker is complaining about who we’re in bed with is beyond me).
So while Stoker has written a few articles espousing her position, I think it’s a good idea to kindly respond. Two things strike me as important:
1. Stoker’s questions come from a leftist understanding of Christianity; that is, she is enamored with social justice and concerned for the poor. Christians who are at all interested in libertarianism tend to move from the more conservative wing of politics or religion into libertarianism, and so their questions rarely reflect this concern. It isn’t often that we engage with a social justice Christian. Her concerns need to be heard and responded to. I hope she’ll be pleasantly surprised with some of our responses. Minimally I hope she learns to understand that not every flavor of libertarianism is the same. Which brings me to the second point.
2. Like many others, Stoker’s perception of libertarianism has been shaped by a variety of influences that often do not reflect the majority of libertarianism’s viewpoints. She leaves out any possibility that there’s a Christian flavor to libertarianism. While she is fully justified in her choice to believe that the two are incompatible, she has picked certain interpretations of libertarianism that are incompatible with certain interpretations of Christianity.
I’m perfectly willing to rethink certain elements of my faith and political beliefs. There are also a few things I am unwilling to rethink. I’m sure the same goes for Stoker, but I hope the dialogue will be a fruitful endeavor in informing each other’s views for the better.
Tags: Christianity, elizabeth Stoker, liberalism, libertarian christians, libertarianism, statism
It’s probably no stretch for me to say that I share a common frustration with other libertarians when I hear capitalism take the blame for all of the world’s economic woes. My Progressive Christians friends decry the economic systems that have been constructed in the past several hundred years as running counter to the kingdom of God. Their chastisement is aimed mostly at the predominantly capitalist United States and its economic domination over the world’s resources. Economic disparity is blamed on our empathy-free addiction to consumerism. Children in the developing world are slaves, so the narrative goes, so that we can have very nice things. If we weren’t so caught up in our stuff, they wouldn’t be slaves (to which I respond: no, but they’d be just as poor or worse!).
My blood pressure goes up every time I see somebody blame “capitalism” or “the free market” for social and economic problems. Maybe I should stop expecting Facebook memes to be intelligent and thought-provoking, especially if individuals posting them have spent fewer than ten seconds studying economics. But perhaps I should let go of my commitment to the ideal of capitalism and embrace whatever-it-is-that-frees-humanity. My friend Mike is one of “those people” who blames many social ills on capitalism. He and I have argued in circles about whether or not capitalism is to blame, and I have failed to convince him he’s using the wrong word.
What do we call the economic system of the United States?
Is it capitalism?
Or maybe the better question is to ask, does it matter?
Shouldn’t our passion for liberty be able to withstand the poor reputation it has been given by others? Can we not be committed to liberty while also sharing a commitment to the common good?
That last question might make some libertarians wince, because the phrase “common good” is often used by the Left to trump our commitment to individualism. But stop and think about it. One of the astounding facts of the 19th and 20th centuries is the phenomena that individuals acting in a (relatively free) market results in cooperation and the creation of wealth that opens the floodgates for the masses to rise out of poverty. A commitment to individualism is not a rejection of the common good.
Back to labels. Let’s take an example using Christianity. Many people blame Christianity on some of history’s greatest atrocities. Are they right to do so? Is it truly our heritage that Christians have killed people in the name of Christ? My honest response is, “Yes, it is.” At the same time, the individual persons in certain Christian sects who perpetuated violence and aggression do not represent what it means to be a true Christ-follower. In that sense, it is not the “Christian tradition” that carried out violence, but a misapplication of allegiance to the name of Christ.
We must be free to both reject those parts of our tradition that stray from the ideal while simultaneously admitting that those stories are part of our historic identity, for better or worse.
I think the same should be true for libertarians. We can and should both espouse what real free markets ought to look like while at the same time admitting that some individual advocates of capitalism have abused their own freedom to suppress the freedoms of others (think Federal Reserve or corporate welfare). Under certain types of manipulated market conditions, it is no wonder “capitalism” hasn’t quite worked out as well as we would expect. It is not that we believe capitalism has been tried and has failed, but we recognize society’s inability to apply liberty consistently. It’s no secret that some who are successful can buy political power to manipulate markets, so it is no surprise that such a “market capitalism” has negative outcomes.
I’ve long maintained that Progressive Christians and Libertarian Christians have more in common than either would like to admit. What makes them feel so far apart is that both have distinct spheres of language (simplistically state: collectivist vs. individualist). That’s not a small hurdle to overcome. It would take good listening skills and long conversations to overcome it indeed! But consider this: both groups reject economic domination of one class of people over another. Both abhor war. Both cry out against Big Business and are sick of corporate welfare. That’s a lot of common ground, isn’t it?
Whether one wants to throw out capitalism (the system) or let go of “capitalism” (the name), the common good can be a common goal. (Anarchists, take a deep breath!) Yes, there are competing theories on how to get there. But that’s where the fun begins. That’s where we get to wrestle with the details and the empirical data. That’s how we keep the Great Conversation moving forward. Here’s a starter conversation: can Libertarian Christians admit that “societal sins” are real and can be addressed by a consistent ethic of liberty? And can Progressive Christians admit that a monopoly (the State) is not the best way to address and fix those sins?
Many libertarian and free-market economists offer a unique perspective to social problems. Like Art Carden, we believe that “the important question in social science is not really evaluating the moral quality of the outcome, but evaluating the institutions that produce the outcome.” And we stand with F.A. Hayek in affirming that “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
Tags: Art Carden, capitalism, corporatism, crony capitalism, F.A. Hayek, free markets
It is often said that libertarians arrive at their views from different routes. Some by Ron Paul (a conservative Christian), others by Ayn Rand (a devout atheist), others still through studying economics or history. Some grow up in libertarian homes. We are all on a journey, and those of us who call ourselves libertarians (whether we assume that title proudly or apprehensively) often criss-cross each other along the way.
Joseph Charles Putnam has recently self-published a book titled A Bible Based View of Liberty and Free Governments. Putnam definitely comes at his libertarian-leaning viewpoints from a different route than I have. Putnam describes himself as “limited government ‘Constitutional’ libertarian,” and his book is a manifesto of his viewpoint on Scripture and its relationship to liberty.
Putnam makes no qualms about his commitment to the AV1611 translation of the Bible, more popularly known as the King James Version, as well as a reliance upon Webster’s 1828 English dictionary. As a fundamentalist Christian looking to find God’s expectations for humans, he has a thorough knowledge of the English text of Scripture, and cites it throughout the book. Read More→
Tags: Bible, government, libertarianism, liberty
Tim Suttle doesn’t like to simplify the complex. While both of his books are relatively short, he navigates gracefully through a few tricky areas, avoiding many of the pitfalls of such a task. One would think that with a title like Public Jesus, his chapter on political life would end up looking more progressive than conservative or libertarian. Yet Suttle treats the issue of political life by looking at the nature of baptism and Christian citizenship.
Our heavenly citizenship began, says Suttle, ever since we renounced our citizenship in the kingdoms of this world by being baptized. Being raised with Christ is a new identity, an advanced citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But here’s the rub for Americans: being a citizen of an earthly country “makes many demands upon our lives that we rarely think about.” Suttle laments that American Christians all too easily conflate the Christian “we” with the American “we.” He then warns us of the dangers of political engagement because “our primary concern is not the advancement of a country, but the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” Then he uses a phrase that I find tremendously helpful if we but stop to reflect on their meaning. He says, “Participating in the organization of society is a sacred calling, part of our original vocation to have dominion, to fill the earth, subdue it, till it, keep it, and cause it to bear fruit. The call to organize our common life so we image God to all creation involves polity and organization” (italics mine). That phrase, “the organization of society,” was used deliberately. Suttle wants us to know that organizing society is sacred work, but he’s also careful to not say that the state or governments are in and of themselves sacred.
If this weren’t enough to make the libertarian in me smile, it gets even better: “Politicians and parties on both the right and the left operate upon the very same underlying assumption. They each believe that they should be running the world.” The question I wrote in the margin was, “What about a movement or party whose goal is to stop acting like it can run the world?”
Ultimately, Suttle argues, the Christian has to stop trying to fit on a political continuum of left-right or fundamentalism-secularism, but to begin identifying with Jesus. Because we are resident aliens whose citizenship is the Kingdom of God, identifying with Jesus will make us permanent outsiders to the world, for better or for worse. To identify with Jesus means to take up a mission to serve the world, and “we have to accomplish our mission without government-sanctioned power.”
While governments promise the security of freedom, justice, and peace with no way to deliver them, the way of Jesus will bring us all three through the mission of the church embodying the cross in community for the good of the world. That’s why we say that in the Kingdom of God, up is down and down is up.
Tags: conservativism, libertarianism, progressivism, public jesus, Tim Suttle