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The Religion of Statism

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An image has been making the rounds on Facebook recently suggesting that statism is not much different from a religion.

Strangely enough, the United States federal government (and pretty much every other government in this world) actually claims more power than God generally chooses to wield. The state says it can birth you, clothe you, feed you, educate you, house you, comfort you in psychological stress, protect you, make you well when sick, provide you a job, give you meaning beyond yourself (i.e. nationalism), take care of you in old age, and even bury you. By golly, they sometimes even claim they want to control the weather.

But God, besides his general providential actions, does not even say he will do all of this for you. He actually expects you to do some work. Unless you happen upon a few loaves and fishes at a mountainside sermon seminar, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” (Salvation excluded, naturally. Thank God we don’t have to work for that!)

Check out the image:


Thanks to for the image.

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This guest post is by Rev. Donald Ehrke. He is a Libertarian, a former GOP campaign manager, and ordained minister living in Alexandria, Virginia. Many thanks to Donald for his excellent work! For guest post opportunities, please use the LCC Contact Page.

Acts 20:35 is among the several Bible passages commonly recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Speaking in Ephesus the Apostle Paul argues, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”   Paul asserts that this is a teaching of Christ, and there can be little doubt that Paul’s claim is valid.  When we are charitable we reflect the image of God, the greatest of all benefactors.  While preaching the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urges listeners to “ask, seek, and knock, and it will be given” – God’s generosity is limitless.  Seeking to emulate God, when we are benevolent we are also most blessed.

Benevolence is often cited as a mandate for state enforced wealth transfer; we are, under law, obligated to help those who are “less fortunate.”  Some Christians accept this line of reasoning and, as a matter of course, support many types of entitlement programs.  Others sense that compulsory wealth transfer is wrong but are hesitant – especially as Christians – to question this form of “charity” for fear of appearing hypocritical.

Scripture, however, does not describe charity as a compulsory act of the state; charity is the function of the individual benefactor.  Consider, among many possible examples, Deuteronomy 15:4, “There will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess.”  This does not suggest that every Israelite would be individually successful, but that the abundance of the land would permit individual charity.  Only a few verses later we read, “If among you, one of your neighbors should become poor… you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).  These passages use personal pronouns – one of your neighbors, you will not harden your heart, you will open your hand to him – to suggest the personal nature of charity.

Even the collective charity demonstrated in Acts 4:32-37 was concurrently individual in nature.  We read that “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (v. 32).  We might recall, however, that these early Christians were members of a voluntary association and that they were moved to give through grace (v. 33) not compulsion.  The sin of Ananias and Sapphira as described in Acts 5 lay not in their refusal to sell their property for common consumption but in pretending as though they had given the full proceeds of the sale to the apostles.

Feigned charity is sinful; charity at no cost to the individual is not pleasing to God.  Consider Nathan’s response to David’s acts of murder and infidelity.  Nathan spoke a parable concerning a wealthy man who took a poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest as if it were his own.  David was indignant, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he has done this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:6).  One cannot force another man’s charity.

There will be no poor among us today when we have become personally aware of another person’s need and have chosen to address it.  Forcibly taking that which does not belong to us – regardless of how we choose to label the program – and presenting it to a third party is simply theft.  More, such transactions destroy the relationship between benefactor and beneficiary.  We are urged not to develop a hard heart toward the impoverished; when we give out of choice we do so out of grace for our neighbor.  When we are coerced to assist, we detest the recipients because we have been victimized by thievery.  Is it not intriguing that many Americans simultaneously claim support for public wealth transfer while attempting to reduce their tax liability?

Likewise, the beneficiary of public support loses the proper relationship with his or her benefactor.  Regarding the assistance people might expect from strangers as they traveled we read, “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag.  If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you will not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain” (Deuteronomy 23:24-25).  There is a standard for charitable giving and for charitable taking.  A traveler (dependent in ancient times on charity) could not take so much produce that the owner would suffer losses that might endanger his subsistence.  A traveler could fill his stomach or hand, but no more – he recognized the personal nature of the charity he was receiving and was respectful of it.  The beneficiary was, therefore, in the unique position of being generous to his benefactor.  Additionally, if the beneficiary took too much produce, the benefactor would be unable to provide future assistance.  Benefactor and beneficiary experienced a relationship of caring and respect.

To summarize, coerced wealth transfer removes the care a recipient would normally have for his benefactor.  More, coerced wealth transfer encourages recipients to maximize their benefits as the benefactor must surrender his possessions out of compulsion rather than grace.  Additionally, recipients are led to believe that their benefactor’s resources will never be exhausted.  If resources are inexhaustible, the recipient has little incentive to change their behavior – this implies that the poor will always be among us.  Perpetuating poverty is not charity, dependence is not compassion.

Giving is pleasing to God and Christians should be eager to help others.  We can choose to assist both the poor and anyone experiencing need.  We might also consider the biblical relationship that should exist between benefactor and beneficiary and how each is intended to profit from charity.  It is not hypocritical to reject compulsory “giving” because obligatory charity through theft is itself hypocritical.  Instead, Christians might choose to practice personal kindness and discover the satisfaction that comes with giving out of a generous heart.  It is more blessed to choose to give than to be forced to hand over.  It is more blessed to receive out of grace from a friend than to swipe from a stranger.

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LI-07-Hobby-LobbyIn September 2012, the privately held retail store Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against the US federal government regarding new regulations in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring that employer insurance cover emergency contraceptives. They argue that they have a First Amendment right not to follow such a regulation.

While this is indeed case with respect to the US Constitution, the libertarian case against such mandates covers more fundamental ground than just religious expression. It is also more comprehensive because it addresses the core of the issue: government intervention in business and in personal lives.

You can read article after article about the whole issue, and I do not want to rehash everything because it would be a waste of your time. Still, what can a Christian libertarian say about this issue? To break through the confusion and state the case quickly and succinctly, this is the plumbline libertarian position on Hobby Lobby and these health care mandates:

  1. All interventionism in health care by the state is bad.* The ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. should all be repealed and shut down permanently.
  2. All interventionism in business by the state is bad.* The government’s job, if it ought to have a job at all, is not “consumer protection” or “ensuring fair play” but rather protecting individual rights. The regulatory, bureaucratic state is a monstrous evil.
  3. Hobby Lobby is within its rights to put forward terms of employment however they wish. Employment by an employer is voluntary, and employees can choose voluntarily to accept the terms or not.
  4. Hobby Lobby ought to win their lawsuit against the US federal government. The government is the aggressor here, and should get out of the way.

* Note: A rights violation committed by a health care provider or other business is still a rights violation and is treated as such. Clearly, suggesting interventionism is bad does not mean that rights violations are ignored.

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Lawmakers in the House and Senate in my state of Florida have proposed two bills (HB 717 & SB 774) that would amend the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) to prohibit pregnancy discrimination. Penalties would include back pay and punitive damages up to $100,000.

“Some (of the pregnant women) are terminated from their jobs or they go into a hostile work environment because of their pregnancy so we want to make sure we eliminate those kinds of things,” said State Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando). “Let’s not allow employers to prevent women from doing their jobs,” added State Rep. Lori Berman (D-Lantana).

There are three major problems with this political grandstanding.

One, pregnancy discrimination is already illegal in Florida. Two, if there is any form of discrimination that should not be prohibited, it is pregnancy discrimination. And three, no discrimination should be prohibited in the first place.

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Pray for Our Troops

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I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
(1 Timothy 2:1)

While driving recently on Maitland Boulevard in central Florida, I came upon a billboard with a simple message: “Pray for Our Troops.”

Although I am often very critical of the actions of U.S. troops, I do believe—in spite of what people may think—in prayer for our troops. This is because, as evidenced above, the Bible exhorts us to pray for all men, which includes U.S. troops.

The problem is not the idea of praying for the troops, but the usual prayers that are offered on their behalf. When the typical church-going, prayer-saying American Christian sees such a billboard or is enjoined in church to pray for our troops, he generally thinks:

  • Pray that our troops be kept out of harm’s way.
  • Pray that our troops defeat our enemies.
  • Pray that our troops defend our freedoms.
  • Pray that our troops keep us safe.
  • Pray that our troops find terrorists who want to do us harm.
  • Pray that our troops eliminate the threat of al Qaeda.
  • Pray that our troops rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Pray that our troops spread democracy and freedom.
  • Pray that our troops avenge 9/11.

Some Christians, if they were honest, would pray that our troops’ bombs, bullets, grenades, missiles, and mortars hit their targets. Or if they were really honest, a war prayer for the twenty-first century.

The problem with these prayers is that no thought is ever given to:

  • Where our troops go.
  • Why our troops go.
  • Whether our troops should go.
  • How long our troops should stay.
  • What our troops do when they are there.
  • How much it costs to keep our troops there.
  • How many innocent foreigners die because our troops went.
  • What physical and mental condition our troops will be in when they return.
  • Whether our troops are really defending our freedom.
  • Whether our troops are creating more terrorists because they went.
  • Whether our troops are actually a global force for good.
  • Whether whatever our troops accomplish is worth one drop of American blood.

None of these things matter. We are continually told to pray for the troops, thank the troops, and support the troops—and to do so unconditionally.

But because I have considered these questions about the activities of our troops, and pay attention to what really goes on in the military, I think we should instead:

  • Pray that our troops come home from overseas.
  • Pray that our troops stop fighting foreign wars.
  • Pray that our troops don’t kill foreign civilians.
  • Pray that our troops don’t rape foreign women.
  • Pray that our troops stop invading countries.
  • Pray that our troops stop occupying countries.
  • Pray that our troops get out of the military as soon as they can.
  • Pray that our troops don’t fire their weapons.
  • Pray that our troops don’t sexually assault military personnel.
  • Pray that our troops don’t frequent brothels.
  • Pray that our troops don’t commit suicide.
  • Pray that our troops don’t get addicted to drugs.
  • Pray that our troops stop helping to carry out an evil U.S. foreign policy.
  • Pray that our troops stop making drone strikes.
  • Pray that our troops stop making widows and orphans.
  • Pray that our troops are only used for genuinely defensive purposes.
  • Pray that our troops stop intervening in other countries.
  • Pray that our troops don’t die for a lie, like those who died fighting in Iraq.
  • Pray that our troops don’t die in vain, like those who died fighting in Afghanistan.
  • Pray that our troops think about the morality of their “service.”
  • Pray that our troops refuse to obey immoral orders.
  • Pray that our troops never become troops by saying no to the military recruiter.

One does not have to be religious to see that these prayers are noticeably different from the previous ones. Think about this the next time you see a billboard or church sign that says “Pray for Our Troops.”

Originally published on

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