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It's a funny thing.
In their corporate worship at church, many evangelicals tolerate a lot of pop culture influence. For most congregations today, pop culture actually dictates their service structure.
Yet in their politics, evangelicals have become increasingly defiant towards pop culture.
Worship styles come and go. How many evangelicals, for example, scoff at tradition and classical music in their churches? In politics, however, how many evangelicals hold their rhetoric sacrosanct, and moderate compromise abominable? Acknowledging the realities of the popular - and fallen - political culture all around us practically makes those of us who do heretics.
So... which is more important to evangelical voters? Worship of God, or politics?
I ask the question because some evangelicals appear to be answering it by their reaction to last week's elections. After suffering painful losses in two successive presidential campaigns, and witnessing some disturbing wins for gay marriage this last week, evangelicals are musing out loud about the viability of a third party. Conservatives want to restore some semblance of the glory they believe our country has ceded to immoral liberals and lazy welfare recipients.
That third party is turning out to be Libertarianism, and after years of languishing in the shadows of media apathy and public marginalism, it appears to be converting a number of conservative church-goers to its newly-popular ethos of limited government.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Libertarianism is "the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things."
Now, right off the bat, it should trouble evangelicals to read the part about us "fully owning ourselves," since, according to the Bible, we do no such thing. We have been bought with a price, haven't we? Which means our lives are to bring glory to Christ, not ourselves.
But it's the part about "acquiring property rights" that attracts the attention of many conservatives, isn't it? We like owning stuff. We like being the king of the castle. We like the feelings of control, power, and influence that material goods can give us. And it's not like God ever tells us that owning stuff is a bad thing. It's stealing that's wrong, and laziness, and expecting something for nothing.
Of course, salvation by grace through faith could be viewed as us getting something even though we did nothing to deserve it... but we're talking politics and economics here, not eternal significance.
According to Advocates for Self Government, a more politically-suited explanation states that "Libertarians strive for the best of all worlds - a free, peaceful, abundant world where each individual has the maximum opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and to realize his full potential."
That sounds a lot more religious, doesn't it? Plus, it practically oozes with patriotic sentiment. You can almost hear Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson rhapsodizing on freedom, peace, and abundance at church - even though neither one believed in the God of the Bible.
So the official Libertarian Party itself tries to ignore all of these unfortunate complications, and on its website, states simply that they're for "minimum government and maximum freedom."
After all, you'd have to be a lily-livered left-wing patsy not to jump on that bandwagon. Who in their right mind can't fault big government, and who doesn't want more freedom? Other virtuous terminology used by the Libertarian Party includes such key words as personal responsibility, the uniqueness of every individual, respect, and developing our full potential.
What's not to love, right? To the extent that large organizations can stifle innovation, compromise industriousness, and hamstring our own personalities, Libertarians claim themselves to be a unique voice for the true American way of life.
So why is that a problem?
Libertarians Separate From Both Church and State
For Americans schooled in the ideal of the individual, the sin of true Libertarianism is difficult to detect. That's because not only does Libertarianism make each individual their own god, but many of us have already been indoctrinated to believe that we're individual agents designed to pursue wealth. Wealth for the sake of its owner, and nobody else.
One of Libertarianism's early political heroes was the British philosopher John Locke, to whom Thomas Jefferson attributed his own controversial interpretation of the separation of church and state. Locke did not believe any government had the right to dictate the conscience of its constituents. He also advocated for a wide tolerance of divergent views, especially when those views threatened to subsume the primary virtues of self and property.
Actually, speaking of tolerance, it's ironic to see as many professing Calvinists as there are preaching the virtues of Libertarianism, considering that Libertarian philosophy has its roots in Tertullian's "free-will" theology of 200 A.D., in which he claimed all religions are basically the same in terms of their impact on the government.
Fast-forward to modern Libertarianism, and you'll find that indeed, the truth of God's Word is not the foundation upon which life is lived. Instead, Libertarians still believe that the individual is the sovereign. You and I each have the right to rule as we see fit, which is how the institution of government - not to mention religion - becomes practically irrelevant.
In a way, they want to separate themselves from both the church and the state.
If that still sounds ideal to you, then forget the enticing small-government, low-tax aspects of the Libertarian philosophy, and consider what God says about how we believers are to live our lives. Have you ever found it odd that political discussions are virtually
absent throughout the Scriptures? Governments, rulers, and taxes play
recurring roles in both the Old and New Testaments, and mostly, those
governments in Biblical times were corrupt, autocratic, and distinctly antagonistic towards
God's people. And the taxes - yikes!
Yet how often do we hear King David wondering if the
taxes he excised over his countrymen were too high? Christ's disciples
squabbled about many things, but they never argued about whom they were
going to vote for, or whether universal healthcare was of the devil. In terms of specific doctrine regarding government and our role in it, the Bible teaches little. Except that we are to pay the taxes we owe, we should pray for our leaders, and we should respect them as being ordained by God to occupy their positions of power.
This doesn't mean that we Americans, with the amazing ability we have to speak our minds about the size of our government and the taxes it collects, should just roll over and hibernate from politics in our country. But we need to advocate on behalf of ourselves and our nation in ways that honor God. Both the Democratic and Republican parties exhibit serious flaws in this regard, but both of them still incorporate a metric of morality that Libertarians want to ignore.
Yes, our evangelical electorate is becoming increasingly intolerant of regulations, restrictions, and costs that generally are imposed to sustain bureaucracies and the questionable lifestyles of other people. To a certain extent, these frustrations have a legitimacy against which I can't argue. Tax dollars are being demanded of evangelicals and spent on activities we believe to be Biblically wrong, such as abortions. Generational poverty is only being exacerbated by social welfare programs, and has even been caused by these welfare programs. Governmental bureaucracy has bloated the size of the very institution that's supposed to make our common lives as a citizenry easier, safer, and more profitable.
Liberty From Morality?
Meanwhile, by saying that the individual is the primary actor in a society, Libertarianism automatically excludes God from governance. And by excluding God, the Author of morality, Libertarians open wide the door to a panoply of sinful pursuits towards which believers in Christ would be barred from opposing. Gay marriage, for example, would be allowed without appeal under Libertarianism - unless the whole notion of marriage was tossed for being an anachronistic, religious crutch.
Abortion currently is a bit murkier for Libertarians. Some believe that each fetus constitutes a human being, and that as such, they should be protected from murder. Other Libertarians, however, believe that life begins outside the womb, and that until that point, a woman has exclusive rights over her body. While this conflict does not appear to be any different than our current debate between conventional Republicans and Democrats, the weight of the argument, in the fullest Libertarian sensibility, falls on the pro-abortion side of the equation, since morality is a weaker argument than the rights of an individual.
Morality, after all, is relative to Libertarians, whereas the individual is an objective object. Either you exist as a person with the capacity for owning possessions, or you don't, and if you exist, then you are your own ruler. Each person is responsible for making their own way, as long as doing so doesn't infringe on the rights of another individual to make their own way in life.
"Live and let live" is a classic Libertarian motto. But that's not Biblical, is it?
Consider instead 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, in which the Apostle Paul writes, "'Everything is permissible,' but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible,' but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others."
Therein lies the key to the Libertarians' fallacy. As much as they don't want to believe it, as a society, we are together in a sociopolitical contrivance that God, not history, or political destiny, has ordained. Sin, not an individual's failure to create his own wealth, or a government's interference, is the plague attacking all sovereign nations.
Libertarianism tolerates faith solely as a narcissistic, feel-good diversion. Missions, evangelism, and other forms of proselytizing, however, have no place, since no religion can be allowed to compromise the harmony of the nonjudgmental community. After all, free enterprise hates controversy, and making money only gets harder when you accuse somebody else of violating your set of rules.
Material wealth, remember, drives Libertarianism. A lot of attention was paid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to the severe gasoline shortages facing drivers in the New York metropolitan area. Many Libertarians scoffed, insisting that if the free market was unleashed at the gas pumps, there'd be no need for long lines and rationing. Simply charge what the market would bear, and only the few who could afford those prices would be able to purchase gas.
Talk about a flagrant lack of love and concern for one's fellow man! During the aftermath of a natural disaster, endorsing what would otherwise be called "price-gouging" so that only the wealthiest could acquire basic essentials! If that isn't Darwinian Evolution, the "survival of the fittest," what is? But that's what Libertarians believe. Granted, if you're one of the people who can afford to pay $15 for a gallon of gas, it's easier for you to see the merit in price gouging. Until you realize that it's only because of your money, not your value as a person, that you're able to obtain something that everybody needs.
Suddenly, freedom of the individual becomes less about personal liberty, and more about money. And not just money, which itself isn't moral or immoral. But the love of money. And we know what the love of money is the root of, right?
In Libertarianism, the wealthiest - regardless of their ethics - get to call all the shots. Which, of course, is what many disenchanted, elite Republicans would love to see. Theoretically, Libertarians claim their system provides a level playing field, but since the freedom to acquire wealth provides the sole basis for their society's existence, you may be able to enjoy all sorts of unregulated pleasure, but you likely won't have much of a say in the cost of your survival.
Remember, in free markets, only a small percentage of the population can actually control the means of production. If everybody had the same opportunity to become CEO, who'd get the production done? We can't all be chiefs. Somebody's gotta be the workers. Otherwise, if everybody had equal access to a community's wealth, we'd call it Communism, not Capitalism.
Average American taxpayers may lament our lack of control over our government, but under Libertarianism, we'd be living in a ruthless oligarchy, instead of an imperfect republic.
Libertarianism's Promise Isn't God's
For myself, I would much rather live in a society where we believers in Christ can live out our calling to work honestly and use the wealth with which God blesses us for His glory, not ours. After all, we're to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Not as stingy and self-obsessed lovers of money.
"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:11
"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink." Proverbs 25:21
"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us, see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:1-9
Several years ago, out of frustration over the bloating of our government under the sloppy stewardship of George W. Bush, I flirted with Libertarianism at the polls. But as I read about the people for whom I was voting, and the principles for which they stood, I was struck by the utter Godlessness in them.
Maybe you don't like what's happening - or not happening! - in either the Republican or Democratic parties right now. And, like me, maybe you'd like to see a third choice on our ballots.
It's not that having a third party isn't a good idea. But if you think our current two parties don't reflect the values of our faith, don't be looking for any miracles with the Libertarians.