The Bible & Liberty

Before I get into the actual bulk of the post, I would like to retroactively wish you all a Merry Christmas. I hope you all had a good holiday and will have a Happy New Year. I know I had a good Christmas. I got what was perhaps the greatest gift in my life– a sitar! If I may direct you to this post, a sitar was number two on my list. I also got a few Pink Floyd and Muse records and various books. I still have no idea how to even begin playing the sitar, nor do I know anyone in my area who actually teaches it. Although I guess everything’s on the internet. But enough of this, I digress.

This is the sitar I got for Christmas!

This is the sitar I got for Christmas!

Now let’s get back to the post. One of my uncle’s much-appreciated gifts to me was an anthology of various liberty-oriented writings “from Lao-Tzu to Milton Friedman”, called The Libertarian Reader. It contains somewhere around 70 short books, articles, essays, etc. I figured every week I would read one and respond to it or delve more into its topic.

Some of you well-versed libertarians might be guessing from the title of this post that the first entry is 1 Samuel 8 from the Holy Bible. Regardless of whether or not you’re Christian, atheist, or voodoo, it is a very relevant piece even today. To those of you who don’t have the Book lying around, it reads,

Israel Requests a King

1 As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. 2 Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 Finally all the elders in Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. 5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.

6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do what they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

Samuel Warns against a Kingdom

10 So Samuel passed the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 “This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. 12 Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. 13 The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. 14 He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. 15 He will take away a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. 16 He will take your young men and women and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. 17 He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. 18 When this day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. 20 “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.”

21 So Samuel had repeated to the Lord what the people had said, 22 and the Lord replied, “Do as they say, and give them a king.” Then Samuel agreed and sent the people home.

The Bible, which until historically recently was used somewhere in most debates on government, political philosophy, and morality, explicitly told people, that unlike the Egyptian belief that the pharaoh is descended from the sun god Ra, there is nothing divine about the state. Undoubtedly, many European rulers conveniently forgot about this little passage, but this one chapter has been very important in the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the distrust of centralized power.

Although religion has in many cases been twisted by the ruling class, whether that be the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire or certain Republicans, Christianity is at its core more libertarian than any other major religion. To prove that I, being Christian, am not biased, I shall list my reasons below, with evidence from the text of the Bible. But before I start, I would just like to state that I do not believe that religion should not be involved in politics whatsoever, because much of the time the most Christian politicians are not very Christ-like at all.

I’d like to start with the Christian view on war and peace. Jesus was perhaps one of the most hard-core pacifists in history. In the famous Sermon on the Mount, he declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9]. More anti-war passages are to be found in the gospel of Matthew: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword” [Mt 26:52] and “In everything do to others as you would have them do unto you” [Mt 7:12]; the latter know as the Golden Rule. The former is especially relevant today to the wars in the Middle East. Even 2013 years ago (or 2019, depending on what year Jesus was actually born– but this is irrelevant), Jesus and his disciples recognized the possibility of blowback in war. Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center, says that our problems in the Middle East are a direct result of our involvement there. I do not mean to criticize anyone’s views too harshly, but it is beyond stupid to believe that people will not want to exact revenge on a government that bombs there innocent people and props up dictators. Let us imagine, for a moment, that the U.S. is a small, impoverished country and Pakistan is a world power. We have someone here that Pakistan wants to kill, for whatever reason (this reason doesn’t matter in this case). Some Pakistani man in a bunker controls a PIA (Pakistani Intelligence Agency) drone and kills a number of Americans, many of them innocent. Now imagine you learn that one of those who died is your father, mother, sister, brother, daughter, son, spouse, or friend. Would not you want to take action against this evil government? This brings us to the Golden Rule. Just as Jesus says that we must do unto others as we would have them to unto us, the United States should not attack a foreign power if we would not have them do so unto us. Let he who is without sin cast the first drone!

Now what about the Christian view on big government? As evident from the 1 Samuel 8 passage above, Christians are to be distrustful of big government. Paul says in his letter to the Church in Ephesus, “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.” [Ephesus 2:3] Notice how it starts with ‘All’? This shows that government is not immune from evil just by being government; that it is just made up of humans and any human may be sinful. If the whole Original Sin part of Christian theology is true, then that means that the government too is made up of sinners, and they will inevitably misuse their power. More on corrupt power can be found in the Parable of the Trees in the Book of Judges. This creative little story reads,

The Parable of the Trees

8 Once upon a time the trees decided to choose a king. First they said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’ 9 But the olive tree refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the olive oil that blesses both God and people, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

10 Then they said to the fig tree, ‘You be our king!’ 11 But the fig tree also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing my sweet fruit, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

12 Then they said to the grapevine, ‘You be our king!’ 13 But the grapevine also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the wine that cheers both God and people, just to wave back and forth over trees?’

14 Then all the trees finally turned to the thornbush and said, ‘Come, you be our king!’ 15 And the thorn bush replied, ‘If you truly want to make me your king, come and take shelter in my shade. If not, let fires come out from me and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’ [Judges 9:8-15]

I am sure that regardless of political orientation, people will agree that power can and will attract corrupt rulers.

But what about all the scripture that talks about sharing wealth? How do those fit into a libertarianism? Many socialists use the fact that in the Acts of the Apostles, it said that those in the Christian community shared what they had. These Christian socialist forget that A) the sharing was voluntary, and that B) In the Ten Commandments, it explicitly says, “Thou shalt not steal.” In fact, Acts is very libertarian. Peter and John were speaking to a large crowd of about 5,000 people, and because of this were arrested by the authorities and put in jail until morning. When told that they shall not speak of Jesus, they voiced their disobedience, saying, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather then him?” Civil disobedience is about as libertarian as you can get!

Finally, what about those socially conservative passages? While certain parts of scripture are against certain acts, Christians are forbidden to correct sinners by force. John Chrysostom, a Church father during the early days of Catholicism, said pretty clearly, “Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force. It is necessary not to make a man better by force but by persuasion.”

Christianity has obviously not had a perfect record in the liberty department, but what sets it apart from other faiths is that it more than any other respected the individual, and valued freedom.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Bible & Liberty

  1. ajbumbergh

    >>Finally, what about those socially conservative passages?

    As someone who taught at a seminary filled with liberals, I’d like to point out that this also applies to the fiscally liberal passages. Too often people think that it’s wrong to legislate against, say, homosexual marriage, but it’s *right* and *furthering God’s kingdom* to legislate money away from the “rich” and into the pockets of the “poor”. This not only practically doesn’t work out, and indeed ends up making things worse for *all* economic classes, but it is highly hypocritical (according to the word’s common usage).

    I’d appreciate if this article had addressed violence a bit more. The same God who said “Happy are the peacemakers” also struck down Ananias, commanded Israel to kill women and children, and gave Samson strength to crush his enemies under a pile of rubble.

    One other point I’d like to see addressed is the reality of national judgment. God did punish entire nations because of their sins. If Sodom is destroyed because of homosexuality, Christian libertarians need to consider what this means for helping pass legislation that serves the gay agenda of forcing people to accept homosexuality (*not* tolerate, as we’ve seen any time a religious person makes a statement against homosexuality or refuses to service homosexual weddings). We can talk about “freedom”, but 1) how does God define marriage? (hint: it’s one man, one woman), and 2) is there any room to legislate against things that will absolutely destroy this nation? Certainly national destruction is harm, just as pollution is harm, and just as inflation is harm. It seems that our economic policies as libertarians are in part based on practical outcomes. Perhaps Christian libertarians need to take the debate about gay marriage to a higher level.

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