Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Libertarianism's imcompatability with the Gospel

Of late I've been involved in a private discussion group with a number of other, equally feisty "progressive evangelicals" who either frequent Sojourners' "God's Politics" blog or used to do so. One of that number recently made the observation that the late writer and philosopher Ayn Rand, a mother of the libertarian movement who subscribed to what's called "objectivism" and has lately become popular again among anti-Obama types, never mentioned any children in her writings. I've never read Rand and have little interest in doing so; however, if that be the case it might explain a lot of things.

Why is that important? Basically, it undercuts one of the biggest pillars of libertarian thought: Authority -- or the lack thereof.

As I understand it, the philosophy of objectivism holds that the primary purpose of life is seeking and maintaining personal happiness and that anything that gets in its way must be pushed aside -- in other words, "it's all about me." Now, that philosophy justifies our consumer-driven economy and culture, but taken to an extreme it actually leads to moral corrosion. I say that because, basically, it allows people to be self-indulgent and never concerned about how their choices affect their families or society at large. Worse, any outside force that tries to hold folks accountable is obliged to be resisted.

And this is one reason so many people hate government, not just its alleged excesses.

All this contrasts with the Christian Gospel, which from the start lays a finger on the human race's biggest problem: Sin. That is to say, a deicidal impulse that says "I want no restraints on or authority over me at all -- certainly not a God." Or in some cases, folks who recognize a deity may say, "The only one who's going to tell me what to do is God."

Well, God as understood in Jesus Christ doesn't work quite like that.

Yes, we Christians are called to have a "personal relationship" with Him; however, that includes being part of a local assembly -- what we call a church -- to which we are expected to yield our rights and privileges and to give of ourselves. As such, we're to be transformed from selfish people concerned only about what we can get to those who are willing to take on responsibility for the greater good. And that's a sign of maturity.

So what does this have to do with Rand's lack of children in her writings? Well, the implication is that, once the artificial "restraints" are cast off, people will simply act maturely and humanely. Any parent knows otherwise, that he or she has to set limits on a child's behavior for his/her own good down the road. Government, business, clubs -- and even the jazz and blues I play as an avocation -- have a set of rules that must be followed for the sake of harmony.

And that's why I believe that libertarianism has scant respect for the doctrine of sin. Some years ago a preacher at my former church mentioned, in another sermon, that children could be seen as sinners in need of a Savior. One woman, believing children to be innocent, objected to his comment.

The wise pastor asked her, "Do you have children?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Do they have to be taught to misbehave or do they do that naturally?"

After some thought, she conceded, "Oh."

The libertarian will likely tell you that people will do the right thing if they were left alone, especially by government. This history of this country -- heck, the world -- should demonstrate otherwise. And while I'm not a "statist" or "pro-government," we would be foolish to desire a world without it.

But that leads to a more important matter: Justice trumps freedom -- in fact, justice is the framework without which freedom cannot even exist. Many libertarians I know don't get this because of their obsessive focus on "freedom"; however, not even God grants absolute freedom because to do so would compromise His sovereignty -- which He will never relinquish.

On his album "Slow Train Coming," the then-active Christian Bob Dylan had a song "Gotta Serve Somebody." That concept still applies because there's always some authority over us, and it's time libertarians accepted that their "freedom" is by definition limited.


Chris "Jesdisciple" said...

Hi Rick, I was just messing with my account and, having subscribed long ago, thought I would respond. As always, I started out utterly perplexed by your conclusions but am beginning to see how you got there.

First, I think it's necessary to understand Ayn Rand's relationship to libertarianism and objectivism. She built upon objectivism, so hers is not the only objectivist school of thought. She also rejected libertarian and anarchist labels, but some of the members of these movements later built upon her work. So obviously to discredit Ayn Rand is not to discredit libertarianism or even objectivism, only specific brands of them.

I am not versed in objectivism myself, so I'm referring to Wikipedia to understand what we're arguing about here. I'll post the relevant URLs at the end of this comment.

Rand held that:
"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
Hmm, yeah we can toss out that entire statement, and by extension Randian Objectivism, as incompatible with the Gospel. Oops, now I've gone and agreed with you; I better fix that.

There are only a few political systems which I can see as anti-Gospel, and they are all oppressive rather than permissive - well, except for the total lack of a political system (which anarchy is actually not, although I disagree with it).

So what is the purpose of a government, anyway? Why would we ever need such a thing? That's a very general description, but it does give a few morsels - namely, that taxes are necessary, authority must always be held (contrary to some anarchist proposals), and the idea is to punish the evildoer. "Evil" is a very broad term, although it is thinned out slightly by Strong's Concordance:

I am almost certain we can agree that not everything "evil" is to be targeted by government policies. So we need to decide what is and is not within the state's scope. I would be curious to know just what fundamental ideas you would work into a constitution if you had the chance. I will forego writing my own ideas, as I'm pretty sure they would be an incomplete paraphrase of the actual Constitution - a strict interpretation of which is quite libertarian (and written long before Rand's time). (disambiguation page)

Chris "Jesdisciple" said...
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Chris "Jesdisciple" said...
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