Monday, June 04, 2007

Libertarian Christianity:

Jim Babka forwarded me this link to a book review and I promised to say something about it. The book which I have not yet read, The Choice Principle: The Biblical Case for Legal Toleration, written by a law professor, Andy G. Olree, argues the Bible is consistent with libertarianism. From the review:

In The Choice Principle: The Biblical Case for Legal Toleration, he attacks both the welfare state and morals laws, citing Augustine, Aquinas, and the New Testament for support. By his lights, Christians can legally tolerate many activities they regard as sinful, including prostitution, assisted suicide, homosexuality, and drug use. He says that whether abortion should be outlawed depends on when human life begins, a question he does not answer—and contends that the Bible does not answer either. He also opposes redistributive taxation. For Olree, governments should exist only to punish acts that victimize others through force or fraud.

I think a larger point we could glean is that the Bible is consistent with classical liberalism. And modern conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism all in some way originate from and conform to the tenets of liberal democracy. As Francis Fukuyama once put it, we are all liberal democrats now. With clever hermeneutics, the Bible can, in some way, read to comport with liberalism, conservatism, and libertarianism.

As someone who endorses libertarianism, I support all such biblical readings reconciling the Bible with libertarianism. But, let me, for a moment, analyze one of the book's serious arguments, which relies on a key biblical text explicating the proper relationship between church and state, Romans 13. From the review:

An important part of Olree’s thesis is that you can believe in moral absolutes without legislating morality. Indeed, he argues, God may prefer a legal order in which Christians tolerate sin rather than use the power of the state to stamp it out.

Olree quotes Paul’s description of civil government as “God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid; for the authority does not bear the sword in vain. It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). At first blush, this sounds like it would be more compatible with “big government Christianism” than with Olree’s more permissive prescriptions. Except that the specific government Paul described as “God’s servant” was a pagan one that permitted abortion and prostitution while funding forms of idolatry. And if, as Paul says earlier in Romans, “There is no one righteous, not even one,” then what sense does it make to identify a separate class of “wrongdoers” who need to fear civil authority? If all have sinned and none are wholly good, then perhaps government’s purpose is only to punish a specific kind of wrongdoing.

This is important. In Romans 13 Paul tells believers to obey the civil magistrate and that governments are instituted by God to do justice. However, as noted in the review, the context is quite unusual. Paul was telling believers to obey, not some "Godly" ruler, but the pagan psychopath Nero, whose government "permitted abortion and prostitution while funding forms of idolatry." Romans 13 hardly supports the Christian Nation fraud or Dominionism, as some inaptly suggest. Indeed, given the threshold that Paul sets for obeying governments, arguably almost all revolts against civil magistrates would be forbidden. And this is exactly what the Tory ministers argued during the Revolutionary war.

Our Founders and the pro-Revolutionary ministers whom they followed had to struggle with this verse, and some of the sermons dismiss it in a very "cafeteria Christian" manner, much in the same way that pro-gay Christians dismiss the anti-homosexual proof texts in the Bible.

See, for instance, the unitarian Congregationalist minister Samuel West's sermon on the matter. First, West answers the question -- do citizens have a right to revolt against tyrannical governments? -- from "nature" or "reason" alone, which he, as a rationalist, views as penultimate. Already having his mind made up as to what the final outcome must be, West then looks to the Bible for support. Reason, according to West, dictates Romans 13 must be read in a way consistent with the right to revolt, even if it means concluding Paul must not have meant what he said.

I'm willing to concede that reasonable minds can differ on the proper interpretation of Romans 13. Indeed, there was a tradition, which predated the Founding and the unitarian ministers whom they followed, of more orthodox Calvinistic Protestants (but not Calvin himself) supporting the notion of a right to revolt against tyranny.

But I stand by my contention that the Tories' anti-revolt position was every bit as "biblical," if not more so than our Whig Founders' who, at times, clearly "played games" with biblical texts to justify revolt.

The context of Romans 13 (as well as "render unto Ceaser..." and "my kingdom is not of this earth,") supports the notion of believers living under secular government and that in turn helped make Christianity compatible with liberal democracy.

Now, the harder question is what are the texts of the Koran that support such?

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