The libertarian philosophy, which is the basis of the Free Nation Foundation, is compatible with Christianity. Not only that, libertarianism is the only political philosophy compatible with the ethics of Jesus. Furthermore, although most Christians and most libertarians are not aware of it, Christians are logically aligned with the most radical wing of the libertarian movement — the anarchists. I intend to support these claims here in order to encourage more Christians to participate in the Free Nation Foundation.
Libertarianism as a moral philosophy is based on the principles that it is wrong to initiate violence and it is wrong to steal. Most people agree with these principles, but they do not apply them to the government. Libertarianism is unique in that it does not exempt the actions of governments from these requirements of basic justice. Consequently, libertarians condemn such state activities as war and taxation, and libertarians want to reduce government power to the minimum in order to reduce government crime. This means that libertarians are either minimal statists or anarchists, depending on how much government they believe it is possible to abolish. Reducing government power as much as possible is the same thing as maximizing liberty, so we are called libertarians.
The libertarian philosophy is not a complete world view. It says nothing about metaphysics, epistemology, esthetics, or theology. It doesn't even have much to say about morality, except that theft and the initiation of violence are wrong, even when done by the government. Most of the libertarians that I know are as skeptical about supernatural power as they are about government power. But it is not necessary to be skeptical about religion in order to be skeptical about government. It all depends on whether your religion condones theft and the initiation of violence by the state.
The things that Jesus taught about the end of the world, the Kingdom of God, redemption, salvation, grace, and life everlasting are essential to Christianity as a religion. And Jesus' strong convictions concerning charity, marriage, envy, honesty, faithfulness, piety, material wealth, and service to God are essential in defining a perfect Christian life. But it is what Jesus taught about theft and violence that defines Christian political philosophy, because political philosophy consists of the principles for using political power, which is financed by theft and based on violence.
Jesus' Political Philosophy
Jesus was totally opposed to theft and violence. He subscribed to the Ten Commandments, including number eight: "Thou shalt not steal." (Exodus 20:15). And he was a pacifist. He taught that we should not use violence to resist evil or to punish evildoers. Instead, we should respond to evildoers with love. We should love our neighbors and should show good will to our enemies.
Any open-minded reader of the New Testament will conclude that Jesus advocated nonresistance and nonviolence, despite a few passages that tend to point in the opposite direction. That Jesus was opposed to war and violence is even admitted by Reinhold Niebuhr, the leading theologian in defense of the allies in World War II. Niebuhr wrote:
Even though Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah the Jewish people were waiting for, he refused to lead the Zealots in violent revolution against the evil Roman conquerors and oppressors of his people. When they came to arrest him, one of his followers drew his sword and sliced off the ear of a servant to the high priest. Jesus said:
Instead of violence, he practiced forgiveness, and he offered no resistance, even when they crucified him.
Jesus did not believe in resisting evil with violence, but he believed in speaking out against it in strong terms. He was not a collaborator or a man who would negotiate with the devil. He was a radical champion of the Kingdom of God. And he taught his disciples to be just as fanatic and radical as he was. He taught them to obey God rather than government.
The Pharisees knew Jesus' attitude about serving anyone but God, so they "took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk" (Matthew 22:15) and get him in trouble with the law. They tried to get him to publicly condemn the payment of taxes. But Jesus was not ready to die yet, and they weren't clever enough to trap him. They said to him:
When he was ready to die and was on trial for his life before the governor, Jesus wouldn't lie, but again he refused to say any words that would give the governor an excuse to crucify him.
Jesus encouraged his followers to keep the faith despite what those in power might do to them:
He warned them about the evil councils, and governors, and kings:
Although Jesus was nonviolent, he was not meek and mild. He demanded full-time, life-long service and devotion to himself above all others. His political philosophy included the libertarian moral principles: uncompromising opposition to theft and to the initiation of violence. But Jesus was more opposed to violence than many libertarians are. He was a pacifist anarchist. He was an extremist who was willing to die for his beliefs rather than compromise. He was an outlaw who founded an illegal religious sect, and because of this he was executed by the state.
The Political Words and Deeds of Paul
The strongest defense of government in the New Testament is in Paul's letter to the Romans in which he says we should pay our taxes and honor and obey our rulers, because they are ministers of God, and if you resist them, you are resisting God, and you will be damned (Romans 13). Paul's statement is quite clear and unequivocal, but there are reasons why Christians should disregard it: (1) It comes from Paul rather than Jesus, so it is not from the most authoritative source and (2) Paul ignored it himself.
For example, when Paul was in Damascus (Acts 9:23), the Jewish leaders plotted to kill him, and the governor under King Aretas had the walls of the city guarded in order to seize him (2 Corinthians 11:32-33), but Paul defied the law, and his Christian friends let him down in a basket at night through a window in the wall, and he escaped the authorities. Paul also fled from the authorities in Iconium (Acts 14:5-7), and he hid from angry Jews and government authorities in Thessalonica (Acts 16:4-7). He was not so fortunate at Caesarea, where he was imprisoned for 2 years for spreading illegal ideas. Finally, this outlaw's luck ran out completely when he lost his appeal to Rome and was executed by the "duly established" government.
The Political Words and Deeds of Peter
The apostle Peter also taught respect for the emperor and his governors (I Peter 2:13-17), but, like Paul, he did not always heed his own advice. Peter and other apostles who were with him were arrested and put in prison for preaching and healing without a license (Acts 5:17-21). What did God do? Did God condemn Peter for breaking the law? Did God forgive Peter and say you violated the law for a good reason, but you must pay the price like a conscientious objector? No! God sent an angel to open the prison doors, which had been closed and sealed by the government authorities. God took the side of the criminal apostles and broke them out of jail! Not only did God aid and abet these criminals, he had the angel tell them to go to the temple and preach the gospel and break the law again! The apostles did as they were told and were arrested again. When the council asked Peter why he deliberately broke the law by teaching in Jesus' name, Peter replied, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29). The authorities were persuaded by Gamaliel not to kill the apostles. Instead, the council had the apostles beaten and released under orders not to speak in the name of Jesus.
Peter, like Paul, was eventually executed by the Roman government for the crime of putting God above the state. These convicted felons were the two great New Testament apologists for the state. Their actions more than atone for the few aberrant words they offered in behalf of the ruling powers.
The Outlaw Church
Jesus' original disciples and followers up to the fourth century continued to practice his philosophy of nonresistance, love, and forgiveness. In those days, Christianity was an outlaw religion. Those caught practicing it were persecuted. It was by going into hiding and doing things that were illegal as far as the government was concerned that Christians succeeded in spreading the gospel into Europe.2 Trying to follow in Jesus' footsteps, no Christian would become a soldier after baptism at least up to the time of Marcus Aurelius (about A.D.170).3 Aristeides, Justin Martyr, and Tatian in the second century, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, and Hippolytus in the third century, and Lactantius in the fourth century all made statements that show they regarded war as organized sin and a denial of the way of Jesus.4
The Established Church
The Church was Christian5 until Emperor Constantine declared himself to be a "Christian" in 312. After that the Church became the state religion and it opposed Christianity. The Church even went so far as to pronounce the primitive Christian attitude liable to punishment, and as early as 314 the Council of Arles decreed that "they who threw away their weapons in time of peace shall be excommunicated."6 Leo Tolstoy said the alliance between the Roman Church and the Roman Empire was "the moment when a majority of Christians abandoned their religion."7 He sarcastically described the arrangement between the Church and the emperor as follows:
The Roman Church has adopted the concept of a "just war," and increasingly has tended to place the crusade of the day in this category.9 In the meantime other branches of "Christianity" also entered the heathen path as when Vladimir adopted Christianity in A.D. 988 and had the people of Kiev driven into the Dniepr river to be baptized against their will.10
Keepers of the Faith
Since the Churches were co-opted by the various emperors, the majority of "Christians" have been opposed to Jesus' philosophy of nonresistance to evil. However, over the centuries some nonconformists have dared to support Jesus' moral philosophy at the risk of becoming martyrs to the vengeance of the orthodox Church. The German Baptists and Mennonites, the Friends or Quakers, and the Shakers are examples. Even the Roman Church tolerated nonviolence within some of its monastic orders. Francesco d'Assisi practiced nonviolence as part of his attempt to lead a perfect life in the manner of Jesus.
In 1846, Adin Ballou published Christian Non-Resistance, which is a lengthy defense of Jesus's moral philosophy that draws out its libertarian implications.11 Leo Tolstoy, who was influenced by Adin Ballou's book, became a famous advocate of Christian nonviolence and anarchism. He used his influence to raise money from English and American Quakers to charter ships in 1899 to bring approximately 12,000 Dukhobors (Russian Christians who refused to bear arms and were consequently persecuted and exiled by the Tsar's "Christian" government) to a large tract of land in Canada where they were allowed to practice nonviolence.12
Albert Schweitzer was inspired by the nonviolent philosophy of Jesus. He expanded it into the philosophy of reverence for life. After earning doctorate degrees in philosophy and theology and becoming the premier pipe organist in Europe and an authority on Bach and a Christian pastor and an author, Schweitzer decided he wasn't doing enough for Christ. So he went back to school, became a doctor of medicine, and then moved to equatorial Africa to minister to the medical and spiritual needs of the benighted Africans. During World War I, the French government arrested him, brought him back from Africa, and put him into a prisoner of war camp in the Pyrenees, because he was technically a German subject. After the war he continued to split his time between doctoring in Africa and lecturing and giving organ recitals in Europe. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
Brother Andrew, a Calvinist Christian from Denmark, exemplified another aspect of Christianity that leads to radical actions in violation of government laws. Like the early Christians, Brother Andrew took to heart Jesus' command to spread the gospel throughout the world and to reclaim it for God (Matthew 28:19-20). He explained his smuggler's attitude toward political borders this way:
So, during the Cold War, Brother Andrew smuggled Bibles behind the iron curtain in violation of the laws of the communist governments, and he became the organizer of dozens of teams of international smugglers who illegally brought thousands of Bibles and Christian documents to victims of communism. He offered a Christian defense of these criminal activities in The Ethics of Smuggling in which he expressed views that are in line with the most radical libertarians. He believed that to succeed against the devil you have to be as dedicated and fanatical for Jesus as the communists are against him. He also believed that to follow God's law it is sometimes necessary to break the laws of governments.
The link between Christianity and libertarianism is very simple. The Christian moral philosophy includes the libertarian principles that in is wrong to initiate violence and it is wrong to steal. Christianity is, therefore, a libertarian religion. As a religion, Christianity goes beyond libertarianism to include beliefs about many subjects in addition to justice and politics. Nonetheless, since Christians accept the premises of libertarianism, they should, logically, reach the same conclusions about the morality of government taxation, legislation, and war. If it is morally wrong for a Christian to steal or to initiate violence, it should also be morally wrong for a Christian to advocate, condone, recommend, approve, or authorize someone else committing these crimes in his name. As Tolstoy said:
Hence it is morally wrong for a Christian to advocate, condone, recommend, approve, or authorize government taxation, punishment, legislation, war, or violence of any kind.
The perfectionist ethics of Jesus goes beyond the minimum entrance requirements of libertarianism. All that libertarianism requires is that you not condone theft or the initiation of violence by anybody. Libertarianism does not require you to not resist when someone attacks you. Libertarianism allows, but does not require, the use of violence in self-defense against aggressors. Furthermore, libertarianism allows you to delegate your right to self-defense to others. This is the source of the disagreement between the limited-government libertarians and the anarchist libertarians. The limited-government libertarians believe that governments have somehow gotten the authority to protect our rights and to punish criminals. The anarchists deny this. The Christians, who do not even believe in using violence for self-defence or punishment, must logically be aligned with the anarchists.
Christians cannot condone the violent overthrow of government, but Christianity would destroy government by withdrawing support.
We encourage Christians to join the Free Nation Foundation. We need more radical libertarians to balance the wishy-washy minimal statists. Let us work together to create a sanctuary for human beings, a refuge from organized violence, a land of peace and freedom.
Roy Halliday recently retired as a technical editor for a major software development company, and is working on a book-length essay on justice.
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