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Christian liberty: are you serious??

By Darren Nelson - posted Friday, 11 May 2018


I boldly declared at the start of my speech in October last year at the inaugural LibertyFest that: “Christianity is by-far-and-away the most compatible religious faith or spiritual belief with Liberty.” Note that I include Atheism, Scientism and Statism amongst such beliefs. I will go even further now by testifying that: “Not only has Libertarianism and Austrian School economics helped lead me back to Christianity, but since then Christianity has made me a better Libertarian and Austrian School economist.” This article will draw upon this speech and more.

There is no exact date when I became a Libertarian, but it has been at least a decade possibly two. I say possibly two, as looking back with 20-20 hindsight I was more Libertine than Libertarian in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s (or in other words more Left-Libertarian than Right-Libertarian). There is an exact date for my return to Christianity, which was Easter 2015. I was originally raised a Catholic, but then drifted into many years of Agnosticism and Atheism. Although, unlike most that I know or have met, I never became aggressively religious about my Atheism. I did, however, like most become very uncomfortable with and avoided any talk of Christianity.

In my experience, most Libertarians are Atheists or Agnostics whilst most Conservatives are religious and usually of the Christian variety (at least in the Anglosphere). The former is more so the case in Australia and other countries than in America. There has, unfortunately, been little polling done on this sort of thing. However, a 2015 poll of American Libertarians showed the following: 46% Christian; 14% other religions; and 40% none.

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Before I give you a Christian Liberty 101 (of sorts) in the remainder of this article, let’s first revisit what Liberty is and is not. Legendary Austro-Libertarian Ludwig von Mises stated simply what Liberty is: “Liberty is always freedom from the government.” Mises’s greatest apprentice Murray Rothbard explained in Myth and Truth About Libertarianism what Liberty is not:

Myth #1: Liberty assumes each individual being an isolated, hermetically sealed atom, acting in a vacuum without influencing each other.

Myth #2: Liberty assumes people are Libertines and Hedonists who hanker after alternative lifestyles.

Myth #3: Liberty assumes people are always rational using cost benefit analysis, and neglects moral principles.

Myth #4: Liberty assumes Atheism and Materialism, and neglects the spiritual side of life.

Myth #5: Liberty assumes a Utopia where all people are good, and that therefore State control is not necessary.

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Myth #6: Liberty assumes that every person knows his or her own interests best.

Rothbard, in particular, rejected that Libertarianism: #2 “assumes Libertines and Hedonists”; #3 “neglects moral principles”; #4 “assumes Atheism and neglects the spiritual”; and #5 “assumes a Utopia where all people are good”. An apprentice of Rothbard, Professor Walter Block, goes further in his paper on Libertarianism and Libertinism:

For me in the early 1970s, religion was the embodiment of war, killing, and injustice. It was an unholy alliance of the Crusades, the Inquisition, religious wars, virgin sacrifice, and the burning at the stake of witches, astronomers, non-believers, free thinkers, and other inconvenient people.

At present, I view this matter very differently. Religion now seems to me one of the last best hopes for society, as it is one of the main institutions still competing valiantly with an excessive and overblown government.

I have [also] come to believe that each of us has a soul, or inner nature, or animating spirit, or personhood, or purity, or self respect, or decency, call it what you will. And [the] destruction of individual character [by atheistic, hedonistic and materialistic Statism] has grave repercussions for all of society.

My understanding is that Rothbard was not a Christian and that Block is currently not one either. My friend and fellow Libertarian, Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, is though. He wrote in his brilliant book of Beyond Good Intentions – A Biblical View of Politics that:

Civil authority is to protect citizens from violence, theft, and fraud; and promote justice and righteousness. [But] among the most important principles is that State power should be limited.

The first commandment given to Moses [by God] was that you shall have no other gods before Me {see Exodus 20:3}. The all-powerful State [acts] as a secular god. People yesterday and today look to politics and public action as the answer to life’s problems, big and small.

The revelation to John gives a picture of the idolatrous and all-powerful government – ie ‘the beast’ as it is referred to. Satan gave the beast its power, throne and great authority {see Revelation 13:1-4}.

In other words, Big Government is not just inefficient but unethical. Furthermore, it is not just a mechanism that generally fails to do good compared to free markets but one that generally succeeds in doing bad (and sometimes evil). Moral awareness amongst Libertarians is more common in America than Australia, and within the former it was more prevalent in the past than nowadays. As Lee Haddigan of the Mises Institute wrote in his essay entitled The Importance of Christian Thought for the American Libertarian Movement:

Spiritual values were the predominant justification for espousing a Libertarian viewpoint before 1971, and continue today to provide the founding convictions of many American Libertarians and Conservatives.

Jesus gave us the choice, the individual freedom, to believe in Him and his message, or to reject Him. The free market economy is implicitly sanctioned, but not specifically endorsed, by lessons contained in the Bible.

In particular, the Bible illustrates five articles of faith which are needed for a free society to exist: 1) freedom of choice; 2) a life based on moral principles; 3) a realistic view of human nature; 4) rewards for service; and 5) personal accountability to God.

Dr Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) addresses the biggest furphy of them all – was Jesus a Socialist? He does this in a modern day classic called Rendering Unto Caesar. Reed’s answer to that question is “no”. Although, if the question instead was “Is Pope Francis a Socialist?” then perhaps the answer would be “yes”. As Dr Reed writes:

In spite of the attempts of many modern-day Progressives to make him into a Welfare State redistributionist, Jesus was nothing of the sort.

It would hardly make sense for Jesus to champion the poor by supporting policies that undermine the process of wealth-creation necessary to help them.

Jesus was [also] not interested in the public professions of [so called] charitableness, in which the legalistic and hypocritical Pharisees were fond of engaging. He dismissed their self-serving, cheap talk.

Freedom in human action requires human free will. Free will is a core concept in Christianity – free will to believe or not and to sin or not. This is not the case for the other major religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and New Age as well as Atheism and Humanism. Note that Atheists and Humanists strongly tend towards Scientism. Also note that Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Humanists, Muslims and New Agers strongly tend towards Statism.

Rothbard addressed the concept of free will, whilst criticising Scientism from an Austrian economics perspective, in a book chapter entitled The Mantle of Science. In particular, he wrote:

The key to Scientism is its denial of the existence of individual consciousness and will. While most things have no consciousness and therefore pursue no goals, it is an essential attribute of man’s nature that he has consciousness, and therefore that his actions are self-determined by the choices his mind makes.

For determinism, as applied to man, is a self-contradictory thesis, since the man who employs it relies implicitly on the existence of free will. In short, the determinist must rely, for the spread of his ideas, on the non-determined, free-will choices of others, on their free will to adopt or reject ideas. Thus, the determinist, to advocate his doctrine, must place himself and his theory outside the allegedly universally determined realm, that is, he must employ free will.

If free will has been vindicated, how can we prove the existence of consciousness itself? The answer is simple: to prove means to make evident something not yet evident. Yet some propositions may be already evident to the self, that is, self-evident. And the existence of consciousness is not only evident to all of us through direct introspection, for the very act of doubting consciousness must itself be performed by a consciousness. Thus, the behaviorist who spurns consciousness for ‘objective’ laboratory data must rely on the consciousness of his laboratory associates to report the data to him.

Three of my favourite Christian thinkers have also addressed free will as well as such related matters as morality and evidence: C.S. LewisRavi Zacharias and Professor John Lennox. Three pertinent quotes follow respectively from each – from Mere ChristianityThe Grand Weaver and Has Science Buried God?:

God created things which had free will. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. If God thinks this state of war in the universe [is] a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it, it is worth paying.

Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive. In every religion except Christianity, morality is a means of attainment. In Christianity, God must act first to make us spiritually alive; only then can we progress in our moral efforts.  Redemption precedes morality, and not the other way around. Morality is the fruit of your knowledge of God. Morality [however] is still the ground from within which the creative spirit may grow. If you violate this law, you bring contradiction into your life and your life begins to fall apart.

Faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence. It is no part of the Biblical view that things should be believed where there is no evidence. Just as in science – faith, reason and evidence belong together. [Richard] Dawkins’ definition of faith as ‘blind faith’ turns out, therefore, to be the exact opposite of the Biblical one. Of course God [does] not appear in [the scientific] description of how things work, just as [Henry] Ford [does] not appear in a scientific description of the laws of internal combustion. But what does that prove? That Henry did not exist? Clearly not. Neither does such an argument prove that God does not exist.

There are many different ways to visually categorise, analyse and understand world-views such as Statism, Libertarianism and Christianity. The most common way is the one-dimensional Left-Right political spectrum. Using this, Libertarians will tend to put themselves on the Right and the various forms of Statists on the Leftlike Reds, Greens, Fascists, Progressives and Social Justice Warriors. Statists illogically put Fascists, like National Socialists, on the extreme Right. More sophisticated approaches are two-dimensional or even three-dimensional. Richard Fulmer of FEE provides a recent example of the latter, and Andrew Russell of LibertyWorks provides one for the former. Perhaps the most famous two-dimensional approach is the Nolan Chart. It is based on the idea that virtually all political issues can be divided into two broad spheres – economic and personal – and that the defining element is the amount of government control over human action in both.

As an Austrian economist, both areas of control are really economic in nature. Also as a Christian, more freedom by itself won’t lift us up nor will more control by itself keep us down. Both incentives (freedom versus control) and ideas (truth versus falsity) matter. Thus, I have created The Brady Matrix of Control on the Leftversus Freedom on the Right along with Falsity below versus Truth above. The most desirable location is the top Right corner of Christian-Libertarianism and the least is the bottom Left of Atheistic-Statism. Liberty is necessary but not sufficient for truth and life.

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This article was first published by Liberty Works.



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About the Author

Darren Brady Nelson is an Austrian School economist, conservative-libertarian and Christian who lives in Brisbane Queensland but is originally from Milwaukee Wisconsin.

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