The Biblical Case for a Libertarian Government

January 29, 2012

One of the great tragedies of history is how many “followers” of Jesus Christ have all but rejected his peaceful teachings for a violent religion that bears no resemblance to His real teachings.

Wars have been fought in the name of the Prince of Peace. Women have been burned at the stake in the name of the God of Love. With shrieks of “sinner”, prostitutes have been locked in cages in the name of Christ — who wiped away the tears of the prostitute.

This article is a fairly short introduction to the political implications of the philosophy of Jesus Christ. Some will be economic, and some social — but all will be about the rights of others, the initiation of force, and the proper role of governing authorities.

The emphasis of this article will be on “conservative” views of government — the notion that the government can outlaw activities simply because those activities are sin. Later, I’ll publish an article that explicitly covers “leftist” Christian beliefs — the idea that the government should have strong welfare programs to “care” for the poor.

Peace, Violence, and Jesus Christ

Jesus taught a lifestyle of non-violence, peaceful “tolerance”, and a lifestyle based on love and mercy. When I say “tolerance”, I don’t mean verbally — I mean physically. Christ constantly spoke out about what was evil. He discussed and condemned sin repeatedly — especially the sin of the religious conservatives of the day, the Pharisees.

Jesus taught a remarkable philosophy at the time — that of peace. He explicitly said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Most commentators, including Spurgeon, agree with this on a literal and figurative level. A Christian should be a maker of peace. Of course, being a peace-maker doesn’t mean peace will occur — after all, Jesus died a violent death, and promised that His followers would endure hatred and violence from tyrants.

Self-Defense and Justified Violence

Jesus is often used as an example of pacifism because He allowed the government to kill Him. The idea that this justifies pacifism is absurd, because Jesus explicitely explained that He didn’t fight because He was on earth for the purpose of dying for the world — He had to allow them to kill him.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Jesus allowed them to kill Him because the establishment of the His kingdom required that He die and rise again three days later. This was part of the plan. His reasoning was not that violence in self-defense is bad — but completely about context.

He literally said: “If it were, my servants would fight.” In other words, when discussing earthly matters, violence absolutely can be justified, even by peacemaker.

There is literally only one example of Jesus using violence on anyone while He was on earth. That example is when He entered the Temple Courts, and saw that there were people in the temple buying and selling and “stealing” by using improper weights and measurements. Jesus’ response was ferocious. He pulled out a whip, and drove them out of the temple, flipping tables, and dumping the money-changers posessions onto the ground. He said:

“‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

I can’t imagine a more basic example of proper violence than this. Jesus wasn’t just anyone — He was the Son of God, and this was His house. Even then, the only violence done was on those who were literally robbers. Jesus used violence on thieves while they were in the act. And He was the Great Peacemaker.

Some falsely believe that the Bible teaches pacifism because of the “turn the other cheek” comment. In the culture at the time, a slap was an insult. It was like being flipped off now. And no, violence against someone who flips you off in traffic isn’t justified.

Jesus and the State

Some believe that the government has different rules than “individuals”, because the government is given the authority of the sword to punish the wicked. This is true — government absolutely should punish thieves, killers, cheats, and force people to fulfill their contracts.

But does “punish the wicked” mean “punish people for any sin”? Absolutely not. Jesus repeatedly explains that if you judge others, you’ll be judged on the same level — only for all of eternity. Here’s a powerful example of how Jesus intervened to stop the conservatives from using violence on a sinner:

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

A Christian response to a sinner isn’t to pick up a stone. It’s not to organize as a “government” and threaten violence on the sinner. No — the reason is simple. By the standard we’ll judge, we’ll also be judged. Punishing someone only because of sin means we’ll also be punished for that sin — only for all of eternity.

Does this mean we can’t judge at all? Of course not. But it means that the standard for when to intervene can’t be something we’ve all done. For example, “you violated the law of God” misses the point that ALL have violated the law of God. As it’s written in James 2:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

So what should the standard be for violence? Why is it justified to flip the tables of thieves, to attack those in our house, to defend one’s home, to fight killers — but not to kill an adulteress?

The answer is simple: the standard for legitimate violence isn’t just “they sinned”. It’s “they violated the rights of others”. This is a specific type of sin — but the reason we can use violence isn’t because it’s sin. It’s because it’s self-defense. The motivation and context is completely different.

We’re commanded to be good stewards and defend the innocent.

This is in essentially every book of the Bible in some form. Self-defense — and the defense of others — is the entire motivation behind the violence. No one has the authority to beat up someone randomly. And that person has a right — or even an obligation — to fight back.

That means violence in response to theft, murder, fraud — these aren’t wrong, but are actually a biblical obligation all good men have to the innocent.

Punishing sexual sin just because it’s sin? That’s something no one can morally do, as Christ even plainly showed us.

Some sins should be illegal, but not just because they’re sins. They should be illegal if they make non-consenting victims — anything else is just sin, and violence isn’t justified for the reasons explained above.

The idea that the government should be huge in order to punish all sinners for sin or to steal from the rich to give to the poor is absurd. It’s not Christian. It’s based on a theology never once taught by Christ. It is literally rejected by Him over and over.

What does this mean? For those who understand liberty, it means just that — Christ’s philosophy leads to liberty. Only in self-defense and the defense of others is violence justified. That means no massive state. That means no forced taxation — for example, no income taxes. That means no outlawing sin.

The political philosophy of Jesus Christ is this: peace, property, and liberty.

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