On all sides of the political spectrum, people brandish the Bible in order to justify their political beliefs. This is not a new concept, nor will it stop being an ardent defense anytime soon. But one thing often found among those using a Biblical argument is a strong aversion to libertarianism, and the claim that libertarianism is cold, isolationist, and philosophically incompatible with Christianity.
Many of those who identify as Christian Conservatives on the right believe that it’s the government’s duty to promote morality as presented in a Christian value system. They see libertarianism as an avenue for the country to become a bastion of sin; Christians don’t have the option to “live and let live,” they have the responsibility to promote virtue and spread the Word of God. While that claim may not be false, a lot of Christian Conservatives think that this is a duty for the government, and desire that national leaders share that belief. For the good of promoting Christian morality, they give authority to those in power that would lend itself well in that pursuit, in the hopes of electing a statesman that fits the bill.
Unfortunately, there will not always be God-fearing men at the helm of the government – so what happens when the central authority to enforce a certain value system is put in the hands of someone who isn’t morally upstanding? You get those who will either, like Teddy Roosevelt at the Bull Moose Convention, use God to justify government encroachment, or, like any number of early European monarchs, use the authority of “divine right” to promote their own agendas.
The authoritative element in Christianity is another facet that is characterized as incompatible with libertarianism. 1 Peter 2:13 says:
“submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
But one of the principles of libertarianism is compliance with the law, that is until that law becomes or is by its nature unjust, in which case citizens have the duty to render it null. This isn’t exactly contradicted in Scripture. Submission to governing authorities comes on the condition that rulers are “doing right,” and thus, oppressive regimes wouldn’t earn said submission.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who use Jesus to substantiate their claims defending government welfare and shaming material inequality. There one hears cries of, “Jesus was a socialist – he cared about mankind and helped the poor!” The Bible (and an incomplete definition of socialism, it might be added) is used to validate two core ideas: redistribution and equality of material goods. But one key element of Christianity is over-looked in the process. The path to salvation is largely a voluntary one.
The New Testament is filled with countless examples of Jesus impressing upon people that they have a choice in following Him. Christians are indeed called to do good works and help the less fortunate, but all of that must be voluntary. Jesus never advocated for the use of force in order to gain more followers, and there is not one passage in the Bible where Jesus explicitly advocates the use of force to take the belongings of someone in order to give them to someone else.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, there is no suggestion that the Samaritan ever owed anything to the man on the side of the road. In fact, he is called “good”, because he chose to go out of his way and help the man in need. He didn’t walk by him and give him the address of the government welfare office, nor did the man in need expect that he be taken care of.
When attempting to reconcile Christianity with libertarianism, there is the tendency to characterize the political philosophy as being an endorsement of hard, radical individualism that’s incompatible with the loving message of Christianity. But that’s a misconception – respect for individuality does not equate to “radical” individualism.
Ultimately, each person is called to glorify God–to live for His sake, not for the sake of another person. As F. A. Hayek says in The Road to Serfdom, “Individualism, in contrast to socialism and all other forms of totalitarianism, is based on the respect of Christianity for the individual man and the belief that it is desirable that men should be free to develop their own individual gifts and talents.” That message is verified in the Bible in Matthew 25. Jesus tells the disciples The Parable of the Talents: the talents were received by the servants, each according to his ability. Yet, the servant that pleased the Master (or God, in this allegory) the most was the servant that invested in his talents and made fruit out of the amount he originally had.
Libertarianism is the one political philosophy that says nothing about how people should live their private lives – so it leaves plenty of room for Christians to lead a pious life and encourage those around them to do the same.
Colossians 3:23-24 says:
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.”
When people claim there is a huge disparity between libertarianism and Christianity, they lack two things; a full understanding of what libertarianism is, and a complete understanding of the very religion they profess. If each person is called by God to exist for His glory alone, to serve others and spread the Gospel, they have the God-given capacity to do so – and they don’t need any assistance or coercion from the government in order to obey those commands. It is not a specific political ideology or the government that people are called to follow; it’s Christ.