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Breaking News: Christianity and Libertarianism Probably Incompatible
A while back I wrote an article entitled “What Has Small Government to do With Conservatism?” A little reflection, a lot of George Grant, and a ton of Jewish reggae have brought me to realize something: that article, while noble in purpose, attempted to do too much in a small space. So I’ve given this article an incredibly direct title. But that’s the theme here: pack one helluva point into a very small space. A few disclaimers: 1) Bear with me. I have very little space and a lot to say. This post is going to be like shoving a Wal-Mart shopper from Mississippi through a doggy door. 2) I’m a Catholic and so I can only speak with any true familiarity of that tradition. If I am leaning toward a Catholicism in my argument, please accept that I am speaking predominantly of that particular sect. 3) Retain an open mind. I dislike President Obama and love the mission of Jesus of Nazareth as much as the next doomed Sisyphus marching up the hill of life dotted with billboards and streetlights. That said, a lot of thought, reading, reflection, and mental self-pleasure have brought me to some alarming conclusions.
I go to Catholic school. I know many religious libertarians here. Most often they cite Jesus’ willingness to let people decide for themselves whether they should follow him as a sign that the state has no write to a moral agenda. They also like to mention that the problem is a decline in religion in society in general. In other words, volunteerism would be incredibly efficacious if the Church dominated social life via people’s free will to believe. It’s the investiture controversy. It’s the Purgatorio. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
On the surface this sounds pretty rad. But let’s think really quickly: Why is the Church (or religion in general) having trouble grasping people’s hearts? Is it possible it’s because our government is predicated upon ideas that run counter to the theological bases of the Church? Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, our American conception of government comes out of the Enlightenment. This is the period in which new philosophy sought to rock the very foundations of Natural Law, the idea upon which Western European civilization had predicated itself. These new principles teach man’s ability to overcome limits, to progress until there is nothing left to progress toward, to climb the hill of life to the summit of paradise. The previous conception allowed for human free will and action but was always willing to acknowledge limits; it never allowed man to be the sole maker of history. Tell me that the American ethic of “you can do whatever you set your mind to” is capable of acknowledging any limit. You can’t.
This denial of limit is not problematic at first. It is, in many ways, a good thing. It has allowed man to do many positive things. The problem is that the denial of practical limit has slowly, but surely, become the denial of metaphysical/moral limit. Now not only can man learn how to fly (may as well throw the Icarus myth out) but he can abort children because that is now a safe possibility; he can allow a doctor to kill his relative because there is no longer any notable value in a life that cannot be lived progressively. Why respect the elderly when they are no longer capable of being efficient breakers of limit and moving civilization closer to perfection?
If I’ve angered or disturbed you with this argument, I apologize. If you are a believer, you have found a way to reconcile these disparate ideas in your heart. And while that may involve hypocrisy, I can respect that attempt, but I ask you: can the majority of people handle that cognitive dissonance? Can they be told limit exists on one hand, but be told they are capable of doing anything they wish if they use enough science on the other? Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that they cannot. Belief in God (and George Grant calls God the very idea of limit) is at, or at least approaching, an historic low. Surely our news broadcasting of sad and generally disturbing things can only reinforce the notion in people’s hearts that this world is irredeemable and that the only hope, if any, is a race to scientifically break all limits and overcome suffering. Sounds like Marx, in a way.
So, is the position of libertarian-Christianity a theoretical possibility? Perhaps it is. But it doesn’t seem to be working. Given a choice, it seems that most people, under the influence of American-modern philosophy, choose to reject God and praise the destruction of limit. I fear an ardent libertarianism will only teach people to accelerate that practice. Let me be straightforward, I have no desire to see a Statist utopia in America. That is just as foolish as what I am arguing against. But I do believe Christian-Libertarianism is a doomed principle. That doesn’t mean give up. It means believe and do good, but don’t forget for a second that this world is not ours any longer and that to believe that is to delude yourself. We must move toward a new conservatism, for as MacDonald put it, the only rule of Hell is “I am my own [to break all limits and to accomplish all that I can].”
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