Friday, December 24, 2010

Jesus Christ, Libertarian

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin anymore." (John 8: 3-11)

As we approach the new year with conservatism again ascendant in the political sphere, this story of Jesus’ uncompromising libertarianism seems even more timely than stories of his birth, despite the approach of his celebrated birthday. Nowhere does Jesus admonish “social conservatives” more harshly.

There is an important distinction here. By “social conservative,” I do not mean anyone who disapproves of certain human behavior. The freedom to follow the dictates of one’s conscience was the first inalienable right recognized by the founders of our nation. If one truly believes that homosexuality, adultery, or other “non-conservative” behavior violates the laws of God, it is that person’s inalienable right to disapprove of it, even to voice his disapproval of it, regardless of the anguished cries of the political correctness lobby on the left.

However, no one has a right to use violence against those who engage in behavior that does not harm another person, regardless of whether or not that behavior violates the laws of God. Since all laws are enforced under the threat of violence (as this story illustrates wonderfully), Jesus makes it clear in this passage that it is not for men to enforce the laws of God. With the exception of cases in which one human being has done injury to another, the right to punish human behavior is reserved for God.

It is important to recognize that Jesus does not condone the sin that the anonymous woman has committed. When he has shamed away the mob who would have stoned her, Jesus commands her to sin no more. Neither does he insinuate that her behavior might not have consequences for her soul. With flawless libertarian reasoning, Jesus teaches us the true meaning of freedom: that God grants us the liberty to do as we wish, even to reject him and his laws, but that we also bear the full consequences of our actions. If we harm another person, then we are subject to the laws of men. However, it is otherwise left to each individual to determine the will of God according to his conscience and to choose whether to act accordingly or not. There never has been nor can there ever be any body of corruptible men who can save an individual’s soul.

This is by no means the only place in the gospels that Jesus teaches us this lesson. His entire public ministry was one condemnation after another of the hypocritical, socially conservative theocracy. Indeed, it is the Jewish state that is Jesus’ chief antagonist throughout the gospels. He is noticeably disinterested in the more secular Roman government, despite its tyranny over his people. While he certainly doesn’t approve of the Romans, he has no interest in political revolution. As Jesus tells Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). However, his own government does not merely commit secular, political oppression against its people. It usurps the authority of God and attempts to judge in his place. For this, Jesus constantly lets loose his most venomous reproaches.

Throughout the gospels, “the chief priests and Pharisees” are constantly shown up for what they are. They do not seek to punish sins to defend the honor of God, but for their own selfish political motives. Their persecution and eventual murder of Jesus himself is quite obviously perpetrated out of fear of his influence over the people. And what is this subversive influence that warrants torture and death? “Love one another as I have loved you. Love your enemies. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Of course the state would hate such a message. It runs afoul of every depravity that the state tries to exhort its citizens to, including its wars, its persecution of non-conformists, and its rampant looting of the citizenry dressed up as “public works.”

When Jesus encounters man-made laws masquerading as the laws of God, he openly condones breaking those laws. When his disciples pick fruit on the Sabbath and are caught in the act by the Pharisees, Jesus beats the Pharisees at their own game by citing Jewish scripture, which describes David actually eating sacred bread out of the temple, reserved for the priests by Jewish law.

Demonstrating how perverse any theocratic state eventually becomes, the Pharisees then bring a man forward with a “withered hand,” daring Jesus to cure him and break the law himself. They are willing to see this man miss his one chance to be cured in the hopes that they can use their distorted interpretation of God’s command to “keep holy the Sabbath” to ensnare Jesus for political ends. Jesus breaks the law without hesitation, saying that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Caring little for the wisdom of the lesson and interested only in maintaining their own autocratic power, the Pharisees withdraw to begin planning Jesus’ murder. (Matthew 12: 1-14)

By attempting to use the law to enforce their morality, social conservatives violate the very principles that they say that they cherish most. Social conservatives decry Islam because it attempts to “propagate the faith by the sword.” However, there is only a cosmetic difference between promoting your religious views through acts of terrorism and doing likewise through passing unjust laws against minorities who have no recourse but to obey or suffer violence. In both cases, it is the sword that compels the victim rather than the mind or the heart. Neither can social conservatives rely on the argument that their laws are passed by an elected body representing the people. If that justifies socially conservative laws, then what is their objection to the welfare state?

No part of this argument should be misconstrued as an endorsement of political correctness or the left’s agenda to grant positive rights to their own special interest groups for political purposes. If we are truly a free country and we meant what we said in the first amendment to our Constitution, then every individual, whether the most fundamentalist Christian or the most libertine atheist, should have the right to speak freely, even if what they say offends another person. For many devout Christians, it is their sacred duty to try to persuade their fellow man to repent of his sins and embrace Jesus as his savior.

However, there is an ocean of difference between persuasion and coercion. The minute that we say, “there ought to be a law,” we are picking up the sword. If we do so in defense of the inalienable human rights of life, liberty, and property, we are within our rightful authority. If we do so to supplant the authority of God, we become the very type of people that Jesus spent his life fighting against. To truly be Christian, we must recognize the need for “a wall of separation between church and state.”

Jesus was very clear about his views on what would lead to salvation and what would not. Jesus condemned many behaviors, like adultery, that social conservatives likewise condemn. He also said that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) However, he does not go on to say, “Therefore, if your brother does not come to me willingly, then draw your sword and force him.” Salvation must be chosen; God did not create a race of slaves.

As we celebrate the birth of this great libertarian, let us not forget the lesson of his life and death. Jesus was murdered by the theocratic state for exposing their hypocrisy and resisting their unjust, blasphemous laws. Let us follow his example of speaking our minds according to our consciences but never raising our hand to save our brothers’ souls. Each one of us will ultimately find that our understanding of the will of God is imperfect, as we are imperfect. Therefore, we must follow Jesus’ example of tolerance and forgiveness, lest we find that we ourselves have mistakenly punished the innocent. Our laws should keep us from harming each other, and leave each person’s soul to the judgment of God.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!


© Thomas Mullen 2010


Tony F said...

Thank you.

Claire M said...

Too bad Mohammed didn't feel the same way as Jesus about the sword... Great thoughts on the whole, and very appropriate for the season, but I don't agree that the difference between Christian and Islamic fundamentalists is one of degree only. As you point out here, the teachings of Jesus promote freedom and reject the sword, But don't most of the Quran and Hadiths teach unquestioning submission to Allah and the enforcement thereof by the sword?

But maybe as a former Catholic and current atheist I am not really qualified to judge Islam? I look forward to your thoughts on Ramadan.

Anonymous said...

Jesus was promoting capital punishment which is why he invoked the Numbers trial by water by drawing a line in the temple sand. He could not go through with the trial because here accusers fleed. Jesus was no Libertarian and you should not break the third commandment.

ImadK said...

claire, it is explicity given in the quran that "there is no compulsion in religion". that doesn't mean that there hasn't been muslims who tried to convert others by the sword; there has been also tolerant muslim rulers who promoted freedom of religion. two examples would be in the mughal empire, where you had akbar who declared that any hindu can convert to islam and any muslim can convert to hinduism; and then there was aurangzeb who was notorious for imposing his religious views on non-muslims.
But my point is that your statement that the quran teaches enforcement by the sword is erroneous. It was always rulers who put people to the sword (or sometimes not).

Anyways, thanks a lot for this post, It was really thoughtful and outside the box.

Old_Curmudgeon said...

Tom Mullen almost made the point that there is a great difference between "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" and "man-made rules for administration of the governmental bureaucracy."

God's Laws are "discovered" by men.
Administrative Rules (not laws) are made by men.

Truly-free individuals reject Man-made rules unless they work for or support the regime of the rogues and thugs who rule society.

"The rule of (God's) law and not the rule of man-made administrative fiats."

Reject ALL unconstitutional statutes, ordinances, regulations, policies, treaties, etc. Live under the rules of Nature and Nature's God !

Tom Mullen said...

@Claire - Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family - I miss ya!

You make what I believe is called a "non sequitir" when you say, " but I don't agree that the difference between Christian and Islamic fundamentalists is one of degree only. As you point out here, the teachings of Jesus promote freedom and reject the sword, But don't most of the Quran and Hadiths teach unquestioning submission to Allah and the enforcement thereof by the sword?"

The article argued that socially conservative laws and acts of terrorism both use violence to compel people to accept religious principles against their will. YOur argument draws distinctions between the Christian scriptures and the Muslim, which are irrelevant to the argument made in my article, since the point of my article was to point out that social conservatism is antithetical to the actual Christian principles espoused in the gospels.

In other words, regardless of whether the Christian scriptures are better than the Muslim scriptures, social conservatives do not follow the teachings of Jesus. In fact, upon further reflection, if the accusation that the Quran advocates propagation of the faith by the sword is true, then American Christian social conservatives are actually adhering more to the teachings of the Quran than they are to the teachings of the gospels.

Mike Vasovski said...

Hi Tom,
Several weeks ago the following question was posed in our Sunday school class. "Why was Jesus put to death?" The answer from the pastor who was teaching the class was quick and certain. "Because he ran the money changers out of the temple". We have got to get this fact/opinion/belief publicized so it can be broadcast/refuted as widely as possible.
Thanks for your blog posting.

Peace and liberty,
Dr. Mike Vasovski
Aiken, South Carolina

Henry Whitney said...
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Henry Whitney said...

Social conservatism is indeed ungodly, but there are some major problems in your post, and as a result it hurts rather than helps your case for libertarianism.

John 7:53-8:11 isn't about the biblical definition of justice any more than it is about toothpaste. The scribes and Pharisees cared nothing about justice and were using not only the woman but also her husband as tools to get at Jesus: the law commanded that both the woman and her consort be stoned, yet they brought only the woman. And, of course, the husband has the option of forgiving and letting the matter drop, which the scribes and Pharisees were ignoring.

Jesus was answering their peripheral question with a question that got to the heart: we are all sinners who deserve God's wrath and nothing else. It is only once we acknowledge our hopeless state before God apart from salvation through the cross that we can ask how we are to act. And, as the passage in the Sermon on the Mount about specks and planks makes clear, we are to clean up our own acts before we go after others'.

Your post also makes it plain that you don't view adultery as a crime against another person. But for a person to say on one day "I will keep myself only for you as long as we both shall live" and then later violate that vow is no different from, and far more serious than, ordering a meal in a restaurant, eating it, and then refusing to pay for it. Lyrics of two pop songs from my youth come to mind: "Day after day there are girls in the office, and men will always be men" and "I know that your lips are sweet / But our lips must never meet / I belong to someone else, and I must be true." One who has resisted such temptation only to find that their spouse has joyfully given in surely has grounds for some complaint: "'Hey, Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?' / 'I'm gonna find my woman; she been messin' round with some other man.'"

(Joe's reaction is as understandable as it is, or at least used to be, common, though it violates the stipulation in Dt 17:6-7 that capital punishment be carried out by the community, not individuals; imperfect as such a system is [1 Kg 21], it allows those in the community to judge the evidence, the trial, and the execution.)

Can there be no forcible resistance to invaders, whether of home or country? Should thieves not be forced to pay back what they have stolen, including the resources consumed in finding and trying them? Can victims of rape and molestation not demand restitution from the perpetrators for mental and physical trauma, time missed from work, etc.? I would say we have no right to resist attack or exact restitution, but by his grace God allows us to do so within the limits he specifies.

Henry Whitney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Henry Whitney said...

My apologies for the multiple comments. I kept getting a notice that the "URI was too big to process" and thought that meant I needed to cut the length down. I didn't realize I was getting through. Sorry!

Tom Mullen said...

No problems, Henry. I deleted the repeats. Thank you for reading my article and for your thoughtful reply.

Claire M said...

@ Henry: If adultery is indeed a breach of contract crime, then surely the fair solution would be to abolish no-fault divorce... Killing the adulterer is a tad extreme, don't you think?

@ Tom: Yes, I get it... Fundamentalists who advocate draconian punishments for non-crimes such as adultery are neither libertarians nor true Christians. They could very well be true Muslims, however. And it is mainly in Muslim countries that religious fundamentalists have succeeded in completely eliminating any wall between church and state.

Perhaps there are a few fringe Christians who wish to interfere with the freedom of Americans, but aren't most Christian pro-freedom, and pro-separation of church and state? I'll bet, for example, that many Christians would like to see the state get out of the business of issuing marriage licenses. And I'll bet most Christians would like to keep the tax dollars they are now forced to pay toward the kind of secular education they find morally abhorrent...

imeasure said...

Great post Tom. My only criticism (and it is minor) is your unfortunate quotation of the phrase 'a wall of separation between church and state.'

This phrase has become so charged with emotion from both the right and the left that you risk shutting down dialogue when you use it.

Those on the right in your audience rolled their eyes and dismissed your well articulated position when they came across that phrase. "Oh, he's one of those liberal nuts who quotes a phrase not even found in the constitution" they likely said to themselves.

Those on the left probably said to themselves - "aha, he's one of us! He hates all things religious and supports sterilizing all mention of God or religion from public life."

In my not-so-humble opinion, the libertarian position is usually most persuasive when we avoid the politicized buzz-words and phrases that come so pre-loaded with baggage.

As a follower of Jesus I've struggled for years to get other Christians to recognize that the state IS the use of force, and that force is only legitimate in the rare circumstance of the protection of individuals.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting piece; all the more thought provoking given the time of year.

As to the commentators: we can all argue forever on the tangents, but the central point I think is clear. That being, Christians should actually practice what they preach and study, rather than endeavor to find ways to utilize the coercive power of government to force their beliefs upon others.

At the same time, I think the variety of vantages one can take on this issue, as evidenced by the long winded debates throughout these comments, demonstrates all the more why there *must* be a separation between church and state. You can freely associate with whatever church you want, or disassociate. But we must all live and work under one government in this nation.