The Dark Side of Being a Christian Libertarian


Libertarians, big-L and small-l, seem to be of a certain type: opinionated, strong-willed, certain we are correct, fervent, and intelligent. But we also come in all sorts of different forms: Bleeding heart, religious, atheistic, pagan, smokers, drinkers, etc.

We all fail to live up to our ideals from time to time, but, as libertarians, we are all trying to promote what we see as right, and we all use different means to try to accomplish this. Which is why I get extremely frustrated when I see libertarians snarkily criticizing and personally attacking their fellow liberty-lovers for their personal beliefs and how they incorporate those beliefs into conducting their lives—particularly if those beliefs involve a religion.

You see, I am a Christian, pro-life (I think a fetus is a person, in Gina’s terms), anarchist, small-l libertarian. It took six years of calling myself a libertarian, and a year or two of running from my faith, but in that time I’ve prayed—and reasoned—my way into a justification for my beliefs; even though Christians and libertarians say the two are incompatible.

The long and short of my reasoning is that no act, no matter how moral, “good,” or beneficial the ends, is a moral one if the means are immoral; Jesus didn’t want us to steal or kill “to help the least of these”. I do think it is my moral duty to to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, not just to try to get into it; to help the poor, to live a life of loving outreach, to minister to the sick, downtrodden, and discouraged. These “goods” lose all moral validity when they are coerced into action by the state. They do not, then, come from a heart whose desire is to do good, which is what Christ asks of us, but begrudgingly from a heart that is made to do them.

So, you see, my faith and my politics mesh perfectly, but validating my faith is not the only purpose of this post.

Instead of being met with curiosity and openness when I have announced my faith, I have been personally attacked and condemned for my beliefs by other libertarians—called things such as irrational, indoctrinated, and anti-intellectual for my faith. These things are hard insults to take for any libertarian!

Libertarians should understand better than most that we can come to the same conclusion from different origins. Libertarians are a diverse group of people with a wide variety of beliefs, and we should know better than to condemn others for the non-violent ways that they live. Whether it is a strict paleo adherent condemning someone who chooses to fuel her body with nothing but McDonalds, an anarchist demonizing those who would allow some semblance of a government, or an atheist calling a fellow libertarian brainwashed, ignorant, or unreasonable for their religious beliefs, it isn’t okay for us to criticize a valid, consistent, set of libertarian values, just because they aren’t how we choose to live.

There’s a reason Ron Paul named his movement the R3VOLution: Peace and Love y’all, Peace and Love.

  • Cee Hitty

    Hostility towards fellow libertarians – especially the rare and valued female libertarians that make the movement at least moderately more diverse than a D&D convention – is rarely warranted. Civility among potential allies, or even enemies where there is some basis for belief that continued discussion may prove valuable, is preferable.

    With that said, I wonder if you understand where the atheists are coming from and what may be motivating their hostility. I’m one of those atheist libertarians who, though I try not to be hostile, am genuinely mystified by the Christian libertarians. While the personal ethics of modern Christianity (in particular the focus on the individual soul and individual self-perfection) have a number of elements that are compatible with libertarian political philosophy, the explicitly political messages in the Bible are obviously tolerant of a great deal of state restraint on political liberty, especially the exercise of religious liberty. If the God of your religion explicitly sets up both monarchies and theocracies and mandates the death penalty for acts that do not inhibit the life/liberty of another (e.g., homosexual sodomy, cursing one’s parents, working on the Sabbath), is it any wonder that other libertarians question the libertarian bona fides of someone who *worships* such an entity? When atheists see the atrocities historically committed by the state in the name of Christianity, we see a threat that can arise any time someone committed to the same (to us, inexplicable) ideology has some power. This threat from power is the very thing motivating many libertarians to oppose a powerful state, or any state for some of us. In short, while your *personal* fusion of Christian and libertarian ideology may only incorporate such parts of each as fuse together without contradiction, Christianity qua Christianity (i.e., a plain literal reading of the central texts) and Christianity as historically practiced are wildly at variance with libertarian politics.

    • That is some mighty powerful induction there. It’s a bit deindividualizing to ignore the person in favor of a text. Especially when few mondern adherents regardless of their place in the political spectrum take as literally as you are talking about.

      • Cee Hitty

        My argument isn’t, “Elizabeth, you’re either not a real libertarian or not a real Christian.” She may have selected only those beliefs that can be embraced by both Christian and libertarian worldviews and be agnostic on all other points. My argument is, “Elizabeth, Christianity as understood by atheists and other Christians is not all and only what you profess to believe. When you embrace a label encompassing a system of beliefs that is historically at odds with libertarianism and explicitly anti-libertarian when only considering the founding text, it is unsurprising that the initial reaction is some hostility.”

    • Elizabeth Robinson

      I think it would be helpful for me to further clarify my personal beliefs, and how I see they way a lot of Christians are messing up. I identify with the thought that we are offered Grace through Christ, and we are given the free will to accept it or reject it. Acting on these teachings is part of accepting that Grace and redemption. Further, as Christians, we are called to be followers of Christ, not followers of Paul, John, the Old Testament prophets, or King David. Jesus did not come with a message of hateful warfare, but one of accepting peace. He didn’t advocate adherence to the strict code of Judaism to obtain salvation, but rejected the law and instead offered a life service and faith. Simply put, a lot of Christians aren’t following the teachings of Christ, at all; they merely attempt to justify hateful and violent acts by falsely associating their cause with Christ’s.

      • Cee Hitty

        So it seems that you and the hostile atheists agree on at least one point: a large number of Christians, especially historically, and anyone who gets their teachings on politics from the Bible is disqualified from the “libertarian” label. But you’re different, because you don’t believe those things in the Bible that make it incompatible with libertarianism. That’s fine. Were we not talking about a post on the very subject of the compatibility of Christianity and libertarianism, the best response would be to join hands and go to a Rom Paul rally or something.

        However, keep in mind that however innocuous your personal beliefs may be with respect to the NAP, your personal beliefs are not the entirety of the label “Christian.” Jesus: commanded people to leave their families; threw money-changers out of the temple (violating the NAP unless a claim can be that Jesus had a superior claim to ownership of the Jewish temple than those who permitted the money-changers to be there); and came to bring not peace, but a sword, He preached a number of messages of love and giving, sure. Maybe that was even the better part of his teachings. But that doesn’t mean he was an unambiguous libertarian. Especially since his situation offered numerous opportunities to criticize the state that he didn’t take. For example, there was no argument that the state lacked the right to arrest and execute him. No question of the legitimacy of Roman rule. In short, the atheist libertarian likely sees Christianity as saying absolutely nothing in favor of libertarian ideals, and representing a great deal that has historically been anti-libertarian. And along you come, and embrace that label while expecting the atheist libertarian not to look askance.

        By way of illustration, imagine a guy named John walked up to you and said, “My name is John, and I’m a Klansman libertarian.” You would rightly wonder how someone who belongs to an organization and embraces an ideological label that is responsible for such violence and death can reasonably claim to be a libertarian. He might respond with, “The Klan isn’t about the practices we’ve widely been known to practice or these aspects of our ideology. Being in the Klan is really about solidarity with people with whom you share important characteristics and the freedom of all individuals to choose for themselves whether to associate with those possessing characteristics they abhor.” As he’s not personally supporting the evil things done in the name of the Klan, rejects using the state as a mechanism of coercing separation of the races, and would absolutely never initiate force against a human of any race, is John a libertarian and even (arguably) a good person? Maybe. Posit that he is. How would you feel about going to a Ron Paul rally with John, or knowing he was out there somewhere representing libertarianism to others?

        • shesalive

          Speaking as someone who is not sure where she personally stands with this belief… I will say that it seems like you are familiar with the events in the Bible but not their spirit or overall meaning (which is fine, but seems to be blocking some understanding). Second, there are so many sects of Christianity that it’s difficult to assume what a person believes based on the term alone. My understanding is that the Old Testament is the old covenant (salvation by rules), and the New Testament describes the new (relevant) covenant (salvation by grace). The new covenant made the old one obsolete, in a sense. That’s why christian libertarians don’t (shouldn’t) call for stoning gays, and instead love them as equals, as Jesus did with the woman accused of infidelity and experiencing persecution from the religious zealots (a mob, a violent majority in that situation) of the day.

          My tip would be this: view those stories as if you believed them. That temple where Jesus threw out the money changers? The religious leaders were pretending that was a house of God, dedicated to him. They were a fraud, following the letter of God’s law, but without any understanding. As for his arrest by the state – he saw this coming, it had been prophesied in the Old Testament, and it fulfilled his purpose for being on earth. Why would he call them out on it? So..his purpose was not to liberate the physical existence, but the spiritual existence.

          As far as “I bring not peace, but a sword” .. it’s been too long – ten years – since I regularly read this stuff for me to offer great insight, other than to say I take it as a whole, and as poetry. I think most libertarians accept the importance of self-defense, so I’m not sure why a literal sword is bad. However, I think Jesus was referring to a division of people over belief.

          The funny thing is, more than anything, I see Jesus as promoting/validating anarchic, socialist, voluntary action. I mean, give up everything you have? Your coat, your last piece of bread? Stop to help the stranger who is unlike you, and protect him? This is an extraordinary challenge. As libertarians, we have to consider how a non-coercive society would care for others. Would enough people step up to the plate? Yesterday I saw a comment from an atheist libertarian who clearly wouldn’t. He claimed Darwinian principles would get rid of those unfit to live, and it wouldn’t bother him in the least. Now, that gives ME pause when I’d like to think we can get rid of the state!

          This discussion reminds me of a moving 2010 documentary about a few christian anarchists, titled Our House. Worth a watch if you’re looking for a movie.

  • diogenes jr.

    The bottom line is that if you want to stop abortion AND remain true to the principles of almost any strain of libertarian thought, you would pursue market-based solutions to curtail this phenomenon that you see as a problem.

    If your policy position on abortion–or any other human behavior–resorts to lawmaking, then you are not a libertarian no matter how pro-business and anti-spending you are.

    What is more, the twisted argument for libertarianism in this blog post runs that people need to be allowed to be good by their own choice. If the state forces them to be good then this contravenes God’s will and interferes with God’s ability to sort out the good from the bad. That’s working backwards!

    Quite to the contrary:

    Less government = more competition = produce better people, ideas, and enterprises. People are a product of their environment. The environment does not just provide a gameboard for us to see who is authentically and essentially good and bad! The economic game produces and determines the potentially best results!

    • Elizabeth Robinson

      I disagree, I think you can be a libertarian, an anarchist, even, and advocate for the protection of property rights, the right to life being one of these. If you believe, as I do, that a fetus is a person with rights, then it isn’t incompatible.

      • diogenesr

        protection of property and enforcement of contract is the bottom line for state intervention in private affairs. this is the very basic libertarian principle! think very hard about how it applies in this scenario!

    • eric

      “If your policy position on abortion–or any other human behavior–resorts to lawmaking”

      This is a flawed argument. Some libertarians (myself included) believe that the state does have a role in protecting liberties. Grant, the state tends to fail miserably at doing that job… but that’s the idea anway.

      Let me start by saying that I’m pro-choice. With the abortion debate, you have to understand — at minimum — the argument the other side is making. They consider life to begin at the instant of conception. If that’s true (which I disagree with BTW), then the state does have a valid role in protecting the rights of that person. Until you recognize this side of the argument, you’re going to feel like you’re talking to a wall.

      • diogenesjr

        protection of property and contract is the bottom line! think hard about how it applies!

    • I disagree. Murder of a young – already born – child brings this into sharp relief, I think. Let’s say that we are anarchist libertarians – no government at all. But someone kills their young child. Most people would say that we should do something about this. Many solutions from anarcho-libertarian writers include some sort of idea that a third party (such as a charity organization) can step in on behalf of the victim to obtain some semblance of justice. If this is possible for a young child, and the fetus is considered a person, then the same procedure for dealing with parents that murder their children applies to abortion. (And the argument that, so long as the state exists, it should at least have proscriptions against murder makes sense as well.) The fundamental question, regardless of political philosophy, is only whether the fetus is a person or not.

      • diogenesjr

        protection of property is the bottom line! think hard about how it applies!

  • Aaron Gunn

    For the record, almost all of the Austrian libertarians (big L) I have met have been respectful of religion and you will find staunch Christians such as Robert Murphy, Gary North and Laurence Vance among their ranks. There are also many atheists and agnostics as well.

    As long as your religion doesn’t seek to violate the NAP then it should be considered to occupy a different sphere and Libertarians should refrain from criticizing the pursuit of religious philosophy and lifestyle on libertarian philosophical grounds, as it falls into the category of voluntary pursuits.

    • robert

      And the atheists, for example Walter Block, even say things like “I’m an ardent supporter of religion.”

  • eric

    Atheists in general (I am one, btw) tend to be pretty adamant in our lack of belief. I do respectfully disagree with your religion.

    That said, I hold absolutely zero connection between religion and politics, so whatever religion you happen to be… more power to ya. Until you start wanting to make laws, we’ll have no problems.

    It’s the “ban gay marriage” christian libertarians that I will never understand. How can you be pro-liberty and anti-free association… Those people are mind boggling.

    • Elizabeth Robinson

      I think the abortion debate is really about the only place that my religion and politics intersect, for reasons I’ve outlined in response to another comment 🙂

  • Fran

    I am a conservative Christian, 50+ yr old and female. I never knew being a Christian was anti libertarian. I was ‘libertarian’ in thought long before I was aware of the political label. I campaigned for Ron Paul in 2008 and this election. I feel that libertarianism and true Christianity are a good fit. I want government to just leave me alone and let me be a Christian.
    Christianity is personal and should be share personally. Laws can not make people Christian. The spread of Christianity, which is every Christian’s duty, is a one-on-one sharing of your life, of what God and Jesus mean to you. The non Christian either accepts or rejects. Everyone moves on. Western Christianity seems far removed from New Testament Christianity. We need to look beyond today’s ‘church’ and examine what following Christ really means.
    I really don’t think God cares that much about types of Government. In the eternal scheme of things nothing in this world really matters.
    As a individual Christian, I can oppose certain social behaviors but I do not think the government should always be involved in encourging or discouraging the behaviors. That’s why Christians can be libertarians.

  • I’m an anti-theist Libertarian. I only care about your religious views sofaras you pushing them on others, legislating your morality, or forcing children into your faith. Beyond that, you won’t hear a peep from me unless you wish to challenge me to a debate, in which case you may want to watch out ;).

    Abortion is a right. The courts have upheld this. The government does not give us rights, it merely protects them. A fetus is not considered an independent human being until birth by the law. Therefore, laws do not apply to it. Therefore, the definition of legal murder does not apply to it.

    Just because we hold a similar value about government theory doesn’t mean we agree on everything. If you do things I don’t like, I’m not afraid to voice myself on the topic.

    • Celtois

      In many states a child isn’t independent until 16, with an order of early emancipation from a court. Prior to that children cannot be independent by the US legal system. If I were to present the argument, that since children are legally unable to chose for themselves prior to the age of consent, that the parent should be able to legally choose to terminate the child’s life at any point prior to that, you would argue that I was making a preposterous argument. If we define a human being by the age of legal independence we create these absurd circumstances. I’m undecided on the whole, pro-choice vs. pro-life debate, but I think you need to reconsider your position.

      Also, appeals to the present legal system and the authority of the courts is meaningless. The courts are an illegitimate authority, given their status is granted and guaranteed by the force of the government.

  • Matt Bacon

    I always say that being a Christian Libertarian just means that you are a Christian who has bothered to really educate themselves about politics and economics. As a Christian, how could you be anything else once you’ve so educated yourself?

  • You mentioned abortion in your post, have you heard of Blocks ‘evctionism’ spin on abortion:

  • People need to remember that there are all kinds of libertarians. There are hardcore and moderate, left leaning and right leaning. A difference in one or more ideas doesn’t make someone less libertarian. Only the exclusion of these people and their ideas do. Some social issues like abortion can be argued from either side, with good points, untill people are blue in the face. The one thing we should have going for us as libertarians is the ability to discuss and debate such topics without anger and with respect. A libertarian is not black or white, but many shades of gray. This is why it is possible to see libertarians for and against abortion in one way shape or form as it is possible to see libertarians who are religious or believe in food labeling or universal healthcare… a libertarian just needs to agree with a majority of the party’s platform regarding the size and role of govt and spending, civil liberties, foreign policy and etc.