The trouble with eye-catching, controversial topics like the one above is you immediately need to slow down and define a bunch of terms. At least that’s what you have to do if your aim is to do anything other than shock and offend a lot of people. And that’s not my aim at all, so let me start there.
By “God” I mean the God of Judeo-Christian tradition – the God we approach through reason and faith, learning about Him from both the natural world and from revelation. Philosophers called Him names like The Uncaused Cause and the Prime Mover, while faith confessed Him as the The Triune God; Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit found in scripture and taught by tradition.
Defining “libertarian” might be trickier than defining God, because libertarians themselves are still in the process of defining it. This column is not in support of the big ‘L’ Libertarian Party, or to argue God is or is not a Republican or a Democrat – it’s not about political parties at all.
We consider, instead, libertarianism as a philosophy of man and as a political philosophy. As we go through this exercise we will consider whether or not God is a libertarian, which may spark controversy, but that will be the fun of it. So let the fun begin.
1. NAP: One of the most foundational principles of libertarianism is the “non-aggression principle.” It seems clear from history and the words of Christ, and the development of doctrines like the Just War Theory, that God would not only approve of the non-aggression principle, but He is the author of it. He’s not a pacifist by any measure, for we may defend ourselves and punish evil and even go to war, but in a measured and just way and only in response to an attack or an objective evil. Put plainly, we cannot initiate force against another, and that is the very heart of the non-aggression principle.
The non-aggression principle also covers other things beyond physical violence, such as taking another’s property, damaging it, defrauding it, everything that comes under the vice of “stealing,” as prohibited by the 7th Commandment.
2. The Law: It would be hard to say that God is an anarchist, or anarcho-libertarian, because He is a law-giver, more precisely “the” law-giver. He placed the natural law in the heart of each man, and through his prophet Moses He gave us the 10 Commandments.
However, God is a minimalist in this regard, and He’s certainly no fan of bureaucracy and regulation. After all, there are only 10 — count ‘em, 10! — Commandments! In spite of some later hyper-regulatory attempts to provide a comprehensive, normative explanation of every human action, Christ reminded us that “all the law and the prophets” boil down to two commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That has to qualify as a “limited government” approach at the very least, if not what libertarians term “minarchism.”
3. Respect for the sovereignty of the individual: A basic flaw with the current style of government is its belief in “saving people from themselves.” It’s rarely phrased so simply, but scratch most government programs or regulations, and you’ll find the save-the-people principle underneath.
Government assumes you can’t take care of yourself, such as plan for your retirement, decide what to eat, educate yourself or your children, or defend yourself and your family. The present ruling class assumes,
“Whatever it is, you can’t choose properly, and you can’t handle the consequences of your poor choices. So we will eliminate those choices, and make sure you have no responsibility.”
Now the libertarian view is “We are free, free to choose well, and even free to choose poorly, and we are responsible for our choices to the good or to the ill. The government has no business telling people what they can or cannot choose to eat, read, think, or inhale, such as unnecessary incursions of our free will, a gift from God to His human creatures.
As much as God desires for us to choose the good, as much as He thirsts for us to choose Him, He never violates our free will. He can’t. He cajoles, suggests, sends us grace, makes His plan for us as obvious as possible in all of creation, but He never forces us to choose the good or prevents us from choosing poorly, nor does He protect us from the consequences of our decisions. That’s a pretty libertarian stance, No?
So there you have it. God looks like a libertarian. Who knew?