[Vision2020] Strange Bedfellows: Libertarians, Christians, and Biblical Bolsheviks

nickgier at adelphia.net nickgier at adelphia.net
Thu Dec 13 10:43:31 PST 2007

Good Morning,

Chris Witmer seems to be gone, but LemmeNotKnow Doug is back.  Perhaps he can explain to us this hybrid creature called the Libertarian Calvinist, no doubt Heirloom Edition.

This is my weekly column for two newspapers.  My radio commentary is still one week behind, but I will catch up next week because I will spare my Cabo and Pocatello readers the story of the incivility of the Wilsonistas.

For more on Christianity and libertarianism see www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/libchristian.htm

Nick Gier


I first came in contact with the term “libertarianism” during the Idaho Congressional campaign of 1972.  Steve Symms, under the philosophical tutelage of Ralph Smeed of Caldwell, used this term to describe himself as he ran on the Republican ticket in the First District.  

I’ll never forget a great motto that I learned from Symms: "A liberal will let you do anything with your body, but not everything you want to do with your money.  A conservative will allow you to do anything you want with your money, but not anything you want to do with your body.  A libertarian will allow you to do anything you want with both your body and your money."  

Most people don’t know that Symms was pro-choice at that time and also danced around other libertarian positions such as decriminalizing drug use and prostitution.  He learned very quickly that "body" liberty did not sell well in Idaho, so he decided not to be consistent about maximizing personal liberty in all areas. 

Sometime in the 1970s James Buckley, the brother of Wm. F. Buckley, spoke at the Borah Symposium at the University of Idaho.   When he called himself a "Christian libertarian," my immediate response was that this label is an oxymoron.  

To put the contradiction as concisely as possible: libertarians affirm the sovereignty of the self, while orthodox Christians believe in the sovereignty of God.  This is why consistent libertarians such Ayn Rand and her followers are atheists or agnostics.

The Christian "libertarians" reject governmental regulations by saying that God is the only authority to which they can submit.  Consistent libertarians, however, argue that there can be no submission to any authority except individual conscience.  

Libertarians also maintain that those who live at the government’s largess develop bad habits of dependency that undermine personal initiative and integrity.  The Christian "libertarian" cannot say that dependency is healthy in religion, but turn around to say that the same dependency undermines personal initiative in society. 

Many scholars have written about the "corporate personality" found in the ancient Hebrew and early Christian writings.  Evangelical theologian Carl Henry puts this idea well when he states that the Bible does not talk about individual rights; rather, it speaks of one's duties to community and God.  

In his book "Evangelicals at an Impasse" evangelical Christian Robert Johnston states that the Bible does not support "to each according to merit"; rather, it teaches "to each according to need," the most famous phrase in Marx's philosophy.

Free market economics is at the heart of libertarianism, but one finds just the opposite in the Book of Acts: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (2:44-45; 4:32-37).  

When Ananias (Acts 5) sold a piece of property and held back some of the money, he was struck down by a God who presumably did not believe in private property.  This was not just a temporary phenomenon, because the Church Father Tertullian, living 200 years later, reported that "we hold everything in common except our wives." 

In a Thanksgiving column for an Idaho newspaper stock broker Richard Larsen wrote that our Pilgrim Fathers repented of "their socialist folly" and followed the free market model instead.  But one item in Gov. William Bradford’s diary, which Larsen quotes, relates that families were given parcel of land "according to the proportion of their number," not according to how much they could buy with their own funds.  Sometimes the right thing to do is to share and not to make a profit.

The main reason for the Republican Party's success in the past 20 years has been an alliance between social conservatives, who focus on abortion, gays, and immigrants; and libertarians, who want to expand personal liberty with free market solutions to everything.  

This alliance is now crumbling, as evangelical voters are embracing Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who charges that the Republican Party has been too much wedded to Wall Street and that CEO salaries are immoral.  

This is a far cry from the time, 30 years ago, when rich Southern California businessmen, unconcerned about abortion or gay rights, decided that an unchurched Ronald Reagan would be the man for their agenda of virulent anti-Communism and free market economics.

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