Somewhere in the deep recesses of the interwebs, nestled in between keywords like “bitcoin,” “freedom,” “Ron Paul,” “Federal Reserve,” and “church,” you may stumble upon the ground floor of Christian Libertarianism. Your jaw may drop a meter as you are struck by sheer ignorance, hubris, and nincompoopery. In addition to “the big government conspiracies” that keep Ron Paul out of the spotlight (because “It would be a deathblow to American politics and their crony capitalism if he wins and he WILL win!” they say), you will find arguments that seem anti-social and quasi-intellectual on first sniff, until you scratch below the surface to find more anti-social and quasi-intellectual mess. If you’re lucky, you may not even have to search them out, they will troll you out for references to their Dear Leader Ron Paul. But in non-presidential election times, they’re far more likely to play with their Austrian Economics For Dummies booklets and compose fanfiction of secret trysts between Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand.
I had the pleasure of running into some the other day as they were doing their wont – invoking “Jesus” and “freedom” to justify their dismissal of poor and marginalized people. Despite the fact that Jesus’ message was, y’know, the opposite of that.
It’s not that libertarianism is completely irredeemable. While other Republicans seem to have a hard-spot for bombs, flying robotic death machines, and gunning down villages on the other side of the world in the name of liberation, most libertarians take a hard-line against the Military Industrial Complex. And though their theories about how the Federal Reserve is keeping poor people poor (but mostly, keeping-rich-people-not-as-rich as-they-could-be) are a bit, um, far-fetched and sinewy, their hearts seem to be in the right place (#kindasorta). Even the gold-burying, cantankerous Libertarian caricature Ron Swanson of Parks & Recreation is lovable (Don’t you just wanna cuddle him?).
I also believe that conservative Christianity is redeemable as well. Even some of the most Right of the Religious Right – like Jerry Falwell – can be very generous on a personable level. Many others are actively fighting for immigration reform and more open borders, debt release for the poorest countries, and against human trafficking (though the War on Adoption is another issue that needs to be dealt with).
However, put these two together and you’ve got a recipe for unmitigated disaster: Neo-Confederate Slavery Apologists using the names of a distant (and unrecognizable if one reads the Gospels without this interpretation) Jesus and the theology of an unembodied, netherworld heaven with elitist propaganda language. Words like “freedom” and “liberty” and “choices” and unchecked White Male Privilege with abject dismissal and refusal of the poor, women, people of color, and people with disabilities (see, if you so desire, Christians for Liberty. But don’t say I didn’t warn you).*
We mix this casual, gnostic Christianity with Ayn Rand, American-styled Libertarianism and the dreaded (but rarely talked about) Anarcho-Capitalism, and we get Paul Ryan, Ron Paul and Rand Paul. We also get repeated declarations from hundreds of thousands (though they may be much larger; based on Troll Intensity, one may think that they number in the billions) that taxation is theft and therefore unbiblical; that Jesus could provide free healthcare because he’s all-powerful and all-knowing, but we can’t; that the wealthy are our priests, our access to God and Freedom; that government is slavery (although they don’t seem to have much of a problem with actual slavery done in the American South judging by their defenses of it); that bosses don’t need to provide “extra special” healthcare coverage for pregnant women or young parents; that universal healthcare is a bullet to the head (when we need “heart surgery”); and that deify the so-called Free Market.
This is important for these more-or-less grassnets warriors help to force and shape policy, help to spread the fight against equality and justice, add to the right-wing hysteria that makes it close to impossible for the US to gain things other wealthy countries say are a must for democracy: not just universal healthcare but extended maternity and paternity leave, universal day care, wealth parity, mandated living wage jobs, and free and quality public education from pre-school through university.
To Christian Libertarianism, the Free Market stands for God. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit member of the Trinity – the free wind that blows where it wants, that – if left unhindered – would cure the world’s ills, give sight to the blind and water to the thirsty, would convict the poor of the sin of “laziness.” In any case, the economics of capitalism is the new idol and takes precedence over the Jesus of Matthew 25 (Parable of Sheep and Goats) or Luke 18 (The Rich Young Ruler) or Luke 16 (The Rich Man and Lazarus).
And that is the whole point. Everything else flows from reasoning that this Free Market is God and that, while Jesus represents God, he is otherworldly – so that what Jesus does and says has no bearing on this world. This is partially due to a misrepresentation of Jesus’ words to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
However, when Jesus says that his kingdom isn’t of this world, he doesn’t mean that there is a magical palace on the other side of the galactic rainbow – Jesus means that the Kingdom of God does not comport to the rules of the Kingdom of violence and power that is Rome’s, that Pilate operates under. The same kinds of violence that Christian Libertarians argue for by denying basic healthcare and provisional needs for the poor in the name of “Freedom.”
“Freedom” for Christian Libertarianism isn’t about liberation of the common person – it’s about buyer’s choice, about the freedom of the Waltons, the Hiltons, and the deVroses.
I ask, what good is freedom without access? What good is being able to choose between twenty-five varieties of ankle-length socks if you can’t afford them? What good is having boatloads of Free Market doctors and hospitals, or Invisible Hand eggs and cheese, if the working poor are denied access to the ability to pay for those services and items?
And that’s what good the God of Christian Libertarianism is. Someone needs to inform Rand Paul that his god isn’t related to Jesus. His god is the God of this World on steroids.
Note: Many Paul fans and Christian Libertarians are actually very thoughtful, generous, and unwilling to blame and even seek to help out the poor and marginalized people. I want to be able to criticize the overarching ideas rather than the people.
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