You probably know couples who hang out together but have little to nothing in common with one another. Neil Simon’s classic play The Odd Couple highlighted the peculiarities that arise with such a pairing. The play and television show that followed were funny. However, there is a peculiar pairing predominant within the American Christian church that is not so funny. The pairing of libertarianism with Christianity is troublesome on many levels.
Libertarianism is the socio-economic philosophy that espouses individual freedom from government influence. At first glance, it may appear harmless and even morally sound. First glances, however, can be deceiving. The core of libertarianism rests on the notion that individuals should not be compelled to help others. Fredrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan are among the significant economic thinkers associated with these views. However, the popularized archetype of this notion is embedded in the published works of Ayn Rand, such as Atlas Shrugged. Rand argued that individuals should shrug off their concerns for others. Such concern, according to Rand, leads to an enslavement of both the giver and the receiver. The giver’s self-interest is limited by the receiver’s poverty and the receiver’s receipt of goods from the giver fosters a paralyzing dependency on charity. In other words, libertarianism touts that individuals should look out for themselves. For further understanding of this movement and how it became popularized in recent times, I suggest that you read Jane Meyer’s book Dark Money and Nancy McLean’s book Democracy in Chains. Both of these books are eye opening and essential reads for our times.
Jesus taught, and embodied, something very contrary to libertarianism: charity, compassion, and self-sacrifice. The Gospels are peppered with stories of Jesus’ concerns for the poor and oppressed. Anyone heard of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-27)? How about the bleeding woman (Luke 8)? The parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14)? Jesus even connected care for the “least of these” to care for Him (Matthew 25). Jesus never said how we should care for others – only that we should. In a democracy where the public decides upon policy for itself – Jesus’ command to care for the poor should be a Christian’s guiding force in policy-making.
This peculiar relationship between libertarianism and Christianity produces peculiar results. On one hand, the individuals who may adhere to this relationship may be the very people you would trust to babysit your children. They are kind and loving on a personal level. On the other hand, these same individuals may vote in support of policies that opposes health care for those in need of it, that strips assurances for clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, and that refuses to support public education. When a person cries out an ideological hatred for government they are actually crying out against health services for the poor, elderly, and disabled. They are crying out against environmental safeguards, food safety measures, and labor protections that help us avoid disease and protect the majority of us from the self-interest of the select-few. They are crying out against teachers who help us all out.
Interestingly, but perhaps not devoid of coincidence, many renowned libertarian thinkers were devout atheists. The irony behind the peculiar relationship between libertarianism and Christianity is pervasive in its nature and its results. However, the very nature of an odd coupling is that it produces odd results. Unfortunately, the odd coupling between libertarianism and Christianity is just another example of people choosing to fit Jesus into their worldview rather than following Jesus.