Two thoughts on Jesus as a Libertarian
Here are two quick thoughts I’ve had about libertarianism. I’ll explain a bit before giving some ideas about Jesus.
The political philosophy of libertarianism is often misunderstood by my fellow Evangelicals as freedom to do anything — this is less a misunderstanding of fact and more one of emphasis. The ideology of libertarianism isn’t that there are no morals, or no values, or no public good, just that governments are an ineffective way to decide and enforce them.
It is the ideology of Small Government, but consistently applied across the board. Gun restriction? No, because small government. Abortion restrictions? No, because small government. Fiscal and Monetary intervention into the economy? No, because small government. Being the world’s police force? No, because small government.
The Libertarian Party, unlike the Republican and Democratic Parties, is the product of intellectual consistency and first principles. The two main parties are more historically and incidentally conditioned than ordered by principles. Sometimes you can find themes that run throughout them, but these also are the product of Reaction and Progression not being themselves first principles — they are loose moral metanarratives.
So. On to Jesus.
- Jesus is like a libertarian because his teachings transitioned 1st century Judaism from collective salvation (think New Perspectives on Paul) to individual salvation.
Some theologians would strongly disagree with NPOP, but here is the idea: for too long, scholars have treated 1st century Judaism like it was Works-Righteousness. This is partially true, but not the whole truth. They did not ever think that works alone could save. Rather, salvation was defined as union with the community, which collectively would be saved. Sin is something that breaks your bond with the community, casts you outside the metaphorical and literal city gates, and thus isolates you from the temple and the priestly system, (and then by extension, God himself).
1st century Judaism was therefore a collective religion, with salvation rooted in community. Humans cannot save themselves, but not for any Christological or anthropological reasons, only because there isn’t any such thing as non-community salvation.
Maybe this credit belongs with Paul, or maybe it belongs in myriad historical factors, but tentatively I credit Jesus for upending this community notion of salvation by himself being cast out of the community (crucifixion) and yet sealed with the Holy Spirit (resurrection, see Romans 8:11). The theological exposition can go on, but individual salvation had been forgotten, if not explicitly, then in attitude before Jesus.
- Jesus is like a libertarian because his teachings ignored/bypassed the creation of a political power for enforcement of the teachings. He was depolitical. He doesn’t advocate government solutions to problems.
Then again, essentially no one advocated for government intervention at the time. The State didn’t exist, especially not in the same form as currently. Defined territory? Nope. Total sovereignty? Nope. Monopoly on the right to the legitimate use of force? Nope. (Although I’ve read somewhere that the religious elite did not have the right to exercise capital punishment at the time of Jesus.) These are what separate the State from tribal warlords.
While on trial before Pilate, Jesus makes the point that his kingdom is not of this world (which he connects to his disciples having not revolted). The current attitude in politics would have led most to say “My kingdom is x” and someone else would reply “My kingdom is not x, it is y!” But Jesus’s refusal to establish an earthly kingdom is to say “My kingdom is not,” insofar as it applies to those who live on Earth. He circumvents the tendency of conservatives and liberals to politicize everything.
These are some quick, general thoughts. I don’t know that Jesus would support the Libertarian Party itself (and more so, there are internal debates within the Party over immigration, abortion, the degree to which the U.S. should intervene internationally — it itself is not homogeneous) but some of the underlying principles may be held in common.
If I think of more similarities I will write a follow-up post.