May 7, 2014

Longing For the Eradication of Evil and Yet Turning the Other Cheek

By In Articles, Politics

In our day and age where the State has buried its flagpole deep into the ground, claiming that it should be worshiped at all times, it is sometimes difficult to recognize its actions as being exactly the same as the actions of a common thief or a serial killer.  Indeed, if there is any in society that could be considered “serial” in its criminal activity, surely it is the State and those that work on its behalf.  The great temptation today is for us to separate the actions of the State from those in the “private” sector.  But we must realize that the commandments that no individual should murder, bear false witness, or steal apply to every person, not only those who are not on the public payroll. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is nowhere said to apply only to those not in government.  Is not every person under the same ethical standards of God?

Once we break free from this mindset of political democracy, this idea that wrongful actions become legitimate if backed by majority vote, we are free to recognize that to oppose the State is to more consistently oppose evil in the world.  Far too many of us claim that we oppose the existence of evil and unethical activity, and yet we turn a blind eye to the State and all that it has done to expand its power and exercise its dominion over its subjects.  But a realization of the nature of the State is liberating.  No longer do we have to justify a set of actions done by a gang simply because they call themselves the government.

But viewing the State and earthly authorities in this way can seem concerning for the Christian.  For does not Paul ask us to “let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” and does not Peter call us to “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake?” And what about Paul’s call for Titus to “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities?”  The problem, it may seem for those who have never deeply considered these things is that they have assumed, no doubt because of the influence of Statist propaganda in the United States, is that they have immediately assumed that to be submissive and to subject themselves to the authority to leaders in society means to approve of all their actions.  This is the tendency toward which our minds move.  We say things like, I disagree with this insane tax rate or perhaps, I disagree with the President on his war policy.  And then the answer is, well, Romans 13 says to submit.  

But to go even deeper, if we hold that the very existence of the State relies on the State acting in ways that would otherwise be considered grotesque crimes, we can only conclude that to pursue a more ethical scenario would be to advocate for the elimination of the State.  And yet it is true that Paul writes in Romans 13 that God has appointed these authorities (he has appointed everything that exists –both good and evil).  And so therefore it would seem that we should not dare advocate the elimination (or even the limitation!) of the State.  Must we conclude that “activism” (lacking a better word) is therefore wrong if it is activism against the actions of the State?

Of course not.  Not only have we rightly concluded that the actions of the State are no different than the same actions done outside of the State, but we can, based on this principle, conclude that the existence of the evils of Statism are no different than the evils that lie outside of the State.  And does not Paul in Romans 12 call us to “abhor what is evil?”  So then to abhor theft is to abhor it when done by the State and when done by the individual.  Indeed, when it comes to the sins of this world, we ought to show no distinction regarding which sector in which sinful actions are done.  “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2).  “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph 5:11).  When evil is found, we ought to oppose it and be vocal against it.  Whether murder, rape, or mass extortion.

Therefore, we have learned that to submit to authorities in no way means that we approve their deeds.  And further we should not be silent when there is a systematic criminality within society.  We should long for the eradication of all evil!  And evil surely exists in the private and the public sectors of society!  When the State takes up another round of worldwide domination and murder in the name of national security, it is good to make it known that the State is not just in this action.  And also when the State initiates its coercive thievery in the name of “increasing revenue,” it is good to vocalize the fact that this action is akin to –no, it is! –robbery.  And when we get physically slapped in the face without deserving it, should we conclude that this slap was just?  No.

And yet, Christ has told us to turn the other cheek.  The State steals from us via income tax, sales tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax, property tax, corporate tax, payroll taxes, expatriation taxes, and licence fees, and yet, let us turn the other cheek.  The evil is the same.  And so is our response.

Can we long for the eradication of evil?  Yes.  Let us pray for it.

Can we still humbly turn the other cheek?  Yes.  Let us pray for strength.

So therefore, it is possible, and even commanded, that we make it known that State action is wrong and at the same time subject ourselves to earthly authority.  When Christians use Romans 13 to counter our belief that the State should be eradicated, we must demonstrate this balance to them.  Because, while we do oppose the wrongful nature of the State, we will humbly submit to its authority.  Even Jesus, who has true authority over the State, called out evil consistently and wherever he saw it, and yet submitted to the horrors of State torture and crucifixion.  He called out the religious leaders for their wrongdoings throughout his ministry and yet subjected himself to them when they came with soldiers to arrest him.  Must we not be like Christ?  This is quite honestly the Ron Paul libertarian method of spreading the message, not via force and violent revolution, but rather, through education and the peaceful exchange of ideas.

The State is not great.  But our sovereign God who tells us to pay taxes and turn the other cheek is indeed the very definition of great. All praise and glory to His wondrous name.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • Thanks for another article; however, I have a minor issue with the de facto opposition to violent revolution that seems to characterize TRL.

    I know that violent revolution can go very, very wrong, and it should not be the first resort when opposing the state. However, this method does have its place, as it did with the American Revolution, when our founders revolted against the British empire and started a new republic (which was only later corrupted with the increase of government wrought out by the Constitution).

    Even the French Revolution, with all its brutal ups and downs, had its improvements over the ancien regime before it, paving the way for the industrial Revolution, and some of the negative tone toward this revolution that characterizes conservatives (and even some libertarians) is unjustified (though it is justified to criticize certain French revolutionaries).

    While ultimately we must seek for the change of hearts and minds through the Gospel and the message of liberty, a time may come where we may have to practice violent revolution in defense against an increasing State.

    Maybe I may wrong, but as of now this is how I see it.

    BTW, America WAS birthed in revolution, albeit not so much the revolution as we understand it, but as a revolution of both violence and a change of mind, as Murray Rothbard noted in his 1977 keynote address to the Libertarian Party (mises.org/daily/2469). Also, as Rothbard notes in CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY, the revolution was a break from the past Old Order and while there was some form of preservation involved, it was ultimately a new and revolutionary event that accelerated libertarianism.

    • cjayengel

      I will be addressing this topic, and a related topic that another reader brought to my attention regarding this post, in today’s post. Thanks Anand

  • David

    Good article.

    Just out of curiosity, do you believe that “tax evasion” is wrong in every situation? I’ve seen Christian libertarians differ on that question and I’m curious where you stand.

    I don’t necessarily believe that its always wrong, but I also acknowledge the possibility that I may minimize Romans 13 too much in my interpretation, and that that may be a subconscious reaction toward those who read way too much into it. I don’t really have a completely consistent viewpoint on these issues yet, beyond the clear unchangeable point that statism is evil.

    • cjayengel

      I don’t think tax evasion is wrong. But I do think that it is generally unhealthy. We ought to live at peace with systematic thieves and not declare war on them. Have you ever seen a movie where a guy goes down a dark alley and a criminal comes out with a knife? And the victim puts up his hands and tries to keep walking, saying: “I don’t want any trouble, just take my wallet.”

      That is sort of my view. Of course the knife wielder is evil. I just have my family to think about.

      • David

        OK, I agree with you. Although I do think there could be a point at which systematic thieves should indeed be declared war on. I think that’s rare in the case of the State because its so powerful, but it could theoretically happen.

  • David

    To expound on my point a little so you can see where I’m coming from, I know of no passage where paying taxes is actually commanded.

    In Matthew 22 God says to render unto Caesar what is Caesars. But God does not actually say what rightly belongs to Caesar. Most Christians simply assume that since the coinage has Caesar’s face on it that it belongs to him. This interpretation completely eliminates private property rights and flies in the face of Naboth’s Vineyard, 1 Samuel 8, Deuteronomy 17, Revelation 13 (John clearly implies the Beast’s control of commerce to be immoral) and probably other passages.

    Taxation, by definition, is when the government takes what is yours. Thus, logically, taxation cannot be Caesar’s.

    Few Christians would outright make the leap that all money actually belongs to Caesar. They may just interpret that passage to mean “pay your taxes” but when you really push them on it, they don’t really believe the State owns everything. Maybe some do. Most don’t.

    So, if tax money does not rightly belong to Caesar, there is no moral obligation to pay. Also, consider that the question Jesus was asked was about the permissibility of tax payment, not the requirement. The idea that one was actually obligated to pay the oppressors was not even on the table. I find it unlikely that what was essentially a trick answer to a trick question actually went even further than the question was being originally asked.

    The other passage that is often used is Romans 13:6. But, that passage is directly connected to the use of the sword. In Rome, the State demanded you pay them on the spot, if you didn’t, you would go to jail. Paul is stating the obvious, that it would be foolish to go to jail in that situation (Maybe it isn’t obvious, I’ve seen some libertarians argue that the “principled stand” in that instance would be to go to jail, perhaps it is this type of extremism that Paul was addressing in his cultural context.) If we assume that self-defense is acceptable (I believe it is, but I don’t want to debate that now) we must nonetheless refrain from foolishly using retaliatory violence against government agents who try to steal from us, not even because this would be per say wrong in every instance (I don’t think the American Revolution was immoral, though this is another point on which I am not absolutely certain) but because all its going to do is make Christianity look subversive, and it would unnecessarily distract from the gospel in a way that defending oneself against a non-statist thief would not. I see a huge difference between a situation where you are directly being held up at gunpoint and threatened with imprisonment or death if you don’t comply, and working an off the books job (for instance.)

    I certainly believe all lies are wrong. I believe using violence in a fruitless manner in order to protect financial assets when that will only lead to you getting killed is wrong, and could indicate a worship of money, freedom, or both. But, I don’t think working off the books or not filling out tax forms is necessarily wrong. It could be, depending on motivation, but I don’t think it has to be. And I’m not really convinced by the couple of verses people who disagree with me use to prove that it is. I probably wouldn’t do it, not worth the risk. If someone else wants to, I’m OK with that, and I certainly won’t condemn them, or worse, pretend like they are a “thief” for trying to honestly but illegally keep what rightly belongs to them in a relatively low risk manner that is unlikely to do damage to the gospel or lead to imprisonment.

    All this said, these are my thoughts on this issue as of right now. I’m not really settled on it, and would appreciate any thoughts you might have on this topic.

    • cjayengel

      I agree with you that “render unto Caesar” is not the proper verse to use in defense to tax-paying. In fact, I discuss this more here: http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/philosophy/the-christian-and-his-relation-to-the-state/

      Maybe reading that will help get you through this tough issue. After that we can see if we can fill in any gaps.

      • David

        It seems to me that in the link you just posted you are saying that while Jesus and Paul recommend complying with tax edicts in general in order to avoid the State using its sword against you, that there is no morally binding command to pay taxes like there is to refrain from adultery, murder, and theft. That is the position I tend to take as well, though I could be wrong.

        However, in this post, you seem to be saying that God actually does command paying taxes (see your last paragraph) which contradicts what you say in the other article.

        I guess the first question that needs to be asked here is what “Turning the other cheek” really means, and more generally, how the sermon on the mount should be interpreted in general. I tend to interpret the sermon on the mount as general principles rather than absolute moral laws. Are you literally required to give every person who asks you for your cloak your cloak and your tunic? Are you sinning if you don’t? Or is this simply a general command to be over-abunding in generosity? I tend to interpret it to mean that we’re supposed to be extremely generous, not a specific command that you must give your clothes to everyone who asks in any situation. I also view “turning the other cheek” as more relating to insults than physical property or worse.. one’s life (i’ve always found it annoying when people, doubly so when the person in question is hypocritically a statist at the same time, use that verse to insist that self-defense is immoral.)

        Is it morally wrong for a Christian to defend his property in general? Is it wrong to hide money in your shoe when an armed robber breaks into your home? Is it wrong to shoot him? Do the same set of principles apply to the State? Or is the State, as evil as it is, in some form of authoritative position where yes they are evil, but you have to defer to them anyway?

        I have some thoughts here, but I’ll let you answer first.

        • cjayengel

          I think that paying taxes and turning the other cheek are more like general principles. I don’t think one needs to just stand there and get beat up anymore than one needs to seek out locations in the tax code so that he can pay more.

          I don’t interpret them as moral law.

          I am not a pacifist and think that a person does have the right to physically defend person and property and should use his own judgement in regards to when to refrain from exercising that right. This applies to both criminals and states. However, there is a practical difference here due to the State’s size and power.

  • David

    I’m not sure what’s wrong with this, but I commented twice on this article, and my computer was saying before that there were 3 comments, yet I can’t see any comments including my own.

    What happened?