June 10, 2013

RE: “Against Those Claiming God is Anti-Libertarian”

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel, Philosophy, Politics, Theology

Regarding my short post “against those claiming God is Anti-Libertarian” in which I made the point that God owns the world and its inhabitants and therefore is not acting outside the libertarian framework (especially in the OT), a thoughtful, albeit misguided, commenter had the following to say:

When looking at the OT for evidence of a libertarian framework, I look at the places where God says, “choose this day whom you will serve.” There are plenty of places there that society and Israelites individually have the choice to remain faithful to the covenant with God. Or choose a human king. Or _______. God gives Israel the choice, then in many areas (prophets specifically) begs it to return to its covenant with God.

At the same time, I dislike the argument “God owns everything and can do with it what God wants to.” To me it’s a cop-out answer and ignores the debate over the nature of God’s relationship to creation. But even under that framework, it doesn’t address the underlying concern about God’s behavior: namely, God’s character. Of course God can do what God wants! But being free to do what God wants does not mean God will do it. Or, perhaps (*open can of worms*) God cannot do things against God’s own nature, and therefore God—by nature—cannot do certain things.

I’m not saying God cannot influence or “make” people do things, but I believe God does so by still permitting and letting remain the ability for human beings to choose their behavior (not some “fake choice” that is in the end a fatalistic pre-determined choice).

The reason I say this is misguided is twofold.  First, I was addressing the claim that God himself acts contrary to libertarianism by taking the lives of certain people, allowing Israel to conquer foreign lands, and also by destroying entire cities (and hence property).  That God is the ultimate owner of all things is not a “cop-out answer” so much as it is the only logically legitimate answer.  For if the libertarian claim is that only the property owner has the right to do with his property what he wills, then for God to take part in the above stated activities would mean that our choice is obvious: either God does not own the world and thus breaks the libertarian model (proving the atheists and agnostics and secularists correct) or he does own the world and is therefore just in his actions (which is my claim).

He states that “under that framework, it doesn’t address the underlying concern about God’s nature: namely, God’s character.”  But God’s character is not the underlying concern of the specific argument which I seek to topple.  Many times, the atheist will ask: “if God is good, why does he let bad things happen?”  But that is a different conversation that the topic at hand, which is: “if God advocates (property-rights) libertarianism, how can He himself destroy property and persons?”  Therefore, his character itself is not the best way to answer the question.  The question must (and can only) be answered by appealing to the fact that God “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”

Now, besides the specificity of my goal in the original post, our commenter offers another defense for the advancement of libertarianism from the Bible.  Namely, that God constantly offers choice to his people (“choose this day whom you will serve”).  Now of course God does indeed tell his people, and all people, to choose between Himself and the idols of their own heart (a choice that, without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, will always be made against God).  But the problem with this argument in defense of libertarianism as a political theory, is that it A) can work to defend, say, a democratic system (the people using political means to make their choices en masse) or even a monarchy like the Israelites desired in 1 Samuel or B) can offer too much in the sense that it could indicate that God has no “natural law” or preferred societal order by which to make men respect the private property of other individuals.  Libertarianism as an ethical political philosophy is all about the private property of individuals.  If one relies on the argument that one can “choose whom to serve” or how to act as the foundation for libertarianism, perhaps there should be no private property at all because I will choose not to respect these God-given institutions.  Choice always has boundaries.  To say it has no boundaries, in the political sense, is to reject property-rights libertarianism and to (perhaps) endorse its socialist anarchist counterparts.

And finally, “choose this day whom you serve” and verses like this have to do with the relationship between God and his people.  To use these as a positive theory for societal structure is not only outside the context of the passages in which they lie, but it is also to misunderstand ans misrepresent the role of choice in God’s relationship with his people.  Our commenter makes some good points, but unfortunately, I think they are a bit out of context in this specific post.  The character of God and his relationship with individuals, while a vital topic, is not the best means by which to counter the secularist claims that God has acted throughout the OT in a way that is contrary to libertarianism.  Rather, like in my original post, we must go to the root of the problem.

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