James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Evangelical Trap

I've been thinking about Vache Folle's remarks from last week:

I have begun to think of myself as a kind of political Anabaptist, and I think that the central tenets of Anabaptism could be applied to libertarians trying to live out their libertarianism in an unfree world.

Simplicity- If we live simply, we are less dependent on the state and state-corporate interests. We are more mobile. We will tend to trade more locally with people we know and meet face to face. We will tend to engage in more countereconomic activity. We will be less likely to be implicated in fraud and coercion or to be tied up with the state.

Separation from the world- We must live "in" the statist world but we need not be "of" it. We can create and work within institutions and networks that compete with or are indifferent to the state. We must grant the state no legitimacy at all, recognizing that it is prudent to render unto Caesar what Caesar will take from us by force in any event. It is up to us to problematize the conventional wisdom and ideas that sustain the state.

Peacefulness- We must renounce force and fraud, except in defense. In that spirit, we will not willingly serve the state or take our neighbors before the courts. We will not support unjust war. We should strive to instill shame in anyone who delights in or promotes unjustified violence or fraud.

Adult baptism- The sense of this in the religious context is that each believer must choose for himself as an individual to follow Christ. Neither your family nor your community can make this choice for you. This is analogous to the libertarian position of individual sovereignty. We must recognize the right of our neighbors to make free choices and tolerate those choices whether we like them or not. This does not mean that we cannot be discriminating, but we must never let our distaste for individual choices to tempt us to use or advocate force against the choosers.


Let me talk about "Separation from the world." It is often - should I say relentlessly - expressed as not getting too caught up in the world so as to avoid temptation. "Be in the world, not of the world."

What makes this impossible is that we are of the flesh; it is in our nature to want stuff - crave stuff. There isn't a fine line between enjoying things and the sin of greed. There isn't a fine line between love and lust. Or between leadership and pride. It's all a slope, a slippery one. We are told that Jesus knows when we are sinning "in our hearts," and that so do we. The best thing to do is avoid temptation. And conscientious pastors fret that their congregants are too rich, too complacent, too self-satisfied, because it is obvious that most Americans including evangelical Christians are quite caught up "in the world."

But what these congregants are not told - not by the church, and certainly not by the schools or the major media - is that the world itself is corrupt, not just human hearts. They are not told that American democracy is corrupt. That political leaders, even in a republic, can not be trusted, and that the most worldly of all institutions, the State, can not and will not bring about justice and morality.

American evangelicals are told to be pure in heart, but they aren't asked to at least be skeptical of the State and its claims. Conservative denominations support the President's "War on Terror" when one would have thought they would support increased missionary evangelization instead. An American Christian will say that a person who becomes wealthy through bribes and exploitation in a backwater country "must not be a Christian." But this same American Christian will vote - often with the encouragement of his pastor - for more state-sanctioned violence, coercion, and theft here in the USA. It's okay because "we are a democracy."

The "world" in which evangelical hearts must remain "pure" is the world of Harvard, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and Vegas. But Washington DC gets a special exemption, especially when the sitting dictator is himself a born-again Christian.

It seems that libertarians of whatever faith (or no faith) "get it" better than Christians. It is the world that encourages violence and coercion, which is why we should "separate" ourselves from it. No matter what I do or what I buy, I'm just a few degrees of separation from having blood on my hands. The world isn't a test or trial for sinners, it is where we live, and if we want to make it more free and peaceful for ourselves and our children, we have to live free and peaceful lives.

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