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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

The Value of People

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     I heard Ayn Rand, the forumlator of Objectivism, talk about the concept of sacrifice soon after her husband died.  Someone mentioned that she had “sacrificed” for him during his illness.  “Not at all,” she replied.  “If you love somebody, then it is not a sacrifice to support and assist them.”

     Many people misunderstand Rand’s views on sacrifice.  She made it clear many times that she was against both altruism and the sacrfices that stem from it, but it is important that people understand how she used those terms.  Rand was, after all, a human being.  She had the capacity to love others, and felt the need to be loved.  When she eschewed altruism and praised selfishness, it was not in the context of loving family and friends, it was in the context of totalitarian governments taking people’s property and freedom and even their lives for “the good of the state.”

     A necessary component for Rand in her disdain for and rejection of sacrifice was the component of compulsion.  Rand thought of altruism as the requirement that one give to other people or to one’s country against one’s will.  She thought of sacrifice as giving up something of greater value for something of lesser value, especially because you are told that it is your duty.   On the other hand, Rand explained, when she took care of her husband, she traded something of lesser value (her own comfort and convenience) for something of greater value (the husband whom she loved).  To Rand, such a trade was not a sacrifice.

     Suppose for instance that you had a colleague at work who was in need, and you decided to give him your entire paycheck to help him out.  Then suppose you had nothing left to buy groceries for your own children or to pay the rent on your family’s apartment or to put gas in the car to continue going to work.  In that case you sacrificed something of lesser value (your loyalty to your colleague) for something of greater value (the welfare of your family for whom you are immediately responsible).  You did it out of altruism, as Rand defined it; that is, you did it because somebody had convinced you that to be a good person you had to help your colleague, even if it cost your own family food to eat and a home to live in and future financial security.

     People have told me that Christianity is incompatible with Objectivism, because Christianity extols love for other people and self-sacrifice.  I disagree.  For one thing, Chrisitianity encourages people to love and help others as a voluntary choice.  Nobody is forced to give up anything, unless they themselves see it as the right thing to do–and something that they sincerely want to do.

     Jesus taught that we should value other people.  We should value them at least as much as we value ourselves.  Once we place a high value on people, then it is not a sacrifice to give something up for them.  Once we see greater value in giving than in withholding, it is easy to give.  However, the New Testament strongly enjoins people to provide for their families; therefore, a Christian should never feel compelled to give to others to the detriment of his own children, spouse, parents, or other family members. 

     If my colleague at work has a financial need, and I have money in savings that I was going use on a fishing boat, then it is no sacrifice for me to give him some of that money.  It will not cause my children to go hungry or to get evicted from their home.  If I sincerely value my colleague as a fellow human being in need, then I am exchanging something of lesser value (getting my fishing boat soon) for something of greater value (my colleague for whom I feel compassion).  Rand would not have called it a sacrifice, as long as I were truly happy doing it and felt no compulsion to do it.

     Jesus gave us reasons to give to others.  He promised that if we give, God will give to us.  He also talked about the joy we experience when we give to others.  Even the knowledge that we are pleasing God is a benefit that we gain from giving to those in need.  You might even say that from a Christian perspective it is selfish to be generous, since we gain by giving.  (A higher virtue is to give without expectation of getting anything back, but the promise of a return is still there, and the joy of giving is still inevitable.)

     Jesus gained by giving.  When He died on the cross, it was because he loved us and wanted to redeem us.  The Bible says that Jesus endured the agony of the cross because of the joy that was set before Him in providing salvation for us.  He gave up a lesser value (his own ease and comfort) for what was to Him a greater value (restoring fallen humanity).  In the Randian sense, it was no sacrifice.  But as the Bible defines sacrifice, giving something we would usually want for something that we have grown to want even more, it was.


Written by ambrosianideas

January 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Christian Libertarian Blog Carnival

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I should already have pointed out that the September Christian Libertarian Blog Carnival has been posted at The Holy Cause.

Written by ambrosianideas

October 21, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Jesus and Taxes

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     People have used the story of Jesus and the tax question as a way to try to convince me to support government welfare.  For me, at least, they are barking up the wrong tree.

     If you want to explore the subject a bit more, Wikipedia has a pretty good artcle on the story that includes the context and the various interpretations of the story.

     The most important thing to understand about the story is that the question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” was not asked sincerely.  The men who asked it were not trying to find out Jesus’ opinion of taxation; they were trying to verbally trap him.  Jesus’ answer, therefore, should not necessarily be taken as a categorical answer on whether it is right for government to tax people or on whether it is right to comply.  Much less is it proof that Jesus expected the governmetn to take care of the needy.  Rather, his answer was a clever way to dodge the trap that was set for him.

     The trap was to work like this:  If Jesus said that the Jews should refuse to pay taxes, then his opponents could accuse him of rebellion and turn him over to the Roman authorities.  If he said that they should pay them, then the people, who resented Roman occupation and their taxes, would turn against Jesus.

     As he often did, Jesus turned the trap around on them, exposing them as hypocrites.  By asking them to show him a Roman coin, he was pointing out that they used Roman money, and if you use Roman money, then you are obligated to pay Roman taxes.  In addition, the image of Caesar on the coin was considered idolatry to the Jews; therefore, Jesus showed that the Jewish leaders were willing to compromise their beliefs for financial security.

     The Jewish leaders had a love-hate relationship with the Roman government.  They were unhappy that their country was under the rule of another.  However, they had worked out deals with the Romans in order to retain religious freedom for Jewish people and a semblance of power for themselves.  By retaining their positions of religious authority and limited civil authority, they were able to make a great deal of money as well as keep their power.  Jesus was exposing the embarrassing fact that they were financially in league with their Roman oppressors at the same time they supposedly opposed them on religious and political grounds.

     Jesus’ question has very little to do with whether or not citizens should pay taxes to their legitimate government leaders.  Rather, it has to do with what citizens should do when an outside power is ruling and oppressing them.  Jesus’ answer seems to be, “If you are going to cooperate with the occupying force by accepting their currency, then cooperate with them fully.  Don’t pretend to be against them on the one hand, but use the benefits that they provide on the other hand.”

     The next part of Jesus’ answer is the most stinging.  He says, “. . .and give to God what belongs to God.”  Since he is talking about the image stamped on the coin, he is talking about people themselves belonging to God, for the Hebrew Bible says that people were made in the image of God.  In other words, people should care at least as much about their duty to dedicate themselves and their lives to God as about their duty to the civil government.

     His command implies that the Jewish leaders were not already giving to God what belonged to God, and apparently this would have rung true with the common people and endeared Jesus to them even more than before.  This implied rebuke, on top of exposing their hypocritical ties to Rome, left the Jewish leaders bewildered and prompted them to slink away.

Written by ambrosianideas

October 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Christianity, Taxation

A Christian and a Libertarian

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     I have had a hard time reconciling my Christian faith with my libertarian political views, not because I think that they are necessarily in conflict, but because it is unusual for the two categories to overlap.  Most libertarians, apparently, are not Christians.  In fact many of them, if not most of them, do not believe in God.  Meanwhile, most Christians are not libertarians and actually oppose libertarianism, at least as they understand it (or misunderstand it).

     I might be unusual, but I am not unique.  Greg at The Holy Cause blog calls himself a Christian libertarian.  At his blog he has compiled a list of 45 Christian libertarian blogs.

     I cannot speak for other Christians or for other libertarians, but here are just some of the reasons that I find myself comfortable being both a Christian and a libertarian:

     1.  The Gospels put earthly power and the thirst for power in a negative light.  It was the government of Judea and the government of the Roman Empire that condemned Jesus to death.

     2.  Jesus avoided secular power for himself when others would eagerly have crowned him king.  He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  My point is that I can separate my Chrisitan faith from my rights and responsibilities as an American citizen.  Although the first one influences the second one, they are separate.

     3.  Jesus invited people to follow him voluntarily.  He commaned them to voluntarily love others and share with them.  He never once used the authority of the government to force people to do so.

     4.  In his second letter to the Corinthian Christians, the Apostle Paulsaid that people should support the church and the work of the church voluntarily, and that each person should give whatever amount he or she chooses.

    5.  The early Christians lived in a voluntary community in which they shared their possessions.  They did not force everyone else to join.  They did not petition the government to force everyone to join. 

     6.  Jesus repeated the Old Testament commandment not to steal.  In so doing he endorsed private property and the sanctity of it.  By extension, the government cannot take what does not belong to it.

     7.  Jesus did say that people must pay taxes.  However, he put a limit on what the govenrment can take.  “Give to Ceasar what belongs to Caesar.”  His real point was that if Caesar minted the coin and put his image on it, then give it back to Caesar if he asks for it.  Of course, it wasn’t really about taxes, anyway.  Jesus was avoiding a rhetorical trap and exposing the hyprocrisy of his opponents, who were pretending to be loyal Roman subjects but really weren’t.

     8.  Jesus went on to say, “And give to God what belongs to God.”  He was alluding to Genesis’s teaching that human beings are marked with the image of God.  Our persons and our lives belong to God.  They are not the property of the government. 

     9.  Combining #6, #7, and #8 gives us the principle that the government is stealing and breaking God’s law whenever they try to assert ownership of our lives, our persons, or our fairly and honestly acquired wealth.

Written by ambrosianideas

October 3, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Christianity, Libertarianism

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