American Christianity is at a crossroads. The majority of young people support gay marriage. For most of us, it turns out True Love didn’t wait. It just said it did, then got caught without a condom at a critical moment. Women aren’t “helpmeets,” so much as they’re breadwinners. While conservative Christianity fought the culture wars, the rest of America kept living and letting live. It’s a down economy and self-righteousness doesn’t pay the bills.
But Jesus is still my homeboy. But like all of my relationships, ours a weird one.
Within the last 24 hours I read two very different takes on Christianity. In one, a Catholic-libertarian-anarcho-pacifist makes the case that Jesus was a pacifist, and his followers should be too. In the other, a Nigerian immigrant sex worker talks about how her profession and her faith work very much in concert.
By the time I went to college my family had been through roughly four Alabama Southern Baptist churches. At each one, we were there every time the doors were open. Every summer until I graduated high school saw me attend at least one church camp. I operated the table saw to build a sanctuary for the Ukrainian community in Philadelphia. I ripped out moldy drywall in Mississippi after Katrina. I learned how to roof after a 36-hour bus ride from Harvest, Alabama to Casper, Wyoming. My least favorite summer was when I was passed over for construction mission work (they clearly hadn’t seen my guns) and had to perform for and chitchat with children and the elderly instead (they clearly hadn’t seen my social and acting skills). And who could forget abstinence camp?
True, I brought BUST magazine with me on mission trips. And I was constantly evangelizing to my Grateful Dead tee shirt and miniskirted friends.
I was a libertarian hippie stoner poly freak before I knew what that was. And while I credit my churchgoing upbringing and overinvolved parents for helping me avoid most of the pitfalls I saw my aforementioned friends prance merrily into, I also blame them a little bit for the years I spent repressing and denying what I really wanted.
That’s why I ride so hard on the free-love, social liberalism bandwagon. Well, for two reasons. First, I think social liberalism/tolerance is going to be key to winning young political moderates over to economic freedom. And if y’all didn’t know, I love me some economic freedom. Second, I don’t want to see anyone else waste years of their lives trying to fit themselves into boxes that are as stifling and suffocating as they are imaginary and pointless.
I look back on my life from middle school until Sophomore year of college with a mixture of fondness and regret. Helping people through volunteering and mission work through my church made me incredibly happy. So did the conviction that I had a mission in life. I was on this planet to share the truth with people. I did not waver. I did not question. I knew I was important because my maker gave me an important mission. A mission with eternal significance.
But I also regret. I regret not having my early 20’s in my early 20’s. Instead I got married and bought a house and a great Ann Taylor and Banana Republic business casual wardrobe. As if those things would make me happy. But what I regret much more is the time I spent alienating people and making them like God less by telling them that they were sinning. I told people that their gay/premarital/non-missionary-position sex would separate them from God. That their drug use was “wrong.” I had arguments over pornography. Only God knows how many people were like, “Well either you’re full of shit or fuck that guy,” about Jesus on account of me.
I haven’t lost that evangelical fervor. I don’t just get into things. I get *into* things. I make blogs about them. I buy tee shirts. But now I tell everyone I meet about markets instead of our Creator. Because I get markets. I’m not ambivalent about markets. No one told me growing up that markets would send me to hell for not believing in them.
I don’t think it’s going to shock anyone to say that the liberty movement isn’t super Christian. While fusionism has injected the movement with plenty of Christian conservatarians, I think the hardline libertarians and the movement as a whole has more in common intellectually with the skeptical community than conservative Christianity.
Why is that? Today, I think it is because libertarians tend to be hungry for critical thinking. Libertarians may have, in the aggregate, an empathy deficit and a rationality glut.
The same could not be said of the churches I grew up in. One Wednesday night youth group at Sherwood Baptist our music minister decided to take on some of our theological questions. My friend Lauren, who is way smarter than me and the music minister put together, asked some questions for which he had no answers. Instead of pointing her to better resources, or admitting he didn’t know, he told her she needed to have faith. And then when she called bullshit, in the way of too-smart teenagers everywhere, he got visibly angry.
Now, not everyone in church was that kind of asshole. Most were not. But that attitude of being threatened by and discouraging questioning and critical thinking is I think one source of the great schism of libertarianism and Christianity. It certainly was for me. There are many Christians who are top-notch critical thinkers. My Biblical Perspectives professor is one of them. But the music ministers and Pat Robertsons of the world tend to drown them out.
I was scared to come out as a Christian when I first moved to D.C. The D.C. liberty movement is a godless place. And truth be told, I didn’t want anyone to assume about me what I assume about most Christians. And let’s not forget the fact that most Christians wouldn’t take me anyway. I’m an unrepentant “sinner,” exactly the kind of person churches are supposed to get in line or cast out, lest I infect the whole body of Christ with my wanton ways.
But maybe, just maybe, with Christianity at a crossroads and libertarianism ascending, there’s a way to meld the two. Maybe Christianity has something to teach libertarianism, and vice versus.
Peace is at first blush one of the most important core concepts in Christian scripture. One could reasonably argue that it ranks second only to love in the catalog of essential Christian virtues.
So says Lukus Collins at Liberty Minded in Start With Peace: Christianity and Anarchy.
Collins summarizes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as saying that “to truly be a disciple of Jesus, one must wholly reject violence and anger, and instead embrace peace and a radical humility.” Rejecting violence and exhibiting the humility to allow people to live as they wish is at the core of my libertarianism.
Much as many Christians would not like to see this, it actually takes a whole lot of pride to claim that you know the right way for everyone else to live. Libertarian Christians know that, to quote Hayek, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” That humility is what libertarianism is supposed to support. We are supposed to understand that spontaneous order works better than planning because it comes as close as possible (thus far) to solving the knowledge problem.
But what I’d challenge Christians to accept is that the knowledge problem doesn’t just exist in economics. Or, rather, economics extends to every aspect of our lives, not just money. Every interaction is an exchange. Whether it’s your body or your wallet, you have to make choices. And when those choices are planned instead of allowed to happen freely, in light of information on the ground, the results are not as good, and for the same reasons.
Speaking of choices of which some Christians might not approve, one of my favorite bloggers, Maggie McNeill, invited a Nigerian sex worker to post this week.
In the first part, she’s talking about fellow sex workers and clients, but she might as well be talking about libertarians:
Only some of my colleagues know that I’m a practicing Christian, and some of those who do ask how I can practice a faith that condemns my work as a mortal sin. I say that I don’t practice a faith, I practice life; they don’t understand because they don’t understand what faith is. Faith is irrational.
Many libertarians understand that faith is irrational, and use that as a basis upon which to dismiss it. But humans are sometimes irrational. And dismissing who they are and what they do and what they believe on the basis of it not being “rational” is a sure way to alienate people and blunt the growth of the movement. But beyond just connecting with people of faith, libertarianism as a movement could learn a lot — how to grow, how to be effective, how to be good people — from the Christian community. Christians don’t just push laws or write books or make charts about how to help people. They get their hands dirty. Literally. It wasn’t with the libertarian club that I helped out after Katrina or handed out food, or fasted for the third world, or sorted donations.
She goes on:
So I choose to go to church to get together with other faithful people to pray and sing in a service that honors God, but I rarely care for what pastors have to say; instead, I use the service for reflection. Being baptized and raised as a Catholic doesn’t mean I signed an agreement with that church to be docile and obedient; I’m not about to be held hostage. Faith doesn’t keep me from using my brains so that I remain stupid and blind to all possibilities, and my brain sees no conflict between sex work and the Lord’s message to love all other people. In fact, sex work lets me use my God-given talents for other people’s benefit better than any job I’ve had.
Just as I’d like to see secular libertarians employ their hearts when considering and talking about faith, I love that Onioja is using her brain to do the same.
Unlike in my youth, I am no longer convinced faith is right or possible for everyone. But I am convinced that empathy and critical thinking are.
So this isn’t a post where I leave you with an answer. I mean, markets, of course. It’s always markets. This post is more on an explanation of what Collins and Onioja’s words meant to me. And it’s kind of a dumping ground for some of the thoughts and feelings I’d had brewing on the church and on the liberty movement for a long time.
Because, despite everything I’d purposefully left behind: the social conservatism, the moralizing (hopefully) the legalism and the incredibly arrogant belief that I know how you should live — I still believe Jesus died for my sins. I am inclined to believe that I believe due to things beyond my control. Predestination perhaps.
Or maybe it’s the fact that God answers my mother’s prayers. We used to pass by a strip club named Jimmy’s twice a week on our way to Athens State while she finished her degree. And every time we passed by, she prayed. Motherfucker burned down three times.