Christianity Versus Liberty

Many Christians proclaim that their religion is responsible for the rise of liberty in the West. They make this claim despite the fact that Christians ruled over centuries of stifling (and sometimes murderous) oppression, despite the fact that liberty did not gain traction until the Enlightenment, an era that seriously challenged religious dogma. Today, some Christians fight to control the economy, while others fight to control our personal lives. Increasingly, these two camps are finding common cause.

In a December 30 column for the conservative, Ken Connor, “a nationally recognized trial lawyer who represented Governor Jeb Bush in the Terri Schiavo case,” argues that the Christian right and the Christian left should come together. He argues that the Christian right should be more sensitive to the egalitarian left’s plans to forcibly transfer wealth:

Perhaps liberal evangelicals will help remind the body of Christ that our greatest obligation is not to be financially successful or politically triumphant, but to love our Lord and our neighbor, even in public life. Perhaps they will also encourage us to develop new political solutions to the timeless problem of material poverty. As conservatives, our policy proposals probably won’t include lots of major Federal programs because our experience shows that solutions rooted in the expansion of governmental bureaucracy often do more harm than good. However, we must not fall prey to the rhetoric of secular conservatives who put worldly financial concerns above all else. As Christians, we have a duty to address the needs of the poor, and it would be wrong for us to fall prey to a radically individualistic mentality. “Dog eat dog” is not a biblical phrase and “the survival of the fittest” is not a Christian concept. Our priority is the common good, with a special concern for those who have the least.

Note here that Connor finds no principled reason for the national government to refrain from forcibly transferring wealth; he thinks the activity is just fine, so long as it can be shown to do more good than harm (by what standard he does not mention). Apparently, Conner has even fewer reservations about using state and local force to transfer wealth.

Connor explicitly denounces individualism in favor of “the common good,” and he associates a system of liberty, in which people interact voluntarily rather than by force and in which the rights of each individual are consistently protected, with a “dog eat dog… survival of the fittest.” In other words, in his political goals and his evaluation of liberty, Connor’s views are indistinguishable from those of socialists.

Connor also hopes to bring the Christian left on board with the Christian right’s social agenda:

At the same time, perhaps there are ways in which we can help progressives look at things differently. … Al Sharpton… criticized the black church for being too worried about what he called “bedroom issues”: marriage and abortion. He thinks they should mobilize on social justice issues rather than be distracted by abortion. On something like this, we have an obligation to vigorously defend the unborn. Perhaps we can help progressive Christians like Al Sharpton understand that abortion is the greatest social justice issue of our time.

In other words, Connor wants to convince the left that it’s a great idea to subject women and/or the doctors who serve them to criminal penalties for aborting a fertilized egg, based on the Christian doctrine that God infuses a fertilized egg with a soul. And this is just one example for Connor; no doubt he could think of many additional reasons to send out men with guns to arrest and imprison people.

I do not expect a quick convergence of Christian left and right. Instead, what is likely to happen is that the Christian right will become less and less interested in defending any vestige of economic liberty, while the Christian left will show less resistance to social controls. Both sides will “compromise” by allowing the other side its favored controls.