Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

Category: Redeeming Liberty (page 2 of 3)

Fighting Against Evil

against-evil

One of the themes which run through the pages of the Bible is the theme of injustice. For example take this passage from the book of James:

1 Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags.3 Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment.4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (James 5:1-4; NLT)

James condemned rich people who lived in luxury because of the mistreatment of their workers. He pointed out that this is a situation where justice will be done by God. What makes God angry about this situation is not that there rich and poor people, but that the rich take unfair advantage of the poor so they can live in even greater luxury.

Christians can look at these situations, and in our desire to bring justice, turn to the Government to use its power to make things right. We seem to have a belief that if we pass the right law, create the right federal agency, or have the right Supreme Court ruling then we can prevent injustice from happening.

An example of this is the movement to increase the minimum wage in the United States. Yes, it is true that the current minimum wage is not a livable wage, but then it was never designed to be. The reality is that the minimum wage brings with it unintended consequences that make the problem worse. As Andrew Syrios points out:

Ending poverty and giving people additional income are praiseworthy goals, but there are no free lunches in this world. And trying to force prosperity through a minimum wage simply creates a whole host of negative and unintended consequences especially for those who are the most vulnerable. (Yes, Minimum Wages Still Increases Unemployment)

The actions done with the best of intentions can make things worse. This is why we need to listen carefully to this advice offered by C.S. Lewis, “I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.” (The Weight of Glory, p. 79)

The context that Lewis is talking about is pacifism. His point is that while war is evil, it is sometimes necessary, and therefore it is illogical to be against all war. It is better to argue against the necessity of individual wars.

This thought has boarder applications.

As James pointed out, it is evil for employers to take advantage of their workers, but that doesn’t justify mandating a minimum wage on employers. A minimum wage will increase unemployment and will price low skilled people out of the job market, thus increasing the evil. A better practice is to encourage employers to pay what is fair for the production they are getting from the people who doing the work.

As Christians who are concerned about areas of injustice we need to remember that State force is not the only option to righting wrongs. In fact, State mandates often make things worse.

The best thing that we can do is tackle the evil that is in front of us the best that we can. That might look like providing charity, providing people a greater range of opportunities, and making more disciples. Individual Christians fighting against the evil in the world will bring about more good than the State could ever hope to accomplish.

This is not to say the Government play no part in bringing about justice, that is part of what Paul was talking about in Romans 13. Rather it is to say that individually we have a part to play in bringing justice into this world. As a person created in God’s image we have the responsibility to bring His wise and loving rule into this world to the best of our ability. Too often Christians look to the Government to fix the problem, rather than actively fighting against evil themselves.

I believe that as we put our creative energy and resources to work against these pockets of evil, we will discover a meaning for life that we never knew we had. It is also one way that we can demonstrate God’s character in this world.

The Foundation of my Political Philosophy

political-foundations

It is impossible to escape the reality of politics is these United States. Politics is one of the many pastimes that Americans enjoy. Because politics are such an important part of our culture it seems like everyone has an opinion about how things should be done.

The frustrating part in this reality is that the majority of people have never thought about the reasons why they believe what they believe. It is simply enough for them to know that they are not for this candidate, so that must make them a liberal or that they like this idea, so that must make them a conservative.

I have spent much of my adult life thinking about politics, what I believe, and whether or not it aligns with my faith in Jesus Christ. I went from being an ultraconservative to a libertarian. I have found libertarianism to be more intellectually satisfying and more consistent with Christian teaching than the conservatism that I grew up with. Today I want to share with you the foundational beliefs that make up my political philosophy.

1. The nonaggression principle. This the core tenant of libertarianism: don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff. While that is an oversimplification of principle, it does capture the main point of it. It is essential, and completely aligns with the teachings of Jesus, that we don’t seek to cause harm to other people. This means we respect their boundaries, that we tolerate their lifestyle, and that the only proper use of force is in the protection of life and property. This principle applies not only to individuals but to the government as well. What is off limits to people should also be off limits organizations.

2. Freedom is found in Jesus and not a form of government. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 1 Peter 2:16; Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (ESV) This verse is found in the middle of a section where Peter urged his readers to submit to the government, including the emperor. These people weren’t free because of the government, but because of the choices they were able to make as they followed Jesus. He set them free from sin and death, and continued to lead them into greater and greater freedom.

Look around us and we will see that many people in the United States are not free. They are enslaved by debt, by addiction, by bad relationships, and a number of other reasons. More often than not their enslavement is caused by a series of choices that they have made. True freedom is not dependent on the government, but on following Jesus.

A tangent to this idea is the reality that all freedom is a gift from God. Our founders understood this and that is why they wrote; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence tells us that our liberties are a gift from God and not from government. The purpose of government is to protect the liberties of people.

3. The politics of this world utilize two tools: propaganda (spin) and violence (force). I am indebted to Dr. Mark Moore for this principle. The idea that propaganda is one of the tools of politics is essential to remember. The reason is that many of us can get caught up in the spin of politics and we never stop to ask what is really true. President Bush was involved in propaganda when he urged us to go to war in Iraq. President Obama was involved in propaganda when he tried to convince us of the need to pass health care reform. When there is an agenda on the line you can be certain that half-truths and bold face lies are being thrown around.

We have to be very careful not to take things at face value. I am especially leery when I hear some one say: “this is the truth” (like I am just to trust them to be unbiased and to present the real facts of the issue.).

The second part of this principle is that politics deals with violence. The government basically has a monopoly on the use of force. The government and its agents can use force on you, but don’t ever try to use force on it, because you will pay a steep price if you do.

The fact that the government carries the sword is not a necessarily a bad thing. Please remember, it is one of their God-given duties to enforce laws. The rub is that the only way the government has to enforce laws is through force. Therefore the government of these United States have military units and different law enforcement agencies to make sure people comply to its wishes. Since that is the case it is very prudent to limit government from being able to use that force and the only way to do that is to keep government small.

4. Focus on principles and not agendas. This idea builds off the reality that the government uses propaganda to get its agenda accomplished. The problem is that most of us don’t have the means or the time to really dig into the truth of the matter. Who has time to read 1,500 page bill or track down ever stat used in a speech? It would consume our lives if that is what we had to do to participate in the political process, and excuse me if I don’t trust politicians and talk show hosts to tell me the truth.

When I talk about principles I am talking about political principles rather than moral principles. I don’t do this because of some misguided understanding of the idea of separation of church and state, but because some times we can allow our moral principles to cloud the issue. For example, I know that many well-intentioned Christians support health care reform because of the Christian principle that we need to help people in need, and so they are okay with the Government stepping in and taking over a part of life that the Constitution doesn’t give it the power to take over.

By focusing on political principles such as limited government, the nonaggression principle, and sound money we are able to have the clarity needed to navigate through the murkiness of political spin. It is also my belief that when the government is in its proper place the moral issues of our day will take care of themselves.

5. Free markets and sound money are crucial to liberty. As we look back at history, and even at the world today, what we notice is that capitalism brings more people out of poverty than anything else tried by man. When you unleash the power of the individual to make choices about how to earn money and how to use that money you empower him to be productive.

When governments impose rules and regulations on people they raise a barrier of entry into the market place that keep the poor out. When governments place heavy tax burdens on people it makes it difficult to save since they need an increasing percentage of their income for taxes. It also robs them of the motivation to work harder since they know they will keep little of the extra that they make.

One of the the great evils in these United States is the Federal Reserve. Because of the inflation that the Federal Reserve promotes people are robbed of their savings. In order to have money for retirement what are people forced to do? They are forced to risk it in the stock market, because simply putting it in a savings account causes the money to decrease in value rather than increase.

Not only is our money stolen through inflation, but because of the manipulation of interest rates the Fed also causes bubbles in certain sectors which gives us a cycle of booms and busts that can have devastating effects on the lives of people. We saw how the housing bubble completely wiped out many people’s financial gains in 2008, and this reminds us that we can’t be financially secure when the value of our money is being manipulated.

6. Think locally and act locally. I am indebted to Brion McCalanahan  (specifically this podcast) for this principle.

This is an overlooked principle that is crucial to maintaining liberty.  Part of the problem that we face in these United States is that we have made everything a national issue and we have squeezed the states out of their rightful place.

In my mind this has had two effects. First, it has increased the power of the federal government. According the Constitution the federal government has limited and enumerated powers, but in order to solve problems the states allowed the federal government to over step its bounds, and now we just assume the federal government can do all these wonderful things for us.

The second effect is that it removed the last line of defense the people had against an out of control federal government. Originally the states could withhold money, withhold their senators, and even nullify laws if the people felt the federal government was getting out of hand, but that is no longer the case.

What this means is that if we really want to reign in the federal government, then we need to start ignoring what the federal government has to say and start fixing the problems we face in a way that make sense at the local level. In other words, we have to start get skin in the game in our communities and stop expecting Washington, or even at times, our state governments to come up with the solution. Liberty is never given from the top down, but it must be fought for from the bottom up.

7. The Government is evil. The Government is evil is because it is run by men and women who have wicked hearts. They are too easily seduced by money, power, sex, and fame. Since that is the case the question is raised, “Why should we trust them?” I don’t think we should. One of the problems that have plagued this country is that we bought into this notion of American greatness and we became so patriotic that we no longer seriously question what our government does. We need to own up to the fact that the United States has done terrible things in this world.

We can no longer naively believe that what our government does, whether it is here or abroad, is good. From torturing prisoners to stealing our money through taxes and inflation the Federal Government continues to be evil. This is another reason why it is vital to have a limited government that is held in check by the Constitution. When the Government is left to run unconstrained it will reek havoc in the lives of people.

My hope is not in a great United States but in Christ Jesus and His Kingdom. First and foremost I am citizen of His Kingdom, and so no matter what happens to these United States my hope is secure.

 

Thank God for that reality.

 

Stay Free

stay-free-1

Liberty is one of those ideas that sounds good in theory, but is difficult to practice. Many people will say they want liberty, but few will actually use it.

It takes hard work to be good stewards of our God-given rights. It requires each of us to be responsible for our actions and to make the choices that will affect the direction of our lives. This is why people tend to turn to law for guidance.

In Galatians 5:1 the apostle Paul wrote; “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (NLT)

Paul was addressing the tendency of Christians to turn to the law for guidance in how they are to live. In Christian theology one of the weaknesses of the law is that it cannot save people from sin, because once a law is broken it cannot be unbroken.

While the law cannot save, it can provide guidance. In fact, one of the benefits of the law is that it makes the world black and white. It shows people what to do and what to avoid. The law can even be expanded to bring clarification on how to keep the law.

This is one of the issues Jesus had with the Jewish religious leaders in the first century. They had expanded on God’s law to explain what it meant to work on the Sabbath, what it meant to tithe, and even how to wash your hands. The law laid everything out, so all a person had to do was follow it.

I believe the same tendency exists for political freedom. The founding generation laid the ground work for a country of limited government and personal liberty. Yet, even from the very beginning, there were people advocating for the federal government to do something: to pass a law, to intervene in state activity, or to get involved in foreign affairs. What this shows us is that it is hard work to maintain your personal liberty. The only way for that to happen is for you to truly desire to be free.

One of the issues that we face when it comes to our political freedom is that we often have little say in what happens. Voting offers us minimal protection of our liberties. Too many people believe that the majority has the mandate and therefore can set the agenda. The Constitution, which should provide the parameters for what the Federal Government can and can’t do, is ignored in favor of the “will of the people.”

What are we to do?

I believe we can do three things:

  1. We can pray. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 the apostle Paul wrote; “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (NLT) Why are we to pray for those in authority? We pray for them so we are able to live peaceful and godly lives. More than asking God to make them do our agenda, I think we are to pray that they will have wisdom to do what is right and that they will leave us alone.
  2. We can use what liberty we can. Even though the United States has become a highly regulated and taxed society, there are still opportunities for us to take advantage of liberty. This is seen in entrepreneurs as they start new business and engage in free markets. This is seen in speaking and writing about liberty. This is seen in living out your faith and sharing Jesus with those around you.
  3. We can educate people about liberty. One of the main problems we face is the fact that most people are ignorant about what true freedom is. As long as they have the ability to choose their career, to buy the newest gadget, to travel, and to spend their time in leisure activities they are happy. The majority of people don’t understand the amount of regulation that exists that effects their lives everyday.

Stay free!

Those words apply to Christians as we seek to follow Jesus and be guided by the Spirit as well as Americans as we seek to live in liberty apart from the ever growing State. It is not easy, and in the case of our political freedom, it might prove to be an impossible task, but it is a task that we must engage in doing.

Don’t take the easy way of the law, but do the hard work of living in liberty and exercising your God-given rights. Be free!

The Fourth Branch

the-fourth-branch

Every four years, during the presidential election, we are told that this is the most important election ever. We are made to feel like the very existence of our nation hangs in the balance.

Usually these elections have the highest voter turnout, followed by the elections for Congress, and the elections that focus solely on state representatives and local issues have the lowest turnout. This really isn’t a surprise, because most of the media that we receive is national media, and so the reporting will focus on the elections that effect the nation as a whole. One of the downsides to this reality is that it has helped reinforce the idea that the greatest power and authority lies in Washington D.C.

For this presidential election there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Neither Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton seem to be popular candidates. I know that many conservatives are wondering what they will do. In good conscience they can’t vote for Trump, because they believe he doesn’t hold their principles. On the other hand, they can’t vote for a third party, because then Hillary will get elected and she will appoint progressive judges to the Supreme Court.

What are we to do?

I want to suggest, it doesn’t matter who you vote for for president. If you are interested in liberty the way forward is not found in electing the right people to national office or having conservative judges on the Supreme Court. Liberty will never be restored from the top down. The Federal Government will not let go of the power it has stolen from the people.

There is hope, it is a slim hope, and it will take years for it succeed. This hope begins by remembering this truth: the Federal Government was created by the States.

The Federal Government did not come and divide up the different territories into states and then established their local governments. No, the original 13 States created the Federal Government. We forget that the States have the ability to reign in the out of control Leviathan that is the United States Government.

The United States Constitution begins with these words: We the people of the United States…

The Federal Government exists at the consent of the States. It was the States, the men who represented the people of those states, who created the Constitution. The Constitution is clear about what powers and authority the Federal Government was to have. Through years, as the Federal Government has slowly but surely exceeded its authority, we have come to not even question it. Any time an objection is made, we are given precedent after precedent to show us the Federal Government is within its authority.

Precedent is not the same thing as legal. Just because the Federal Government has over stepped its bounds in the past, doesn’t make its use of power legal. This is why the “checks and balances” we were taught about in Jr. High are insufficient in securing liberty for us. Our Founders knew this, and made sure that there was another way to keep the Federal Government in check: Amendment X.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In school we were taught that there are three branches of the federal government: legislative, executive, and judicial. I would suggest to you that there are four branches of the federal government, and that fourth branch is the States. It is the duty of our States not to comply with federal laws and regulations that exceed the authority the Federal Government was granted.

I am not sure of all the reasons why the States have not been more active to standing up against the Federal Government and its abuse of power. My guess is that part of the reason lays at the feet of President Lincoln. Though Lincoln is seen as hero, by both people on the right and the left, he crushed the idea of state sovereignty. The Civil War was not primarily fought over slavery, but over the rights of States to ignore Federal decrees.

If the government truly exists by the consent of the governed, then the Southern States were totally in their right to leave the Union and start a new government. The Union was not intended to be this monolithic nation, but a cooperation of free states. Lincoln’s war to preserve the Union killed that idea.

The good news is that there are glimpses of States resisting Federal authority. One of the ways we see this resistance is in legalizing marijuana. Another way is through lighter gun restrictions. What this tells us is that the most important elections are the elections for state and local office. The States, and even County Sheriffs, have the ability to resist the Federal Government. They can declare that their State will not corporate, will not support, and will not enforce unconstitutional laws and regulations.

Liberty can be restored, but it requires state and local governments having the courage to stand up against the tyranny of the Federal Government. The most important election you will vote in this year is not for president, but for your local representatives. Give them the voice to stand for liberty.

The Pursuit of Happiness

pursue-happiness

A fundamental principle of liberty is personal responsibility. You and I are responsible for making the decisions that affect the course of our lives. That means we also bear the consequences of those choices.

In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

For our Founding Fathers one of the basic rights of people, the pursuit of Happiness, is the personal responsibility each one of us have for our lives. We have the right to choose the path we want to take in life. Along with that is the right to reap the benefits or bear the burdens of those decisions.

This is where people want to stop the train of liberty. They are fine with having the ability to make the choices, but they don’t want to pay the price for those choices. Most of us want to live a life that is free from consequences. Such a life doesn’t exist.

The emphasis of personal responsibility was not a new idea that began with the founding of the United States, but it has its roots in Christian tradition. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (Galatians 6:4-5; NLT)

Think for a moment on what Paul wrote. Remember he wrote to people who were slaves, who were on the bottom of the social ladder, and who lived in extreme poverty. They did not enjoy the benefits of liberty and free markets that continue to effect the United States. Even in their situation, they still possessed the God given right to personal responsibility and making choices that would affect the course of their lives.

If we are truly serious about preserving our liberties then one of the most basic steps we can take is to be responsible for our lives. While it is true that some people have an easier life than other people, the reality of life for everyone is that life is difficult. We can’t sit back and think that a good and wonderful life will just happen to us. God designed life in such a way that it requires effort and risk. We will not have a happy and satisfying life any other way.

Notice what Paul wrote about satisfaction. He encouraged people to do their best in the work they were doing which would lead them to experience satisfaction. The satisfaction we need for life doesn’t come from the privileges that we have, but the effort and integrity we put into the job we are doing. Satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness are not about the privileges that we have, but about our character, hard work, and integrity.

We may have differing amounts of privilege, but what truly matters is not increasing our privilege, but being good stewards of the privilege that we have. Not only is this the way we will experience satisfaction with life, it is also the way we will preserve and increase the liberty and privilege that is available to us.

If our entire focus is on the fact that the playing field is not level, then we will miss out on the gift of life that God has for us, and that includes the rights that each one of us has because we are human. The playing field might be sloped against you, but if you never get in there and play the game you will never make any progress.

Ultimately you are responsible for your life. Don’t wait for government to make everyone equal (that will never happen). Instead, make the most of the opportunities that you have, and in that way create a life that will give you satisfaction and happiness.

One of our unalienable rights is personal responsibility. No one else is responsible for the condition of our lives. Yes, we might have limitations that prevent us from having the life of our dreams, but we can create a life that bring us satisfaction. Taking personal responsibility for our lives is the way we pursue happiness.

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