Was Jesus Christ, Libertarian?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

“Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin anymore." (John 8: 3–11)

As we approach the new year with conservatism again ascendant in the political sphere, this story of Jesus’ uncompromising libertarianism seems even more timely than stories of his birth, despite the approach of his celebrated birthday. Nowhere does Jesus admonish “social conservatives” more harshly.

There is an important distinction here. By “social conservative,” I do not mean anyone who disapproves of certain human behavior. The freedom to follow the dictates of one’s conscience was the first inalienable right recognized by the founders of our nation. If one truly believes that homosexuality, adultery, or other “non-conservative” behavior violates the laws of God, it is that person’s inalienable right to disapprove of it, even to voice his disapproval of it, regardless of the anguished cries of the political correctness lobby on the left.

However, no one has a right to use violence against those who engage in behavior that does not harm another person, regardless of whether or not that behavior violates the laws of God. Since all laws are enforced under the threat of violence (as this story also makes wonderfully clear), Jesus makes it clear in this passage that it is not for men to enforce the laws of God. With the exception of cases in which one human being has harmed another, the right to punish the behavior of others is reserved for God.

It is important to recognize that Jesus does not condone the sin that the anonymous woman has committed. When he has shamed away the mob who would have stoned her, Jesus commands her to sin no more. Neither does he insinuate that her behavior might not have consequences for her soul. With flawless libertarian reasoning, Jesus teaches us the true meaning of freedom: that God grants us the liberty to do as we wish, even to reject him and his laws, but that we also bear the full consequences of our actions. If we harm another person, then we are subject to the laws of men. However, it is for each individual to determine the will of God according to his conscience and to choose whether to act accordingly or not. There never has been nor can there ever be any body of corruptible men who can save an individual’s soul.

This is by no means the only place in the gospels that Jesus teaches us this lesson. His entire public ministry was one admonishment of the hypocritical, socially conservative theocracy after another. Indeed, it is the Jewish state that is Jesus’ chief antagonist throughout the gospels. He is noticeably disinterested in the more secular Roman government, despite its tyranny over his people. While he certainly doesn’t approve of the Romans, he has no interest in political revolution. As Jesus tells Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). However, his own government does not merely commit secular, political oppression against its people. It usurps the authority of God and attempts to judge in his place. For this, Jesus constantly lets loose his most venomous admonishments.

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