Christianity and Liberty, a leading source of libertarian information, has published a spotlight on Christianity: Religion and Liberty: The Christian connection. [Google cache] The links are valuable, and the essay may be helpful to some, but it may also mislead others. We offer the following not as a rebuttal so much as a supplement.

The Christian connection

guest edited by Mikhail Ramendik

Many libertarians are wary of religion. They tend to see faith as something that blinds and shackles the human mind, contrary to true liberty.

Many (but probably not most) libertarians are atheists or secularists. They see faith as contrary to reason. But reason is based on faith: a faith that the laws of logic don't change every 10 minutes; a faith that the universe is reasonable; a faith that the mind of man can actually come in meangingful contact with the universe, and engage in reasonable thought. In our post-Christian age, philosophers of the highest academic caliber can be found who will deny one or more of those propositions. Even Objectivists agree that the bulk of modern academia is irrational and has despaired of any hope that man's reason can better the world. This is the result of modern philosophy's anti-Christian presuppositions.

Usually, the alleged conflict between faith and reason is a conflict between reason and some ecclesiastical body. Objectivist Peter Schwartz writes:

Faith and reason represent antithetical philosophies. The advocates of faith declare that we must accept as true that which is unknowable to the rational mind — that we must believe the pronouncements of some “higher” authority in the absence of any objective evidence, or in outright contradiction to the evidence.
"Reason vs. Faith," Ayn Rand Institute MediaLink

With good reason, anti-religionists object to Popes and priests demanding faith in their decrees. "Religion" is often equated with Catholicism or some other hierarchical religion. Obviously, we don't support such religions, though we don't disagree with everything they teach.

Is belief in God "in outright contradiction to the evidence?" Perhaps the greatest American authority on the law of evidence, Harvard Law School Professor Simon Greenleaf, concluded that the resurrection of Christ could be proven to be a fact of history in any court of law. 

But why do we have courts of law? Why are there laws? Why is the universe rational and predictable instead of irrational, arbitrary, chaotic, and meaningless? Why is the mind of man able to apprehend the facts and laws of the universe? The Bible says the universe was created by a God who is both logical and loving, and man was created in the Image of God. Atheists have yet to explain why there is something rather than nothing, and why the stuff of the cosmos is both orderly and susceptible to the mind and logic of man.  

America's Founding Fathers believed that the existence of God and the dependence of ordered liberty on "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" were "self-evident truths," because human beings are created in the Image of God, and know these things through the conscience.

But religion (and in particular, Christianity) has played a key role in the history of the movement for liberty. And while it is not always obvious, modern libertarianism is to a great degree based on notions developed by Christians. The legacy of liberty is today preserved by many Christians, even though some very vocal groups may be known for support of censorship and other anti-freedom measures. Those nations that have openly proclaimed themselves to be atheistic have been socialistic dictatorships, denying freedom and even life itself to hundreds of millions of people. Atheism has brought genocide and terror. Christianity has brought liberty and prosperity. To the extent that churches and ecclesiastical bodies have been more socialistic, they have been less Christian.
In the Middle Ages, many doctrines developed in the Western (Roman) Catholic Church that later became the backbone of classical liberalism. St. Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelic Doctor," summarized these doctrines (among others) in his classic work, Summa Theologica. In the section dedicated to Law, Aquinas expounded on Natural Law. About Human Law, he wrote: "the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice ... every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law."

In later times, the greatest champions of legal and economic freedom were often strong Christians. And while there were some "defections" (mostly to Socialists and Communists), Christian thinkers usually supported private property and basic capitalist ideals.

The Christian record is not so clear on the matters of social and religious freedom. The Catholic church was known at one time for its support of various Inquisitions (there was more than one) and other similar measures. Protestants were also often against religious freedom; John Calvin set up an authoritarian regime in Geneva, and some of his followers sought to create similar institutions -- the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were a prime example.

But a man arose in that same colony who, while a devout Christian believer, held a position in favor of religious freedom that he based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. He was Roger Williams, who was later banished from Massachusetts Bay because of his beliefs, and founded Providence and Rhode Island.

One probably could call Roger Williams a Christian libertarian, even though centuries would pass before the latter term was coined. For not only did he support complete freedom of conscience (and defended it Biblically in fierce discussions), he also championed respect for the rights of property -- including those of the Indians.

Williams' legacy in the development of freedom in the United States is widely recognized -- and it is a Christian legacy.

In keeping with the example set by Williams, many of the champions of various causes of freedom have been devout Christians and based their effort and writings on the faith. They saw God as the giver of Natural Law, the One with Whom individual rights originate.

Aquinas (1225-1274) was not nearly as influential in bringing freedom as other figures in the Middle ages, such as the Emperor Justinian (483-565) and King Alfred the Great (849-899), who helped Christianize Europe by putting society under the Law of God. You are not at liberty when all your neighbors seek to kill and rob you.

Mr. Ramendik is way too apologetic -- almost embarrassed -- about Christian influence in our world. The Christian record is always clearer "on matters of social and religious freedom" than atheists were at the same time. The Crusades were far more noble and less violent than subsequent atheist crusades. The Inquisition killed only a few thousand, while atheist inquisitions have murdered millions.

John Calvin's regime was far less "authoritarian" than those of atheists like Stalin and Mao. In fact, it set an example of liberty and planted seeds that flowered into the American Revolution. More here.

Likewise, the Puritans have been victims of very bad press. The Puritans gave us liberty under law.

Roger Williams was erratic and lacked a spirit of cooperation. Massachusetts would have eventually accepted most of his ideas anyway, but Williams' arrogance and resistant spirit drove the parties apart. Williams did not really believe in "religious freedom" in the modern multi-cultural sense. Witchcraft was a criminal offense in Rhode Island, as would be polygamy, cannibalism, human sacrifice, and a host of other non-Christian religious practices. Rhode Island was still a Christian Theocracy, but it allowed more freedom for the various Christian denominations than Massachusetts did at the time.

More on the Theocratic roots of America.

Alexis de Tocqueville: Christianity, Decentralism, and Liberty

It was not for nothing that the famous creed of liberty, the Declaration of Independence, contains the words "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ..." Even American Founding Fathers who were not Christians themselves generally recognized the Christian origin of their notions of liberty. More on the Christian roots and meaning of the Declaration of Independence can be found here and here

Out of 200-300 men who might be called "Founding Fathers," only 2 or 3 were not Christians.

Christian supporters of liberty are active today as well. The Acton Institute is a major libertarian think-tank. It is inspired by the writings of Lord Acton, a nineteenth-century Catholic and an ardent proponent of economic and religious freedom. The writings of Lord Acton and many other Christian authors directly or indirectly inspire many libertarians today -- even those who consider themselves to be against "religion." The Acton Institute is certainly worthy of our support. Other fine catholic writers include Joe Sobran.
Sobran on
While the Acton Institute is mostly concerned with economic freedom, there are Christian churches and organizations which focus on supporting religious freedom and the separation of church and state -- which means a certain degree of social freedom too. The modern concept of "the separation of church and state" is a myth. More here. The modern concept has nothing to do with churches, but has to do with the separation of God and state, resulting in the deification of the State.
One denomination, the Seventh Day Adventist church, is a body that is strongly focused on religious liberty. The group's approach stems from its specific vision (which followers believe to be prophetic). According to that vision, in the end times (which are near) the devil will somehow influence all the states and the Roman Catholic Church, and use oppressive state power against true believers. They single out the possible introduction of "Sunday legislation" -- requiring everyone to rest on Sundays -- as a sign of this oppression.

While the details are peculiar to Seventh Day Adventists, the general notion that state oppression will be used by the biblically-prophesied Antichrist is common for many Christians. They often believe that, no matter the stated aims of repressive government, it can eventually be turned against their co-religionists.

Ramendik devotes way too much space to these nutty ideas. We are not near "the end times." Getting the day off on Sunday was historically a source of great liberty for workers.

The Sunday Legislation site has links to articles denying the doctrine of the Trinity and affirming the idea that the U.S. government was complicit in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. From a Christian pespective, this is definitely a mixed bag.

"End times" thinking, such as is "common" in our day, with its retreatism, escapism, and doctrine of the "rapture," is actually -- and always has been -- a fringe minority.

For this reason, as well as Christ's explicit statement that His Kingdom is "not of this world," many Christians firmly hold to religious freedom. They form organizations such as the Baptist Joint Committee to uphold liberty and oppose the vocal "Religious Right," which they say unfairly claims to represent the Christian majority while demanding censorship and similar authoritarian measures.

Yet even the "Religious Right" often supports things that further the cause of liberty. The alternative is state influence in a direction not favored by them. For example, the American Family Association campaigns against an increase in funding of the National Endowment for the Arts because it does not want "pornography" to be financed by taxpayers' money.

The Christian faith has been a major player in the foundation of libertarianism, and many Christians remain active in the promotion and defence of liberty. In particular, the great role of religious people in fighting oppression in Communist countries should not be forgotten.

So, while a libertarian is certainly free to not be a Christian, all libertarians can be grateful for the Christian contributions to the cause of freedom.

The Baptists are also not ultimately friends of liberty.

This is the second time Ramendik has mentioned censorship. Personal censorship is far more important to the Religious Right than government censorship. Interpersonal censorship is far more powerful than government censorship.


Creationist Anarcho-Socialism

Two final notes:
  1. Religious advocacy of liberty is not limited to Christianity. However, historically, Christianity provided basic notions on which the foundation of liberty stands. Also, the author acknowledges that he is not competent to write about other religions.
  2. A seemingly irreconcilable difference between many secular libertarians and Christians is their position on abortion. Most Christians believe that human life starts at conception or shortly thereafter, and natural rights start with it, leading them to a pro-life stance. This view can also be supported on secular libertarian grounds.

The Founding Fathers recognized that Christianity leads to liberty and is true religion, and false religions lead to slavery and tyranny.

Debate on abortion between an atheist libertarian and a Calvinist libertarian.