Social justice and the state

I think it’s safe to say that this is one post that most of my liberal Christian friends won’t be sharing with their friends.

I firmly believe that Christians should be preoccupied with the plight of the marginalized and the remediation of social injustice. I, too, have evolved considerably from my conservative Christian background and rejected the “Jesus is a Right Winger” presupposition characterizing the stereotypical American evangelical. However, time and again I am reminded that I am something of an anomaly among post-evangelical/liberal Christians (whatever you want to call me).  My theological evolution did not result in some sort of flipped switch that automatically turned me into a Democrat-supporting left-winger. I do not assume that the ideal way of going about addressing social concerns is through the government or that those skeptical of the state’s ability or moral authority to do this are selfish cretins who hate the poor and destitute. In fact, I think that the use of force that the government depends upon is often responsible for creating and perpetuating their plight.

At present I have no plans here at Undeception to debate the various and sundry reasons, both moral and practical, that I oppose wielding government mandates, the threat of publically sanctioned violence, in order to alleviate social problems. I intend this post to be a one-off statement, the kind of thing I might link to during other discussions in the future, but not any sort of opening salvo. I already tried doing the theology/politics thing on this blog, and I don’t think I’m going back.

However, in this one post, I wish to state for the record my belief that when people seek to influence voluntary interactions using involuntary power structures, particularly the kinds of structures run by power-seekers who have every reason both to promise the moon and to ensure that it stays within only their benevolent grasp (i.e. politicians), a vast array of unintended consequences, moral hazard, and artifacts of force will result, making truly voluntary structures wholly preferable. There is no end to the number of politicians who will seek and be granted power after promising to throw unending money at problems or propose attractive sounding schemes to address them, but one of the many devastating unintended consequences is that such publically funded charity has endangered inherently more calculated private endeavors by cutting away at our disposable income through confiscation and, more insidiously, by giving our society (and, indeed, the Church) the impression that voluntary forms of charity have been superseded by a superior broker of charity; truly it is said that no one competes with the government.

Our exemplar of social concern, Jesus of Nazareth, made a point to avoid placing himself in or ingratiating himself to the extant power structures, even though he ostensibly could have done one or either quite easily; rather, the powers-that-were recognized him as a threat to the very foundations of their coercive methodology, not just their refusal to use it to bring free healthcare and stabilize private industries. Statist Christians on both the left and right wing preach against theocratic tendencies: leftists decry the right wing’s attempts to restrict behavior not deemed to be Christian (such as homosexuality), but as a seemingly unquestionable principle they advocate using the state to enforce social justice and other such demands of godly morality that they believe in.

As I said, I don’t want to use this site to debate the particulars of political philosophy. What I would like is for socially conscious Christians to examine their assumptions about which political reality will best bring about their ideals and not simply adopt the political philosophy of the vocal progressive Christians they learned their theology from. I think there is much common ground that we can claim when we stand up for the disenfranchised and beg our evangelical brethren to not simply assume that “people are only poor because they are lazy” or the like; I agree that conservatives tend to turn a blind eye to the dangers of big business (but the Left also needs to recognize that the chief of these evils is their weapon of choice: inviting the government in to grant them all sorts of privileges and immunities). And you know, it doesn’t bother me so much when someone just happens to be gullible enough to trust government to do the most good because it has the most power (red flag!). But because they continuously broadcast their assumption that a socially conscious Christian will therefore vote a confiscatory, redistributivist political agenda, I feel compelled to ask, “Are you sure that the state really serves the interests of social concern in the way you think it does?” I invite you to read the news from a classical liberal/libertarian perspective from resources such as Reason Magazine or the Cato Institute. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of evidence that the more power we give to the state, the more we will all end up suffering.

(By the way, if you’re one of those people who believes that classical liberals/libertarians are un-Christian – or that Glenn Beck is a spokesperson for us – I invite you to read these rejoinders from a site I enjoy: 1, 2, 3.)

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