Is libertarian political philosophy intractably at odds with the Christian faith, as some folks seem to think? Over the last year, I've spoken with countless practicing Christians who also fall into what might be called the small-l libertarian camp. A few prefer "classical liberal" while others identify as full-on anarcho-capitalists. Many work in the so-called liberty movement, but there were also business owners and writers, musicians and scientists, scholars and priests. Virtually all see markets, largely or entirely unfettered by the state, as the best mechanism we have for empowering humans to grow and thrive. I asked them to explain, in their own words, how they manage to reconcile two worldviews that many would have us believe are hopelessly in conflict. Below is a sampling of what I heard.
"In my mind, capitalism is what happens when you have the absence of initiated force, and that's perfectly compatible—beautifully compatible—with Christianity. Capitalism simply means the freedom of individuals to make contracts and to engage others in a peaceful and voluntary way. That's precisely what Christ taught." —Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education and author of Rendering Unto Caesar: Was Jesus A Socialist?
"If someone says to you 'be my friend' and points a gun to you, that is not a good start of a relationship. God offers us his friendship. We have a choice to respond or not. But if it's to make any sense, it has to be free. You have to be able to say yes and you have to be able to say no. And here is the really interesting thing: God will respect your decision even when he knows it's not a good idea.
"So here's the point: If God, who from our perspective is the creator of the universe—he has literally made us, and in that sense, if anybody owns anything, God owns the universe—and indeed, from our theology, having died on the cross for us, he owns us again. So God, who owns us twice over, and who in a 'my house, my rules' way has the right, if anyone has the right, to tell us what we may and may not do and indeed to force us not to do it—if he's not willing to do that, how can anyone have the right to do it?"
—Gerard Casey, philosophy professor emeritus at University College Dublin and associated scholar at the Mises Institute
"Who nailed Jesus to the cross? The state! ... The devil went up on a mountaintop with Jesus and he said, 'All this is mine.' He was talking about all the kingdoms. I would argue that earthly government is the last thing I should be supporting as a Christian." —Eric July, frontman of the libertarian rock/rap group BackWordz, asked how he reconciles his faith with anarcho-capitalism
"The modern welfare state in the United States has demonstrated one thing very clearly: that it doesn't transition people permanently out of poverty. And that needs to be the goal. I think Christians and non-Christians alike can agree: We should help people who are marginalized. But the question is, OK, how do you do that? If you look at the church and nonprofit organizations, combined with a really thriving economy, you have the best antidote to long-term poverty that we've ever known." —Anne Rathbone Bradley, vice president of economic initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics
"Historically speaking, virtually all the great advocates of liberty were Christian: Aquinas, Montesquieu, Locke, Tocqueville. It really was only in the modern world, with the Enlightenment, when you developed a naturalist group that broke off from the natural law tradition and were advocating liberty based on utilitarian arguments." —David Theroux, founder and president of the Independent Institute in California and publisher of the new book Pope Francis and the Caring Society
"The arrogant assumption [on the Christian left] is that if you're not advocating for government to be the normative way in which the poor are helped, then you're not a Catholic. And that idea is not Catholic. The first people to act on behalf of the vulnerable should be individuals, acting as neighbors, acting in communities. ... To think that the government has to be the primary actor, much less the sole actor, is totalitarianism. How's that for something that's antithetical to the Christian faith?" —Fr. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and president of Acton Institute
"The more I read, the more I realized that there's nowhere in here where Christ attempts to use the tools of violence to accomplish his objectives. In fact, it was so extreme in the opposite direction that even self-defense wasn't used by Christ and the early Christians. They chose martyrdom. It started to solidify for me that genuine Christianity is absolutely the opposite of all things political. You can't enforce the ideas and morals of the kingdom of God with the kingdom of men, which is violence." —Isaac Morehouse, founder and CEO of the startup apprenticeship program Praxis
"I see it like this: Conducting your life in accord with your own conscience is bound to offend someone who feels entitled to your time, money, or obedience. The question is whether or not we're willing to empower a third party to interfere with people who would prefer to walk away from something they find objectionable. I'd prefer not to empower that interference—in the lives of religious people or anyone else." —Caleb O. Brown, host of the Cato Daily Podcast and a Quaker convert
"Christianity has a lot to say about how we treat those who are in need, those who are less fortunate. ... I've spent a lot of time in India and in Mexico and parts of Central America, and poor people have it a lot better off in capitalist countries. Not just in terms of their material standard of living, but in terms of their political prospects, in terms of their social standing, and in terms of their ability to take control of their lives in fundamental and important ways." —Kevin D. Williamson, National Review roving correspondent and a Catholic convert
"The [Christian left] seems to say, anybody that doesn't have something, you should give it to them. I don't think that's what the Bible told us. The Bible says to develop our talents to the maximum capacity, and to be compassionate to our fellow man. ... We have 1,600 people working for me. Those individuals are developing themselves, they're developing the company and the schools we manage, and by doing that they're making this huge contribution to the world and to everybody they touch. ... The greatest charity is the free market and business. Because that's where we have an opportunity to develop ourselves." —Bob Luddy, president of CaptiveAire Systems and founder of a series of innovative private and charter schools in North Carolina
"In the Mormon Church, a core concept is that God offers each individual 'free agency.' The idea is that we learn how to become better people when we ourselves make choices and face the consequences of those choices, not when others make them for us. This is consistent with libertarianism." —Emily Ekins, research fellow and director of polling at the Cato Institute
"Catholics can never be made loyal to the collective, nationalist state. Catholicism has two flags: the papal flag, and the black flag of anarchy!" —Jeffrey A. Tucker, director of content at the Foundation for Economic Education and creator of liberty.me
"A libertarian is a person who opposes aggression. What's un-Christian about that? The Golden Rule states, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The non-aggression principle states, Don't do to other people what you don't want done to you. Call it the negative corollary." —Norman Horn, founder of the Libertarian Christian Institute, co-host of The Libertarian Christian Podcast, and a working chemical engineer