In my previous post, I said that the great idol of modernity is the state. One perceptive reader on Facebook suggested that rather we should think of the great idol as being that of the individual self — freedom and liberty for me, me, me.
I don’t know how to link to a Facebook thread, but try this as a sample of my guessing.
Now this observation is quite true in one narrow sense, and if we have our wits about us, it should immediately show us the limits (and treacherous nature) of secularism.
The secular state dispenses freedoms (it would be better to call them privileges) like they were party favors. They function as bribes. They serve as . . . bread . . . or circuses. As Chesterton points out somewhere, sexual license is the first and most obvious bribe to be offered to a slave. For many in our era, that was the bribe that ushered them into their bondage to the state.
This is why secular conservatism, and secular libertarianism are both impotent against the collectivist idol of the state. The state, by insisting on the secularism, is making sure that there never arises a school of thought that maintains the state is a creature, accountable to God like all other creatures. For if that idea takes root, it becomes possible for the state to hear a rebuke from outside the system, which it absolutely does not want to hear. These people want every possible rebuker to receive a security clearance first. But that is not the kind of ambassador YHWH sends.
Now if certain Christians start to think that the secular project is actually a five gallon bucket of lamesauce, what then? Well, any purveyor of such crazy talk will be immediately dismissed by the secularists as a neo-Confederate ayatollah weird beard, and the Christians who have made their peace with this present world will join in the denunciations, so that they might get back to their missional outreach work with that rising Demas demographic.
The choice between secular options on the right is like a competition between a gentlemanly Epicurean and a rowdy one. The former walks at dawn in a manicured flower garden, contemplating chess moves and Rawlsian political theory, while the latter is more interested in crack cocaine and hoochie mamas. Without an overarching standard governing the two of them, we are simply comparing a longer life of nobler, milder pleasures, and a shorter life consisting of a blowout filled with orgiastic ones. But when we have to choose on those grounds, it is simply a matter of personal preference.
The secular conservative wants industry, thrift, and hard work. Oh, and low taxes. The secular libertarian wants to smoke pot and marry another guy. But neither of them have any ultimate standard to which the overweening state must submit. The power relation goes the other way. The state, for its purposes, will encourage the latter fellow, for he is helping to perpetuate a society of disconnected and atomistic individuals, who are much more manageable. The state will also tend to tolerate the former, grudgingly, because he has a job and an income, and is kind of a cash cow.
But introduce the lordship of Jesus Christ over every facet of life, and see how the whole equation changes. Liberty is no longer “what I, the automaton, please,” but rather what Jesus says I should be allowed to do. Under the authority of Christ, not only should I be free but so should my neighbor be, in the same way and on the same terms. If he is doing something that Jesus said was okay for him to do, then why should I hassle him? Or fine him? Or make him fill out forms? Or walk through a nudie scanner?
This is only possible when the gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed in power, and men have received it, and have been brought into the fellowship of the Father through the blood of Jesus. When men have been set free in this sense, set free from their sins, then it makes sense to speak of free men creating free markets. It is not possible otherwise. Every other defense of “free” markets is equivocating on the use of the word free.
This is also why it is possible to say that Jesus hates socialism. He hates statism. He hates crony crapitalism. Why? Because it doesn’t run on love. Love is obligatory, but it is not coercive. Coercion, masked as it is by the lies of modern statist theory, is their great counterfeit of love.
If a man has been set free by Christ, he has been set free to love others. He has not been set free in order to run through the vibe field of impersonal market forces, making random purchases. The free market (the real one) is not a deistic machine. Rather, it is people loving each other in accordance with the law of Christ.
So freedom is defined by Jesus Christ. He defines it both positively and negatively. He sets us free to do as we ought, which is to love one another. He also sets us free negatively, establishing the boundaries that enable others to respect and love me by respecting and loving those boundaries. In the same way, I am set free to love him by respecting what God has given to him. God has posted signs everywhere that say meum and tuum. So if you don’t love the sexual laws of Scripture, and you don’t love the property right set forth in Scripture, then it is very simple. You don’t love your neighbor.
How do I love my neighbor? Let me count the ways. I do it by not coveting his stuff. I love him by not coveting his wife, or his house, or his manservant or his maidservant, or his riding lawn mower. I love him as his immediate neighbor, looking across the fence at him. I also must do it when looking across the table at him in a zoning commission hearing. The Bible does not say “thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.”
When done rightly, it is not done because his liberty or mine is being taken as an absolute. What kind of sense would that make? It is being done because his liberty, just as much as mine, is the grace of God. And what must we do with the grace of God? We must receive it, treasure it, hold it, and embrace it. We must die before we let it go.
And this is why all Christian discussion of economic theory must begin with a full-throated denial of secularism. We must begin with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In this Christian context, within these constraints, we could have a productive debate between a theocratic libertarian, a theocratic conservative, and a theocratic classical liberal. It would be productive because we would have a common standard to appeal to.
In short, the price of admission to a true Christian debate on economics is the confession of the crown rights of King Jesus. Visualize world peace, which means visualizing the nations discipled. In that day, when the lion and the lamb lie down together, and the children are chasing the cobras, does anybody seriously think that we will still be mailing half our potable income to that bloated monstrosity on the Potomac? So that ten million federal employees might have something to drink and pee away?
Without such a standard, our debate will consist of us just waving tatters and remnants of systems that once were godly, and citing passages from books that nobody reads any more. And without that standard, at the end of our debate, we would all just look at the moderating state to find out what was legal. Not very much, the answer turns out.
In the meantime, those who defend free markets on the basis of biblical law (and their only possible basis in the gospel of free grace) cannot be said to be doing so because they have in any sense made freedom an absolute. Only the word of Christ is absolute.
Someone might reply that I am just bringing in “Jesus” to justify my love of the free market — doing so quite conveniently, but still after the fact nonetheless. How, the scoffing might continue, are we supposed to figure out what economic principles your “Jesus” might prefer? Ah, I would reply. We are extremely fortunate. He wrote a book on it.