As I have been noting periodically in this series on liberty, taxation, and theft, I am not issuing a call to action, but rather a call for understanding and recognition. Clearly this is not because action is irrelevant, but rather because rash and precipitous action is usually destructive. Think, and then do. At some point, action will be necessary, and when that day comes, Christians need to have consciences that are prepared for the necessary action. If you are going to run a marathon, you don’t get ready for it by running around the block the day before.
Now by “prepared consciences” I don’t mean callused consciences. All Christians should have sensitive consciences, but they should not have consciences that are universally sensitive. When the conscience is universally sensitive, that tenderized one is a prime candidate for the guilt manipulators, who are quite prepared to tell us anything. You are waiting for your wife, who ran into the mall for a couple things, and you keep the car running so you can have the air conditioner going. Well, it is because of YOU that glaciers are falling into the ocean, and polar bears are keeling over in heaps. And if you want the hotel to wash your towels every day, it is clear that you want the cute little koala bear on that cardboard hanger thingy to die, die, die.
In contrast to this universal sensitivity, we should be acutely sensitive to the words of God. If we are actually sensitive in this way, we will be deaf to the guilt-mongers. If we are sensitive to God’s leading (which He gives to us through His Word), then our consciences will be trained and disciplined by the Word. Resistance to tyrants is submission to God, as Jefferson put it, but there is a corollary. Deafness to tyrants is listening to God.
Laws multiply when the lawgivers want to have subjects instead of citizens. When laws swarm like the frogs of Egypt, the reason for it is to increase guilt. This guilt means two things — one is that when there are multitudinous regulations, they can always get you for something. Second, it turns everyone into a lawbreaker, but because our consciences are not trained by the Scriptures, when it gets to the point of resistance, we are dragged into the fray with uneasy consciences — instead of walking toward the confrontation with a clean heart and well-oiled shield.
Swarms of their froggy little laws, and swarms of officers to eat out our substance, are a threat to us. What is a threat to them? Well, the gospel is the enemy of tyrants everywhere precisely because the gospel liberates the conscience. Even if for years after conversion, every forgiven sinner does nothing explicitly political against the tyrants, the tyrant nevertheless objects to the fact that the gospel is plainly removing all his handles from the sinners. A forgiven man is a free man, a fact regarded by taskmasters everywhere with frank suspicion.
If you doubt what I say about how these laws are a teeming nuisance, utterly inconsistent with living as free men and women, this is just because you don’t want to come to grips with the fact that you are probably committing a felony right this minute. Have you ever thrown away some junk mail that came to your house addressed to somebody else? That, my friend, is punishable by a sentence of up to five years. Now if you receive this information, and then next week you receive a missive about a sale at Macy’s addressed to Harry Schwartz, and you are not he, and you blithely throw it in the regular garbage (instead of the mandatory recycle bin, you villain!), and you do all this without any qualms of conscience whatever, it means that you are actually making some real progress. We might make a Christian of you yet.
Now some like to respond to this emphasis on property rights as human rights as a thinly veiled defense of “it’s mine, I tell you!” I make the mistake of issuing a clarion call for integrity as we learn how to stand up to the gargantuan thievery of the modern state, and defenders of that kleptocracy can only hear me saying, “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses.”
But this is all part of what I mean by beginning with “recognition.” The early Christians trusted in God, which is why they could joyfully accept it when their property was plundered. When the prehensile and rapacious state seizes my property, like a dragon from the north, I should accept it from the hand of God — with the same principled contentment I ought to display if I lost my earthly goods in an earthquake or fire. It’s only stuff.
“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34, ESV).
In other words, I don’t object to them stealing my stuff because I am revealed as heart idolator by their attempts at stealing (Eph. 5:5). If God’s object is to reveal my undue attachment to stuff, He can do it by means of fire, flood, high winds, or congressmen saving the children. And if a property owner’s idolatry is revealed by whatever circumstance, then it stands revealed. But whether or not the victim was an idolator, the thief who revealed that idolatry to the world remains a thief.
When Job lost all his worldly goods, some of it was because of natural disaster (Job 1:19) and some of it was by human agency (Job 1:27). But Job attributed all of it to God, and submitted to God’s will in it. The fact that he recognized the hand of the Lord in all of it, and accepted that loss from the Lord, did not mean that he had acquiesced to a new economic theory as developed by Chaldean raiding parties, or socialists, but I repeat myself.
So before we charge off to save our goods, we need to learn that they are in fact being stolen, and we need to get this information down into our wee little brains. After that information has simmered there for a number of years, and we start to notice a certain lightness of step, and a certain spring in our conscience, then we might be equipped to formulate a plan of action that was not certifiably insane.
So we accept the plundering of our goods joyfully, while naming it as plunder. Naming the plunder is the first step in learning eventually how to put a stop to it. For the magistrate to take property from anyone without scriptural warrant is theft simpliciter. The fact that we are used to it justifies nothing. Illicit taxation is theft, just as the fabled droit du seigneur was sexual immorality — whether or not all parties cooperated.
Being a creature, I reason from axioms, and decline the invitation to prove my axioms. A good axiom should therefore occupy a place on the trunk down near the grass, and not be a set of twigs up near the airy heavens, and so here it is. We are created by God, and it is self-evident that we were endowed by that Creator with certain rights that are inalienable, and that among these rights are the right to life, liberty, and property. If someone claims that I am refusing to pick up the onus probandi, the burden of proof, I will simply laugh contentedly, and acknowledge that this is entirely correct. I believe the burden of proof should actually be on the guy with a gun who wants to rob me. He is not hard to identify — they usually have big, block letters on the back of their jackets. Ask him what he is doing.
Being a magistrate is not a universal “its all okay” permission slip. Taxation without representation is theft. Taxation to finance cockamamie wars is theft. Taxation to pay wheat farmers to not grow wheat is theft. Taxation to fund Planned Parenthood is murderous theft. Taxation to fund research programs into whether cocaine causes quail to engage in risky sexual behavior is theft. Taxation to buy fuel for the 100,000 backhoes dumping our money into the Fannie Mae sinkhole is theft.
And not being able to see theft in all this is tantamount to standing on the top of the levee in the middle of Hurricane Katrina and being unable to “detect the breeze,” and asking the rescue worker pulling on your elbow to please “define breeze.”
Just call it theft. You will feel better almost immediately. As the counselor guy puts it, the first step to recovery is acknowledging that we have a problem.