A lesson from a Christian-libertarian-hippie-stoner-poly-freak

Libertarian blogger Cathy Reisenwitz recently posted an article on her blog, Sex & the State, where she attempts to reconcile her libertarian lifestyle with her Baptist-upbringing. Vulnerable, provocative, and salted with sass, her story shocked and intrigued me in equal measure. She says, “Jesus is still my homeboy. But like all of my relationships, ours a weird one.” And boy did she get that right.

Reisenwitz calls herself a Christian and a libertarian-hippie-stoner-poly-freak (poly=polyamorous). She proudly supports “free love” and other socially libertine views that would give my Texas-born, conservative, Evangelical mother an aneurysm.

She probably just didn’t catch the new study that finds devout Catholics have the best sex.

But I digress.

As a Christian who considers myself somewhere on the libertarian spectrum, I disagree with her attempt to meld her libertarian worldview with her faith. The free market is the cornerstone of her worldview and Christianity takes a backseat. She believes Jesus died for her sins, but sadly she says,

[N]ow I tell everyone I meet about markets instead of our Creator. Because I get markets. I’m not ambivalent about markets. No one told me growing up that markets would send me to hell for not believing in them.

It seems that markets have become her God and she’s stuffed her homeboy in a little libertarian box.

But aside from disagreeing on her faith application, I really sympathize with Reisenwitz. A lot. I grew up Evangelical too, and I get it. Four-chord-only worship music and embarrassingly terrible films like Left Behind dominated our Christian youth. The answer to every “why?” was “because the Bible says so.”

We siloed the church from secular culture and shielded ourselves from science and philosophy. Charles Malik says,

The greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism.

Reisenwitz recounts a story reflecting this breed of anti-intellectualism, and it hardly surprises me:

One Wednesday night youth group at Sherwood Baptist our music minister decided to take on some of our theological questions. My friend Lauren […] asked some questions for which he had no answers. Instead of pointing her to better resources, or admitting he didn’t know, he told her she needed to have faith. And then when she called bullshit, in the way of too-smart teenagers everywhere, he got visibly angry.

The emphasis of faith over reason in the Evangelical Church has failed young intellectual Christians like Reisenwitz. She continues,

[The] attitude of being threatened by and discouraging questioning and critical thinking is I think one source of the great schism of libertarianism and Christianity.

The Christian-libertarian-hippie-stoner-poly-freak has a point.

Christians aren’t just hungry for critical thinking, we’re starving. We’re starving for reason. We’re starving for theology. We’re starving for an intellectual conversation about Christ that goes beyond the book of John. According to J.P. Moreland,

The contemporary Christian mind is starved, and as a result we have small, impoverished souls.

As a result, we are seeing many young Evangelicals trading their fold-out chairs and warehouses for wooden pews and stained glass. They’re joining more traditional denominations that embrace science, philosophy, and liturgy. Many are even crossing the Tiber to Catholicism, myself recently included. They’re looking for something more transcendent and timeless than fuzzy feel-good faith they were raised on.

My mom used to tell me the only words out of my mouth between the ages of three and four was, “but why?” I’ve always hungered for reason. It’s a God-given desire. We all need reason as a foundation for our faith. But more importantly–a point Reisenwitz misses–is that faith and reason actually need each other. Blessed Pope John Paul II famously says in his encyclical Fides et Ratio,

Faith and Reason are like two wings of the human spirit by which is soars to the truth.

I believe many libertarian principles are in line with Christian principles. The human dignity found in the freedom to choose is central to both Christianity and the free market. But we must always view the world through a theological lens first, not a political or economic one, simply because Christ explains everything and markets only explain markets.

Just as Evangelicals need to rediscover reason, libertarians need to rediscover faith. A good libertarian would humbly admit we don’t have all the knowledge to centrally plan a market. Similarly, a good Christian would also admit to a knowledge problem: human reason–like everything else–is flawed. That’s why we all need revelation and faith. Faith perfects reason. Maybe if the liberty movement realized this, it wouldn’t be such a “Godless place” as Reisenwitz observes.

On a related note, the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics is hosting a panel on Ayn Rand and Christianity at the International Students for Liberty Conference next year. This could get wild.

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14 comments

  1. matticusrex

    “Socially libertarian” should be “socially libertine.” Adherence to the political philosophy of libertarianism has no implications for one’s personal behavior – one can live in strict adherence to the Mosaic law while being a libertarian.

    • Michael Makovi

      My mother always likes to quote the verse, “Educate each child according to his own way, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

      Her interpretation is, “He might depart when he is young, but he will return someday when he gets older.” In other words: don’t worry, she’ll come around. 🙂

  2. Michael Makovi

    I am not a Christian, so I cannot comment on Reisenwitz’s faith or observance; it simply is not my place. But what I can comment on is her libertarianism, since I am a libertarian myself. And I have to ask her, what – pray tell – is a “libertarian lifestyle” Libertarianism is a philosophy of what the government should not do, not what the individual should do. The notion of a “libertarian lifestyle” is literally meaningless, unless one means that one’s lifestyle is campaigning as a political activist. But in any other sense, it is as meaningless to speak of a “libertarian lifestyle” in the same way that it is meaningless to speak of an atheist worship service.

    In fact, it is even oxymoronic to speak of a libertarian lifestyle. According to libertarianism, only individuals act (methodological individualism). Only individuals have lifestyles. Governments cannot have lifestyles the same way they cannot make decisions. Only human beings can make decisions, and only they can have lifestyles. But libertarianism prescribes for government, not for individuals. When a philosophy prescribes for something which cannot have a lifestyle, it is impossible therefore to live a lifestyle according to that philosophy.

    Libertarianism might say that the government should not prosecute homosexual intercourse or polygamy, but this does not necessarily mean that the individual should engage in such relations. Libertarianism’s strictures and statements on sexuality apply to government, not to individuals. Whether an individual should engage in such relations can only be answered by another moral philosophy.

    And for the record, I am an Orthodox Jewish libertarian who rejects in my own personal life what that religion would consider to be immoral and licentious, even though I, as a libertarian, believe the government should not prosecute those actions. Contra Reisenwitz, a libertarian lifestyle – if such even exists – entails only political activism regarding the government’s prosecution of certain actions, and does not require one to engage in those actions.

  3. Scott Drenkard

    Great piece; I’m just peeved that I didn’t get an H/T for sending that “Catholics have the best sex” article to you.

  4. Stephen

    I am both a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and a devout Libertarian. Frankly, I feel like the two are intertwined. My religious view is (briefly) thus. God gave us some amazing gifts. First, the world and universe, pretty cool stuff. Then, He gave man something else; free will. As flawed mortals, we immediately squander the greatest gift ever offered (up to that point) and exercise our free will against the will of God. For thousands of years, we came into and out of God’s favor and continuously violated God’s desire by using our free will. So God sends the greatest gift ever offered to anyone, anywhere; salvation through the shed blood and suffering of Jesus Christ, his only son.

    So, from my perspective, I cannot proclaim to be a Christian if I don’t acknowledge the fact that God gave man free will and has allowed us to exercise it without inhibition. Consequences certainly exist, but God rarely steps in to save us from ourselves. I think this example offered to us by God demands a libertarian outlook on life. If God can give man the freedom to think for oneself, the least man can do is honor that freedom.

  5. Cal

    I’d highly recommend some Kierkegaard – as an ignostic libertarian, I never understood or could even stand Christians who simply had faith and didn’t try to reason things out. Now, having learned a lot more about philosophy and theology, it is precisely those Christians who think that faith and reason can be reconciled that I don’t understand, and the fideist/existentialist Christians who acknowledge a God-paradox and endeavour to take a leap of faith anyway that I respect most – when it’s a conscious leap of faith, post-existential crisis, rather than a blind happy-clappy idiot faith. While many Christians that try to ‘reconcile’ faith and reason make me unable to think of anything but the incredible human propensity for special pleading and doublethink, assuming that my own ignostic conclusions are reasonable, I do have quite a bit of respect for those, like Aquinas, who go the whole hog and believe that Christianity is the ONLY reasonable conclusion – even though I can’t possibly understand how that could be the case given my own perspective.

    Still, I’d say that a faith that is consciously, daringly and even defiantly blind is something that I can only respect, perhaps even envy.

    • Elise Amyx

      Interesting thoughts. Not sure if you would consider me in the “faith and reason reconciling category” or not so I want to make it clear that faith is still a leap from reason no matter what. Faith always has an element of blindness even when it’s based on reason. I don’t think faith and reason are reconciled, but I do think they are complimentary.

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