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October 10, 2004

Does Christian Libertarianism Make Sense?

Summer 2004 posts by Jay Caruso and Josh Claybourn express their opposition to the Family Marriage Act as Christian libertarians. That bill is not the best example to use, though, since it involves lots of federal issues. Even someone who believes in criminalizing homosexuality might oppose a federal bill forbidding homosexual marriage, on the grounds that marriage is matter for state legislatures, not the federal government.

So let us use a different example-- an extreme one, to sharpen the issues. What should the Christian position be on whether there should be a state law forbidding a parent from killing his children? Is such a law legitimate, or is it an undue intrusion on people's rights?

The first response will no doubt be, "It is an intrusion on the rights of children." That begs the question. Why does a child have the right not to be killed? He would like having such a right, of course, but the parent would like to have the right to kill him. Different societies judge these things differently. Modern America does not allow a father to kill his child, but ancient Rome did.

The reason America differs from Rome is, I think, Christianity. Christians, unlike other people in the Roman Empire, thought it was sinful to abandon infants to die. It was a religious issue. I don't know how other non-Christian societies come out on this issue, but I wouldn't be surprised if tolerance of parents killing children was the norm. It really is quite rational, if we put aside the modern morality we all have inherited from Christianity. Suppose your baby is born crippled. Why should you have to ruin your life raising it, instead of smothering it and having another baby? Indeed, modern America comes close to this in the routine eugenic practice of aborting babies with Down's Syndrome. Since we can diagnose birth defects in the womb now, we are not so tempted by waiting till the child is born to kill it, and there has been less pressure on the cultural norm that post-birth killing is wrong.

But let us think now of the Christian libertarian. He will oppose the killing of crippled children by their parents as a matter of morality, but should he say that despite the immorality of the practice, he does not want to inflict his morality on other people and so opposes a government law against such murder?

Yes, it seems to me, if he is to be consistent. As a matter of secular prudence rather than religious morality, he could support laws against murdering adults. Such laws are convenient for keeping a society prosperous and orderly, arguments which cannot be made in favor of making infanticide illegal. We could imagine the voters all agreeing out of pure self-interest to a pact under which they are not allowed to kill each other. But banning infanticide would be the voters each giving up a right for nothing in return except the pleasure of thwarting someone else's right to kill children.

This last pleasure is, I think, the key to why we have infanticide laws in post-Christian societies. Even if the father wants to kill the child, the grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and schoolteachers might feel unhappy, and they are willing to impose their preferences on the father. This consideration, however, is one which gives ground to all kinds of morality laws: even if I want to engage in homosexuality, drug use, bear baiting, and cannibalism, my activities might make my relatives and neighbors unhappy.

So I think ifyou are to be a Christian libertarian, you must oppose laws against infanticide if you are to be consistent. If you are one who does not, you should rethink your opposition to other kinds of morality laws. Remember, to say that "Infanticide is different because the child's rights are being violated" is begging the question. Where do you get that idea of rights? In any case, why do you think you are justified in imposing your notion of children's rights on other people?

My hope here is that the Christian libertarian will decide there is something wrong in his position, and favor laws against infanticide, and thereby other morality laws. I'll have to wait till another day to address the Christian libertarian who sticks to his guns and says that although infanticide is immoral, ti should nonetheless be legal, to keep government intrusion to a minimum.

Posted by erasmuse at October 10, 2004 11:46 PM

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