Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Should Christians Think About Taxes?: Part 1 - "Render Unto Caesar" & Romans 13

Yesterday was Tax Day, the day where everyone pays their taxes to the fed.

Most Christians argue that taxes are a necessity to humanity and society, and therefore Christians, in obedience to the government, must pay their taxes (Romans 13:6). I don't dispute that Christians should pay taxes, for doing so not only keeps unnecessary harm from ourselves but also keeps the Gospel message from being discredited by anti-Christians. However, what i do dispute is the necessity and morality of taxes. On this issue I and many others depart from the conventional Christian understanding of taxation and society. My view is that while Christians should pay taxes for pragmatic reasons, taxes are not by themselves good things but rather they are unnecessary for human flourishing and are very immoral in their nature. For taxation is essentially the forceful taking of the fruits of the labor of every man for the purpose of the flourishing of the State. While paying taxes is not a sin, the act of taxing is certainly so, and a very dangeorus one at that.

Romans 13:6

The first reason why I argue that taxation is immoral is from the moral-ethical perspective: taxation can be called theft, for it is the initiation of force to take the fruits of one's labor or one's wealth for the use of the State, and it is not consensual in any way.

But the Christian may ask, "Why then does Romans 13:6 ask us to pay taxes if taxes were so immoral?" I would answer that the passage in Romans 13:6 does not make a statement on the morality of taxation but rather how a Christian should react to them.

Norman Horn, in his essay "The New Testament Theology of the State," says this:


Verses 5-7 expand upon the reasons for submitting and include practical ways the Roman Christians were to respond to Paul’s message. Cobin says, “The reason we must submit to government is to avoid wrath or worrying about being harmed by the state authority. God does not want us to be entangled with the affairs of this world to the point where such involvement detracts from our primary mission” (Christian Theology of Public Policy, 125). The word “conscience” in verse 5 should be interpreted in a similar manner as 1 Corinthians 10 (regarding food sacrificed to idols). The believers were concerned that the Roman state would find a legal reason to persecute them. One cannot use this verse in an absolutist sense to say that Christians can never participate in removing any authority, such as in the American Revolution. Paul also encourages Christians to “overcome evil with good” as understood in Romans 12:21 (this includes evil authority), and to work to be free if at all possible (1 Corinthians 7:20-23). 

Paul also says to submit to paying taxes for the same reason: avoiding state wrath in order to live for God. One despises paying taxes, but in order to abate the state’s wrath one pays them. Likewise, “pay to all what is due them” is commanded for the same purpose, especially considering the political tumult of the time. But does this mean that a man sins if he makes a mistake on his Federal tax return? Paul would very likely answer no. Modern taxes are very different from Roman taxes. In fact, the Greek word for “taxes” in verse 7 is more accurately rendered “tribute,” which is specifically the capitation tax (or “head tax”) in a Roman township census. The Romans would send soldiers from house to house, count the residents there, calculate the tax, and then demand full payment immediately. If a Christian did not comply at once, then he, his family, and possibly even his fellow believers could be in imminent, serious trouble. Paul says to not resist these men when they do this, just pay the tax. Refusal to pay would identify them as part of the tax rebels and political rogues of the day, and would give the Romans a reason to persecute Christians in Rome and perhaps throughout the empire. Paul wanted the Roman Christians to avoid becoming public spectacles and government targets. 

Likewise, since the Christian would definitey want to avoid needless wrath, he should pay taxes, not because the tax itself is legitimate and moral but because paying the tax keeps the hand of the State away from needless persecution. In our present society, if one saw Christians not paying taxes, not only would the State crack down on them but also the media and society will unleash and declare open season on Christians, much like the media has done when scandals have broken out in the Christian community.

"Render Unto Caesar": Pro-State?

Now, having dealt with that, how does the Bible deal with the ethics of taxes? Does it approve and condone of the whole thing? Or is there something deeper 
in the Scriptures that most pro-tax people don't recognise fully?

First, let us deal with the famous saying of Jesus: "Render unto Caesar that   which is Caesar's and to God that which is God's." Many interpret the passage as meaning that jesus recognized the necessity and morality of taxation because, after all, he didn't say "Taxes are evil!" and thus, he probably approved of the process of taxation (though not necessarily the means with which the Roman Empire exercised taxation). This is the view of the conventional conservative interpretation, as well as the conventional classical-liberal interpretation.

A great article by Jeffrey F. Barr, however, disputes the conventional pro-tax interpretation of the message of Jesus.

The historical context is important in understanding Jesus' situation, where tax revolts occured and the Roman Empire brutally crushed them.


In 6 A.D., Roman occupiers of Palestine imposed a census tax on the Jewish people. The tribute was not well-received, and by 17 A.D., Tacitus reports in Book II.42 of the Annals, "The provinces, too, of Syria and Judaea, exhausted by their burdens, implored a reduction of tribute." A tax-revolt, led by Judas the Galileansoon ensued. Judas the Galilean taught that "taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery," and he and his followers had "an inviolable attachment to liberty," recognizing God, alone, as king and ruler of Israel. The Romans brutally combated the uprising for decades. Two of Judas' sons were crucified in 46 A.D., and a third was an early leader of the 66 A.D. Jewish revolt. Thus, payment of the tribute conveniently encapsulated the deeper philosophical, political, and theological issue: Either God and His divine laws were supreme, or the Roman emperor and his pagan laws were supreme.

Understanding the background of the Jewish homeland at the time will then give further understanding of how Jesus would have dealt with the situation laid out to him in Matthew 22:15-22. 

First, the Scripture points out that the whole question was not asked in sincerity but in an attempt to trap Jesus and hand Him over to the Roman authorities. 

Barr states:

By appealing to Jesus' authority to interpret God's law, the questioners accomplish two goals: (1) they force Jesus to answer the question; if Jesus refuses, He will lose credibility as a Rabbi with the very people who just proclaimed Him a King; and (2) they force Jesus to base this answer in Scripture. Thus, they are testing His scriptural knowledge and hoping to discredit Him if He cannot escape a prima facie intractable interrogatory. As Owen-Ball states, "The gospel writers thus describe a scene in which Jesus' questioners have boxed him in. He is tempted to assume, illegitimately, the authority of a Rabbi, while at the same time he is constrained to answer according to the dictates of the Torah."
This would mean that the Pharisees put Jesus between a rock and a hard place, putting him at risk of hatred if he said yes to the question and being branded a political rebel if he said no.

So later on, according to the Scriptures, Jesus finds a coin and asks, "Whose face is on it?" They answer, "Caesar's." Here is where another interesting nuance comes in. Barr points out that the denarii (the coin that was mentioned) was used by the emperor as a sign of his power, and while he made only three, two of which were rare, the third one was common, and Tiberius preferred it as such. Barr points out: 

"The only people to transact routinely with the denarius in Judaea would have been soldiers, Roman officials, and Jewish leaders in collaboration with Rome. Thus, it is noteworthy that Jesus, Himself, does not possess the coin. The questioners' quickness to produce the coin at Jesus' request implies that they routinely used it, taking advantage of Roman financial largess, whereas Jesus did not. Moreover, the Tribute Episode takes place in the Temple, and by producing the coin, the questioners reveal their religious hypocrisy – they bring a potentially profane item, the coin of a pagan, into the sacred space of the Temple."


This is very important as Jesus uses His question to counter the trap set by the questioners, as the denarii mentioned were often declarations of the emperor's divinity, and they brought something potentially idolatrous into the temple. As Barr points out, "Jesus' use of the word, "image," in the counter-question reminds His questioners of the First (Second) Commandment's requirement to venerate God first and its concomitant prohibition against creating images of false gods." 

Also, the "inscription" question harkens back to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The coin had the inscription of the emperor, but the commands of God are to worship Him and to inscribe the words, and more specifically to carry them on their hands and foreheads (in the form of teffilins). In fact, Jesus quoted this passage when being tempted by Satan in Matthew 4:10. 

Having answered that, let us go on to how that question was answered and how Jesus dealt with it. The answer to the question is only this: "Caesar's."

Barr points out that the response was significant because the coin would have this inscription on it: "Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus." Also, this would appear on the coin—the image of Pax, goddess of peace, and this inscription: "Pontifex Maximus." The term means "High Priest."

Barr says:


The coin of the Tribute Episode is a fine specimen of Roman propaganda. It imposes the cult of emperor worship and asserts Caesar's sovereignty upon all who transact with it.
In the most richly ironic passage in the entire Bible, all three synoptic Gospels depict the Son of God and the High Priest of Peace, newly-proclaimed by His people to be a King, holding the tiny silver coin of a king who claims to be the son of a god and the high priest of Roman peace.
The second reason the answer is significant is that in following the pattern of rabbinic rhetoric, the answer exposes the hostile questioners' position to attack. It is again noteworthy that the interrogators' answer to Jesus' counter-question about the coin's image and inscription bears little relevance to their original question as to whether it is licit to pay the tribute. Jesus could certainly answer their original question without their answer to His counter-question. But the rhetorical function of the answer to the counter-question is to demonstrate the vulnerability of the opponent's position and use that answer to refute the opponent's original, hostile question.
Now we get to the famous "Render unto Caesar" passage, which may not be the pro-state passage that many have interpeted it to be. Jesus, in His answer, subtly showed that God and the empire were in competition over who ruled His people: the State or God. Barr states:
With one straightforward counter-question, Jesus skillfully points out that the claims of God and Caesar are mutually exclusive. If one's faith is in God, then God is owed everything; Caesar's claims are necessarily illegitimate, and he is therefore owed nothing. If, on the other hand, one's faith is in Caesar, God's claims are illegitimate, and Caesar is owed, at the very least, the coin which bears his image.

What Is The Lesson For Us?

The lesson here is: Jesus didn't endorse the morality of taxation in his "Render unto Caesar" moment but rather affirmed the sovereignty of God in his subtle rhetorical wording while not directly answering the tricky question. Also, the fact that Christians ought to pay taxes doesn't by nature endorse the morality of taxing itself. In fact, in the Gospels, tax collection is often depicted as a sin, and two who were touched by Jesus were in fact motivated to leave the profession of tax collecting: those two were Matthew/Levi and Zacchaeus. 

Thus, while Christians should pay taxes for pragmatic and practical reasons, they should not endorse or celebrate the institution that often competes with God for sovereignty and ruler-ship.

The next section will be dealing with how taxation is a form of stealing and thus violates the Scriptures, especially the commandment to not steal.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Film Review: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug theatrical poster


***1/2/***** (3.5/5)

Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham
Story/Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro; based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Music: Howard Shore
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Editing: Jabez Olssen
Starring: Martin Freeman, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitrage, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

Run Time: 161 minutes

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, while definitely flawed and not up to the skill that The Lord of the Rings trilogy displayed, still served as a decent film adaptation of Tolkien's book (though three movies are a bit too stretched; two movies probably would have been enough; however, if the third movie delivers, then I won't complain too much). It did have some overuse of CGi and forced epic-ness, but it wasn't the abomination that some detractors claimed it was (and neither was it the masterpiece that its most ardent fans said it was). 

However, I was unable to catch this on the big screen, so I pre-ordered the Blu-ray when it was announced that it was going to be released soon. And sure enough, I got this film in the mailbox and decided to see this film with my siblings and a good friend of ours.

Now let me get to the plot summary: After the events of the previous film, the movie gives us a brief flashback to the events that happened before the journey, where Thorin (Richard Armitrage) is at an inn and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) meets him up there. It is here that Thorin is encouraged to go upon the quest and reclaim Erebor from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Later on, the film cuts to 12 months later, where Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf, Thorin and everyone else is on their journey and they come upon the house of Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), in whose house they dwell while escaping from Azog and his forces. On the journey they encounter spiders, elves, and men, until they eventually come to the Lonely Mountain, to the Desolation of Smaug, and to their homeland in Erebor. 

However, dark forces are awakening that were only hinted at before, and they will arise to cause great disaster that will threaten not only our characters but also the entire realm of Middle Earth.

Now that i got the plot summary out of the way, let me get to the actual review of the film.

Is it the superb and masterful sequel that some claim that it is? Is it the bloated abomination of epic proportions that the detractors claim? Or are these two options only two of many different views of this film.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug fails in many ways as an adaptation and rendition of the original source. While the main journey is there, much subplot has been added into the film (Thranduil, Legolas, and that female character Tauriel (Evangeline Lily)), and there is more CGi and more action than ever was in An Unexpected Journey. However, if one is considering this as a film, then for the most part this movie succeeds as a nice, exciting action flick that has some pretty good filmmaking and serves as a good blockbuster entertainment that doesn't transcend heights and genre limitations like Lord of the Rings did.

The acting is really good, with Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman doing really good jobs as Gandalf the Grey and Bilbo Baggins. Freeman really captures the development of Bilbo and how he has changed from the previous film. And McKellen captures the character of Gandalf as he learns of the evil that is awakening. Richard Armitrage as Thorin is well-acted, showing how the quest impacts Thorin's heart, changing him from a person concerned for Bilbo to a person almost mad for the Arkenstone and consumed by his desire for Erebor and the wealth it contains. Evangeline Lily is pretty decent as Tauriel, though I find her to still be filler that was added just to make the story more "female-friendly" (not to mention that I personally didn't connect with the implied love triangle with her, Legolas, and Kili, one of the thirteen dwarves) and Orlando Bloom is also pretty good in his role as Legolas (though his face looks a bit unnatural in contrast to the Lord of the Rings movies).


All the other actors do well in their roles, including Lee Pace as the dwarf-hating Woodland king Thranduil, but especially interesting in Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of the fierce dragon Smaug. While he isn't the master that some of the fans claim he is, he actually is very good for his role, and the terror he inspires is fitting for his intimidating role. Cumberbatch was perfect for this role as Smaug.

The script also is pretty good, but the film did drag a bit near the middle, especially with the overload of action sequences in this film, all of which are pretty good but which are not great. Many of the scenes border on over-the-top and popcorn-style scenes, with dwarves suddenly having skills that rival the finest Olympic athletes, elves doing acrobatics while fighting evil orcs, Tauriel using cool ninja-esque moves while killing monsters, and more. For the heavy action fan and an admirer of today's action-packed blockbuster entertainment, this movie is heaven. But for those who preferred Lord of the Rings and don't like overloaded action, this film will drag (even though I admit that I didn't hate most of the action scenes in the film). And may I note that this film has an excess of computer-generated images in contrast to the happy marriage of practical and digital effects that has existed in so many great films, masterpieces and classic movies of modern times (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and many other films come to mind). While the CGi does manage to be good in the long run, there are instances where it looks fake, particularly in the ending where Thorin and all the dwarves unleash a golden statue of a dwarf warrior and that statue melts and covers Smaug (the gold looked so laughably fake). 

Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, while a bit too overloaded with action and CGi as well as other pop-blockbuster elements of today, still serves as a nice action movie that both expands upon the merits of An Unexpected Journey and at the same time expands upon the demerits of the film. It works on the overall level as an action film set in Middle Earth, and depsite its many flaws, there is just so much good work and effort put into this movie that it is near-impossible to compare this to other big-budget failures and fanboy punching-bags like the Star Wars prequel trilogy or Battlefield Earth

It is not a perfect film, and neither is it a great film, but it is a good film. 3.5/5

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The NOAH Movie Resource Page


The movie Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) and starring famous movie star Russell Crowe in the titular role, has stirred up much controversy. The critics seem to like it a lot, and the film is getting plenty of glowing to good reviews, praising the creativity and what they see as good filmmaking.

However, in the Christian and religious community, there is much division. Many Christians consider it to be a good/great movie that succeeds both as a film and is compatible with the orthodox Christian faith despite the extrabiblical liberties and controversial changes. And others despise the film to the very core.

As for me, I personally I haven't seen the film, but I am finding validity on both sides of the issues. The haters seem to be right on with their complaints about certain bad changes that the movie makes, while the lovers of the film seem to make pretty decent arguments in favor of the film. And I don't exactly hold in favor some of the changes (from what I heard, the reason for the Flood was overpopulation, according to this film), but at the same time I will withhold judgment as to whether the film itself is bibilcal, not only because I haven't seen the film, but because much has already been said of the film elsewhere.

Also, I think both sides are in the wrong when bringing in personal attacks. Conservative Christians who hate the movie are wrong when they are accusing Noah fans of being immoral, godless hedonists and/or self-loathing Christians (in fact, I am pretty tired of this vitriol directed by them to Noah fans and defenders), and Noah defenders are wrong when they accuse all Noah skeptics of being bigots who can't appreciate good cinema (in fact, many people also hate Noah because they feel it is a bad film).

So here is my resource page on the movie, compiling lists that praise the movie, hate the movie (or don't want to support it due to the extrabiblical material) and are on the fence about it.

Note: This page won't be left uninterrupted and will be updated. When I see the film, I will publish my review of the film and maybe even more stuff on the film.

Introductory Material


  1. Brian Godawa. "Darren Aronofsky's Noah: Environmentalist wacko"
  2. Trevin Wax. "How Christians are responding to the Noah movie."


Pro/Mixed


  1. Peter T. Chattaway's review of the film; his second impressions
  2. Steven D. Greydanus's coverage of the film
  3. Steve Greydanus. "The Noah Movie: Questions and Answers"
  4. Jeffrey Overstreet talks a bit on coverage about the film.
  5. The Christianity Today review by Alissa Wilkison
  6. Rebecca Cusey. "Noah: A good flick for everyone"
  7. Rebecca Florence Miller. "10 reasons this Christian loves Noah"
  8. Joe Carter's review
  9. Greg Thornbury's review
  10. Diana Chandler. "Scriptural error abounds, but Christians promote, blast Noah."
  11. MOVIEGUIDE review
  12. Kat Butler's MOVIEGUIDE article: "What's wrong with NOAH?"
  13. Jerry Johnson lists five things he likes about the film.
  14. Peter T. Chattaway responds to Brian Mattson's anti-Noah article.
  15. Chris Goins. "NOAH: A Few Thoughts from a Pretty Simple Pastor and Dad"
  16. Steven D. Greydanus. "Fr. Barron on 'Noah'! Catholic Culture! More!"
  17. Plugged In. "Noah"
  18. Jeffrey Overstreet's commentary on Noah (Part One and Part Two)
  19. Kevin Ott's review of NOAH
  20. Russell Hemati - "Noah - a Christian Philosopher Review"
  21. An IGN.com review of the film by a Christian
  22. Ian Huyyet. "There's at least one conservative Christian who liked NOAH"

Con


  1. Barbara Nicolosi's review
  2. Answers in Genesis's page on Noah
  3. Kenneth Morefield's review
  4. Brian Godawa. "Deconstructing Noah's arc: Godawful storytelling" and "The subversion of God in Noah".
  5. Dr. Brian Mattson. "Sympathy for the devil"
  6. Dr. Albert Mohler. "Drowning in Distortion—Darren Aronofsky's Noah"
  7. Matt Walsh. "I'm a Christian and I think 'Noah' deserves four stars."
  8. Ben Shapiro. "9 Problems With Aronofsky's Noah"
  9. John Nolte. "'Noah' Review: Brilliantly Sinister Anti-Christian Filmmaking"
  10. Don Johnson. "How the NOAH Movie Dangerously Distorts The Truth About God"
  11. Denny Burk. "The midrashiest midrash that ever was midrashed ... A spoiler-free review of NOAH"
  12. Mennoknight's review of NOAH
  13. "A balanced Christian review of NOAH"
Discussion thread on Arts & Faith: "Noah"


Monday, April 7, 2014

Thoughts on "Thick" Libertarianism: Part 1 - Is Libertarianism More Than Anti-Statism?

There has been a recent controversy in the libertarian movement over the issue of "thin" vs. "thick" libertarianism. Some have argued that libertarianism shouldn't be "thick" while others (particularly of a more leftish inclination) argued that "thick" libertarianism is a necessary and a good thing.

So I have decided to give my few cents on this issue, from both a libertarian and a Christian standpoint.

In one article, left-libertarian Cory Massimino argued that libertarianism is more than just anti-statism and Sheldon Richman (a great writer, BTW) argued in favor of "thick libertarianism." However, many others have argued convincingly that libertarianism doesn't require being "thick" to be a good and that libertarianism, as a political philosophy, doesn't need any "thickness" added to it.

And now, I intend to give some of my thoughts on the "thick-libertarian" phenomenon, and why I think it is wrong-headed not only personally but also for the liberty movement in general.

I will also note that this will not be in-depth, for many great articles have been written on this subject, all of which can be found by a simple search on the Internet.

Is Libertarianism More Than Anti-Statism?

The great Catholic anarcho-capitalist writer Lew Rockwell wrote a column defining libertarianism and explaining what it both was and wasn't. Many libertarians took it to heart and agreed. However, left-libertarian Cory Massimino argued that libertarianism shouldn't be just anti-statism. It should be a holistically leftist movement committed to the non-aggression principle plus the leftist ideals of anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and feminism, all as essential to libertarianism.

First, Massimino argues this:


The reason I concern myself with violations of peoples’ liberty that don’t owe their origin to the state is explained by Rockwell when he writes, “Our position is not merely that the state is a moral evil, but that human liberty is a tremendous moral good.” Exactly! I am against authoritarianism, domination, and believe in equality of authority. That is why I am opposed to statism. But it’s also why I am for a world free of institutional oppression in the form of patriarchy, racism, gay and trans shaming, and autonomy-destroying, hierarchical workplaces.
At the onset of the tone, it is clear that Massimino wants to infuse leftist ideals and concepts into libertarianism, thus imbibing certain leftist narratives and attempting to combine libertarian opposition to statism with opposition to all authority. But libertarianism, in its commitment to the non-aggression principle and it's recognition of voluntary organization and cooperation, allows for authority of various kinds, provided it is not gained through the use of force and an attaining of monopoly over a parcel of territory, like the State does. That means that gay and trans shaming, patriarchy, racism, and yes, hierarchical workplaces would exist in the libertarian society. They may not be as abundant or as widely-accepted as some right-wing libertarians would wish, but they would definitely exist. And discrimination (ah, that bogeyman of the left) will surely exist.
Later, Massimino says:

Rothbard’s argument shows how liberty is needed for each person to find their own purpose and achieve their own good. This goes beyond the actions of the state. Repressive cultural norms and domineering social customs also prevent people from flourishing. They, too, lessen people’s liberty. A black person can’t flourish if he lives in a staunchly racist community with employers and businesses who refuse him service. They wouldn’t be violating his rights, but they would certainly be diminishing his ability to achieve his own good. He would hardly be considered free in such an oppressive society.

Rothbard continues, “Libertarians agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end” – not necessarily the highest end on everyone’s personal scale of values.” While this is an excellent quote by Lord Action, it doesn’t go far enough. Why would liberty only be relevant in the political sphere? It is certainly affected by various other factors. There is no reason to end our concern for human freedom at the doorstep of the capitol building. In order to remain consistent, we ought to extend that concern to all human interactions.

It is true that these types of relationships Massimino describes may be a horrible thing and a very sad one too. Liberty, however, means being free from the tentacles of being aggressed against, meaning that this freedom is a "negative" freedom. While libertarians may share admirations for other types of freedom, the "negative" ideal of freedom (not interfering with people's rights) is the primary political end. Other freedoms (freedom from sin, freedom from want, etc.) can occur safely within the bounds of negative freedom and are reconcileable with it, but they should not require the violation of other people's rights to provide for those rights. For example, "freedom from want," at least as interpreted by progressive activists, would require taking people's money against their will (taxation) to give to others. However, the freedom to take an unowned parcel of land and mix your labor with it does not violate another's rights, for that does not require the use of aggressive force and/or violence in doing so. So while repressive cultural norms and social customs may be restrictive of freedom in other senses, as long as there is no exploitation and initiation of force involved, then these social customs do not violate "negative" liberty. Also, since the Austrian economic theory teaches us that value is subjective, what defines "repressive" and "domineering"? Some may find the "repressive" traditions (no sex outside of marriage, no homosexuality, no adultery, etc.) to be not so repressive and in many ways liberating in their own way.

As for the example Massimino uses, the black person can then find another place where he can flourish, either by taking unowned land and mixing his labor with it (making it his property) and/or through voluntary exchange and market forces. The beauty of the libertarian society is that it offers options, and in such a society there will be options that don't always require the "crushing" of "repressive" norms, leaving almost no one's rights violated in the process. 
And is "liberty" be relevant only in the political sphere? In a way, that answer is not exactly yes or no. "No" in the sense that libertarianism is a political philosophy, not a holistic one, so the liberty that libertarianism advocates is a negative freedom to not have one's rights violated. Extensions to all human interactions will exist, but even then, as human interactions will become freer, there is not as big a need to make libertarianism holistic as Massimino and others would argue.
Later on, Massimino argues that making libertarianism "thick" is only a small branching out of core libertarian principles rather than extrapolating and adding to them. However, when one argues that libertarianism's foundations requires leftist principles and social constructs, then it is hard to consider this anything but adding onto libertarianism. And personally, I think the whole "pizza" comparison is a little offbase.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Plea to Young Activists - Embrace Liberty

A Plea to Young Activists—Embrace Liberty 

by

Jeff Godley

Introduction from Anand Venigalla, chief host: I had recently gotten a Facebook account, and in my encounters I stumbled upon a young Christian anarcho-capitalist by the name of Jeff Godley. I talked with him through private mail regarding many interesting things, and when I mentioned my blog, he asked if he could be part of it, as he has hosted other blogs as well. In this article, Jeff argues that young activists should embrace the libertarian philosophy, explaining why he finds libertarianism to be better than statism.

I hope that everyone who reads this blog will welcome Jeff. May his writing inspire us. :)

University students and young adults often find themselves swept up in the current of political activism. Having left home, often for the first time, we find a new freedom to think our own thoughts and embrace our own beliefs. These beliefs often lead us to actively pursue social, political or economic change through activism.

This new life is not all roses, however. We soon discover that not everyone shares our concern over the issues we have chosen. Some of our peers may disagree with our positions; others may simply not share our enthusiasm. These experiences can bring us into conflict with our peers, and leaves many of us wondering, is there any issue on which we can all agree? Is there any issue which can truly unite all of us?

I submit that there is one, and only one, issue on which can bring all young activists can stand in solidarity. That issue is liberty.

Liberty simply means the right of every individual to self-determination. I choose my words very carefully here: liberty is an individual right, not a right which is given to members of a specific group. One group of people cannot have “more liberty” than another, for liberty does not come from groups. And the right of liberty is one to self-determination - it is the right of a person to make their own choices regarding their life, their actions and their possessions. 


The truth of liberty may seem obvious, perhaps even not worth mentioning. Yet liberty is under attack everywhere, and often political activists, young or old, are partly to blame. Pick any contemporary political issue - environmentalism, economics, poverty, crime, drugs, gay marriage, to name a few - and you will the majority of people within the debate believe the solution is to take away the right of a certain group to make their own choices concerning their own lives, actions or possessions. Instead of liberty, they embrace coercion.

My plea to young activists is this: do not fall into this temptation. Do not seek to coerce others into accepting your agenda. Pursue whatever social change seems best to you; but above all other goals, pursue liberty.  

There are three reasons why I believe liberty ought to be considered the one issue which unites all activists.  

First, all of us became activists through liberty. We were each afforded the freedom to think our own thoughts, to embrace our own beliefs, to act in the way we thought best. Why, then, do we seek to deny this same freedom to others? In order to remain true to our own political goals, we must seek the same liberty for others that we claim for ourselves. 

Second, the complexity of social issues demands liberty. Coercion may seem the more attractive option for achieving change. After all, not everyone will agree that change is necessary - how do we deal with these people? Perhaps it is best simply to force them to comply with our demands.

The problem is that coercion, by definition, insists on uniformity. Coercion presumes that there is only one viable solution to a problem. By forcing others to accept our solution, we hinder social change. The great driver of human progress is innovation: changes in the way we approach problems and the means we use to address them are what ultimately lead to real, lasting change for the better. Science is the easiest example: where would we be if the great inventors of ages past had been told to embrace another person’s plan instead of creating their own? Social change is brought about not by those who conform, but those are free to transform. 

Third, only liberty ensures that social change is permanent. Coercion as a solution can never bring lasting change. If we choose to bring change by forcing others to conform, we have no choice except to continue coercing them forever. Coercion does not change hearts or minds; in fact, it tends to do the opposite. The more we seek to force others, the less likely it becomes that they embrace our cause of their own free will. After all, if our agenda was so great, why would we feel the need to force it on anyone? So the change lasts only as long as the group in charge remains stronger and more belligerent than the group being forced to comply. 

Some might object, “I can live with this situation of perpetual coercion, so long as my group remains strongest.” The problem with this is twofold. First, you cannot guarantee that your group will ever remain strongest, and if ever you lose your grasp on power, all your work can be lost in an instant. Second, any mechanism you put in place to maintain power over others can one day be used against you. If that should happen, the change you lobbied and legislated and voted so hard for could be permanently lost.

Liberty, on the other hand, does not seek to coerce others, but rather to persuade; it does not seek to make solutions mandatory, but rather to make them attractive; it does not seek to remove all alternatives but always seeks to innovate and find a better solution. Liberty, and not political coercion, is the true path to real and lasting social change. 

How, then, do we pursue liberty in our activism? 

Simply this way: instead of seeking a State-enforced solution to a problem, seek a voluntary one. It has become so common-place to think that the State is the engine of social change that this may suggestion might appear outlandish. Yet consider the abysmal record of state intervention. Since the 1950’s governments the world over have thrown vast amounts of money toward alleviating poverty. Government spending on poverty continues to climb, but so does the poverty rate. At some point, we have to ask: how many dollars will finally tip the scales? which increase will be the final one? If state intervention was the cure for poverty, surely we would have seen some qualitative improvement as result of the last 50 years of spending?

Poverty is just one example of an important issue which is wrongly delegated to government. The consequence of this is not simply a lack of improvement of poverty, but a lack of innovation. We still use the same methods to combat poverty that were in use 60 years ago - because that is the result of coercing others to embrace the solution we think best. How much better off today’s poor be if, instead of demanding a coerced solution from the state, activists had spent their energy seeking a creative and voluntary solution, and persuaded others to take part?

The solution to social problems does not lie in greater intervention of the state, not in enforced conformity. Quite the opposite, what is needed is liberty - the freedom of people to innovate, to create, and to do so without having another’s will imposed on them. In the short term, yes, this may mean that many will refuse to take up the cause. But it is unnecessary that a majority of people embrace the cause in order for a solution to be found - all it takes is a few motivated individuals dedicated to finding the right innovation.

Only the change that is chosen voluntarily will last. As tempting as government solutions can be, the state can never foster sweeping social change. Liberty does not demand that we abandon all of our other causes; it does however, demand a radical change in how we pursue them. Thus, my final plea is this: whatever cause you advocate for, embrace liberty. Persuade, do not coerce; pursue a voluntary solution, not an imposed one. Seek change that will truly impact the world for the better in a real, lasting way.

Liberty is the issue that must unite us all. 

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Keith and Kristin Getty Concert At Tilles Center on April 13!

Keith and Kristin Getty are two very interesting people in the world of contemporary Christian music. My family and I have listened to several of their songs (other than the popular "In Christ Alone") and they do seem to hold a very high standard of music, as their music, for the most part, is excellent and well-done. We even attended a concert of theirs at Calvary Baptist Church last year.

Now, they have started their Spring Tour. And on Sunday, April 13, 2014 (on 7:00 p.m.), they will be performing at the Tilles Center for Performing Arts at Long Island University, a short distance from where I live. :)

And me and my younger siblings will be performing in the choir, which will involve the Joshua Leah Homeschool Group, a group in which my family is part of.

Here is the poster download and the RSVP Facebook link.