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The Religious Right

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Sixty years ago, there occurred one of the most monumental revolutions in history. It was a revolution that shook the very foundations of American society.

For 150 years, the American people subscribed to a fundamental moral principle with respect to the role of government in their lives: Government shall never be used to take money from some people in order to give it to others. There were exceptions that crept into the system from time to time. But for most of the period from 1787 to the 1900s, there was no income taxation, welfare, Social Security, public housing, food stamps, public schooling, subsidies, and so forth.

Sixty years ago, that way of life came to an end. In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decreed that from that day forward, the primary mission of government in America would be to take money from those who had earned and saved it and be given to those who the government said deserved it more.

The result has been sixty years of what has become known as the welfare state.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, conservatives battled this new way of life in America. They pointed out that what the welfare state had done was simply to legitimize stealing. It was morally wrong, conservatives argued, to take something that did not belong to you and give it to someone else. And they pointed out that the basic immorality of stealing could not be converted into a moral act simply by making the act part of the political process. If 99 percent of the people voted to take money from A to give it to B, the act was as immoral as B simply stealing the money from A.

Thus, conservatives attacked the welfare state at its root. The welfare state had to be ended, they said, not reduced or reformed.

However, conservatives began to recognize that the American people liked this new order of things. Gradually, conservatives began throwing in the towel. From the 1960s through the 1990s, conservatives began falling over the precipice — at first a few, and then an avalanche. “The welfare state is here to stay,” conservatives concluded. “We might as well accept it and plan how we can gain control over the levers of power.”

Thus, today, there is no difference in principle between conservatives and those on the left side of the political spectrum. They both believe that government should take from some to give to others. Thus, one never finds a conservative calling for the end of welfare, Social Security, public schooling, subsidies, and the like. The call is always for reform — and for putting conservatives in charge of the programs.

Why did conservatives abandon their commitment to principle — to the ideas of liberty, property, and limited government? Because it was too painful for conservatives not to be accepted — not to be to be popular — not to be part of the “in crowd.” They traded their principles for the sake of popularity and acceptance. It is now sad to see them medicating their pain with books and conferences that mouth the good old principles of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.”

One of the most intriguing American political movements in recent times is that of the Religious Right. Composed primarily of Christians, the Religious Right talks about how government is the source of many of the problems that Americans face — illiteracy, family breakups, poverty, and so forth. The Religious Right calls for such things as lower taxes, welfare reform, and school choice.

In other words, those in the Religious Right are talking a lot like conservatives. But one gets the feeling that those in the Religious Right have not yet made the conscious decision that the conservatives made — that is, the decision to abandon their principles for the sake of expediency. One gets the impression, instead, that those in the Religious Right are looking through a glass darkly when it comes to the role of government in their lives. For this reason, the Religious Right has the potential to be an energizing force for liberty in America.

When man passes laws that violate God’s laws, the Christian must decide: “Will I pursue the laws of my God? Or will I pursue the laws of man?” The choice is very simple — very black and white — very plain. By supporting man’s laws, the Christian abandons his God. By supporting God’s laws, the Christian leaves behind the laws of man.

Throughout history, Christians have been faced with this fundamental choice. There have been those who have been unable to “take the heat” — to suffer the enmity and animosity of their fellow men. Thus, they have chosen to trade their souls for the acceptance and popularity of their fellow human beings. Other Christians have stood fast — and faced the persecution that came with that decision.

Protestants exclaim: “But once I have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, I am saved, no matter what happens after that.” But is it possible for a person who has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior to affirmatively support and promote violations of God’s commandments? If not, then perhaps a person who does so is fooling himself into thinking that he has accepted Christ as Savior.

Catholics exclaim: “But once I have confessed the sin, it is forgiven, and I am saved.” But what if the sin continues to be committed and promoted? Is it possible that the confessor is not truly repentant for his sin?

God’s commandment is very clear: “Thou shalt not steal.” It does not say, “Thou shalt not steal unless the state is doing it.” It does not say, “Thou shalt not steal unless a person is dependent upon it.” It does not say, “Thou shalt not steal unless one is in the process of reducing the stealing.” The commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal.” Period.

The Founding Fathers believed that taxation was proper to support the limited, proper functions of government — protecting the citizenry from the violence of others, (i.e., protecting us from invaders, murderers, thieves, and so on) and providing a means to resolve disputes (a judiciary). I question whether it is ever proper to force anyone to fund an activity that he would rather not fund. I also believe that there are a sufficient number of people who believe that government is important enough to fund voluntarily, even if others choose not to do so. Moreover, in a federal system, like that of the U.S., there is absolutely no reason for the national government to have the power to tax. The Constitution could easily provide that the national government shall be funded by a fixed percentage (i.e., five percent) of all the revenues generated by the states.

But let us accept, for the sake of argument, that taxation is necessary and desirable to support the limited functions of government. Does this entitle people to use this coercive power to plunder their neighbor to feather the nest of someone else?

If a Christian, or anyone else, holds a gun to someone’s head and demands his money in order to give it to someone else, the thief has violated God’s commandment against stealing. If ten Christians commit the act, it is still stealing. And if thousands of Christians get “their people” on the city council, and they vote to authorize the sheriff to go take the person’s money to fund someone else, it is still stealing. Christians may fool themselves into believing that they have committed a righteous act by stealing through the political process, but it is only they who are fooled, not their Creator.

Those in the Religious Right say: “But we are calling for lower taxes and smaller government. Can’t we move toward freedom by calling for incremental movements toward liberty?”

The answer is perhaps, but not necessarily. The incrementalists might make the situation worse. Take, for example, progressive income taxation, one of the ten planks of the Communist Manifesto. Either a person has the right to keep the fruits of his earnings, or he does not. It is that simple. When the incrementalists call for reductions in income taxes, they are implicitly accepting the premise that the state should control a person’s income. And even if income taxes are reduced, what assurance is there when an emergency happens down the road that the state won’t say: “Sorry, we have to raise taxes again — and we do have this power — the power to decide how much of your earnings you shall be entitled to keep”? Moreover, how can a person ever plan his affairs when the state has the power to arbitrarily take any amount of his earnings that it chooses?

When the state is engaged in evil and immoral conduct, there is only one approach that Christians may take: to end it. Should the position of a Christian in Nazi Germany have been: “I stand for the reduction in the number of Jews killed each year”? Should a Christian’s position in the U.S. today be: “I stand for a lowering of the amount of stealing that our government is engaged in”?

Consider another example — public schooling, which is another plank in the Communist Manifesto.

What is the approach of the Religious Right to public schooling? Their approach is the same as that of conservatives: “We have to take control over the public schools and restore prayer and values to our children’s education.”

The public school system is founded on stealing, pure and simple — the state uses its taxing power to take from some to feather the nest of others. Moreover, by forcibly removing children from the family in order to indoctrinate them with the teachings of the state, the state assumes that it — not God or the parents — is sovereign over the children. And by placing prayer in public schools, the word of God is subordinated to the power of Caesar.

By calling for reform of the public school system, Christians implicitly approve of the evil and immoral premises on which public schooling is founded. There can be only one Christian approach to public schooling: to end it, rather than reform or control it.

Another dangerous area for Christians is with respect to sin that does not involve the use of force or fraud against others. No one disputes that the state has a legitimate role in punishing sin that involves murder, theft, rape, and so on. No one has the right to destroy or interfere with another person’s life, liberty, or property.

But it is a different matter with respect to non-violent sin. The greatest gift that God bestowed upon man is that of free will. The gift is so unconditional that we have the ability to even reject Him. Unfortunately, conservatives take the position that God made a mistake by entrusting man with so much freedom. They say that Caesar — the state — should punish the man who chooses wrongly. Thus, conservatives say that the state should punish non-violent behavior, such as the use of illicit drugs, the viewing of pornography, the coveting of a neighbor’s wife, and so forth.

But Christians skate on very thin ice when they use the force of the state to interfere with God’s gift of free will. If free will means anything at all, it means the ability to choose wrongly. If a person is “free” to choose only the “correct” way, then he is not free. Christians must finally come to terms with the fact that individuals have the God-given right to choose wrongly, so long as the choice does not involve force or fraud against another — and that, as part of His great gift of free will, God demands that this right to choose be protected. As a minister friend of mine once put it: “Sin is too important an item to be left in the hands of the state.”

“But we cannot support freedom until people are moral,” conservatives say. But Christians know that morality can come only from the voluntary heart of the individual, not at the point of a gun. Only by permitting the human conscience to operate in the widest possible way, can we hope to achieve the type of society that most of us want. Christians also know that people come to Christ through the mystery of the Cross, not through the force of the state.

The Roosevelt revolution is a failed revolution. By abandoning the principles of ancestors-by abandoning the laws of our God-we have ended up with a society characterized by drug abuse, loss of values, strife, poverty, covetousness, and stealing.

The Religious Right could very well be a powerful force in the movement for freedom. We need not persuade Christians of the practical benefits that will result from ending the welfare state. We need only make them see the nature of the choice that confronts them. Once Christians realize that they must choose between God’s laws and man’s laws, they will know their duty.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.