If recent surveys are accurate, about 90 percent of the people in the 46 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean consider themselves Christians. Catholics comprise the overwhelming share of Latin Christians, followed by a smaller but rising number of Protestants.
For those of us who are both Christians and lovers of freedom and free markets, this fact poses a problem and an opportunity. The question is, “How do we best make the case that the teachings of Christ are in line with freedom and free markets?”
This is a challenge in part because so-called “liberation theology” has poisoned the well throughout the region. As a result, many Latin Americans mistakenly believe that the ethics and economics in the teachings of Christ are supportive of socialism or the welfare state, whereas nothing could be more wrong. In a future column, I intend to explore liberation theology. For now, I wish to alert readers to two books that can focus our thinking on the connections between Christianity and economic freedom.
One is my own, titled Was Jesus a Socialist?, available in paperback and on Kindle. Drawing from Scripture, I prove that nothing Jesus ever said supported compulsory redistribution of wealth, a welfare state, central planning of the economy or government ownership of the means of production.
The other is Faith Seeking Freedom by authors from the Libertarian Christian Institute. It answers numerous issues that socialists raise in regard to Christianity. I wrote the Foreword to the book and secured the permission of the Institute to reprint it here. I hope it will prompt readers to want to get the book. Also, at the bottom of this article, I provide links to other articles on this topic.
Foreword to Faith Seeking Freedom:
“I would have written a shorter letter,” the French theologian Blaise Pascal once declared, “but I didn’t have the time.”
Pascal’s meaning was profound. To make a point, we have two length-related options. We can write on and on, tossing in every thought big or small, and hope readers will read it. Or we can be pithy and concise enough that no reader will have a good reason not to, a talent that poor writers envy. It’s that course for which the authors of Faith Seeking Freedom have opted. The result is a one-stop shop of powerful and penetrating responses to more than a hundred excellent questions.
This is a book that addresses both Christianity and libertarianism, the political philosophy of liberty. In my teen years more than half a century ago, I was increasingly drawn to both but puzzled that they sometimes seemed at odds. However, the more I learned about Christianity and libertarianism, the more I came to understand their indissoluble compatibility. In 2020, I wrote a book titled Was Jesus a Socialist? that presented that case. Now, with this volume from the Libertarian Christian Institute, no one hereafter can ever make a convincing argument that the teachings of Christ and the principles of liberty are incongruous.
Liberty is an environment in which everyone makes choices about his life without fearing the initiation of force against him. In other words, liberty means you get to be the unique individual God intended you to be, so long as you do not threaten others. The Creator did not make us mindless robots to be programmed by some privileged central planner. The better we understand what liberty is, especially its insistence on strong moral character, the more it is obvious that it comports perfectly with the ethics of Christianity. Both libertarianism and the teachings of Christ demand that we respect one another, do no harm to each other, assist our fellows in distress, celebrate free will and diversity, and interact in peace.
It is a good thing to wonder and to raise questions. Even the Apostle Thomas had his doubts. There was a time, for example, when I was stumped over the matter of Jesus driving the so-called moneychangers from the Temple. A college professor told us it was an indication that Jesus had a problem with people who were trying to make money, that he was anti-market or anti-wealth. Why else would he do such a thing, I asked myself?
Later upon reflection, I realized that Jesus never drove a moneychanger from a bank or a marketplace. What seemed like a tough issue for a libertarian could be answered in a sentence or two. God’s house simply was a uniquely holy and inappropriate place for what the moneychangers were doing.
The story of Jesus feeding some 5,000 people, as told in the books of Matthew and John, is well known throughout the world. It goes like this:
As a large and hungry crowd gathers to hear Jesus, his disciples nervously ask him how so many people can be fed. The only food in their midst consists of five loaves of bread and two fishes. Jesus informs his associates of some rich people who live nearby. “Go and take what they have and give it to these who want it” he commands.
So armed with swords and clubs the disciples raid the homes of the rich, as well as a grocery store and a bank, and redistribute the proceeds to the grateful multitude. After the event is over, Jesus lobbies Roman authorities to raise taxes on the rich and fork over the loot so that next time the disciples will not have to go steal it themselves.
Of course, that is not the real story at all. Jesus never commanded anyone to steal somebody else’s property, not even for a “good cause.” In this instance, he solved the problem not by pilfering other people’s pockets, but by using his divine ability to create new wealth.
However, I know there are many Christians out there who believe that this story of feeding the multitude shows that Jesus was sympathetic to a generous welfare state. They are usually the same folks who think the generous traveler in the Good Samaritan story was a socialist, even though he solved the stricken man’s problem with private charity, not public handouts.
Reasonable questions, brief but pointed answers. That is the formula that makes this book work. And the authors never suggest that their responses are everything that can be said about an issue. Great recommendations for further reading are provided in several places.
If you are already a libertarian Christian, you will still find this book to be of great value and loaded with insights you may not have previously considered. If you are new to either Christianity or to libertarianism, you will find gems on every page. This is a keeper, a book you will want to keep handy on your most prominent bookshelf and one that you will recommend to others repeatedly.
I could go on and on, but not without proving Pascal’s wisdom at my own expense. Read this book with an open mind and you will be amazed at the extent to which its authors will fill it.
For additional information, see:
No, Jesus Wasn’t a Socialist by Lawrence W. Reed
61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus and Wealth by Jon Miltimore
Did Jesus Despise Money? by Lawrence W. Reed
Helping the Needy: What’s the Christian Thing to Do? by Lawrence W. Reed
The XYZs of Socialism by Lawrence W. Reed
Was Jesus a Socialist? – a Prager University video lecture by Lawrence W. Reed