Sunday, August 28, 2016

Jesus goes up to Jerusalem

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again." But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34)

Of course they don't understand, he thought. Has this not always been the question since the dawn of creation? Why should there be any suffering at all?

For a while he said nothing, while his disciples followed, arguing with one another what his words meant. He contemplated the great passage in Isaiah, "Who has believed what we have heard, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Who, indeed? Has it not always been a struggle? How much longer, Father, must I be with this crooked generation? How much longer must I put up with them?

Yet for this reason he had come into the world. For this reason, in some sense, he had created the world. In all of this suffering he revealed his glory. Why did no one seem to understand?

Father, if it is your will, let this cup pass from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.

There was always that tension within him. Maybe that famous complaint of mortals was right, after all. Why bring into being a world only to subject it to its own evil? Why should I suffer for the sake of the world? Why does it exist at all? Could there not have been a better way?

"So the Lord said, 'I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created--people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.'" Jesus couldn't help thinking about these words. He prayed in his heart, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Truly, they do not know what they are doing. But had not Job spoken what is right about God, and had not his friends kindled God's anger against them? And was not the psalmist telling the truth when he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Were not all of these complaints vindicated by the Scriptures? Perhaps mortals know more than they get credit for.

Perhaps I am the one to blame for this, he thought. Is that why I am going to die? Is the sin of the world really my own, after all? I am the light of the world... But if the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. What a fine phrase for the Prince of Peace! The suffering that I bring is not only my own, but of the whole world. If I have the power to raise the dead, why should anyone die at all?

"Why do you all me good?" He had really meant it. He knew very well that mortals had many complaints in their hearts against God. If being born man had truly taught him anything, it was that time and finitude were enough to drive anyone mad, even to the point of wondering whether the Father was there at all.

Three times he had told his disciplines exactly what was about to happen. And three times they had become distressed, not understanding what he meant. Maybe they never would understand.

As he was lost in thought, he barely noticed the blind man calling out, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" He stopped. "What do you want me to do for you?" The man said, "Lord, let me see again."

It really was so obvious. Lord, let me see again. I'm blind, so let me see. The difference between this man and the crowds is that he knows exactly what he wants.

Why is he blind? Is it just so that I can heal him? Did the world come into being for my own vanity? "Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher." Even if I heal this man, will his life be any less vain?

Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

But no one understood why he was going to Jerusalem.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Anthropocentric religion, part 2

A while back I wrote on this blog against the complaint that Christianity is essentially anthropocentric. Yes, the universe is vast, and humans are very insignificant in relation to the whole sum of existence. That is hardly an argument against a faith which, historically, strongly affirms these claims.

But then again, experience often contradicts this fact and reinforces the idea that Christianity is a religion focused on satisfying some human psychological need. I was reminded of this a week ago during Sunday worship.

Perhaps the vast majority of self-identified evangelical churches would summarize the gospel as follows: we are great sinners, but Jesus is a great Savior, who through his sacrifice on the cross atones for our sins and loves us unconditionally, so that through faith in him we may approach God with confidence and find eternal life.

All the main elements of worship at the church where I worshiped were clearly designed to reinforced this message. From the opening remarks (in which the associate pastor confessed that he, too, is a sinner, awkwardly eliciting faux surprise from the congregation) to the songs (including a rendition of "It Is Well with My Soul" in which the instruments made sure to put a musical climax around the verse, "My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought... is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more...") to the sermon (an interpretation of Psalm 139 which, though quite sophisticated, nevertheless boiled down to, "God loves you and thinks about you even more than you do"), everything pointed one's thoughts toward our individual need for love and redemption and the good news that God satisfies these needs. (Ironically enough for an evangelical church, it was perhaps the Lord's table which made an exception to this rule, the focus being not merely Christ's atonement on our behalf, but the spiritual life he gives us by feeding us. But I digress.)

The closing hymn was none other than "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," which has the following lyrics:
I am weak, but Thou art strong,
Jesus, keep me from all wrong,
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more,
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom's shore, to Thy shore.
Now, far be it from me to say this song is without merit as a hymn of praise. It is not wrong to celebrate one's personal walk with Jesus Christ. And yet, an outside observer could be forgiven for concluding from these words that Christianity is fundamentally about worshiping an imaginary friend who comforts individuals through hard times and assures them that one day this sad, physical, temporal existence will give way to an eternal, motionless bliss.

To be clear, I don't think the evangelical summary of the gospel is a lie. I merely think it is not a summary of the whole gospel. Where is the cosmic significance of Jesus Christ? Where is the story of God's creation? Where is the hope for the redemption of the universe? These things are also part of the gospel, and they beckon us toward something much larger than the affairs of human beings.

Consider a different hymn, "Of the Father's Love Begotten":
Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion,
Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children
Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

Righteous Judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, Thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!
I have no idea why this is considered a "Christmas carol." It is a song which literally summarizes the entire gospel--from Christ's divine identity, to his creation, to his incarnation, to his redemption of humankind, to his final judgment. It calls in the entire universe to praise him, reminding the singer that human beings are not alone in receiving this good news.

This isn't just a long complaint about how the church needs "better music." Every element of worship is a choice affecting what members of a congregation will fix their minds on and remember. Worship is a reflection of our beliefs about God, and attending regularly will tend to shape and reinforce our beliefs about God. Just as one needs to be concerned with eating a balanced diet, so also, it seems to me, we ought to be concerned as Christians, whether our worship gives a balanced view of the gospel.

It is rather trivial to observe that most people focus on themselves most of the time. I'm not actually sure how true this is, exactly, but I know that any pastor can easily proclaim it as an unquestionable axiom of human existence. What is perhaps less trivial is how focused we are on our need for acceptance from others. Human beings have always been social creatures, dependent on family and tribe for survival, and this is only more true in a civilization in which most of our professions depend not at all on nature and the elements but wholly on ideas, technology, and our relationships with others. Beginning as children raised in schools, and continuing on as adults whose survival depends on successful performance reviews, we are obsessed with assessment. Perhaps it is no wonder that we present the gospel in these terms--God's view of our performance.

While it is certainly comforting to know that God is not like our boss--that he is loving, compassionate, patient, and forgiving--I think it would be even more eye-opening to have our gaze turned toward something other than God's assessment of us. When God spoke to Job in response to Job's complaints about suffering, he gave Job a tour of the whole creation. There is something about being reminded of our place in this universe which allows us to flourish in ways we had not understood before.

If Christian worship does not direct our minds and hearts toward the majesty of all creation, what will? Modern life doesn't reinforce the splendor of creation. We are obsessed with human creations--democracy, economy, technology, popular culture. I think it is our Christian duty to direct the eyes of human beings back toward the heavens, so that we might say with the psalmist, "The heavens are telling the glory of God," and, "What are mortals that you are mindful of them?"

Sunday, August 14, 2016

No king in Israel

"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." -- Judges 17:6
"And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them."  -- 1 Samuel 8:7
One of the central tensions throughout the Bible is a lingering question: should Israel have a king? Deuteronomy law permits Israel to have a king and provides some guidelines for how a king should behave. When David finally does become king, he is considered a man after God's own heart, and a consistent theme in the prophets is that Israel's future hope will be found in his royal line. Judges 17:6, which is repeated in 21:25 (the very last verse), becomes a haunting theme framing the latter section of the book, which recounts one of the most disturbing stories I've read anywhere. So that seems like pretty strong evidence that Israel needs a king; it is dysfunctional without one, but under good king David, life is good.

On the other hand, we have the famous passage in 1 Samuel 8, where the people ask Samuel to give them a king, much to his disliking. In response, God explains that the people have not rejected Samuel, but rather God: "According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you." Indeed, the whole story of the exodus is not merely a story about God saving his people, but about him coming to be king. (This explains why the whole second half of Exodus gives instructions, not only concerning God's moral code, but also on how to prepare the tabernacle for his dwelling place. The Sunday school version of Exodus most often fails to get this point across very well!) It is not hard to imagine that, especially in ancient times, when a strong warrior came and liberated a people, they were inclined to make him king. In the story of the Exodus, that warrior was God. The fact that the God of the universe was not a good enough king for the people of Israel, according to Scripture, says something rather unflattering about them.

This tension is resolved in Jesus Christ. The Son of David does show up to be king and liberate Israel from its oppressors. But who is he really? The answer is that he is the God of Israel. The one who led them out of Egypt has now returned to finish the job--now he will lead them out from the bondage of sins.

And what kind of king does he intend to be? "And [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves." (Luke 22:25-27) This is a unique kind of king. On the other hand, it is important not to miss the continuity between Jesus in the gospels and God in the book of Exodus. Jesus gives the law and expects his people to follow it: "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)

All of this seems essential for thinking like a Christian about the concept of liberty. The point of freedom is to be free from human kings. But the divine king does not use force. He comes to us as a servant. He expects us to obey his commandments because his words have power, not because he has weapons to enforce them.

I've noticed that a lot of Christians talking about politics try to propose the question, "What would Jesus do?" This question seems to betray a lack of faith. The proper question would seem to be, "What does Jesus do?" Do we believe him to be alive or not?

Because as far as I can see, Jesus is the most libertarian king who ever existed. I have never known him to come down and enforce his will by physical threats or punishments. And yet he is seated on high, at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Or does he rule us by his words? Just as he commanded the wind and waves, perhaps he also punishes us by merely speaking.

Yet I have never known the world to abide by a simple view of justice. Jesus himself did not deserve to suffer, yet he suffered a most gruesome death. Not only that, but he called us to follow him in suffering.

I am not saying Jesus Christ is a libertarian, certainly not with all the connotations that word carries in modern American politics. But what I would guess is that he is not very impressed with all of our political reflections and ideas to make government better. Maybe, just maybe, we should start taking him seriously as our true king.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Creation story

In the beginning, there was One.

All was One, and One was all, One alone.

No one was with One, and One was with No one.

No One loved One, because One was alone. So No One was lonely, for All was One. Yet One was with No One, and One loved No One.

One was No One, for if All is One then there is only

1
one
1
iness.

And No One was One.

One beheld No One, as in a mirror, and No One beheld One. Their love was impossible, yet real, all at once. Because One was, One alone, One was not, that is, No One was. One begot No One.

There was One and No One, Two. And One and Two made Three.

Thus all the numbers were born.

For in the very ambiguity between existence and non-existence proceeds a relationship, that is, "two-ness" or duality. But the duality is actually a third, that is, a bond between two. Once this bond proceeds from the first two, which are really One, then all other relationships extend outward to infinity.

One and One are Two, and One and Two are Three. One and Three make Four, and then Five, Six, and Seven.

And so it goes, forever and ever.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Bible is a book of war

The Bible is a book about war. Most of its stories are about a nation whose only known way of survival was to take up arms against surrounding nations, and almost every generation knew war.

The New Testament is quite different, of course. Jesus did not lead an army in a rebellion, but rather willingly handed himself over to be crucified. "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36)

War imagery reappears mainly in Revelation, where Jesus is depicted as having a sword coming out of his mouth, destroying Satan, and judging the nations. There are of course many references to judgment throughout the New Testament, but rarely are there explicit images of weapons and violence.

It seems there are many formulas for how to tie all this together. Some say that God is a God of wrath, and that both the Old Testament calls to holy war and the war imagery of Revelation are both consistent with his character. Rather than fret over these images, we need to respect them, fear God, and teach that his terrible wrath is a reality people will have to face unless they repent.

Rather than try to thoroughly critique this position, I will just state briefly why I have problems with it. To be clear, the main difficulty is not that God judges. It is rather the explicit commands in the Old Testament to (for example) kill women and children.
When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here. But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them--the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusite--just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God. (Deut. 20:10-18, emphasis mine)
When I take this passage literally, I simply don't know how to square it with the ethical teaching of Jesus to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And I don't know why Jesus would have suddenly changed the strategy from war to self-sacrifice. We could argue about details all day long, but ultimately I just don't see how to form a coherent view of Scripture out of a literal reading of the Old Testament.

There is another way of reading the Bible which seems to be embedded in everything Jesus himself says. It is a spiritual allegory, a prophecy about him and his ministry, and about the ultimate destiny of those who follow his Way.

Jesus does indeed perform acts of war in the New Testament--against demons!
If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter the house of a strong man and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. (Matthew 12:26-29)
But spiritual warfare is not physical warfare, and Jesus did not come to lead an armed rebellion against the Romans. How then might we read the Old Testament (and Revelation) in light of his ministry and his character?

I read it spiritually in this way. The people of Israel is the human spirit. Once we were slaves in Egypt. This is a metaphor for our slavery to sin and death. Then God called us out of Egypt with might acts of power, and he gave us a new identity. He gave us his law, so that we might be united. But as everyone who has ever put faith in God knows, it is easy to stumble, right from the very beginning. Even after we are made free in God, we must then wander through the wilderness, just as the Israelites did for forty years.

The final mission is to go into the promised land and conquer. If in the beginning God did all the acts of power himself, liberating us by his own hand, so that we had only to stand back and watch, in the last act we must take up arms ourselves--against the demons of our own hearts. We must utterly annihilate them, wiping out even women and children, which means metaphorically that we must destroy even the possibility of our sins being reborn, thus coming back to haunt us ("so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods"). It is still God who fights for us, but his power is infused into our own efforts.

But why should the word of God come to us as such a long history when it would have sufficed to simply teach us this brief lesson? Well, I don't agree that it would have sufficed. First of all, we should not discount the fact that the Bible's historical books do indeed record events of history, even if it they are presented in a spiritual (and often mysterious) way. There is always value in such records.

Second, there is no end to all of the subtle lessons one can learn by meditating on the details of sacred history. For instance, I am quite fond of the story of the Gibeonites in the book of Joshua. Since they fear defeat by the Israelites, the Gibeonites dress themselves up in rags and pretend to come to the Israelites from a long distance. The Israelites make peace with them before consulting the Lord, and so they disobey God. In the same way, our sins often dress up to us as outsiders; we think that such faults could never come from our own hearts, but must somehow be the influence of our environment. Or they dress up as outsiders, in the sense that they are not a threat to us, and so we make an alliance with them and permit them to go on dwelling in our souls. "Show no pity," God says. If we do not consult him, our sins will remain, and we will not live long in the promised land (that is, spiritual life) as he desires for us.

That is how I read the Bible these days. It is not that I totally discount the literal meaning of texts--indeed, I take the story of Jesus's death and resurrection quite literally. And I don't think my lens of interpretation is out of line with traditional Christian reading. But at some point, I simply can't accept that all of the words of Scripture are literally true, in the sense that the God of the universe would actually order women and children to be killed (or, alternatively, taken as property). My conviction is that Jesus himself teaches us a new way to fight our wars, one that is spiritual and not literal. This does not require less strength, but more.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Between two worlds

One of the fruits of my reflections on Stephen Weinberg's The First Three Minutes is a renewed shock at the way modern people, especially scientists, can walk around knowing how pointless and inhospitable the universe is and simultaneously lead happy and productive lives. It is not so much that I think it surprising that human beings should be so self-absorbed as to ignore anything outside their own minuscule sphere of existence. Rather, I wonder how anyone who has gazed straight at the grandeur of this vast, pitiless universe can afterward return to diligently fulfill his daily responsibilities. Is there a sort of intentional amnesia that happens? Do scientists like Weinberg simply choose to forget how pointless their lives really are? Or do they instead have doubts about the validity of their own assertions? Perhaps there is some source of hope that they missed while they were looking through telescopes and performing calculations.

Christian faith trains the imagination to hold on to two seemingly opposite realities at the same time. Front and center is Jesus Christ, who is said to be both fully human and fully divine. In the same way he is both absent--seated at the right hand of God--and fully present, for the church is his body. It is a theme woven throughout the Bible. God is too big for even heaven and earth to contain him, yet he chose Jerusalem as a dwelling place. When Moses asks God what his name is, he responds, "I Am Who I Am," but then he adds that he is in fact the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is always making a bridge between the utterly unknowable and the known, the transcendent and the imminent, the universal and the particular.

Even if someone were to prove to me that Christianity is not true--if someone could identify the remains of Jesus, or find some other way to wholly discredit the New Testament's witness--I would still find myself compelled to search for this bridge between two worlds, like the God of the Bible. Somehow we humans are caught between the two worlds, scrambling to find ground beneath our feet, hoping against hope that we might live comfortable with one foot on either side. We live to satisfy temporal desires, for good food and entertainment, for success and prosperity, for meaningful accomplishments within our brief lifetimes. But we also gaze up at the stars, and down through the microscope, and wonder about the big picture. We try to measure the age of the universe and guess its ultimate destiny. We try to understand the laws of physics and how to master them. We try to answer questions about life's ultimate purpose, about what is really beautiful, and about what truly lasts forever.

In my daily life I find myself regularly called away from my ordinary tasks to contemplate just how little a difference it makes whether I complete them or not. True, as concerns my own life and the lives of those around me, it can make a tremendous difference. But on a larger scale, it makes practically none. One human life does not change the ultimate fate of humanity, and even if all humanity were to pass away, the earth would keep on turning, and even if the earth itself were destroyed, the sun would continue burning, and even if the sun itself died, the galaxy would keep on spinning, and the universe would go on as it always has...

Yet it is in these very tasks which I perform daily that I become witness to this grand spectacle. I perform calculations, and I write articles for journals of mathematics. Every theorem correctly proven is a small bit of insight into an eternal truth that will never be taken away. There is ground underneath my feet. The human mind is not adrift. There is a bridge, somewhere.

I wish scientists talked about this more, but I suppose that would involve matters of faith rather than rigorous empirical evidence.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Virtue and libertarianism

Reason posted a debate on virtue libertarianism, which is more or less defined in opposition to "libertine libertarianism," an ideology which is "radically indifferent to the choices that people make with their freedom." William Ruger and Jason Sorens define it as follows:
What we call virtue libertarianism is the alternative to libertinism of the stronger and weaker varieties. Virtue libertarians recognize that we have a duty to respect our own moral nature and to promote its development in others in proportion to the responsibility we have for them. Heavy drug use that destroys one's own moral or rational faculties is inconsistent with that duty. Sexual license, gluttony, and the ancient vice of pleonexia—an excessive desire to acquire material and other goods—can overpower the virtue of self-command, which Adam Smith astutely recognized as the key to all the other virtues. To respect others, we must act beneficently and generously toward them, not just refrain from taking their freedom. 
I'm not going to comment on how well Ruger and Sorens did in making their argument for virtue libertarianism. What struck me was how libertarians around the web reacted, particularly at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a blog I like to follow.

I know this might not be such a charitable summary, but essentially it boils down to this: other libertarians accuse Ruger and Sorens of attacking a straw man, and then immediately proceed to behave exactly like that straw man. To be specific, we have libertarians saying that of course we ought to be virtuous, but who's to say that porn, drugs, and decadent lifestyles are really all that bad?

This is where I get off the bus with libertarians. I have absolutely no interest in debating these things with people who think themselves too enlightened, too sophisticated for traditional morals. If these thinkers wish for evidence that such vices are bad, I can only point to centuries of moral tradition telling us as much. Pornography and drugs are degrading, inasmuch as they treat the human body is nothing more than a pleasure factory, and not as a sacred gift to be appreciated and maintained respectfully.

That doesn't mean libertarian policies are wrong. Just because it is wrong to use cocaine doesn't mean that the government is justified using violence to prevent its use. One can never merely ask the question, "Is it wrong to do X?" in order to derive good policy. One must also ask the subsequent question, "What is the morally appropriate response to X?"

At bottom, I suppose I am really not a libertarian at all, insofar as I do not really believe in self-ownership. I support libertarian policies because I don't believe the government owns me. But as for self-ownership, I belong to God, not to myself. Indeed, I find the very concept of self-ownership incoherent. For if I own something, this means I can dispose of it as I will. Yet if I dispose of myself (i.e. commit suicide) then I have destroyed my ability to make any future decisions. My supposed freedom to do with myself whatever I will negates my freedom. (Yes, this does have policy implications. Unlike, I suppose, the majority of libertarians, I don't support the right to assisted suicide, although end of life issues can be tricky.)

By the way, I believe Christianity is the religion of liberty, but I think that deserves a separate post. What's really essential at this point is that I have no interest in libertine libertarianism. And yes, this is real phenomenon which can easily be found, among other places, at Reason.com. I have no interest in defending a college woman's right to become a porn actress in order to pay for her studies. I have no interest in defending the recreational use of drugs as a fun and therefore good thing. Neither do I have any interest, for that matter, in claiming that Americans ought to own as many guns as they want, or that they should have as much money as they want. All of these things--sex, drugs, weapons, money--very quickly become vices, and I don't think society is better for rejoicing at the abundance of such vices.

Again, I offer no defense of this proposition, because my opponents share none of the foundational assumptions on which it is based. If one approaches moral questions like a rationalist, insisting on scientific evidence that such behaviors really are destructive, then one is never going to be convinced. The only thing I can point out to libertarians is how ironic it is that they should take such an approach, given that one of their intellectual leaders is one such as F. A. Hayek.