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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Paralyzed Parables From The Gospel Of Individual Liberty

There is a new emphasis on or definition of individual liberty roaming around today. The emphasis or definition being promoted by some conservatives goes like this: the only liberty is individual liberty. Thus, anyone who is tries to either prevent one from doing what they want or force them to do something they don't want is infringing on the other person's liberty and is thus using coercion. We should note two things here. First, this view of individual liberty is especially applied to business elites. Second, infringing on the individual liberty of people is, to some conservatives, the root of all evil.

This new view of individual liberty makes it absolute with some exceptions. No individual has the right to treat others unjustly as defined by the Ten Commandments or to infringe on the liberties of others. But no such exception is provided for democratically made decisions. That is, individual liberty, especially when exercised by business elites, trumps democracy. We should note here that democracies are exercises in corporate or social liberty. That is democracies are how groups of people decide how they wish to live with and relate to one another. So according to the new emphasis on or definition of individual liberty, no democracy has the right to infringe on anyone's individual liberties by giving them limits on or regulating how they are to treat others except for what has been previously mentioned.

Because of this new view of individual liberty, democracy is seen as a threat by conservatives. That is because binding decisions that are democratically determined can easily threaten individual liberty. Thus, the only alternative to democracy which these conservatives approve of is to support elite-rule, that is tyranny, provided that those in charge are the right elites--the one who protect individual liberties especially of the business elites.

But the conflict between the above definition of individual liberty vs democracy is not the main issue here. The issue is how does this new version of individual liberty mesh with the Bible especially when it comes to what the Bible says about helping others? To illustrate how this new definition might fit in I rewrote a couple of parables to accommodate the new view of liberty.

Matthew 25:31-46 gives us the parable of the sheep and the goats. In that parable, the final judgment divides all people into two groups: the sheep and the goats. Those who helped the least of Christ's brethren in this life ministered to Jesus by doing so and were judged as being righteous and were thus welcomed into heaven. Those who did not help the least of His brethren were condemned to eternal punishment. What is below is the rewrite of the parable assuming that Jesus subscribed to making individual liberty absolute.
At the end, there was a great judgment and all of the people were divided into two groups: the sheep and the goats. Jesus said to the sheep on His right, "Welcome to my kingdom prepared for you because despite the suffering of those in poverty, jail, or illness, you gave me the freedom to respond in the way I saw fit."  And the sheep replied, "When did we ever give you such liberty?" Jesus said, "Whenever you refused to make me feel guilty for ignoring other while trying to be more successful, or when you opposed those who would either make me pay my employees higher wages and benefits or require me to spend more to care for the environment, or when you voted to both reduce my taxes and cut government programs for social uplift you gave me that liberty."
 Then Jesus turned and scowled at the goats on His left and said, "Leave and go to the eternal punishment prepared for you and the devil. For when those in need cried out for help, you tried to take away my liberty to be a success by either making me be fair to others or help those in need." And the goats on His left asked him, "When did we ever take away your liberty?" And Jesus said, "Whenever you made me feel guilty for not helping those in need, or whenever you stood up for exploited workers, or whenever you voted for government programs for social uplift  you were attacking my liberty."
In Luke 10:25-37 a man asked Jesus how he could have eternal life. Jesus responded by telling him to follow God's law. Jesus went on to describe God's law as loving God with one's whole being and loving one's neighbor as oneself. Below is a rewrite of the parable showing how Jesus might have answered using the absolute definition of individual liberty:
"You are to love God with your whole being and to love yourself before you love your neighbor. For you cannot love others unless you first love yourself."
The man then asked Jesus, "How can I love myself?" Jesus replied, "You love yourself in the same way that you love others, you love yourself by setting yourself free to see where you will go and what you will do."
So the man asked, "How can I set myself free." Jesus then told the man a parable. "A man was walking along a road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by thieves. The thieves beat and robbed him and left him to die. A priest came upon the man and crossed to the other side of the road and continued his journey. A Levite did the same. But Samaritan who saw the man stopped, applied first-aid, and took him to an inn where the man could recover. The Samaritan paid the innkeeper in advance and told him that he would return in case there were more expenses.
Jesus then asked the man which person loved himself by setting himself free. The man replied, "Both the priest and the Levite because they were not compelled to help the man who was attacked." Jesus said, "Yes but the Samaritan was free too. Just because he helped the man who was beaten doesn't mean that he wasn't free. Thus all three loved themselves by allowing themselves the freedom to determine how they would react to what they saw. So go and do likewise knowing that whether or not you stop to help is not the issue, the issue is that you freely choose how you want to interact with those who are in need."

To be clear, this post is not against individual liberty per se. Such liberty is extremely important. This post is questioning making individual liberty absolute so that it always overrules democracy. And we need to remember that since power follows wealth, this absolute version of individual liberty will be awarded to business elites more than to those from any other group. So here, we need to maintain a balance between recognizing individual liberty with practicing democracy or we will lose our democracy. 

But more importantly, we need to see how destructive the absolute definition individual liberty can be to a Christian's faith. Here, one only needs to compare this version of individual liberty with the teachings of the Bible such as with the real parables referred to above. For what we will find is that adhering to this absolute definition of individual liberty will prevent us from using the Bible to know good from evil.

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