My spiritual journey has taught me that living “in the world but not of it” is a truly daunting task. It’s one thing to have all the right beliefs and wish everyone believed the same, but action is often more important, and is certainly more visible, than mere beliefs. When our actions are dangerous, flawed, or inappropriate, they stem from a set of beliefs that is likewise dangerous, flawed, or inappropriate. In other words, beliefs have consequences.
When it comes to the nature of human action, we cannot forget that human action is not solitary. It happens in conjunction with others. Such behavior could be called interaction. And it takes no scientist to see that individuals are flawed, or as Christians call it, sinful.
So we’ve got imperfect humans, acting on their own behalf, and necessarily interacting with other imperfect humans, who are acting on their behalf. Add to that some of these humans are downright evil, and others are incredibly good-natured and morally upright, and you’ve got quite the set of circumstances for a complex, interactive society! What a conundrum!
All throughout history mankind has been attempting to figure out how to best arrange society so that the greatest common good could be found. In an ideal world, people would naturally and willingly do the right thing, the rich would be generous and the poor would not be hungry. Greed would not exist because we all are looking out for our neighbor.
What I believe is a sad oversight by those who want to create the perfect world, however well-intentioned they may be, is one very important and crucial idea to the interaction of human beings: freedom.
The idea of freedom, or liberty, is essential to understanding so many things. The cornerstone of this principle is what libertarians call the “non-aggression axiom,” which states that no person has the right to aggress the property or person of another person, with exception of self-defense. So unless you have previously been aggressed upon, you should not, under any circumstances, do unto another something they do not wish that you do.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this arrangement sounds very Christian to me. Would Jesus approve of our aggressing another to do what we would have him do? Would Jesus approve of our enforcement upon another a belief with which he did not agree? I doubt it. In fact, I believe Jesus would probably go one step further, and disregard the “defense” exception of the axiom, since he tells us to “turn the other cheek” if someone aggresses us, and to pray for those who persecute us.
How far, as Christians, are we willing to take this non-aggression principle? Peace advocates should love this axiom, because it is would thwart every decision to go to war. Christians should adore it because it encourages the respect of human dignity and treatment of all individuals as equals.
I have a theory—which I am hoping to expound as I study further—that Christians who wish to engage in making social constructs are on a slippery slope that begins with resentment and ends in rape (in the broad definition of the word which denotes the violent seizure of property).
The order of it might go like this:
Stage 1: Resentment – Life doesn’t go as expected or desired
Stage 2: Envy – We find that others have resources (wealth) that, if used the way we suppose we would use it, would drastically make life the way we desired it to be
Stage 3: Greed – We find that in a democracy 51% of the populace can control the lives of 100% of the people; we then discover that those whom we elect for our purposes can create laws we like to impose on others who do not share our beliefs; eventually, it becomes very easy to grow our control over society
Stage 4: Rape – We naturally find it very easy to impose upon others what we deem best to do with their property, and it is taken from them.
If we truly apply the non-aggression axiom to life, would this slippery slope be such a temptation? Or would we seek other means of creating a better society? I love C.S. Lewis when he wrote the following:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.