27 Mar 2011

Can a Christian Be an Anarchist?

Religious 50 Comments

This is the post that many atheist anarcho-capitalists have been fearing I would eventually make, but I don’t think it’s as bad as you might be worrying…

A while ago Gene Callahan pointed out in one of our numerous arguments that Satan’s offense was his rebellion against authority. So Gene’s point was, how can I as a Christian be upholding a political ideology (i.e. libertarianism in the Rothbardian tradition) that celebrates the rejection of authority?

In contrast to some of his other barbs, this one really resonated with me. I had been trying to reconcile some apparently contradictory positions for a while, and this issue really brought things into focus.

I have decided that I will no longer refer to myself as an anarchist, not because I reject the views I’ve been expressing on “market anarchy” or “anarcho-capitalism” (e.g. here) for years. Rather, I just don’t think the term “anarchist” is really an accurate description of my worldview.

Before I give my reasons, let me give a disclaimer: I think “our side” spends way too much time worrying about labels. If you want to continue to call me an anarcho-capitalist, that’s fine with me. And I don’t think the American public will suddenly embrace my worldview because of a marketing tweak. But I do think it’s important to be clear on how I reconcile my Christian theology with Rothbardian secular views.

First and foremost, I am a Christian. I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

Now, does someone rule over me? Yes, His name is Jesus Christ. That’s what I just said.

So, does that mean I’m a free man or not? Well, that’s a complicated question. I agree with Bob Dylan that you have to serve someone (and it may be the devil or it may be the Lord). In other words, the way our minds and souls work, I don’t think it’s truly possible to “answer only to yourself.” I understand atheist libertarians disagree with me, and I totally get where you’re coming from; I would have raised a beer to you back in college while we made fun of the slavish Christians.

(I will say that I never really felt comfortable with Paul calling himself a “bondservant of Christ.” You can complain that the deck is stacked against you, but God doesn’t force you to serve Him. That’s kind of the whole point of the world.)

The older I get, and the more I experience, the more certain I am that people are slaves to their sin. Let’s say you see somebody acting obnoxiously at a party. I’m betting that person deep down is really insecure about something and is (perhaps subconsciously) trying to divert attention from it. For another example, when I watch Charlie Sheen, I don’t get all worked up about what an arrogant jerk he is. Rather, I am on the one hand impressed with just how far he’s taken his viewpoint, and second, I’m sad that he is trying ever so hard to convince himself that he’s special.

So this is the sense in which you can only be free if you are in submission to God’s will. God loves us; we are His children. He didn’t lay down a bunch of arbitrary rules just to get kicks out of His raw power. No, His rules are for our own good. If we do the things that Jesus commanded us to do–love our enemies, judge not others, remove the plank from our own eyes before telling someone else to remove the speck from his eye–we will lead more successful lives, even by our own criteria for success.

You can’t be a “good person” while rejecting God’s rules. You might think you can, but that’s because the corruption of sin is very deep and it’s hard to disentangle its insidious effects. Since I’m already mixing politics and religion, I can draw on an analogy with interventionism: A statist Keynesian can think he cares just as much about helping the poor and unemployed, even though he rejects the libertarian’s “faith-based” respect for property rights. But he’s fooling himself. He doesn’t see that it is precisely his willingness to violate these “sacred” laws that is causing (or at least exacerbating) the very ills he thinks he’s tackling much more directly than the libertarian.

So by the same token, if you really want to help other people, to “do good” in this world, then the single most important thing you can do is to educate yourself about the existence of a loving God, and then share that wonderful news with others. That is more important than feeding the hungry or ending a foreign occupation. And what’s more, the more people who sincerely believed in these truths, the easier it would be to feed the poor and stop militarism. I say this, fully aware of the fact that evangelical Christians are among the strongest supporters of the U.S. military. I’m still trying to discover exactly why this is, but I think a large part of it is that they have a lot of fear–which is inconsistent with their professed faith in an omnipotent Savior.

* * *

Now then, what about my political views? It’s quite simple, really. Since I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only made the heavens and the Earth, but humbled Himself to come down in human form and be tortured to death for our sakes, then you can see why I’m not so hot on George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

Coming back to Gene Callahan’s point: I reject the modern State because it rests on a fundamental hubris, namely that a bunch of men (and women) can declare laws by fiat. No they can’t. Not a group of experts, not even 51% of voters, can make something legal that should really be illegal. This includes “taxation” (which is an antiseptic word for theft) and “regime change” (which is an antiseptic term for mass murder).

In summary, I am not an anarchist. I do serve someone, Jesus Christ. He is the ruler of the universe, not only because, well, He’s omnipotent, but also because He has earned the right through His actions. (The God in Whom I believe literally created every atom in the universe, so even on Rothbardian terms, He literally owns us, with far more justification than we think the shareholders of a private zoo own the gorillas.)

Yet even though I’m not an anarchist–I don’t “reject authority” by any stretch–I do reject the false claims of sovereignty made by modern governmental officials. I reject the very notion of the modern State as a repugnant institution of systematic lawlessness. Indeed it’s precisely because of my Christian worldview that I can level such a strong charge against the State. I can say, “This organization facilitates widespread injustices that are offensive to God, and therefore I cannot in good conscience support it.” In contrast, an atheist libertarian is going to have a much harder time to distinguish his objections from merely claiming, “Hey, I personally don’t like how this is going, so stop it.”

50 Responses to “Can a Christian Be an Anarchist?”

  1. Derek says:


    I don’t follow many of your religious posts but this one sort of struck a chord with me. I’m an atheist libertarian and the reference you made to your college days seemed to imply that you were an atheist back then. What converted you? Have you written on this before and, if so, could you drop a link?


  2. Evilsceptic says:

    I have got to say, even as an atheist, your christian posts are pretty interesting.
    “The God in Whom I believe literally created every atom in the universe, so even on Rothbardian terms, He literally owns us” Two things strike me about this. first off in that case wouldn’t the parents who created a child own him? or do you have to actually peice someone together in order to own someone?, secondly I was always under the impression (I am no expert on Rothbardian morality) that Rothbard thought that natural rights were derived from your ability to exercise free will over your body, which is why he was against voluntary slave contracts, so (if this is the case), wouldn’t this still be an illigitimate form of property?

    • bobmurphy says:

      No the parents wouldn’t own the child, because their own parents would own them. And so on. That infinite regress (back to inanimate matter in the primordial soup) doesn’t occur in the Christian worldview.

      You’re right that there is something else going on in most arguments about self-ownership, but to be honest I never found them compelling. Gene and I have written on Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, and I was never totally sold on the other alleged proofs of the idea either.

      And note too that Rothbard isn’t against slavery per se; he thinks criminals can be enslaved. So there must be a loophole in whatever you take his theory to prove self-ownership to be, to deny it to criminals. So if I can be owned by another sentient being because I stole his car and am working off a debt, I don’t see why it’s impossible that an omnipotent Being who is infinitely more advanced than me, and literally created my body and everything that sustains me, couldn’t own me in the Rothbardian sense.

  3. Daniel Kuehn says:

    1. Keynesians that don’t respect property rights seem like an oxymoron. “Statist Keynesian” seems like an oxymoron at first glance as well, if you take “Keynesian” to imply the broader philosophy of Keynes, but I suppose I can concede that if you stick strictly to the analytical portions it can make sense.

    2. Your last line, “In contrast, an atheist libertarian is going to have a much harder time to distinguish his objections from merely claiming, “Hey, I personally don’t like how this is going, so stop it.” seems a little odd too. Are you under the impression that without a divine authority people lack a moral authority of some sort? That simply doesn’t seem like a defensible position, and it’s indefensible in a way that makes you vulnerable to the counter-argument that you’re simply inventing dogma and religion, and imputing it to a God who’s never directly appeared or spoken, to validate your own personal opinions. You do realize, don’t you, how silly it sounds to suggest that others have no basis for moral objection when the only basis you cite seems (to others) to be an imaginary friend passed down from the Bronze Age. It’s an interesting contrast with what I think atheists tend to accuse the religious of. Atheists usually don’t say that the religious are without a moral compass because I think most atheists do accept a non-subjective approach to morality. Their argument is usually that the religious submit themselves to a superstitious, ancient morality; the religious are wrong, they are not pursuing a flight of fancy or rampantly amoral. For some reason, though, the religious are always very willing to make such an assumption about atheists – that they couldn’t possibly be following an objective moral code if they don’t have God.

    It’s an interesting asymmetry, don’t you think?

    • bobmurphy says:

      DK, I don’t think the word “oxymoron” means what you think it’s means. If you want to say, “A Keynesian analysis in terms of economics has nothing intrinsically to do with property rights,” OK that’s fine. You could think that the way to fix the economy is to boost aggregate demand, but still oppose higher G because you think people are overtaxed. Likewise, you could be a Keynesian and think another war would reduce unemployment, but be a pacifist too and so oppose that remedy.

      But how are you getting “oxymoron” out of it, which implies you can’t be a Keynesian and be a statist at the same time? You’re saying you don’t think in actual practice the categories “Keynesian” and “statist” intersect?

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        No, I mean oxymoron. How would Keynesian analysis even make sense without property rights? I wouldn’t even begin to know how to explain it or how it would work without a system of property rights that is respected by law. It simply doesn’t make sense without it.

        I do agree that in theory and in practice the intersection of statism and Keynesniam is possible, but tenuous. I conceded that could work on a technical level, although nobody could be said to be in Keynes’s broader intellectual tradition (social and philosophical thought, etc.) and be a statist (unless you trivialize and water down statism to mean “non-anarchist”, I suppose).

        But what can’t work is Keynesianism without property rights.

        • Silas Barta says:

          I’m as perplexed as Bob. How exactly do you reconcile the existence of property rights with, “okay, you know that ounce of gold that your $20-bill says it entitles you to? Sorry, not anymore. Cause we need to, you know, help the economy and stuff.”?

        • Tel says:

          Keynesians believe that some people should respect property rights, but not others. I suspect that when Bob uses the phrase “respect property rights” he tends to presume and expect that all parties would show the same respect for those rights.

          Indeed, one of the effects of Keynesian economics is a gradual erosion of everyone’s respect for property rights, and that tends to be why Keynesian policies tend to be destructive in the long term. When the government shows a propensity to destroy savings, the logical response of individuals is not to have savings.

          When government sets the example that stealing is OK if it happens to be convenient under the circumstance, then individuals figure they might as well steal what the can where they can. I mean, to be a moral person in any sense is something that I do, for the benefit of other people, and I do is as a treaty that they would do the same for me. Wouldn’t I be stupid to be the only person helping others when no one else is interested in reciprocity?

  4. Jan Färber says:

    Nice post Sir,
    your description of your position seem pretty well consistent to me. Although I am not a christian. I don`t think it is necessary to be christian to share this view. The scheme you develop is your description is absolutely logical (in the strong meaning of the word).
    I just want to recommend to your attention the great works of Hegel, since I suppose that You, as an american and liberty oriented guy might not be familiar with his works a lot. It is his very cheme of logic you apply in this post, therefore I must agree with you. Although I think that this scheme can be filled with various contents to still hold truth.For example to me “God” is just a label – you could put Hegel`s Idea in its place as well.
    So, although I do not agree completelywith the content of your view, I do agree with the form.

  5. Joe says:

    “Keynesians that don’t respect property rights seem like an oxymoron”

    The understanding is that forced redistribution of property is a disrespect to the idea of property rights.

    “that they couldn’t possibly be following an objective moral code if they don’t have God”

    An” objective moral code” that can’t be challenged is a dogma. It is religion.

  6. Avram says:

    When you die you rot in the ground and thats that.

    That doesn’t somehow mean the state is a great idea.

  7. SRF says:

    I personally feel like Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is not just compatible with Christianity, but required by it.

    The axiom of non-violence and self ownership that Libertarians (and Rothbard in particular) start with correspond exactly to a Christian view of the human condition. God has placed us on earth with direct and unique control of our bodies, talents etc (and the Bible certainly upholds the concept of private property). The central idea of Christian ethics is that man has free will to choose right from wrong and God does not force us to obey him.

    I can’t see any way to justify violent intervention into another person’s life and choices. Each person’s body and life are direct gifts from God, and God respects the freedom He has given them. It would be the height of arrogance and a clear violation of God’s plan for me to fail to respect God’s gifts to others.

    The fact that a Christian is not an anarchist with respect to God isn’t really much of a consideration in my mind. Political philosophies (should) apply to the relationship between men, not between man and God.

    • Desolation Jones says:

      “The central idea of Christian ethics is that man has free will to choose right from wrong and God does not force us to obey him.

      I can’t see any way to justify violent intervention into another person’s life and choices. Each person’s body and life are direct gifts from God, and God respects the freedom He has given them. ”

      But God sends people to hell if we don’t obey him, so doesn’t this mean we’re being forced? Isn’t this the same gun to the head argument on the topic of taxes? You don’t have to pay taxes if you don’t want, but you’ll go to prison if you don’t. Doesn’t sound like freedom to me in an anarchist point of view.

      • Desolation Jones says:

        I get what you’re saying though. The rules don’t apply to God because he’s God and all that. It just feels awfully arbitrary to exempt God and give him a free pass.

        • Matthew Murphy says:

          “It just feels awfully arbitrary to exempt God and give him a free pass.”

          Except God is not “just another person”. If He was- then your concern would be quite valid.

  8. Sealander says:

    Do you think you would be a Christian today if you had been born in a Muslim country?

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      A very good question.

      He’s talked a lot about why he’s a theist rather than an atheist, but – even when pushed – he hasn’t talked much about the logic of choosing his own particular theism.

  9. A Worker says:

    >>> In contrast, an atheist libertarian is going to have a much harder time to distinguish his objections from merely claiming, “Hey, I personally don’t like how this is going, so stop it.”

    An atheist like this might believe that morality has evolved (a la Hayek’s social evolution) and emerges biologically into our consciousness, if only we can break the propaganda — i.e. it doesn’t even take 10 years of reading books in the British Library, but as things approach this natural morality, humans act toward it naturally.

    I think it’s an oversimplification to state atheistic morality as some basic personal judgment, like choosing a melon at a supermarket. I’m not saying that you haven’t deeply thought through potential justifications for an anarchist morality — I’m sure you have, as you alluded to with Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, and other systems as well — but I think you tried the “slam dunk” argument approach. You made a reasonable theistic argument for morality, and then tried to slam dunk with an oversimplified point which really doesn’t follow — but probably does expose some of your anti-theist prejudices (I don’t mean that in a bad way).

  10. Thomas L. Knapp says:

    I don’t see the conflict between Christianity and anarchism, at least assuming certain things about your definition of Christianity. Those certain things:

    – Free will as opposed to predestination, i.e. your faith and works are chosen rather than a path set out which you have no choice but to follow;

    – The reward/punishment set, at least mostly, outside the instant environment such that compulsion does not exist here and now. While you may face the choice between streets of gold, lake of fire, etc. at some later point, God probably doesn’t intervene in the form of e.g. swallowings by large fish, bears to rip you apart, etc., in order to compel your performance;

    – Some ambiguity, at least, as to God’s opinion of earthly government in general and in the specifics (even if you don’t completely reject the Pauline heresies).

    It does not necessarily follow from rejection of authority in one context that one rejects it in all contexts, so a narrowly defined (political) anarchism need not be at odds with acceptance of authority of another type.

  11. RG says:

    Catholicism and its offshoots (even the non denominational single community varieties) bahave as a state rather than a free law society. Where a state holds the keys to the shackles attached to your physical body, the church holds the keys to your shackles post mortem.

  12. Jock says:

    At last year’s university Christmas Carol service I got our university chaplain to admit that Jesus was an anarchist…:-)

  13. david n.h. says:

    “In summary, I am not an anarchist. I do serve someone, Jesus Christ.”

    Don’t see the logic of that myself. Anarchy describes the lack of an institution with a monopoly on legitimized coercion. Anarchy is not the rejection of any or all authority, it is the rejection of authority (outside of that conferred by private property rights) based on coercion.

    The association of a Christian with his God is voluntary. You choose to follow or reflect (I don’t think of it as “serving” but each to his own) God or not – it is a path to a virtuous life. Forced conversions, for example, would contravene Christian teaching. In any case, it’s impossible to be forced to be a Christian. I don’t see why choosing to serve God (or anyone else), as long as you didn’t initiate force as part of your “serving”, would be inconsistent with anarchism. Quite the opposite in fact – competing (but voluntary) sources of legitimacy or moral authority are important counterweights to the state and often embolden individuals to act in legitimate defiance of the state. That’s why statists so frequently target religious faith as an enemy.

    Now sometimes religions ally themselves with the state or form the state and employ coercion. However, my view is that religion is man’s invention, not God’s. Adherence to an earthly religion that may describe itself as Christian is not identical to adherence to the teachings of God/Jesus.

    SRF said:

    “I personally feel like Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is not just compatible with Christianity, but required by it.”

    Nicely put.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Yeah I understand your take, and that’s exactly how I used to reconcile it. But the more I think about it, the more I consider myself a monarchist: I serve King Jesus. (And for those not familiar with His titles, that’s not something cute I made up; the sign said “King of the Jews” on the crucifix, and He is often referred to as the King of kings.)

  14. peter lambert says:

    i dont think you could honestly follow Jesus and not be an anarchist, have a post on the church state and activism @ localtheology.com

  15. Jacques says:

    The crux of the whole matter is this: The entity man/god you call Jesus never walked the earth. He is a myth. Not one piece of historical evidence supports “his” existence.

    Those that purport to do are either obvious forgeries (Josephus for instance, a pious Jew who would have been stoned for naming Jesus a savior ) or Tacitus born after the fact – who merely mentioned a sect of people worshiping a “Christ” (risen one) – and then called them idiots, following a belief both “fanciful and bold.”

    Rabbi Wise (who supported an historical Jesus) did a thorough search of the complete records of Pontius Pilate – which were still extant at the turn of the last century.

    The results?

    Nothing – not a word about this trial of the ages. No Jesus. No scourging. No crucifixion. Nada.

    Why must you now bow your knees to a fantasy?

  16. P.S.H. says:

    Who, I wonder, originated this jarring habit of treating pronouns referring to the Deity as if they were proper names? Whoever it was, I hope he was hanged.

  17. Randall Goble says:

    Dr. Murphy,

    I’m not a Christian, so I’m not claiming to be an expert. But wasn’t Satan’s sin not that he simply rejected God, but that he attempted to overthrow Him? I don’t think Satan was an anarchist. Satan was a Satanist. He wanted to be God. Anarchists don’t (or at least shouldn’t) want to replace the state with an “anarchist government” (tell David Kuehn that THAT is an oxymoron). God is the omnipotent King and Satan was the leader of an attempted coup, and wanted to replace God’s omnipotence with despotism.

    Again, I’m not a Christian. I’m not really anything. I don’t claim any religious or non-religious affiliations, but I couldn’t help but think of this while reading your post.

    I don’t think this should change your mind, but the term Christian-Anarchist seems to better fit your metaphysical/political philosophy. You’re first and foremost, as you said, a Christian. But secondarily, while living this life here on earth, you ascribe to no coercive authority. By purely human standards you’re still an anarchist, being that Christ hasn’t yet built his kingdom here on earth. Should that happen, you’ll then be a monarchist. I, on the other hand, will have some explaining to do.

    Keep doing what you do.


  18. James says:


    Do you oppose existing state authorities or not?

    See Romans 13:
    1 Everyone must obey state authorities, because no authority exists without God’s permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God. 2 Whoever opposes the existing authority opposes what God has ordered; and anyone who does so will bring judgment on himself. 3 For rulers are not to be feared by those who do good, but by those who do evil. Would you like to be unafraid of those in authority? Then do what is good, and they will praise you, 4 because they are God’s servants working for your own good. But if you do evil, then be afraid of them, because their power to punish is real. They are God’s servants and carry out God’s punishment on those who do evil. 5 For this reason you must obey the authorities – not just because of God’s punishment, but also as a matter of conscience. 6 That is also why you pay taxes, because the authorities are working for God when they fulfill their duties. 7 Pay, then, what you owe them; pay them your personal and property taxes, and show respect and honor for them all.

    Now personally I don’t know how to read this. Is Paul saying in verse 1 that every single one of the world’s governments are put in place by God, that their power is something God has ordered? That seems to be how it reads, though it’s awfully hard to swallow. Is Paul claiming in 3 that rulers will praise those who do right and punish those who do evil? Is he really claiming in 4 that governments work for the good of the people? Again, that’s how it reads. History has shown otherwise and Paul clearly should have known enough about the Roman government to know that this is untrue.

    Odd as it may seem, unless Paul was writing one thing when he meant another, the point seems to be that God is responsible for the existence of earthly governments, and that Christians are expected to obey those governments.

    This is the problem for the Christian anarchist (or the the Christian who opposes all earthly governments but insists on avoiding the term anarchist): The Bible says that if you oppose governments, you are opposing what God has ordered and will bring judgment on yourself. You might wish that Paul had included a ton of caveats about how you can oppose governments if they promote sin or whatever, but Paul makes no caveats here.

    • bobmurphy says:

      James, those are some difficult passages, I admit. But look, were Mesach et al. supposed to obey Nebuchadnezzar when he ordered them to worship the golden statue? Of course not.

      So if a State orders me to go kill somebody in a war, I don’t feel compelled to obey, etc.

      God uses everything to fulfill His plans, just as he called Nebuchadnezzar “my servant.” So in that sense, yes, I agree God put all the governments on Earth to carry out His will. But that doesn’t mean I endorse their claimed prerogatives.

      • James says:


        The mainstream Christian interpretation for all this is that Christians must obey the state except when to do so would be a sin, but this is a far cry from actually opposing even the principle of earthly governments which seems to be your position.

        You bring up an important point: Requiring that humans not sin and requiring that “everyone must obey state authorities” in a world where state authorities frequently require citizens to be party to sin creates a set of rules which are logically impossible to follow. This whole passage really hurts Paul’s credibility. Rom 13:3 is a forward looking statement about the behavior of rulers regarding those who do good. You and I both know it to be false. If Paul Krugman had written this, you would be blogging about how naive and mistaken Paul is.

        If you are willing to deny Biblical inerrancy, you can say that Paul was just inserting his own opinion without bothering to clarify that he was doing so.

    • Thomas L. Knapp says:

      Whether or not Romans 13 is applicable raises the question of whether the writings of Paul represent an authentic Christianity.

      IMO they don’t — I consider him the first major heretic — but that’s just me, and I don’t claim to practice Christianity even as Jesus taught it.

  19. Matthew Murphy says:

    I appreciate the post Bob, it’s a topic I’ve given some though and so far I tend to agree with this statement by another commenter:

    ““I personally feel like Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is not just compatible with Christianity, but required by it.””

  20. mario rizzo says:

    Have there be any major “fathers of the Church” who have been political anarchists? I find it stange to think that none saw the compatibility of anarchy and Christianity but so many thought (think) the state can be part of the implimentation of the Christian vision, The Roman state was opposed by Christian for a while. Bbut when Constantine decided to convert (because he won battles!!!) Rome became a holy. Frank Knight (and Ludwig von Mises) argued that the Church simply made its peace with the social and political institutions to ensure its own survival as an institution. And please don’t give me the line about bad churchmen/good Church. This is not some aberration but the major Christian tradition. Now, I think that Christ would not have gone along with this. But he thought the Kingdom of God was at hand in human time. But we shall never know the historical Jesus sufficiently to disentangle him from the long-after-his-death gospel writers and, most importantly, the Christian traditions that tell us which Scriptures are true and which not.

    • antiahithophel says:

      Professor Rizzo:

      Since many Christians died at the hands of the Roman government, either through their refusal to engage in emperor worship or through government sponsored entertainment in the Coliseum, it seems entirely reasonable to believe that Christians were quite sympathetic to the idea of anarchy. As Professor Murphy, however, has alluded to, God and his people have a higher calling than simply trying to resist the state. The only time God commands and expects resistance to the state is when the state requires the Christian to do something that contravenes the Bible. In other words, God directs the Christian to hold to biblical tenets. If said Christian is a sincerely confused Keynesian but a faithful person to Jesus Christ, God is perfectly fine with that. If said Christian is an anarchist that works within the state to try and eliminate the state, God is perfectly fine with that as well. With all things being equal, God would rather have the latter than the former, because God is about truth. But, God would also rather have a faithful Keynesian than an unfaithful anarchist, for if someone is going to make a mistake, it is better to make a mistake about earthly things than heavenly things.

      To briefly address a couple of other points: Constantine’s “conversion” did nothing to help spread the teachings of Christ. Note: I am not saying that many people did not claim to become “Christians” after Constantine made it the fashionable thing to do. I am saying that truly following Christ has never been fashionable. I mean, how enticing is it when your Hero/Lord, the person that you are supposed to imitate and follow, gets crucified? Part of the POWER of Christianity was (and is) that Jesus could hang on a cross and ask forgiveness for the very people that killed him. If you wanted to follow him, you had to sign-up for the same fate. That type of conviction is compelling. Constantine’s action basically castrated much of Christianity, for now you could not tell who was sincere and who was a fake.

      Finally, I disagree with you when you say that Jesus thought the kingdom of God was immediately at hand. Jesus was addressing a spiritual epoch. I could say more, but the post is already too long.

  21. GSL says:

    First off, I appreciate your willingness to write on such a provocative topic.

    With the caveat that I’m not a Christian (though I have nothing but respect for religious faith), I think your argument is off-base. I think you’re conflating two fundamentally different types of authority to the detriment of the anarchist position. Anarchism, in essence, is about property rights: specifically, your rejection of an authority that claims the right to use force to determine how you dispose of your property. There’s no way to logically justify submitting to such an authority; basically you’d be arguing in favor of not arguing (i.e., “stop debating with me about how I use my property and bully me into doing what you want”), which is contradictory.

    But God isn’t this type of authority. The Bible is very clear that we’re always free to reject His guidance or break His rules, in the sense that we can’t be physically coerced into doing otherwise. So man’s relationship to God is fundamentally non-coercive. (Which you should be grateful for: if God was justified in employing any means to effecting His will, why not fraud as well?) Which implies that abiding by this authority is not imcompatible with anarchism. And that any anarchist ethics determining the use of property are not incompatible with Christian ethics.

  22. DJD says:

    A true worshiper of God SHOULD be an anarchist. God is not about setting rules or laws for us to follow, as Jesus said that if we would have love for our fellow man then all other laws are not needed. Satan is really the one who wants us to be subject to his rules and laws. Satan was not rebelling against Gods laws but wanted to set up his own laws to have man under his rule and he has done just that. I look forward to the day when man will be free of Satan’s rule. God has a purpose, we are part of that purpose and true freedom will be our future. True freedom is anarchy, but anarchy practiced with total love and respect for our fellow man. It is difficult to even see that possibility at this time as mankind is so far away from practicing Gods love for our fellow man. In the mean time we find that we must obey the rulers of this world but the time is coming when true freedom will be the rule. Anarchy with love as it’s guiding force is that future.

  23. Nathan Barton says:

    Dear Bob:
    The column and comments (and responses) is (are) fascinating. Welcome to the fellowship! There are many of us who are christians and because we are christians are lovers of liberty: anarcho-capitalists or free-market anarchists or (my current most common self-description) “free-market self-governors.” As with Paul, we have to use slightly different terms at different times to explain each other. I personally view my anarchism as both rational (a la Prof. de la Paz) and as opposed – not to authority, but to human government – the Creator is a different matter altogether (Isaiah 33:22). I was pleased that several people correctly point out that God does not demand our obedience (our following the Christ) – nor does He send us to Hell. He allows us to go, if we so wish (free-will) but provides the “way of escape” – if we voluntarily wish to accept it: liberty AND responsibility must go hand in hand. There are, by the way, at least two other understandings of Romans 13 (and both far more in keeping with the rest of Scripture) than the one you seem to accept: first, that Paul is establishing a criteria by which christians judge human governments and choose whether to accept them (that rational anarchist thing); and second, that Paul is indeed employing a form of doublespeak – talking about spiritual authorities (God, the apostles, elders of the churches) while appearing to be discussing (and supporting) human governments. As DJD hints, the governments of this world ARE satanic (and that applies even to so-called “church governments” which assume powers not given them by God) – so how can He authorize them or command our obedience to them except as a matter of practicality, like turning one’s cheek or going the second mile with the Roman soldier? We are not following Him as we should, if we spend all our time getting into trouble with traffic cops.
    Keep on writing!

  24. Terry Hulsey says:

    Having your cake:
    “In summary, I am not an anarchist. I do serve someone, Jesus Christ.”
    Eating it too:
    “If you want to continue to call me an anarcho-capitalist, that’s fine with me.”

    Romans 13 should stop you dead in your tracks on this question. But if it hasn’t, this will:

    As the parent to the child, so the state to the adult.

    That is, there would be no leviathan state, no projection of our fantasies (e.g., social justice) through its powers, no ethical aura assigned to its coercive powers, without the psychological template provided by belief in god.

    • bobmurphy says:

      For your last claim: Does your casual empiricism suggest that the power of the State is in proportion to religious faith?

      • Terry Hulsey says:

        I say that the most intractable aspect of the state (its presumption of moral authority) and its deadliest attribute (its application of coercive violence) are deifications of the state, and could not exist in a society of minds free of that need.

        Of course the most spectacularly bloody states (Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia) have claimed to be atheist. I would say that the power of these states would not have existed without psychological needs that are at bottom religious.

        Consider from the other direction: Does religious faith minimize the moral pretensions or coercive power of the state? The suggestion is laughable. The most intractable conflicts around the globe are driven by faith, by faith in unprovable otherworldly claims. Remove that and the key support for the worst aspects of the state fails.

        It seems to me that the only plausible argument from faith is to claim that these psychological needs can’t be eradicated, that they are part of the human condition. Here you have some footing, and a certain justification for the glory of the Roman Catholic faith: Of all the faiths, it has probably the most complex theology, the most beautiful liturgy, the most learned and careful priesthood — just the thing to keep those who are prey to these psychological monsters on a short leash. But this only is “for the troops” — nobody who can think can possibly believe the preposterous nonsense found on every page of the Bible. A sincere and reasoning Catholic makes the barest claims as a “sure and certain hope” (also, I Thessalonians 4:13-18) for what can be known by no one.

  25. Tel says:

    I’d like to play devil’s advocate, but as an Atheist I can’t honestly claim to represent a non-existent entity so I’ll just play along and hope that you take it in good faith.

    Let’s suppose I carry a teaspoon around, and swear a solemn and sincere oath that the teaspoon is the highest authority in the universe. When I need to make a decision I just whisper to the spoon and the spoon whispers back (barely audible but with concentration you can just make out some words there) so that helps me make my decision. Now, some people just think I’m making these decisions all for myself, but they would think that because they have never had a deep conversation with a spoon.

    Now if there was a God, then whispering to a teaspoon would be as good a way of talking to him/her as any. Like who cares what the physical process is? An all powerful God can transcend all that anyhow.

    On the other hand, a lot of Christians would be more comfortable with the idea of reading a Bible, rather than talking to a spoon, so where exactly is the source of authority here (and why)?

  26. K Sralla says:

    Professor Rizzo,

    I’m curious as to why you think it’s now OK to throw out the institution of the Church that has been around for a long time, and did not come about by the conscious design of a human mind? Maybe I’m misreading you, but you seem hostile to Christianity and the institution of the Church.

    Are you an anarchist? Now I certainly agree with you that Christian theology is opposed to anarchy.

    But some of my favorite classical liberal thinkers have been quite receptive to Christianity and theology as a type of glue helping hold together civil society. In fact Hayek claims in Individualism and Economic Order that many of the ills leading to the breakdown of modern free cival order have been accelerated by the fall of theological education and belief. Even though he was admittedly quite agnostic, I never read of his passion for tearing down religion. Michael Polanyi says we must “believe” before we are capable of making new discoveries about reality.

    I have spent my professional career researching geology and evolution, but thank God I have never lost the wonder of the Holiness of the Almighty, particularly as revealed by the person of Jesus in the gospels, and Yahwey of the law and prophets. I’m curious as to why so many self-styled modern classical liberals seem so hostile to Christianity and the church.

    I’m willing to open this question up to others who wish to comment on this. I look forward to hearing some good intelligent responses.

  27. Captain_Freedom says:

    Christianity is based on the Bible, and the Bible is chock full of argumentative contradictions.

    A Christian can be an anarchist, but only if they ignore the Bible’s statism.

    A Christian can be a statist, but only if they ignore the Bible’s anarchism.

    Romans 13:lb states:

    “The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

    There is no ambiguity about this statement. All authorities, whether they are Christian or non-Christian, totalitarian or democratic, are divinely ordained, and this quote suggests that it would be against God’s will to be anarchist.

    Then there are the following implicitly pro-state passages. Civil governments are responsible under God for:

    Restraining and punishing the evildoer (Romans 13:3,4; 1 Peter 2:14)

    Enacting just laws (Isaiah 10: 1)

    Treating the workforce fairly (Colossians 4: 1)

    Maintaining the rights of the poor and oppressed (Psalm 82:3)

    Christians are required to pray for their rulers. Paul in 1 Timothy 2: 1&2 emphasises the importance of this when he states:

    “urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

    Governments have a right to require their citizens to conform outwardly to the just laws that they introduce. In response to a question about whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus said:

    “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).

    Peter emphasised this teaching in 1 Peter 2:13 – 15 when he said:

    “Submit yourselves to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

    Paul makes an even stronger statement in Romans 13:1-7:

    “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”


    So much for the Bible’s pro-state passages. As mentioned, the Bible is chock full of contradictions, so there are also a cornucopia of anti-state, libertarian passages (folks in the ancient times were not exactly logical thinkers).

    “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:52)

    “We are to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

    “To seek rule by man is to reject the rule of God.” (1 Samuel 8)

    “Christians struggle against governments, rulers, and spiritual wickedness.” (Ephesians 6:12)

    “Honest people are too busy making an honest living to accept political power, so only the corruptible will accept political power.” (Judges 9:7-15 The Parable of the Trees)

    “The devil offers all kingdoms to Jesus in return for worshipping him.” (Luke 4:5-7)

    “So I saw all this, and applied my heart to every work that has been done under the sun; all the things wherein man has power over man to afflict him.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9)

    “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule (Gr. archo) over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you….” (Mark 10:42-43a)

    “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (Gr. Archos), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

    “You shall not steal.” Exodus 20:15

    So if you’re an anarchist, you will NOT find consistent support in the Bible.

    Only non-contradictory pro-liberty texts can be sources for anarchist support. Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty is a better source for libertarianism than the Bible, even if Rothbard is a fallible mortal whereas God is perfect and immortal, LOL.

    It’s the contradictions in the Bible that prevent it from being a source of support for anarchism, indeed ANY political philosophy.

    Sorry Bob, 2000 year old texts written by ancient scholars simply won’t cut it if you want a good source for liberty and anarchy. Liberty is a NEW human philosophy, indeed the newest political philosophy of them all. It is as absurd to find support for anarchy in the Bible as it is absurd to find nuclear physics knowledge in the Tao Te Ching.

  28. Anonymous says:

    And it’s the contradictions of liberty that prevent it from being a reliable source of support for libertarianism.

  29. K Sralla says:

    I gave the quote above.

  30. Jim Object says:

    You had to have had some kind of premises for anarchy (or at least rejecting statism) before you were Christian stronger than the pith you ascribe to atheist libertarians. You are the guy who wrote Chaos Theory, right? I can’t think you haven’t heard anything I’m about to say, but….

    You assert atheist libertarians are operating on pragmatic whim, and not irreducible truths concerning conditions necessary to human survival. The NAP and property rights are required for human survival. I’m not about to lecture Bob freakin Murphy on this. Also, does willing submission to any entity mean you’re not an anarchist? Anarchy is about not submitting to -The State-. if I submit to my wife, in that I won’t have relations with other women, is that somehow a violation of libertarian anarchy?

    I quote you, “In contrast, an atheist libertarian is going to have a much harder time to distinguish his objections from merely claiming, “Hey, I personally don’t like how this is going, so stop it.”

    The NAP is king because without it we may all kill each other. I’m not sure if you have forgotten your past entirely, Bob, but to an atheist life is all we have. We value it more than anyone else. The core and fundamental premises required to be of religious faith are in my considerable knowledge on the topic, defensible. I was willing to let that go or try to understand it better. I have said for years that the last shred of evidence for God is the number of geniuses who believe in one.

    For a guy who followed this up a few days later with a post defending arbitrariness in following religious rules, you make a tall claim to say that atiests are arbitrary.

    I’m angry and disappointed, but I don’t say this in anger.
    Telling me that I am incapable of goodness requires a deconstruction of your every premise to disprove completely. I suggest debate.

    I challenge you to public debate. “Christianity versus Atheism, Which is more provable and fit for human survival”, and a second debate on “Christianity and atheisms’ effect on the validity of libertarian and anarchist premises”. I’ll be at the Porcupine Festival, so I would like to claim that as the venue, you may name all other terms. I trust you to be at least as fair with these terms as you were with the Krugman terms.

    I have tremendous respect for your Bob. I concede that you are far and away more knowledgeable in economics than I am. I say all the time that your work changed my life. On this these two topics though, I concede no such thing, but assert the opposite. It’s not an act of anger that i challenge you, it’s a desperate attempt to influence you back into a superior intellectual opinion than the one you have outlined here.

    My last thought here might be offensive to you or get me banned, but frankly Bob, you’re better than this.

    Please do me the favor you wish Krugman would do you and please let me know if you have seen this post. JimObject@Jimobject.com, if you don’t care to respond publicly. If you request any correspondence will be kept private.

    I just got into Harvard with the intention of it helping me to participate in the academic Austro-libertarian community. I had high hopes of being involved with, and maybe a fellow someday at the LvMI. I probably just dug my grave before I walked through the door.

    • bobmurphy says:


      If I were going to debate somebody on this it would make more sense to take on Stefan Molyneux (sp?), because he has a bigger name than you do.

      I get a lot of what you are saying, but c’mon give me a break. You really think I would ban you for the stuff you are saying? Do you read the kind of insults I let fly here all the time?

      • Jim Object says:

        Krugman won’t debate a name he doesn’t think is big enough either. *robot voice* “Why not Peter Schiff?”. I have money in the hopper hoping he’s willing to put the gloves on, even if he thinks it’s to give a clinic.

        We’ll both be there.

        Don’t think I won’t make a shirtless Youtube and get all my street level ancaps to harry your comments.
        (That’s humor, in case you think I’m a crazy person.)

        I have over 100 people who requested to join my study group using your guide. Twenty or thirty of them will be at the festival. There is cross-over name recognition. There’s a market.

        Let’s raise some money for your major debate.

  31. Jim Object says:

    edit – *indefensible

    The core and fundamental premises required to be of religious faith are in my considerable knowledge on the topic, defensible…