07 Jun 2015

God, the State, and Sin

Religious 17 Comments

One of the frequent objections I get runs like this: “Murphy, how can you be so blind? You are great at seeing how the State rules people through fear and dependence, preying on their insecurities and vanities. Don’t you see that’s exactly what organized religion has done throughout the ages? No gods no rulers!”

Of course I understand the apparent patterns, but the correct reaction is not atheism. (Look, should I disbelieve in the existence of tanks and poverty, simply because politicians use the fear of these things to further their own power?)

I get annoyed when critics refer contemptuously to “Libertopia” (although in fairness, there is an actual event with that name, so it’s hardly a strawman). The giants in libertarian thought never said that abolition of the coercive State would lead to paradise on earth.

However, in practice I have seen many self-described voluntaryists or anarcho-capitalists argue that every social ill really is a direct result of the State, and that they would all disappear if only people respected property rights.

That is not correct. Yes, humans have the capacity for greatness, they yearn for an impossibly high ideal, but their nature is also capable of the utmost cruelty. Now it’s true, I recognize in my study of free-market economics how State institutions amplify these evil impulses, yet the causality runs both ways. Humans (under the influence of malevolent forces, in the view of Christians) created State institutions, after all. So it hardly makes sense to take the blame for humanity’s monstrous acts off of humans, and lay it on “the State”–which isn’t an actor with preferences, if we’re being good methodological individualists.

Let me cap this discussion by showing just how wrong it is to equate the God of the Bible with the secular State. Far from being two sides of the same coin, in reality the perversity of the modern State is that it seeks to replace God in our lives:

1 Samuel 8 New International Version (NIV)

Israel Asks for a King

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders.[a] The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b]us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyardsand olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lordanswered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

17 Responses to “God, the State, and Sin”

  1. Major_Freedom says:

    “Let me cap this discussion by showing just how wrong it is to equate the God of the Bible with the secular State. Far from being two sides of the same coin, in reality the perversity of the modern State is that it seeks to replace God in our lives.”

    That is consistent with why it is not wrong to equate God with the state.

    One tyrant seeking to replace another tyrant. That is what tyrants do.

    Christian anarchists seek to replace the state in people’s lives with God.

    • Grane Peer says:

      If god is all that Christians say he is then let him do the tyrannizing. Not one man could stop him.

      Major, when you shake your fists at something you don’t believe in, you sound absurd. If you believe in god but you hate him then you are just another nut railing against reality.

      Christian anarchists who seek to replace the state with the church are a problem, belief in god is not.

      • Major_Freedom says:


        I was only responding to Murphy’s response to atheists who liken God to the state as an idea that motivates what people do.

        Yes, the most logical answer to give would be to say “I don’t believe in God”, but that would not get at the heart of the issue Murphy has when he sees atheists likening God to the state. Please note that Murphy did not write this blog post by saying to atheists ” You guys don’t even believe in God, so for you to say anything about God that implies God does exist is absurd”. In this way, your critique applies equally to Murphy’s post here.

        Rather, I am just saying that if we all assume for argument’s sake that God as a concept exists, then while his argument that the typical atheist argument is wrong because X, I say X is actually implied.

        “Christian anarchists who seek to replace the state with the church are a problem, belief in god is not.”

        You mean replace the state with another state. That is not the point here. The point is whether the atheist argument about state equals God from a libertarian perspective Murphy is wrong on the “perverse” basis that a state can seek to replace God.

        Which reminds me, I wanted to ask Murphy: Would a theocracy that enforced the totality of the Bible literally, be perverse, or at least more perverse, than an anarcho-capitalist society? If not, how could explain Matthew 3:10 (12), or 5:17, or 7:19, or 8:12, or 11:20-24? Or Mark 6:11, or 10:10-15?

        You already wrote that Romans 13 is a problem for liberty.

        Wouldn’t a society that followed the Bible, and we can even limit this to the NT, be a perverse society to libertarians?

  2. Major_Freedom says:

    (Funny) Why rape, slavery, and torture, among other violent acts, are not forbidden:


    • guest says:

      The word for “rape” in the verse to which you’re alluding is used elsewhere in the OT and means simply to “take hold”. The NIV incorrectly translates the word as “rape”.

      The implication of the verse is that the man had game and they both consented, with the man having to pay the father some dowry money (or whatever).

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Take hold…

        Nothing sexual, nope.

        • guest says:

          Nothing inherent, no. Contextually, yes.

          The word is used elsewhere in a non-sexual way.

    • guest says:

      “… and torture …”

      You just made LK facepalm.


  3. Grane Peer says:

    Only a fool would equate the God of the Bible with the secular State. It is the church that I equate with a secular state. Men who claim to speak for god are an abomination and those who follow them have taken for themselves a king before god. I do not share your beliefs but I have no quarrel with them, it is your Church that I dispute.

  4. Matt M says:

    He only takes 10%? Where do I sign up??

    But no seriously, I think the whole “anarchists are utopians” thing is a straw man. I don’t know any serious anarchists who claim that all human ills will vanish when the state goes away. The claim is a similar-sounding, but structurally different one – that ALL social ills will diminish in intensity when the state goes away.

    This is meant to counter the popular illusion that the state is “good” at some things and that this is a situation involving trade-offs (i.e., “Sure, if we had anarchy, there wouldn’t be a military draft! But without government police, property crime would surely rise!”)

  5. GabbyD says:

    so, would u prefer a theocracy, ala the vision outlined by OT prophets?

    recall that God did send (a) king(s), although the kings became corrupt and they didnt listen to the prophets?

    would that be ok with you? what that be better?

  6. Gene Callahan says:

    The most fundamental difference seems to me to be that the State is a human institution, and we could have one or not. But God either exists or doesn’t exist, regardless of what we think. If God does exist, complaining about a “tyrant” is a bit like complaining about the tyranny of gravity. If God doesn’t exist, then that is surely the best reason for not believing in Him!

  7. CC says:

    Verse 20 seemed to really describe the situation. A desire to be compared to other nations (nationalism) and thinking that the King will fight their battles (passing the buck, shunning personnel responsibility, leave me to my cable tv, etc.).

    • GabbyD says:

      the key is the lord acquiesced. why would he if he was not swayed by his people that it was the right thing to do?

      • CC says:

        The people swayed God about something being right or wrong?

        • knoxharrington says:

          This is really not the place to get an answer to that question. When you start pointing out blatant contradictions like, and I hate to sound like George Carlin, if God knows the future (and Bob believes that god does know the future) then he is powerless to change it (“Can God make a rock so big even he couldn’t lift it?”). Prayer is utterly pointless in that very Christian worldview.

          I love that passage in Samuel – it’s been my favorite for a long time because the outcomes of having a king, read State, seem quite on point. God, however, comes off like a parent who is tired of being asked by the child if he can have a cookie. God is willing to deny Moses the promise land and force the Israelites to wander for 40 years for stepping out of line but he can’t simply tell them “NO!” when they ask for a king? You can see that the passage is clearly authored by men to get people to accept the earthly authorities as sanctioned by God for what reason? BECAUSE YOU ASKED FOR IT!

  8. knoxharrington says:


    I wish there was a way to perform edits before a post goes live.

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