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Why Libertarians Need God

This isn’t another Christian criticism of secular libertarians, or an argument for why certain people are going to Hell. In fact, if you encounter someone who makes such a charge, gently point out that only God is in a position to judge one’s heart. Rather, I’m arguing that it’s impossible to ground libertarian morality without a transcendent moral anchor—known to many as ‘God’. 

Skeptics may quickly reply that people can be good without believing in God. Absolutely true. Atheists and agnostics can act morally; people of faith can act immorally. That’s not the real issue. The relevant question is who or what is the source of objective morality.

For many libertarians, the non-aggression principle (NAP) is paramount, and serves as the moral basis for their beliefs. I realize there are libertarians who take issue with the NAP, but even consequentialists order their beliefs to promote human flourishing, which itself presupposes an objective morality. 

If libertarians agree that the initiation of force against another is immoral or that it is immoral to promote policies antithetical to human flourishing, is there good reason to ground these beliefs in something other than God?

I argue no. Secular libertarians would defend their views by appealing to human nature. People are intrinsically valuable because they are human. They have the ability to think, feel, reason, plan, love, and sacrifice. And because human beings stand equal in relation to each other, no person or government has the right to initiate or threaten the use of force against another innocent person.

While this conclusion is admirable, such reasoning lacks objectivity. Any attempt to justify a moral standard apart from God will inevitably end in defending the standard using subjective reasoning. Take the libertarian argument about human nature as an example. This argument’s weakness is that it can’t answer the question of why our human nature or equality is grounds for opposing the initiation of force against another person. The libertarian grounds his belief on his subjective view of the importance of our humanity and equality.

But without God, human traits are just accidents of the universe. And equality is meaningless. If we’re all just the product of evolutionary processes that have unfolded over time, then any action is permissible because human beings don’t have any intrinsic value. How could we have inherent value from a mindless product of chance? The only value that could be present is the value ascribed to us by others. And in this framework, it’s usually the people with the most political power that get to determine who is and is not of value. 

With God, the story is different. We have intrinsic worth because God created us in His image and likeness and with a purpose—to know and love Him and to love others. We aren’t the product of cosmic chance. We are sons and daughters of God—the source of all that is good. There is no moral standard higher than this. 

Our actions do have eternal consequences if God exists. They aren’t a footnote in a history that will ultimately be meaningless after the heat death of the universe. 

So if people have intrinsic value not because of biological happenstance but because of who created us, then we have a non-arbitrary stopping point for morality—the God of the universe.

Many libertarians are understandably skeptical of God and religion because of how people wield both as a weapon to impose their will on others. I’m sympathetic to that view, but I see belief in God and a proper understanding of religion as strengthening the libertarian’s case for the NAP, which can ultimately lead to freedom from government and even from sin. 

The alternative is a life without any objective moral standard and eternal purpose. And that’s just absurd.

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