Wednesday, April 21, 2021

What’s Your Alternative?


The last few weeks have been quite interesting at this blog.  The discussion prompted by a question from Ira Katz led to a series of several posts on the topic of sustainability of free market capitalism.  These posts can be found here:

-          One Answer to An Important Social / Political / Economic Question of Our Time

-          Free Market Capitalism as the Highest Value (Part Two)

-          The Way Out and the Way To (Part Three)

-          Virtuous Governance

A further post on the topic of Christian morality continued these thoughts and this conversation.

In this post, I would like to focus on some of the criticism to my thoughts and the discussion.  A sampling, summarized, paraphrased, and without attribution:

-          Private property can survive if held as the highest value, regardless of any other underlying cultural conditions

-          The good acts of Christians are touted, while the bad acts are ignored

To address these, first allow me a broad sweep of the history of the West: within a few hundred years after Christ’s death and Resurrection, Christianity grew to be a significant cultural and religious tradition in the West; within a few hundred years after this, it grew to be the dominant tradition.  This growth was sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent.  It resulted in a society with about as libertarian a law code ever devised in the West.  Suffice it to say, the code was not always fully followed.

It maintained this position, even after the Reformation and Renaissance.  The post-Reformation period brought on what we call Wars of Religion, which were actually wars of state building.  The fracturing of Christendom was used as the pretext by the many princes to monopolize authority.  There were not states as we understand the term in much of medieval Europe prior to this fracturing.

Christianity gave up this position beginning with the post-Enlightenment era but was not fully removed culturally until the mid or late nineteenth century.  This event was noted via Nietzsche’s madman, declaring that God is dead.  This is not to say that there were no Christians in the West, nor is it to ignore the various revival periods in the last couple hundred years.  However, Christianity was removed from any role in civil governance.

Of course, a full-blown Christian ethic did not blossom on the day Christ walked out of the tomb.  It never did, and never will – not in the world of fallen man.  Oh, no.  I said those words: fallen man.  Almost as bad as the words Original Sin….

I will set aside Original Sin; I am coming to understand that even in the Christian world this is not a straightforward concept.  But, as to fallen man…this must be the least controversial statement one can make about man’s condition, yet even it draws strong reaction.  Least controversial because, under any ethical standard one might hold (other than nihilism, I suppose), any honest individual will recognize that he, at one time or another, falls short.

Yet, that this term often draws a strong negative reaction is always a signal to me that the person so responding is running on automatic pilot: hearing the word “Christian” just automatically causes a negative reaction in some people.

But back to this issue that a full-blown Christian ethic did not come arm-in-arm with Christ out of the tomb…. This criticism baffles me.  It is an ignorant criticism, on the one hand because it demonstrates a lack of understanding of Christian anthropology, and, on the other hand, because it lacks an understanding of the direction that time flows.  Let’s take each in turn.

Christian anthropology: Christians are clear about the fallen nature of man and that man cannot achieve perfection in this life.  Christians are then criticized both for making the claim that man is fallen, and also criticized for being less than perfect (fallen) as Christians.  To whom can these two criticisms, placed side by side, make any sense?

The direction of time: this issue should be completely obvious to anyone living and thinking in the last few years.  We live in a time where behaviors and beliefs that were acceptable even a few years ago will today result in loss of employment and even loss of life.

Critics of Christianity press on the issue of the reality of slavery in the Christian world, and even seemed to be accepted by various New Testament passages – ignoring the fact that slavery was a) an improvement over the previous practice of killing all captured prisoners of war, b) was endemic and common throughout the world, and c) was considered morally proper in the Greek and Roman world in which Christianity was born.

There are numerous similar examples.  Yet the critics press on: why couldn’t God just end all of [whatever the list of today’s latest moral crimes], or why didn’t Jesus speak out against [whatever the list of today’s latest moral crimes]?

But man is fallen – this includes Christian men.  One can’t blame Christianity for holding the belief that man is fallen, and also at the same time blame Christianity because Christian men are fallen.  Christians admit that Christians are fallen.  Quit harassing the witness.

Anyway, if you really want to drive home your point about why Jesus didn’t solve all of society’s ills during the three years of His ministry, maybe ask why Jesus didn’t give us the formula for penicillin or some such (h/t Paul VanderKlay).  That really would have done some good.

In any case, one can see that a Christian ethic – along with individual liberty – generally increased over the years since the time of Christ (at least until the last century or so).  It didn’t happen all at once, nor in a continuous straight line, nor did it ever reach utopia – a heaven on earth. 

But the trend is unmistakable.  Draw a line from Roman culture through the Middle Ages and ending once the removal of God took full root after the Enlightenment; the trend is clear.

So, what of these criticisms?  Let’s start with private property surviving as man’s highest value absent any other unifying cultural ethic or norm.  Such a belief stretches credulity.  Absent a commonly and generally accepted way of life, any given community will have too many opportunities for too much tension to allow private property to survive.

Several years ago, the libertarian world was presented with an interesting concept: a property owner could determine any level and form of punishment for any transgression against his property.  I raised the possibility of a child picking an apple from a farmer’s orchard while on the way to school.  Is the farmer justified in shooting the child as punishment?  Sure, came the reply.  Anything less would betray a private property order.

How long would private property last in such a community?  I venture, about three minutes.

I once also posited the notion of the neighbor who enjoyed having sex orgies on his front lawn while all the other families in the neighborhood were returning from church.  How long would this community continue to respect private property?  I would guess about ten minutes.

For property and life to be respected, some semblance of a peaceful and cohesive society must be achieved and maintained.  It is culture and tradition that provide the glue for this.  To place property first, in the highest place, places the cart before the horse.

What about the bad acts by Christians over the last 2,000 years?  We know the list: Crusades, Inquisitions, crushing the Saxons, slavery, etc.  Compared to what, whom, or when?

I will take your list and raise you – in fact, I throw in all my chips:

-          Genghis Kahn

-          Timerlane

-          Alexander the Great

-          Pretty much any pre-Christian Roman Emperor

-          Young Turks (all of them)

-          Lenin

-          Hirohito

-          Stalin

-          Hitler

-          Mao

-          Pol Pot

Top that list if you can. 

What of the history of slavery?  Practiced in every culture throughout history – call this a draw, if you wish; I won’t get into a war of quantity.  What of the history of abolitionists movements?  Primarily, if not solely, found in the Christian West.  That would be a win for Christianity.

What about the treatment of women and minorities?  Brutal throughout the world even today; respected in the Christian West – even in the earliest days of the church.

What about child sacrifice?  Found throughout the world and throughout history.  Critics love to point to the story of Abraham and Isaac as God endorsing child sacrifice.  It is an ignorant criticism: God ended the idea of child sacrifice with this event, He didn’t endorse it.

Oh, but Jesus or Paul didn’t say or write anything directly on these topics.  Don’t be so sure.  Here is one example of dozens I can point to, all saying something similar:

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For goodness sakes, how much stronger of a statement do you want regarding minorities, slaves, and women, given the moral cesspool of a culture in the Roman world in which the Apostle Paul lived?  OK, how about man – all men and all women – being made in God’s image; loving your neighbor as yourself; husbands are to serve their wives? 

How many statements regarding how we are to treat each other are necessary to convince you that the Christian ethic was like no other ethic in the world at the time, and still unique relative to much of the rest of the world today?  How many such statements are necessary to demonstrate that Jesus, Paul, and other authors of the New Testament books addressed these moral issues?


It isn’t enough to say Christians aren’t perfect, which critics are fond of saying.  Duh.  Christians already know this.  Compared to what, whom, or when?

In a generally supportive comment in one of the aforementioned posts, cosmic dwarf offered: “The Christian narrative of Bionic & others is by no means unassailable.”

It is not unassailable.  I can assail it as well as anyone, and I have noted many of these same criticisms.  I know of slavery, wars, invasions, witch burnings, etc., etc., etc.  But how much effort should I put into raising and addressing, time after time, these criticisms, stereotypes, exaggerations, and, in many cases, false narratives?

Compared to what, who, when?  Where else, in what other culture, tradition, and time, has the idea of the individual, reason, and liberty taken such root?  None of the critics offered any meaningful examples.  Perhaps because there are none.

Nietzsche’s madman announced the death of God in the latter part of the nineteenth century.  Our liberty has been on a downward slope ever since then; the West lived through its bloodiest fifty years in the aftermath – certainly at least since the time of state building in the seventeenth century, when Christendom fractured, giving room for the princes.

I say it is not a coincidence: no Christianity equals no liberty.  I have offered hundreds of posts on this relationship (not all of the included links, but see here and here for two overly long reading lists). 

No one has countered this with anything beyond arm waving or the same tired arguments.  At least come up with something new and novel.


I look around the United States today.  There are clearly some places where the lack of a Christian ethic has taken full root; last summer offered dozens of examples in dozens of cities around the country.

For all the critics of Christianity, this is your future if you win the day.  It is the society you will leave to your children and grandchildren. 


  1. "For all the critics of Christianity, this is your future if you win the day. It is the society you will leave to your children and grandchildren."

    Or, to put it another way, "The lie you believe today will be the reality you live in tomorrow."

    Good post.

  2. This was a very logical and objective defense of your stance BM. You bring up details and broad perspective that presents a very strong case.

    Unfortunately, those who disagree will not be swayed by logic or evidence, even those who genuinely want freedom. They have rejected moral absolutes and objective truth whether cognizant of it or not.

    2 Corinthians 3
    "14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."

    1. Likely not, but on the margins some might be.

      Romans 1: 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

  3. It was either Peter Rollins or Peter Rollins quoting Rene Girard (I can't remember or find the reference):

    People are not offended by the Crucifixion without first being convicted by it.

    Or something like that.

    1. In the spirit of accuracy, a correction:

      It was S. Mark Heim in Saved From Sacrifice (no Pete Rollins, only Girard indirectly):

      We would not accuse the Gospels of victimization if we had not already been converted by them.

      Same result.

  4. Defend the most hypocritical people all you want to, I don't care, my opinion is backed with facts. Those that Christians committed genocide of, and then enslaved (you "forgot" to mention), the Africans and American tribes, most were not warlike, and those tribes that had slaves treated them better than the depraved Europeans. Regarding your hypocritical statement that Christians are "human"
    1Jn 3:9  Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 
    1Jn 3:10  In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. 

    1. Michael, you obviously care enough to read the posts and offer a reply.

      You certainly do not care enough to answer the question posed in the title.

      You certainly do not care enough to see the un-Christian morality on display during the last summer of riots and conclude that this is the future for which you aspire.

    2. Michael obviously doesn't understand history at all. Indian tribes in America were very violent. Sexual slavery was common. Sexual immorality was rampant. Human sacrifice if it was not the main ritual was a part of the raiding culture.

      North American slavery while still vile was less vile than the forms in the Caribbean, and South America. I don't know about the cruelty level in Africa, but I do know that the slave population was super huge. They had so many slaves they were selling them to Europeans because they had no real use for them. What do rulers usually do with people they have no use for? It isn't pretty.

    3. I find it more than passing curious that teeming hordes of brown and black people keep flocking to lands built and inhabited by European Christians, notwithstanding that dire legacy of slavery, colonialism, and genocide. Stockholm Syndrome, I suppose.

  5. One reason why the idea of original sin is thought to be absurd by many outside Christianity is because their understanding is that God is putting blame on all men for being DESCENDANTS of a sinner - like inheriting a debt. They would prefer to apply the "innocent until proven guilty" standard to all men when it comes to sin.

    That is pretty funny, especially coming from atheists: they get so caught up in the Christian mythos that they miss the point... man isn't perfect. As pointed out in the post, that's as obvious as it gets.

    However, it's not so obvious to those raised to believe that man is perfectible - which is essentially anyone raised in the West today who fails to escape the clutches of the Progressive zeitgeist. Which includes many self-professed libertarians.

    They may readily admit that man is flawed because to do otherwise would be patently ridiculous, but when push comes to shove, they don't accept that men are *inherently* flawed. They see that claim as an inherently oppressive trait of Christianity, and those who are militant atheists will call it a *deliberately* oppressive trait of Christianity.

    And then there are those militant atheists who aren't really trying to prove that God doesn't exist, but rather are trying to destroy a God which they suspect does exist (though they won't admit it, obviously). And one of the main reasons for wanting to destroy God is a deep resentment that He made man in such a way that he could, almost certainly would fall. A sullen "why were we made flawed?" Like a child who didn't get the toy he wanted, and also like Lucifer, who wasn't satisfied that he couldn't be as God.

    In other words, there is a lingering suspicion that God is either imperfect and therefore incapable of creating perfection, or perfect but really not that good, and happy to watch men struggle, therefore resisting Him is noble. I think the former defines paganism, the latter Satanism. Strict atheists have a much easier time getting along with Christians on the original sin issue. Man is fallen, men are flawed. Pretty much the same thing. The atheist actually has an easier time of it, not having to explain why a good God would create a creature who could do evil. The problem is, man isn't made for plain, honest atheism - as evidenced by the fact that most atheists are hell-bent on destroying religion, and Christianity in particular. We WANT to believe that there is a greater cosmic narrative, and that we have a place in it, and it's also quite natural to want to be the ones who heroically succeed against overwhelming odds. Who better to play the part of the big bad guy than an entity who jealously stripped man of his glorious potential and then tried to keep him from recovering it?

    We think we can grasp the world with our intellect, and we would like to grasp the world with our actions too. The latter is too obviously impossible for the individual, which is why there are things like Communism preaching that it IS possible for humanity as a whole - through some ill-explained "social" magic that, in the case of Marxism, aspires to the status of "science" (there are mystical, Christian communists that predate Marxism!).

    The only way to avoid all that insanity is humility: our potential is not so lofty. Why? It's not for us to decide, but to live as well as we can given our flawed and limited nature. Christians believe that it is so ordained by God, and that those who follow it will be rewarded with eternal life. Me... well, I can't quite make the leap of faith to that "because reward" part, but given my understanding of how humans and human society work, I don't see an alternative that doesn't invite pointless pain and suffering (as opposed to pain and suffering necessary for learning and growth).

  6. "You certainly do not care enough to answer the question posed in the title."


    I hate to say it, but Mr. Kahn did answer your question in a thinly veiled way:

    "...your hypocritical statement that Christians are "human""

    And this, I hate to say even more, describes where we are likely heading.

    God help us.

    1. If that answers the question of an alternative to Christian culture and ethics, then the veil isn't thin enough for me!

    2. It's certainly not a coherent answer (if I'm correct), but I'd say that it's something like this: "everything under the sun, except Christianity, thrown together to form a utopian multi-cultural society."

      I think when someone villifies a group of people to the point where they will refer to them as inhuman, that it's a safe bet that they believe that eliminating that group would cure the world of all it's bills.

    3. Utopia means a world of no bills. Or ills.

    4. "Utopia means a world of no bills. Or ills."

      Nice! Does that mean no hillarys too?

  7. is there a need for another christian apologetic?

    there is nothing 'christian' about the state nor it's agents, minions and enforcers

    perhaps i missing the point of this post

    1. This is a continuation of a very long discussion - dating well before the posts in the above link. The shortest summary: a culture and tradition built on a Christian ethic is necessary if one is after a society approaching liberty. Many people don't believe this to be the case.

      For more detail, perhaps start here:

      I could offer a link for even more detail. Let me know if you have an interest.

    2. thanks for taking the time and effort to reply to me. no need for links, i read your work regularly for years at lrc and mises and have been glancing this series in hopes of finding the point of it. i'll peruse your book when time allows

      "...a culture and tradition built on a Christian ethic is necessary if one is after a society approaching liberty."

      it is difficult to ascertain what this 'christian ethic' is.

      surely at bottom it must be the commandment to 'love thy neighbor as thyself'. if this be so, then i see no examples of this ethic in practice under capitalism (or any -ism).

      loving our neighbors (our fellow men/women) as ourselves would result in peace, love and charity, not war, hate/fear) and 'profit'.

      as for slavery, paul says plainly enough that we are slaves with the choice being which master to serve; God or Mammon.

      fwiw, Christianity has a dismal record regarding it's views and treatment of women...

      "What’s Your Alternative?"

      the truth.

      there is no truth to be found in the historization and literalization of rewitten allegories and mythologies of the ancient 'mystery schools' that comprise (the hebrew and christian) bible'

      there is "Christianity' and there is 'Christianism'

      to quote augustine:

      "That which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist; from the very beginning of the human race until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christianity"

  8. If I was going to try to breakdown an very complicated topic into an intellectually bit-sized "dilemma", my best(so far) try would be that there's tension between the concept of "self-interest" and those that feel there is a higher power to answer to.

    One of the underlying premises of "Atlas Shrugged" and the champion of self interest to some degree, Ayn Rand, is that self interest is OK. That we shouldn't be morally obligated to any form of slavery(taxation for example) in the name of our fellow man.

    The Christian world view in many regards contradicts this philosophy. I could give many examples, but I don't think I need to with this crowd.

    I read an interesting comment on the topic of narcissism recently that I've been mulling over. The comment was "We are all narcissistic to some degree, which is necessary for self care, but at some point it can become pathological."

    As I get older, the "big questions" in life seem to become less answerable over time. I won't venture an answer in this case either, but I felt the need to point the question itself out in the context of Christianity and it's relation to liberty.(and I'm not taking sides at this point)

    1. Nick, I would refer you to Roger's comment below. Christians are called to the moral obligation of love. This isn't the same as slavery.

      When someone puts a gun to my head and demands that I love him, there is nothing Christian about this - neither his action nor my giving in to his demand. That I am forced to pay taxes for someone's version of a noble end is not my demonstration of love, nor is it the tax collector's good act in allowing me to demonstrate my Christianity.

    2. See my reply to Roger BM, I think it addresses my meaning in slightly more detail.

  9. "...we shouldn't be morally obligated to any form of slavery(taxation for example) in the name of our fellow man."

    "The Christian world view in many regards contradicts this philosophy. I could give many examples, but I don't think I need to with this crowd."

    Well, Nick, perhaps you should give some examples because I am confused by this. Try as I might, I cannot think of anything in which Christianity compels any person to submit to any form of slavery (taxation) to benefit someone else.

    There is a huge difference between moral obligation (which is purely voluntary and binding on Christians) and slavery (which needs no description). To say that forced, involuntary servitude, including mandatory taxation, is somehow complementary to Christianity shows an ignorance of the fact that Christianity sets people free. It does not enslave them.

    I am as "self-interested" as the next person. I have been Christian for a long time. I am morally obligated to Christ alone and to my fellow man only within that parameter. There is no contradiction.

    "The Christian world view in many regards contradicts this philosophy."

    Chapter and verse, please.

    1. "Well, Nick, perhaps you should give some examples because I am confused by this. "

      Well, specifically I was thinking beyond the scope of just "slavery", but an example might be "³⁹But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. ⁴⁰And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well."

      Further, though I know Gary North(I believe BM as well) and others have offered alternative versions of Romans 13- it still remains a powerful verse for many a Christian.

    2. Over time I've come to see Christianity as being overall a force for good rather than ill, but it's passages like those, together with a lingering inability to believe in miracles, that make me keep a healthy distance still.

      Anyway, it's worth pointing out that those passages you mentioned are perfectly in line with Christianity's focus on the afterlife, rather than this life.

      As regards the first, resisting evil through violence is risky business that can easily perpetuate evil instead of suppressing it, so from the Christian point of view it may be reasonable to accept martyrdom, rather than rise up against your enemy.

      (I would also point out that I've seen this passage interpreted as a call to show disdain towards petty oppression, not as a call to meekly submit to any and all oppression.)

      And as for Romans 13, it's also quite sensible for a Christian to accept the State for what it is, an unfortunate earthly reality that must be tolerated, and worry about the far more important afterlife instead.

      The existence of such passages in the Bible (the "driving the money-changers from the temple" passage is also worth mentioning) used to bother me a lot. After all, it's so damn obvious that someone's going to interpret them in a very un-libertarian way.

      Time has softened me, though. Time brought the realization that these difficulties of "interpretation" are hardly unique to Christianity, and in fact, the scientistic worldview is far more susceptible to them.

      Just think back to any social conversation you've had with friends, family, etc. on "serious" topics: the "facts" are thrown around fast and loose, in such a way that completely opposite conclusions could be drawn from the same set of "facts".

      So... a good measure of caution, knowledge, and wisdom is needed in order to make proper sense of the world from ANY viewpoint. Any model of the world will fall short of the real thing and needs experience to be applied effectively. Therefore I can't fault Christians for having had their model misused throughout the centuries.

    3. Nick / Cosmic

      I cannot say that I can square every passage with what I believe passes for reason. With that said, I have found it worth considering: Jesus, who said those words and lived that life, changed the world for the better infinitely more than any other person / being / entity in recorded history.

      We may not understand how / why His teachings and His life (and death) in every statement and every action has accomplished this, but it did. That's not nothing. And it is something to consider if we want to hold onto anything of the good toward which He changed the world.

  10. "What’s Your Alternative?" - stunningly effective! Already used it.