What, if anything, should the idea of sin do to our political vision?
Here’s another short post on religion and politics (even shorter than the last one), and it won’t be the last in the short term (I’m chipping away at a longer post on classical liberalism and welfare). A friend of mine commented recently that one of the reason’s she’s not a libertarian is that she believes that human beings are sinners. Another person quickly replied that the reason that he is a libertarian is that he believes that people are sinners. Both of these friends are evangelical Christians.
I think the first to speak in this instance was correct. There may be other reasons not to be a libertarian, granted, but one of the reasons is that human beings have this tendency to do the wrong thing; to be selfish, to not consider the needs of others, to be more concerned about our own rights than the rights of others and so on. If we lived in a libertarian society then, I strongly suspect that the plight of the less well-off would be much worse, among other things.
But it’s important not to make the opposite error: The error of thinking that since individual human beings are so messed up, what we really need is a group of these human beings in control with all the power, making sure all the areas of our life where we could go wrong are regulated. If one human being is a sinner, how is that problem solved if we put a bunch of sinners together and give them all the power? Just as individuals can go wrong by neglecting their responsibilities towards others in this thing called society that they want to have the benefit of belonging to, so those in power can go equally wrong. Their ideas about what is ultimately good for us, about how the goods of society are best spent, about what values should be enshrined in law, about what causes we should support, etc, are surely susceptible to error if each of those in the ruling party is as bad as the rest of us, and the idea of a group of sinners like us having the ability to force everyone to support those ideas and submit to them – all of them – is deeply dystopian in my view.
This is why I think that if the Christian idea of sin should push us in any direction politically, it should push us away from either of these extremes: From libertarianism at one end and socialism or any form of totalitarianism at the other. I think the classical liberal model does a good job of this.
What say you?