On the Other Hand...

Faith and Works

by Jim Davies

Not sure if they still do, but a few centuries ago the Roman Church taught that you could only get to heaven by earning your way, by doing good works; not just by helping the less fortunate directly, but (very conveniently for the Vatican Treasury) also by making donations to the Church.

The Protestant Reformation punctured that pompous hypocrisy by pointing out that if one were to read the Bible directly instead of having a Roman priest "interpret" it, he'd find there's no way anyone could ever be good enough, and so that entrance to heaven is to be achieved rather by faith alone.

This was the controversy of "faith vs. works" and the Protestants won it, on points at least. But they did always acknowledge that if the faith was real and not pretended, it would inevitably lead to works; for example, the believer would necessarily become a kindlier person, as evidence of an underlying faith. And so it became possible to find some fusion of the two opposing views.

Here endeth the first lesson; and that useful lesson is, that if you and I really believe in something, it will show up in what we do; and vice versa.

Take the proposition, for example, that I promote in this column: that each of us has sole ownership rights over his or her own life and person, and so that other people (whether acting through government or directly) have none at all. Now, if you agree with me that that is clearly true (and if not, why not?) then it's fair to expect a corresponding change of conduct. First faith, then works. And the question is, what sort of "works" is it fair to expect?

It's not hard to see that in order to be thoroughly consistent with the belief above, one would refuse to pay all taxes, avoid travelling on government roads, keep one's children clear of government schools, refuse to register for its draft or fight in its wars, apply for no drivers' license, use as much of any drug as one saw fit and trade any if so inclined, accept no government handout, apply for no government passport, do no business with government-licensed banks, make no use of government mail delivery, receive no radio or TV signals licensed by government, and in many other similar ways, live generally at peace with one's neighbors.

But then we notice that such admirable consistency brings in its train a few practical problems. Government thugs will eventually sieze the house if the prop-tax or income tax extortion isn't paid; in many States if you keep kids out of its approved schools other government thugs will sieze the kids; if you refuse to pay the gas tax you get no gas and go no place, etc etc. And if you dare to relax by smoking a joint, you may well end up for a few years in a different kind of joint. So consistency with principle, a fine thing though it is, does not seem compatible with anything close to normal life; and while martyrdom sometimes works wonders, not everyone wants to be a martyr and anyway sometimes it doesn't. Where, then, shall the freedom-believer draw the line?

Consistent with my belief, I suggest that the answer to that is, also, an individual choice. No rules. No criticism. Each must simply strike the balance between consistency and the pursuit of happiness.

I will go just a little further, though, and suggest that there is a minimum level of passive resistance to Authority that everyone "ought" to practice, though I hesitate to use that word. A minimal evidence that one really is a believer in freedom, some least-possible "works" to show that the faith is real. To be truly minimal, it must be virtually cost-free, while to be any use at all it must also be capable of bringing success, if done by enough people, in abolishing the thuggery to which it stands opposed.

So my suggestion is that anyone who shares that belief in self-ownership (and again, if not why not?) demonstrates that belief by voting Libertarian, as the simplest possible expression and proof of that belief. The other parties have created the very problem we are protesting, so to continue voting for either of them would suggest that the brain is out of gear, that the "faith" is false - like a Baptist confessing to a priest. Note that voting is (so far) secret, and entirely free of marginal cost; one merely marks "L" instead of "R" or "D".

Notice also that it would be effective, were enough to do it. Survey after survey shows that 30% to 40% of the people agree, fully or in large part, with the central belief expounded here; if even half of that number (instead of a thirtieth!) were to demonstrate their faith by voting for the only Party that honors it, the tyrants would be in a major panic and the nightmare nearly over. The very sad fact at present seems to be that the believers are hardly willing so much as literally to lift a finger to take back their own freedom!

An example of this feeble inconsistency occurred last winter in Andover, where Libertarian Selectmen Howard Wilson is (with great courage) telling the IRS what to do with its non-existent tax laws. Two votes came before the Town: one gave him a 3:1 vote of confidence, the other refused by 4:1 his request to stop paying him any wages so as to prevent the IRS garnishing them! Ridiculous; too many people seem not to know which way is up. It's high time freedom-lovers got their acts together and, at least minimally, practised what they believe.

More than voting, I say not. All other ways of demonstrating a faith in self-ownership do involve some cost, though often very small; I like writing, for example, so spend some time each week preparing this column. Others could send letters to editors to express the faith, and that costs a little time and a tiny bit of notoriety. Some others could home-school their children; in New Hampshire there's no penalty, except the high cost of foregoing a second job.

Others may (like Wilson) actually challenge the government head-on, or just break its laws by (for example) monkeywrenching its tax system, growing pot on its land, exceeding its speed limits when harmless, or otherwise asserting their rightful ownership of their own lives. All that's admirable, and will help no doubt, but it's not really necessary. All that's actually needed is that a large enough minority get our heads clear and, at least, vote straight.

© Copyright Jim Davies 1999

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 168

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