Be For Something

460px-Locke-John-LOC

John Locke

I recently finished listening to the audio version of Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler (it’s available for free until the end of February). Brother Andrew was a self-appointed missionary to those behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the Cold War, smuggling Bibles and aid to oppressed churches. At the end of his amazing story, one phrase caught my attention. It was something to the effect of: You can’t just be against Communism; you need to be for Jesus.  His point was that although he did work against Communism for many years, eventually the threat in Europe ended. At the end of his life, he identified Islam as the new threat. That, too, may end, but the real goal wasn’t to stand against these ideologies, but rather to be for the Truth of the Christian message as he saw it. Don’t just be against something; be for something.

This phrase has been helpful for my parenting endeavors. Good parenting isn’t just about correcting unacceptable behavior; it is also about instilling desirable behavior. Don’t just be against something, be for something.  So rather than giving direction like “don’t do that!” what feels like 4,792 times a day, I have created a family rule list with just 3 rules: Respect people, Respect Property, Seek Truth. While each rule has some clarifying points (eg. speak respectfully to your parents; or, pay for what you break, etc) it has simplified the aims of parental guidance in our home.  Don’t just be against something; be for something.

But I think this phrase also has insight in the current divide within the Republican party. It seems to me there is currently a struggle between social conservatives and libertarians. In many ways, we have the same goals: smaller government, more local control, lower taxes, more school freedom. But the social issues remained framed in a for/against pattern. Don’t just be against something; be for something.

I think we can capture the essence of what we are all “for” in the phrase, “Life, Liberty, and estate [property],” originally from the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. Note that I didn’t use Thomas Jefferson’s adaptation of the phrase from the Declaration of Independence with the phrase “pursuit of happiness,”, but the original phrase with “property.”

So these, then, are the three things we should all be “for”:

Life–To live. To be able to defend one’s self as necessary.

Liberty–the freedom to believe or do anything one wishes so long as the uses do not infringe on anyone else’s life, liberty, or property. But liberty comes with the responsibility to personally pay for all the consequences of one’s own choices.

Property–the freedom to make money and keep it. The freedom to use this money to purchase anything one needs or desires, and to use and maintain those objects in any way one sees fit and at one’s own expense, so long as the uses do not infringe on anyone else’s life, liberty, or property.

Every one of the Bill of Rights can be assigned to one or more of these categories.

Please note that this pertains only to the role of government in society. This is not how we should run our households or our churches, where certain moral behavior is–and should be–expected, and immoral behavior addressed as necessary. But government is to provide the legal, secular framework for people of various convictions to inhabit the same society.

To support “life, liberty and property” does not mean we need to give moral ascent or approval to other people’s choices.  Not all choices are morally acceptable.

To advocate for “liberty” does not mean we have to agree that all choices are equally valid or have equally valid outcomes. And it certainly does not mean we need to pay for the consequences of anyone else’s choices.

To work together towards what we are all “for” means we keep the long-term picture in mind. The issues we face are much larger than today’s immediate challenges. Don’t just be “against” some current legislation or social trend. Be “for” a principle, and put your opposition in the larger context.

To care about the life, liberty, or property rights of another is really to protect those rights for ourselves at some future point.

So instead of being “against” this or that–especially within our own end of the political spectrum–let’s figure out what we are all “for.”  I think there’s plenty of common ground between social conservatives and libertarians if we can get back to these basics.

Portrait of John Locke {PD-US}