Christianity, Libertarianism, and a World That Knows No Restraint

Martin Scorsese once explained that when he was young and went to see films, he was often puzzled because the doors would close, the camera would pan away, or there would be a jump cut, and then the characters would reappear as though something had just happened, but no one would say what. His uncle explained to him that even though the films did not show it, everyone knew what had happened–someone had been murdered, the characters had had sex, or something of that nature. Because everyone knew that it was there, the films did not need to show it. Scorsese then made a vow to make films, and show what happened in his films, when in other films the camera would pan away.

Apart from his superb documentary on Bob Dylan, I have found most of Scorsese’s films unwatchable. More often than not, when he tries to be realistic and gritty, he makes films that are merely tedious and grim. Yet, others assure me that he is a great film maker.
I wonder what would happen, however, if we took his ethos and applied it to other great films from the golden age of Hollywood, for example, Casablanca.

There is a scene in Casablanca with a jump cut involving Rick and Ilsa. Ilsa has secretly come to visit him at night to confront him about the travel documents, at one point even pulling a gun on him. He calls her bluff and kisses her, and then there is the jump cut. The scene picks up after an indeterminate length of time, and they are now both relaxed and talking like old friends. Later, it is implied that something happened that night, but we are not told what. If you think about it, they had to have done something more than merely kiss, or the ending of the film makes no sense. Scorsese would have shown that something more in all its glory.

It is also clear from the film that Captain Renault has his little flings. Surely a Scorsese would have not left us in the dark about them. But then, what of Victor Lazlo? His own sexuality is never explicitly examined in the film. However, we do know that he shows no physical passion for his wife whatsoever, and that he is not bothered by what apparently transpired between her and Rick, even though she is portrayed by one of the most beautiful women ever to appear in film. Lazlo has to have been a man of very particular and unusual tastes. Certainly, Scorsese would not leave us puzzled.

Then we have the unfortunate “suicide” of Ugarte while under close supervision in Nazi custody. This also is never shown. There is one shooting in the film, to be sure. However, in typical Hollywood fashion, when Major Strasser is killed there is no blood: He simply grasps his side and falls over. Scorsese would certainly rectify this problem.

It is remarkable all of the things that Casablanca leaves us in the dark on. Yet, what it lacks in graphic, biological detail, it makes up for in greatness. There is not a single film that Scorsese has ever made which can compare to Casablanca, and if he were to try to remake the film, it would be a travesty, as it is already nearly perfect.

A sex scene involving Jesus Christ is sick and perverted in nearly every way, even if it is in a dream sequence. There are some things that normal people have no desire or need to ever see in film or even know about. I am sure that there have been gay cowboys, for example. However, I cannot imagine wanting to see a film about the subject, or see what the cowboys in question do in private. Yet Scorsese–and most other modern film makers–sees it as his duty to show these things, and our duty to watch.

The problem with making things legal is that people believe if something is legal, it must be right. So what was once in the closet or under the bed gets put on a pedestal in the public square or sold on every corner, and then if that is not enough, rubbed in people’s noses.

In this regard, the Victorians got it right. While many things were illegal or frowned upon in Victorian society, the restrictions were not an attempt to “legislate morality”. If that had been true, they would been more rigorously enforced. Indeed, many social ills were tolerated in Britain during the Victorian Age, so long as they were kept out of sight. There were brothels galore, but these were in certain neighborhoods or were dressed up as something else. Men had to go out of their way to find them. And most men knew where to buy a lascivious French postcard or the most recent edition of Fanny Hill, even if these were not sold in bookstores or on the street. All of the social ills common to the world were found in abundance in Victorian England–in large part because they were tolerated by the establishment so long as they did not cause trouble, despite what the law might have been.

Many, many people have therefore decried Victorian morality as hypocritical. Yet, there is another way of looking at it–they knew that they could not keep people’s hearts clean through the law, and so they did not try. However, they could keep the public square clean and safe for families and children. This is what can best be described as civic morality.

Personally, I am not in the position to judge anyone by what they do in the bedroom. As pointed out in an earlier post, Christians are commanded to judge and discipline each other, but are then commanded not to judge non-Christians, even on matters of gross sexual morality. By this standard, another person’s sexuality is none of my business. However, if I am pushed to agree, for example, that homosexuality is right, I have to say that it is wrong, and simply let the chips fall where they may. Effectively, so much of the homosexual lobby is demanding just that–that everyone must agree that homosexuality is right. This is a bridge I simply cannot pass over.

I would be happy to work side-by-side with a homosexual or even hire a homosexual for a position at my company if he/she had the requisite skills and there was an opening, precisely because I feel that their sexuality is none of my business. By that same token, I agree with the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, because the sexuality of soldiers is also none of my business. However, I stand against any efforts to institute gay marriage, because it is an attempt to get legal sanction for something that is morally wrong, and because the sexuality of the people involved is none of my business. Why should I–or anyone else for that matter–be forced to give permission for something that two people will do anyway, whether we give permission or not? Further, why should I–or anyone else for that matter–be forced to hear or know about it when it is none of our business and we do not want to hear or know about it?

This speaks to the very heart of the conflict between Christianity and libertarianism. If it were just a matter of people’s homes or bedrooms, and it had little or no effect on society as a whole, then my own proclivity is to let people do what they want. It truly is none of my business. Why should I care what people watch, who they sleep with, or what drugs they take? The problem is that these things do not tend to stay in the home or the bedroom, and that people with no restraint tend to want to force others to give sanction to their activities.

One solution is to return to civil morality–that is, to use the law to keep the public square clean, but to turn a blind eye to people’s personal activities unless they hurt others or cause a problem. This is not hypocritical. Rather, it deals with a severe shortcoming of libertarianism–the fact that people, when their search for individual freedom is unbridled, tend to trash the public square and create an eyesore that other people should not be responsible for or be forced to see.

It would be a return to Victorianism. Yet, somehow, this is better than the other paths before us. Prohibition was a failure, as have been most laws that have ever been enacted with the goal of improving mankind. I am not in favor of going back to that kind of approach to jurisprudence. However, at the same time, people should be able to watch TV or go to a film, to stroll down a public street–to live a normal life–without being assaulted by filth. People also should not have to be imposed upon by others who seek to live libertine lives and yet have a need for affirmation from society.

Victorian society had no laws against lesbianism, because Queen Victoria was scandalized by the very thought that women could be lesbians, and consequently refused to sign the law forbidding it. She simply did not want to know or think about it. While this seems quaint and silly, maybe she was on to something there. Maybe some things are better off kept in the closet. Maybe we should not have to know about it or think about it. And if some people want to engage in such things, maybe it is none of our business. Maybe.

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4 Responses to Christianity, Libertarianism, and a World That Knows No Restraint

  1. Dana says:

    I have to disagree with your argument on many levels, as a Christian and as a Libertarian. First and foremost, it is not the role of the federal government to become involved in social/moral issues. In reality, it's not the role of any government to become involved in social/moral issues. It is the God given gift of choice and accountability of an individual to make choices for themselves. If they ARE Christian, then lets just hope that their conscience is dictated by their faith in God and the commandments and rules that he has set forth for His followers. If we wish to change the makeup of the moral rectitude in our society, maybe we should urge others to come to Christ, rather that create laws (that certainly always can set precedence to steal more liberty than they were intended to) and let the gov't play judge and jury rather than God himself.Think back to the time of our founders, there was an atmosphere of moral cleanliness (more than not) and they were libertarian to their very core. What has changed? The people, and what we will tolerate. We are afraid of being labeled bigots, prejudice, judgmental, and closed-minded if we speak out against the things we deem "perils" of society. If you want to make a change, raise people up! Don't oppress good and equally bad people with more LAW. Instead, seek to change standards through evangelism or other missionary work. Change takes work, let's not be lazy and leave the hard things to a corrupt and morally bankrupt federal government. It's our charge as Christians to do the hard things; Christ warned us that it would not be easy, but that it would be worth it.I could go on and on, but may I please suggest this article? http://www.historycarper.com/articles/notlibertarian.html I appreciate your time you put into writing down your thoughts, but I do think they need to be reevaluated, in order to accomplish the proper order of liberty our founders intended.

  2. TreeofMamre says:

    There is a basic flaw in all libertarian arguments which has been summed up in the phrase, the tragedy of the commons. Basically, the problem is that if there are no laws governing human behavior, then people will take care of (or choose not to take care of) their own property, and no one else will be hurt. However, in every community there are areas which belong not to the individual, but to the community as a whole. Inevitably, under libertarianism, these areas become trash heaps and the community as a whole suffers. There thus needs to be some kind of regulation (legal or otherwise) to keep this from happening.What I was suggesting in the article was that the tragedy of the commons occurs in the moral realm as well. Therefore, even if we do not wish to use laws to change people or to regulate their private behavior, there is a role for law to police the public realm to keep it from becoming a moral trash heap and protect society as a whole. Nothing you have said addresses this basic problem.If you will look over this blog in detail, you will find that I do believe that ultimately the human heart cannot be changed through the law, and that we need a spiritual revitalization through evangelism and renewal instead. However, there will always be those who will not respond to such a message, and who will use whatever license the law offers to impose their crap on others. Are you suggesting that we should just let them? Are you suggesting that if someone wants to set up a strip club across from a school or in a shopping mall that we should simply evangelize them instead? Are you suggesting that we should allow homosexual teachers to use the public schools as a recruiting ground? This is where the libertarian route ultimately leads, and no amount of evangelism, renewal, or wishful thinking will change this picture. People are sinful and have a sinful nature — this is true of Christians as well. For this reason, there is a need to police the public realm.I am suggesting, however, that many laws are much more intrusive than is necessary, and that there is a sickness in our society where people are overly concerned with what goes on in someone else's bedroom. Further, there is a sickness in society that people are not just eager to share what they do in private, but are seeking societal approval for their private behavior. Why is any of this necessary, or anyone else's business? Why do I need to know what others are doing in private? Shouldn't there be some decorum and some decency? While perhaps there should not be any laws barring the current orgy of self-exposure, perhaps there should be societal disapproval of such behavior, and there needs to be people adult enough to tell others to get a hotel room rather than engage in such behavior in public.

  3. Carolb-MT says:

    Cogent and well reasoned as usual, but is there a basic confusion between "libertarian" and "libertine"?

  4. TreeofMamre says:

    Thanks for your comment. Regarding your question, many forms of libertarianism do indeed allow for libertines to run amok and ruin it for everyone else.While most libertarians are not at all libertines, there is still the problem of what to do with those who want to turn the world into a perpetual Mardi Gras, and who wish to impose their lack of morality on others, at times through the use and abuse of the law. Somewhere, a line has to be drawn on all of this, as much of what is thought of as private behavior is no longer private, and is turning the US into one giant toilet bowl.I do not pretend to have all the answers to this problem. My inclination is towards having fewer laws and greater respect for privacy and the sanctity of a person's home–a libertarian solution. However, this does not address the moral tragedy of the commons.I find it interesting that Giuliani–certainly not a moral conservative privately or politically–was the one who cleaned up Times Square, a place that used to be a cesspool. I think that his policies point to the right direction, that we can respect the privacy of others, while at the same time seeing such moral issues as a community concern that needs to be addressed.Certainly, however, as a moral conservative, I would go much farther than Giuliani, as I do not think Christians should back down and give legal sanction to things like abortion or homosexual marriage. Unlike Giuliani, I see these as having just as much a negative impact on society as the peep shows in Times Square used to have.So, no, I do not think I have confused libertarians for libertines. However, I do think that there is a weakness in the libertarian position that allows for immorality to become normative in society.

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