Guest Conributor: Rob Yates, Communications Director, Libertarian Party of North Carolina (LPNC)
This past week, many of us in the LPNC, around our state, in the U.S., and across the globe came together in any one of a beautifully diverse set of traditions for the single most celebrated holiday in the world, marking the day we observe and celebrate the birth of a child some two millennia ago.
Suspend for a moment, if you will, all considerations of the religious aspect of Christmas, and ignore historical accuracy questions about Jesus’ birth date and adopted pagan holiday dates. Instead, examine the actual story of the birth of Jesus, the message he brought, how the state at the time responded to it, and how those lessons remained true throughout history and still apply today.
Simply as a result of being born, before he was a day old, Jesus faced mortal danger from King Herod, who, responding to a prophecy, decided he would rather kill a baby than chance the emergence of someone who could challenge his power. In early chapters of both Luke and Matthew, the wise men of the nativity story, who met Herod on the way to Bethlehem while following a star, take a different route home after seeing the baby Jesus so they could avoid Herod as they learned of his plans to kill the baby. But, as we know all too well, one recalcitrant collaborator is was not enough to deter the state, driven by its insatiable hunger for power. Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt to protect their newborn, which so enraged Herod at his inability to kill this infant that… well, this is how Mathew tells it:
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
The CIA or KGB assassinating political opponents is just the latest version of a tactic that dates back to biblical times. Of course, Herod didn’t have Epstein’s client list or similar leverage more appropriate to the time, and so he failed to kill Jesus and eventually died himself, leaving Jesus to grow up and become the protagonist in the most influential tale in known human history.
You need be neither Christian nor even religious to appreciate the gospels. Jesus lived by a code that sounds strangely familiar. Don’t hurt people (Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.), don’t take people’s stuff (John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy), and don’t initiate violence (Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.). We even have an idea of how he might have viewed the Fed, when he overturned the money changers’ tables and called them a den of thieves for making money their religion.
In fact, Jesus specifically called out the abuses of power inherent to the state, and instead advocated for lives of service as an act of resistance. Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. This must not be so with you. Instead, whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your servant.”
We all know how the story ends, of course, when the state had reached a point where it could no longer tolerate the threat to its power posed by the existence of someone who had the audacity to promote peace and harmony over violence and coercion. To put an end to Jesus’ revolution of love, the state paid 30 silver pieces in blood money to Judas Iscariot, the first of so many Judas Iscariots who have killed innocent people on behalf of the state since. Even facing death, Jesus was defiant in his refusal to acknowledge the false charges he faced, and the state was forced to spread a little (very) old fashioned misinformation, stirring up the people to call for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus to ensure the assassination they desired.
There are any number of other examples of Jesus committing great acts of revolutionary defiance by simply being peaceful, but I am not here to give a lesson on the Bible (nor am I qualified to do so). Instead, I want to fast forward about 1850 years and ponder, for a moment, if the state would tolerate the return of Jesus any better than it did his first stint on earth. In other words, have we learned anything? Fortunately, someone far smarter than I makes a solid case. In The Grand Inquisitor, a standalone chapter (and arguably the greatest single piece of literature in history) in the novel The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky wrestles with this problem in a profound way.
Two of the titular brothers are talking, and one has composed a prose poem imagining the return of Jesus during the fifteenth century, at the peak of the Inquisition. Accused heretics, condemned for even being suspected of challenging the state’s proclaimed orthodoxy, are burned in droves daily. Amidst this, Jesus simply appears, in Spain, walking among the actual ashes of the bodies. People are immediately drawn to him, as he radiates peace and love. A blind man is given sight, sick are healed, and pain is no more for the crowd around him.
The people, broken and conditioned to a state of fear and subservience, flock and rejoice. By his presence alone, Jesus gives them freedom, the first time they have experienced freedom, and they revel in the joy it brings. His very existence is an act of resistance, founded in love, even as he does nothing but walk among the crowd, except when he says two words, “Talitha cumi,” which is Aramaic for “Little girl, I say to you, arise,” and brings a little girl back from the dead (This is the same thing he says in Mark 5:41 when he brings Jairus’s daughter back from the dead.).
Drawn out by the commotion, the Grand Cardinal Inquisitor comes with his guards, and the people fall instantly and instinctively back into their fearful obedience, begging for the blessing of the highest official in the state. As the state does to those who worship it, as long as they are useful, he blesses the re-subservient crowd and has Jesus arrested and placed in a solitary jail cell, which he enters alone. At first, the Inquisitor questions if it really is Jesus, but quickly turns to berating him. He is furious that Jesus would dare return and threaten what he calls the “freedom” that the world has been granted through obedience and fear, built carefully over fifteen centuries. He says to Jesus:
For fifteen hundred years we have been at pains over this freedom, but now it is finished, and well finished. You do not believe that it is well finished? You look at me meekly and do not deign even to be indignant with me. Know, then, that now, precisely now, these people are more certain than ever before that they are completely free, and at the same time they themselves have brought us their freedom and obediently laid it at our feet.
The Grand Inquisitor continues his rant, admonishing Jesus for his actions described in the Bible passage where the Devil tempts Jesus three times in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). The Inquisitor is furious that Jesus did not accept the Devil’s offers, as mankind would never have suffered what the Inquisitor sees as the unbearable burden of freedom, and would thus have been happy. He tells Jesus how they, the elites of the world, have worked for centuries to undo the choice Jesus made, working diligently to take away humanity’s freedom and instead give the happiness of obedience.
And if it is a mystery, then we, too, had the right to preach mystery and to teach them that it is not the free choice of the heart that matters, and not love, but the mystery, which they must blindly obey, even setting aside their own conscience. And so we did. We corrected your deed and based it on miracle, mystery, and authority. And mankind rejoiced that they were once more led like sheep, and that at last such a terrible gift, which had brought them so much suffering, had been taken from their hearts.
The Inquisitor tells Jesus the work is not yet complete, but it will be. He promises Jesus that eventually all of humankind, save the elite few rulers, will know the happiness only possible in the absence of freedom, and the elites shall suffer the great burden of freedom as they rule over everyone else.
“With us everyone will be happy, and they will no longer rebel or destroy each other, as in your freedom, everywhere. Oh, we shall convince them that they will only become free when they resign their freedom to us and submit to us.”
I encourage you to read it yourself and see how it ends, but we know how it ends in real life. Malcolm X was not assassinated until he started preaching peace and unity. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have suffered unimaginably not for any harm they did to anyone else, but for exposing the crimes of the state, crimes which the government codified and even extended just recently. Malala Yousafzai was nearly assassinated for seeking the freedom of education. LSD and psilocybin were proven highly effective for treating alcoholism in the 1950s until they were associated with Timothy Leary and counterculture, which threatened the state, and thus made so illegal that even research was forbidden. People present at the capital on January 6 have received prison sentences that are many times longer than the sentences given to child rapists, because of the willingness to defy the state they represent, reckless though they may have been. Even journalists there in that capacity have been found guilty, like North Carolina’s own Stephen Horn.
Of course, as influential as some of those people are, none of them redefined human history for the last two millennia. Again, completely separate from the religious implications, the joy associated with Christmas and the birth of a child is because of the freedom that child represents. It is the pure and profound freedom, inherent and gifted to every human on the planet, from which our natural rights are derived. And it is a freedom that does not ask permission, which is something the state – whether it manifests as a religious tyrant, a military tyrant, an elected tyrant, or any other authoritarian tyrant – cannot abide.
The choice we have, the real choice, is whether we will submit to the tyranny and accept the reprisals of a state terrified of a free people, or if we will live freely and accept the consequences as the state inevitably asserts its monopoly on violence and tries to regain control and obedience. I know what I choose.
Merry Christmas. Be Free.
Dr. Dan will be joined by a very special guest from the past on his New Year’s program to air Saturday and Sunday, December 30-31, 2023. Air times are Saturday, 8:00 AM and 9:30 AM, and Sunday, 2:30 PM and 7:00 PM.
All programs are available by podcast following airtime here