Liberty at the movies: Risen

Looking for a good Easter movie with a libertarian theme? Try Risen, a 2016 release that details the resurrection story from the point of view of the Roman tribune assigned to investigate rumors of the resurrection of Jesus Christ following His crucifixion.

While the movie's primary audience is Christians, non-Christian libertarians should not dismiss it. All libertarians, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, will enjoy the movie's portrayal of the politics of the Roman Empire.

Clavius, the film's lead character, is assigned to disprove the rumors of resurrection by Pontius Pilot. Pilot is fearful that if enough people believe in the resurrection, they will join in a rebellion against Roman rule. Pilot is particularly concerned about any acts of mass disobedience or violent insurrection during the upcoming visit from the emperor.

The film portrays Pilot as a conniving bureaucrat who publicly proclaims loyalty to the ideals of the Roman Empire, but it is clear that he is mainly concerned about his position and power.

The movie also shows how Christianity (and other faiths) threaten an authoritarian or totalitarian government by providing an alternative source of morals and laws that stand above, and in judgment of, the state. (Note--this is not to suggest that one needs religious faith to hold the state and its functionaries to a higher/natural law. After all, some of the liberty movement's most important philosophers, most notably Ayn Rand, have been outspoken atheists, while some of history's great tyrants have been believers.)

Statists have two reactions to the challenges to their authority from religion: one is to stamp it out, the other is co-opt the Church into serving as an adjutant of the state. Many statists mix the two approaches. For example, communist dictatorships usually have an established Church that operates under state control while persecuting those who dare practice their faith independent of the state.

The combination of government and religion is often facilitated by those who believe they have a right, or even a duty, to use government force to impose their morality on the rest of the people. This type of theocracy leads to what the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis calls "the worst form of tyranny" because it never sleeps.

A recent threat to religious liberty is the "faith-based" initiatives that turn Churches into adjuncts of the welfare state. For more on that see here.

As I hope you see, Risen can inspire interesting thoughts and conversations on the relationship between religion and politics. Christian Libertarians may want to use this movie as the base for a discussion with their non-libertarian Christians about the incompatibility of authoritarian government with religious faith. While intended for Christians, non-Christian libertarians will enjoy Risen's portrayal of the bureaucrats of the Roman Empire and its look at how fragile empires are to dissenting ideas.

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