Here’s my reply to Bob Murphy’s post “Can God Own Your Soul?”:
MC introduce supposed “counterexamples” of God and slavery. … As for God – you can’t just posit that God owns everyone and “therefore” we are not self-owners. Moroever, even if God does own us, it could be that we are still self-owners vis-a-vis each other. In any event, this in no way refutes the conclusion that only the libertarian norms can be argumentatively justified in discourse.
If there is a God, since He is Good, we can assume he’s libertarian and has decreed a libertarian moral law within his universe. So even if God owns A and B, A still has a better claim to A’s body than B does.
By the way, I’ve noted elsewhere a connection between God and IP in my Radical Patent Reform Is Not on the Way (noting that 13.7 billion years ago, “God invents the universe. He does this without permission of anyone else. He doesn’t look in the Celestial Patent Office filings first to make sure he is in the clear.”).
Also, in my How We Come To Own Ourselves, I discuss the issue of why children are self-owners–the parents (mother, really), as the creator and initial owner of the material of the baby’s body, would seem to be the baby’s owner, as master to slave. This is similar to the argument that God owns us, as his creations. (But I think God has even more of a claim, since not only is He purported to have created us, but he maintains a type of omnipotent domination over all creation.) One argument I use is that the parent arguably owes freedom or manumission to the child, just as she has an obligation to feed, shelter, etc. this new person she has created. A similar argument could be used for God: if He is good, certainly he would also not create a being with natural needs (including self-ownership, freedom) and then keep them enslaved. But the main argument I use is that the child has a better connection to his body than his parents do. But can this be said of God? I don’t think so. He has a special omnipotent dominion over all creation; in some sense they are parts of His body. Do I have a better link to “my” body than does God? I doubt it. So… sure. He has a better claim to my body, and has a “right” to be the owner/master to humans. But would it be moral for him to do this? I don’t think so, and since God is Good, then He never would. So in some sense it’s a moot point.
And this highlights part of the problem of positing this “God” thing. It’s such a bizarre, incoherent idea that of course it introduces logical problems, just as assuming 1=2 would, just as dividing by zero does. I don’t think there is a God (or anything supernatural; and confess that I find such beliefs to be completely irrational and mostly incoherent), but if there were one, I don’t see the problem saying He owns us. Ownership means the right to control. If God really created the universe …. and is omnipotent etc., etc., can He be said to NOT have the “right” to control it? I mean once you introduce these loopy assumptions anything is possible. If each person “is” or has a soul, then God owns—has the right to control—your body, as well as your soul, sure. What is the argument otherwise—that the soul is not a scarce resource because it is not “physical”? But presumably the soul actually has an identity, a nature, and is subject to certain causal rules in its own spirit-realm too, over which God also has dominion. [Update: see also my post The Ontology of the Omniverse.] The little dilemma or puzzle about how souls can be scarce or owned is nothing compared to the metaphysics and ontology of a God-filled universe. Again, if you posit a God, you open up a can of worms.
You also write, “I loved C. S. Lewis’ line: “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.” So when it comes to us being “really” free etc., I think it ultimately has to do with our wills or souls, not our physical bodies. This is part of my problem with some libertarian arguments over self-ownership; they often seem to conflate one’s physical body with one’s ego.”
I disagree with this. The libertarian argument about self-ownership is an argument about who has the right to control your physical body. It does not matter for this argument if you have (or “are”) a soul or not. Whehter or not you have or are a soul, the question remains: who has the right to control your body: you, or some other person? Obviously, you; and using “self-ownership” to denote this view makes perfect sense. (As I discuss further in What Libertarianism Is.)
Update: I just recalled also an interesting related discussion by Guido Huelsmann in his article The A Priori Foundations of Property Economics:
“Rothbard referred to this fact as self-ownership, meaning that each individual by its very nature owns himself.15 …
15. 15Terrell (1999) has criticized this notion on theological grounds, arguing that human beings do not own themselves, but belong to God. God is therefore the true owner of our minds and bodies and human beings are only temporal stewards or caretakers. This argument misses the mark, however, even though it is pertinent in its own right. Rothbard does not argue that human beings own themselves in some ultimate sense. His point is that the immediate control that each individual has over his mind and his body can be distinguished from the immediate control that other individuals exercise over their minds and bodies. For this to be true it plays no role whether God owns us, whether we control our
property by His grace, etc.”
[The Terrell paper is: Timothy Terrell, “Property Rights and Externality: The Ethics of the Austrian
School,” Journal of Markets and Morality 2 (2) (1999); see also Terrell’s working paper The Origin of Property Rights:
A Critique of Rothbard and Hoppe on Natural Rights, at note 19.]