Thursday, September 11, 2014

Problems In The Liberty Movement Part 1: Religious Cranks

Hans of NC Renegade today cites a thought-provoking essay, which I exhort all persons interested in restoring freedom and Constitutionally limited government to read. It's aimed at refuting the contentions of an enemy of freedom, who probably thinks himself a "compassionate" sort despite the carnage his particular beliefs have inflicted upon suffering Mankind over the centuries. But that's normal for persons who cannot bear to have their convictions examined for their actual consequences in action.

It caused me to remember an incident of some years back, when I first became interested in the liberty movement and found it, tentatively at least, to my taste. It was a talk given by former Libertarian Party presidential candidate David Bergland, focused mainly on outreach: libertarians' halting, mostly unsuccessful attempts to interest other Americans in the nature and possibilities of a free society. Bergland was a gifted speaker, capable of holding an audience's interest while establishing his points in a strikingly casual, low-key style. Yet at one point in the course of his talk, he said something that drew an uneasy, faintly hostile reaction I doubt he expected.

What did Bergland say that set his audience on edge?

"Utopia is not one of the options."

That's all -- and to an audience that consisted almost entirely of self-described libertarians. Yet the looks of disbelief and discomfort on their faces were impossible to ignore.

In remembering and reflecting on that dissonance between a highly regarded libertarian speaker and his supposed co-allegiants to freedom, I resolved upon a new essay series. Hopefully it will be a constructive effort, conducive to better outreach for freedom and the principles enshrined in our Constitution.

When Saint Thomas More wrote the original Utopia, it was his firm intention to make it clear that his conception did not and could not exist -- past, present, or future. The late, great R. A. Lafferty rang a brilliant change on More's thesis in his first novel, Past Master, by having the masters of a future society resurrect the saint as the answer to the problems in their society, which they saw as Utopia-in-waiting. Lafferty's genius, up to then displayed only in short stories, reached blinding intensity when, as President of Astrobe, More is confronted with a bill to abolish...wait for it...all remnants of religious belief.

More's refusal to do so, despite his own lapse from belief, brings about his (second) beheading.

Tyrannies uniformly despise and act against religious creeds that stand in opposition to their aims. Some seize upon one particular creed -- the contemporary example of note is Islam -- elevate it to the state religion and enforce it on penalty of death. Others synthesize a statist creed -- e.g., Nazism or Communism -- that promotes the State to the position of God. Still others refuse any explicit interaction with so labeled.

But religious convictions, viewed through the lens of history, constitute the most powerful non-material forces known to Man. Outright attempts to kill faith, as Quentin Reynolds put it, are like "trying to punch a hole in a pillow," which is why the more successful tyrannies have attempted to promote statism of some sort as religion's replacement.

Religious convictions are inherently personal. An old friend, Christian Western writer Terry Burns, made an important point about this in an apparently casual conversation. I mentioned that the daughter of a friend, though nominally a Catholic, found herself at odds with her mother over a bit of doctrine, and in consequence the two were often at loggerheads. Terry replied that Daughter's personal divergence is normal and natural. Were he to advise Mom, he said, he would tell her that for Daughter to subscribe 100% to Mom's religion would be an act of borrowing rather than an act of faith -- that religion is far too personal for that to be an enduring guidelight and solace.

Terry, one of the most devout and unswerving Baptist Christians of my acquaintance, understood the nature of religion far better than 99.99% of the clerics who've "done a corner" in it throughout history.

A man's religious convictions are among his most closely guarded personal possessions. He invariably views them as integral with his identity and character. To attack them is to attack him. This is as true for the odd religion that calls itself atheism as for any other variety.

Which makes it a terrible tragedy that so many liberty-minded persons are also intolerable militant atheists.

Sadly, it's consistent with the ideological orientation of many freedom-minded people that they should reject other institutional authorities quite as vehemently as they reject the Omnipotent State. Their shortcoming is a failure to distinguish between that which is inherently predatory and that which is morally indifferent or better. In consequence, they routinely alienate persons of a religious bent by deriding them as "irrational," "would-be tyrants," or other Randian-flavored nonsense.

Yes, I've suffered the attentions of such persons. I haven't always reacted as a Christian should.

One who relentlessly promotes his personal, non-verifiable, non-falsifiable convictions about anything has traditionally been labeled a crank. Religious cranks include both theist cranks -- those who are relentless in promoting their recognizably religious creeds -- and atheist cranks -- those who are obnoxiously militant about their contempt for all other religious faiths. The liberty movement is home to very few of the former, but a truly deplorable number of the latter.

Though the majority of freedom-minded Americans, like Americans generally, are self-nominated Christians, these are not as prominent a "face" for the liberty movement as are the militant atheists. By their obnoxious behavior and their unwillingness to let a statement of faith go unchallenged, militant atheists do great harm to our prospects for restored freedom. In brief, they persuade those with whom they come in contact that these are not the associates they want. Most of us choose our political associates for such reasons, and therefore the political positions we will support and defend. It's far more about how one wants to be viewed by others than about ideology.

Please don't misunderstand me: I have no problem with the Amiable Agnostic, in which category I include non-militant atheists. The rule of freedom is "live and let live," and on no subject is that rule more imperative than on religious belief. By contrast, the militants -- those inclined toward crossing rhetorical swords with everyone they encounter who doesn't hew to their religion -- mirror the most conspicuous behavior of tyrants of all kinds, by insisting that others' most personal convictions must be "corrected" until they match those of the militant atheist. Before that "correction" has been achieved, the militant will show the religious man nothing but contempt. Indeed, the former will treat the latter as a tyrant-in-waiting, perhaps the greatest irony possible for one who claims to love freedom.

If liberty is to gain ground, it will need far more allegiants than it has. For that to occur, the hostility and contempt expressed by altogether too many "libertarians" toward those who cleave to religious faith must be refuted forcefully, perhaps with ostracism. Such persons must not be permitted to represent themselves as the One True Faith of Freedom.

More anon.


Boon Vickerson is out there said...

I think your right Francis, you know, like the whole idea of Judea/Christian values, the 5000 Year Leap, reason born from classical thought, the holistic nine yards. There is everything to be said for them, it is the reasoned thought resulting from it all that created the west, it is reason in the classical sense that created the idea of liberty and representative form of government. To discount the very idea of Christian Jewish values is to miss the entire reason and cause of liberty as we know it. It is a contradiction in terms so blind it defies logic. Even if you don't adhere to religious ideals, what is Liberty if not for them?

I think too, Ms. Ann Barnhardt said it right when she espoused the Whole Armor of God.
I think also Liberty, like Gods whole armor, is somehow contingent on humility, because like God, how can you believe in Liberty if you don't believe in something better and larger than yourself?

Ms. Ann as usual, though bless her heart may not see it, in her humility and reluctant but beautiful warrior princess fashion, had this to say today which I found connects with what you wrote here Francis:

Anonymous said...

Not just libertarians. I've been an active science fiction fan for over 60 years. I have observed that science fiction, being to a great extent a child of the so-called Enlightenment, is biased against religion, especially Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism. That hasn't lessened my enjoyment of it, but it's something to take into account.

Francis W. Porretto said...

That's certainly true, Colonel, but the SF community isn't trying to galvanize a nationwide movement for freedom -- with one or two notable exceptions, of course -- so the problem isn't quite as urgent there.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with this post more. I was raised Catholic, and for a time after discovering my personal disbelief in God, I became what could only be called a militant atheist. Then one day I realized that to be a true atheist requires one to make a leap of faith just as large as the one a believer must make.

From that point on, being one who cherishes Liberty and also morality, it seemed to me that I could only classify myself as an agnostic. Further, as there is no framework for morality within agnosticism, one must turn to Judeo-Christian moral teachings for anything requiring a more in-depth answer than "live and let live". Even taking the next logical step to the Golden Rule demands it.

Today, I would go so far as to say that more people need Jesus and the Bible. I may personally be missing the "small fastener" that holds it all together, no offense whatsoever intended to believers, but any honest atheist should be able to recognize the wisdom and the potential societal benefits contained therein. If they can not, then I would posit that they are not being honest, or they are more interested in oppressing others than they are in exercising their own freedom to disbelieve. Or both.

And when I see Satanists, wearing upside-down crosses, stomping on wafers, and splashing around urine...I hear chains rattling.