Religion and Liberty

I’m not a religious person. I have an unconventional Mormon background but rejected the faith of my parents for a large number of reasons. I’m not hostile to religion, either. At least, I try not to be (it’s hard sometimes!). I’ve seen first-hand what religious organizations can do for humanity. When I was living in a Ghanaian village of no more than 300 people, I had access to no more than two hospitals in the village. One was run by the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the other I cannot remember (the SDA hospital was closer). It was most likely a Catholic one. Religious organizations representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity and even Buddhism were ever-present in Ghana, and they all provided much-needed skills and supplies to that magnificently socialist state.

I attribute my atheism and my libertarianism to my skeptical nature. If you can prove to me that God does indeed exist, or that paternalism is good for me and my fellow man, then I will turn on a dime. I don’t know very much about anything, after all.

Anyway, religion has been under attack in the West since the Enlightenment. There are both good and bad reasons for this. One of the best reasons is that religious authorities often burned dissidents at the stake for opposing their claims to authority. In much of the world today, especially in some Muslim regions, non-believers are subjected to stonings, beheadings, and torture when the authority of the ecclesiastical class is challenged. However, in today’s Western world, the war on religion is a rather petty affair. Most skeptics don’t want to argue about the existence of God, they simply want to denigrate believers at best, and persecute them at worst.

Take, for example, the brutish push for more “secularism” in public discourse. I find this to be among the most disturbing trends in society today. Notice, I am not saying that I think the federal government should be non-secular. I do. But being secular does not mean eliminating all other forms of discourse. It simply means not having an official religion. This drive for more secularism coincides quite nicely with the push for a stronger central state and a more uniform society. As an atheist I don’t really care if people pray before a baseball game. In fact, I would take off my hat if I were wearing one and bow my damned head. Not out of reverence mind you, but out of respect. Yeesh!

The gay marriage debate also has a tinge of religious headhunting in it. Warren Gibson and Jacques Delacroix have already touched on this. I’m all for gay marriage. Not “civil unions,” but actual marriage. I don’t see what the big deal is by not letting them get married. Perhaps religious people should take a second glance at their arguments against gay marriage and see if they’re not overthinking things. Yet proponents of gay marriage are hardly doing themselves any favors. To the proponents of gay marriage, I implore: take a gander at the tactics of your side and ask yourself if the opponents of gay marriage have cause to be worried about a slippery slope. With the tactics I’ve seen, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine your side to start suing religious organizations for not marrying gay couples because it goes against their beliefs.

David Theroux, the founder and President of the Independent Institute, has bravely taken up the mantle for libertarians who are also believers. In a recent post summarizing the work of the distinguished philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Theroux writes:

Plantinga has shown that those scholars who attempt to ground reality in naturalism are not just pursuing a futile quest leading to determinism and nihilism but are embracing views that defeat their very intellectual enterprise, including science itself. Unfortunately, many superb classical liberal and libertarian scholars remain unaware of Plantinga’s work and are oblivious of the profound weaknesses in their naturalistic assumptions. In this regard, I authored an earlier, preliminary paper, “Economic Science and the Poverty of Naturalism,” that discusses this dilemma and the crucial value of the critiques of metaphysical naturalism by both C.S. Lewis and Plantinga [...] For example, Plantinga’s “evolutionary argument against naturalism” brilliantly argues that if evolution is true, it is an epistemic defeater for naturalism, leaving naturalism in ruin.

Do read the whole thing. I have mentioned this before, but the Independent Institute has had a profound effect on my own way of thinking. After Ron Paul’s brilliant 2008 run, I began to devour as much as I could about libertarianism, and the Independent Institute stood out as one of the most influential sources of information and knowledge. I also attended one of their summer seminars in 2009, and still think about the lectures to this day. I actually got to hear Fred Foldvary lecture on interest rates and time preference!

Any readers out there have thoughts about religion, philosophy and public discourse today? This could get interesting…

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