Religion: Friend or Foe?

Is religion a friend or a foe?

Watching the movie Traitor this afternoon, I gained new insight into the value of religion, in this case Islam. While in a Yemeni prison, the protagonist gives a fellow inmate his rations after a bully had thrown the other man’s rations onto the ground. The bully then confronts the protagonist, telling him “I decide who eats and who starves.” The protagonist fights the bully and his gang alone and, though adept at combat, is overwhelmed. However, other inmates notice his good deed and his daily prayers. The next time the gang confronts the protagonist, the other Muslim inmates come to his aid, and he is left alone.

Libertarians often feel as if they are each a lone voice shouting against the chorus of human aggression. We teach our friends about right and wrong, property rights, and human dignity, but are often unable to affect great change.

We are also generally an atheist lot, though this wasn’t always the case. The revolutionary generation were deists and freemasons. These ‘brotherhoods’ were a source of mutual support. Nowadays, there is a segment of the christian right which leans in a libertarian direction, and as Ron Paul’s Rally for the Republic showed, they are more effective at organizing (even with a less consistent program).

I don’t support the neoconservative tenet that religion is a ‘useful myth’ that should be propagated to keep stupid people in line. And I don’t see how the concept of God makes any sense. As an anthropomorphic creature, he would not be omnipotent; as an omnipotent being, he would not help answer any questions that he supposedly answers. However, I do believe there is utility in shared customs and brotherhood. I would probably join the freemasons if they didn’t require members to profess faith in a supreme beings.

Instead, I move that we treat libertarianism like a religion – a social code. It is only by religious conviction that men have risen from expediency and committed to living righteously. Islam’s success in the Arab world was due to the Koran’s ready-made legal system and principles. Muslims knew other muslims would: use gold and silver for currency, keep their word on contracts, hold 100% reserves on deposits, fight for their property, respect the honor of their wives and daughters. That sounds pretty libertarian, doesn’t it? Sharia law in practice is perhaps a perversion, a fascist overlay of subjugating women and serving the powerful interests. But like the American federation, people were drawn to Islam initially because of its offer of a system of justice that respects freedom and property. What libertarianism needs is a ‘good book’ like the Bible, meeting halls in every city, and people pledging their sacred honor to each other’s defense.

With all that, I don’t think anyone will even miss the God nonsense.

2 thoughts on “Religion: Friend or Foe?

  1. I am sorry, but I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. You take one aspect that is sometimes under some circumstances associated with religion and propose that a political ideology become a religion. Let’s see, has that ever been done before. Oh, yah, that’s right, it has.

    Toryism was a religion pretty much wherever it existed, at least in the perverted sense you are using the term religion. You know, the King is G_d, lets all band together against the King’s enemies and hunt out heretics. One for all and all for one [except for those who prove not to be pure].

    Maoism was a religion in this same sense.

    And Naziism.

    Most people today are anxious that existing religions don’t become [yet again] religions for which men band together “in blind faith,” willing to do anything for the cause. And here you are advocating just that for libertarianism.

    My take on “American conservatism” [now defunct] and libertarianism is exactly that they have failed and are now extinct or well on the way to extinction because they became obsessed with substituting slogans and nice sounding phrases [and “solidarity” against them there Leftists] for critical thought.

    Arguably this started with Rand, who, as we all know, thought that she was the greatest philosopher and political/economic theorist in history [although she had read nothing in any of those fields], but it is almost universal today.

    So despair not, libertaianism is going just as you propose. The Georgists have their little clubs in every major city. The Marxist Leninists are still around in their miniscule Party cults here and there. Even the Nazis have their rally of a couple of dozen people each year. And, I assure you, the advocates of each of those views are very very religious [in the sense you admire] and very very fraternal [well, except for the internal “power” struggles].

  2. Mr. Bolton,

    It is not the case that libertarians behave fraternally. Most seem to stand as lone warriors against the onslaught of socialism, precisely because we feel our individualist jurisprudence prohibits us from acting in concert with one another.

    Religion has offered much to the cause of liberty through encouraging standards of behavior and law. The source of most religious struggle has not been conflict in doctrine, but rather clashing ideas about just conduct. Protestants distrusted Catholics because they feared the collectivist ethos that led the latter group toward unquestioning submission to the Pope. Generally, I’m suggesting that the practices of religion are not to be discouraged, only the underlying ideological convictions need to be updated to meet the most advanced understanding of human rights – libertarianism – and that they need to be purged of their mythology.

    If this was accomplished, the numerous marginal benefits of religion (common meeting houses, mutual trust, provision of social goods) could be harnessed to the benefit of the libertarian movement.

    Thanks for your interest,

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