17 Feb 2013

Libertarians and Religion: An Airing of Grievances

Religious 98 Comments

On Facebook the other day somebody in my news feed had a status that was something like, “I can’t believe how many big name libertarians are religious. Don’t they know in a free market, most churches would be sued for fraud?” What was more intriguing was that a few people that I consider personal friends gave the guy a high five in the comments.

This is typical, as anyone on Facebook knows. So, I am dedicating this post to an airing of grievances. I was raised Catholic, then was a self-declared “devout atheist” for many years, and now I’m a born again Christian. But through it all, I never felt either the passion or the hatred for organized religion that apparently inspires so many libertarians.

I’m not being sarcastic, and I’m not going to argue with you (I can’t stop others from doing it in the comments), but I want to know why this irks so many libertarians in particular.

98 Responses to “Libertarians and Religion: An Airing of Grievances”

  1. Enopoletus Harding says:

    It’s pretty simple. We atheists think all that is exclusively religion is false. Therefore, most of us think it is bad. Most of us think bad things shouldn’t exist.

    • Dan says:

      Is hate a good thing?

    • Michael Makovi says:

      But one would think that an advocate of the free market would realize that just because something is bad does not necessarily mean it should be banned. I can understand a statist atheist arguing that government ought to ban religion. But how can an atheist free-marketer advocate this?

      • Enopoletus Harding says:

        Fraud wouldn’t be legal in a libertarian society. Some forms of religion (e.g., faith healing) can be readily seen as fraudulent by us atheists. Certainly private religious belief would not be seen as illegal in a libertarian society.

    • Z says:

      Good, so do I. While we’re at it, let’s throw secular humanism in the dump as well.

      • Ken B says:

        Irony alert.

        • Z says:

          LOL, i don’t get it. What irony?

          • Ken B says:

            Really? On thread, what is it the religious do that irks Libertarians a believer suggests dumping secular humanism, and you don’t see the irony?

            • Z says:

              i’m not a believer. in either religion or secular humanism

  2. David R. Henderson says:

    It doesn’t irk me at all any more. In fact, I rather like that you, Bob Higgs, and others are such strong Christians. But it did irk me when I was in my late teens and early 20s. I think it was almost entirely due to the fact that my evangelical aunt got me worried, when I was 14, that without being born again, I would, when I died, burn eternally in hell.

    • Tel says:

      Is threatening someone with damnation the same as threatening someone with a knife?

      • skylien says:

        It is not like the priest says I will put you in damnation. It is rather that he predicts that forces outside of his control will or may do X to you if you will do Y.

        So you might call it scare mongering, but it is not a “threat”.

        As long as he doesn’t call for the spanish inquisition it should be fine.. 😉

        • Ken B says:

          “It is not like the priest says I will put you in damnation”

          Not 100% accurate skylien. Excommunication was (maybe still is) believed to cause damnation.

          • skylien says:

            I really can’t help people who believe that God would give a damn about the personal opinion of people who declare themselves spokesman of him.

            And even in this case it is not a “threat” in the legal sense. However of course for the victim it may feel like a real “threat”. All irrational fears are tragic, yet you wouldn’t put the blame in case of arachnophobia on the spider would you?

            • Ken B says:

              It is though exactly like the priest saying “I will put you in damnation.”

              • skylien says:

                The priest you are talking of must think he is God himself..

              • Tel says:

                There is a tendency for religious leaders to speak as if they personally represented God. You know, Papal infallibility and all that.

                I accept that not all religious leaders pull this one.

      • Ken B says:

        No, but it is an effective way to inject unpleasantness into a young life.

  3. Roberto Severino says:

    Never been an atheist or an agnostic. My parents are Catholic, but seldom ever go to service. I went to a Protestant church a long time ago, and then went to two nondenominational church. I don’t go to service anymore, but I still identify myself as a Christian. Meanwhile, my friend Austin, a student at The University of Georgia, is an atheist and a Paul Krugman fan.

  4. A Country Farmer says:

    I don’t believe in the major religions, but the “fraud” comment is ridiculous because people are voluntarily choosing to believe in the claims of religion and I think few religions knowingly lie (although they can be very manipulative sometimes… but people know that).

    With that said, I think some libertarians are worried about how non-libertarians see their group (there’s probably a separate self-esteem issue there). For example, here are three common ways for a libertarian to argue about global warming:

    1. Global warming is primarily due to humans but private actors would solve the problem better.
    2. The globe has warmed but it does not appear to be accelerating, the warmth has some positive benefits, change is normal (and much of it may be natural), we’ll most likely be able to deal with any problems, etc. Therefore, the way in which the issue is hyped suggests a power grab by some politicians, mercantilists and scientists. We have more important issue to deal with.
    3. Global warming is mostly fake, a global conspiracy by governments and bankers to control the world.

    I don’t deny that #3 is possible, but I think we can all agree that, if we’re trying to present libertarian ideas to non-libertarians, #1 and #2 are more palatable.

    I think the anti-religiousness comes from worries about religion being presented in the form of #3 — not a calm and deliberate assessment of the potentialities of life, existence, the beginning of the world, and most importantly, of being wrong. If every religious post started with, “I respect and completely understand that many people can’t make the leap in belief to be religious for X, Y, Z and I have made that leap for A, B, C,” then people feel less attacked. It may even be worth saying that every time, just like someone that believes in global warming theories #1 and #2 and not #3 has to start every global warming conversation with, “The greenhouse effect is real, humans probably played a big part in the real warming of the last century, but the feedback sensitivity doesn’t appear to be as bad, some warmth is good, etc…”

    • Dan says:

      I never see any of my religious friends on Facebook that would fit #3. I only see vitriol, mocking, and conspiracy theories coming from atheist, and an abundance of it on a daily basis. My religious friends, on the rare occasion that they post about religion, tend to quote scripture, talk about loving everyone, or praising Jesus. I can’t think of a single post where a religious friend attacked atheists. Maybe it happens and I just miss it every time, but the number 3’s your talking about all come from the atheist camp on my news feed.

      • Dan says:

        For example, I just went to Facebook and here is one of the first posts I see. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=534674946577238&set=a.534256449952421.129199.534244639953602&type=1&ref=nf

        • Archaeopteryx says:

          I’ve seen plenty of mocking and vitriol from Christians. Kudos to your believing friends, though.

          As far as the Facebook example, I think you (plural) bring it on yourselves. You claim an all-powerful and all-loving God, who does nothing to help the helpless. It’s a hard concept for the rational to accept:

          “Give your life to Jesus! He LOVES you so much that he died for you! In fact, he cured my sister from cancer!”

          “He cured your sister from cancer, but does nothing to help the millions of children dying from causes far beyond their control every day?”

          “God’s ways are mysterious and His purposes are higher than ours. We don’t always understand His will but we can trust Him.”

          Do you see how this appears to someone who doesn’t believe in your Deity?

  5. Ryan Murphy says:

    If we are going to believe Haidt about the psychological/genetic foundations of libertarianism, a lot of our emotional (in the sense that much of any morality has huge emotional dimensions) skepticism towards the benefits of government intervention is the result of our emphasis on the liberty/oppression dimension. See here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0042366

    Then, organized religion simply would fall under one of the oppressive forces, in addition to government.

    FWIW, I’m Catholic.

    • Tel says:

      … organized religion simply would fall under one of the oppressive forces…

      Depending on whether they use violence to enforce their position surely? I think it is easy enough to find examples where various churches have used obvious violence, but probably more difficult to demonstrate that any church as such must therefore be violent.

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        Forget the church. God uses violence to get his way all the time. I’m not a libertarian (Bob’s concern here), and I don’t have a problem with religious people, but I can definitely understand why atheist libertarians would have a problem with God if he does exist or have a problem with people who actually celebrate a god like that even if he didn’t exist.

        • Tel says:

          Yeah, gravity uses violence to get its way all the time too. I can see why plenty of libertarians would have a problem with gravity (if it existed).

          Don’t get me started on thermodynamics and the inevitable heat death of the universe.

          • Daniel Kuehn says:

            Gravity is an impersonal force.

            God says if you don’t worship him he is going to burn you.

            If a human being walked up to you and said that if you don’t worship him he’ll set you on fire, how would you react?

            What would you think about people praising an imaginary man that goes around burning people that don’t do what he wants them to do?

            I can definitely understand where people are coming from on this – I’m not sure you’re being very thoughtful on it.

            • Archaeopteryx says:

              Daniel, completely agreed.

  6. Michael Makovi says:

    “Don’t they know in a free market, most churches would be sued for fraud?”


    “Don’t they know that in a free market, the government would have a ministry of truth and a censorship board, and would prohibit the publication of anything which the government considers false?”

    I think our definitions of “free market” are slightly different. In my version of the free market, we won’t have Inquisitors.

    • Michael Makovi says:

      I’m an Orthodox Jew, by the way. And I rather agree with Thomas Jefferson and those Baptists (e.g. Roger Williams, John Leland, and Isaac Backus) which said that the government is incompetent to determine religious truth.

      But I guess our atheist friend disagrees. According to him, the government is indeed capable of ascertaining truth and falsehood in religion, and the government must censor all falsehood.

      It is a very peculiar atheist advocate of the free market who believes that everything ever said in favor of state-established religion is true. Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.

  7. noiselull says:

    I can’t speak for others, but I grew up in a realtively fundamentalist household and attended private school, lost my weekends, etc. I’ve personally experienced reliogious “oppression.”

  8. Robert Fellner says:

    I can’t speak for others but my disdain for organization religion boils down to the enormous evils it is responsible for and its role in getting otherwise good people to do outrageously immoral things. It also seems abundantly clear to me that all organized religions are man-made stories created to explain things we don’t understand. So, as libertarians pride themselves on their logically sound and consistent philosophy belief in the supernatural is at odds with that.

    While several years ago I would have shared the “I can’t believe how many big libertarian names are religious” view, that is no longer the case.

    Instead, I am much more humble and respectful. If people that I greatly admire (yourself, Higgs, Woods) who are much wiser, understand the atheist viewpoint, and generally seem to be really good people, all find something of great value in religion, well I sure as heck don’t have all the answers and even though I don’t see it myself, I respect you guys enough to acknowledge that I could be totally wrong on this issue.

  9. Robert Fellner says:

    We pride ourselves on being logically consistent and sound in our reasoning that leads us to be libertarians. Atheists view religion as illogical by definition, so it is unsettling that a big name libertarian is also religious as it creates a conflict as to how logical that person is.

    I mean if this guy believes the story of Noah’s Ark is historically accurate, hard to take him seriously when he advocates for no government!

    That, I believe, is why it irks some libertarians so much.

    • Tel says:

      Logic only takes you from a set of axioms to a self-consistent deduction based on those axioms. You can’t calculate the speed of light, or the mass of an electron by using logic alone, nor can you reconstruct human history with pure logic either.

    • Paul says:

      Many religious folks, Catholics especially, don’t interpret the Bible as a history book, thus do not take Noah’s Ark (your example) to be historic truth necessarily.

  10. Christopher says:

    We pride ourselves on being logically consistent and sound in our reasoning that leads us to be libertarians. Atheists view religion as illogical by definition

    You used two separate terms here: logically consistent and logical. Which one is it?

    There is nothing logical or consistent about being a libertarian. The moral principles of libertarianism are ontological in nature. Just like any religion. Why are individual rights worth being protected? It’s not illogical to oppose that idea. Actually the libertarian obsession with individual rights seems somewhat religious to me. What’s the difference between a human being and an ape? Why is the ape less worthy? There is nothing logical or consistent in this idea. It’s just what you believe in.

  11. Tel says:

    Don’t they know in a free market, most churches would be sued for fraud?

    Is there any historical example of this ever happening?

    I think the point is that in any market you need to have some regulation of some kind, if only to stop one guy just clobbering people he doesn’t agree with. The whole concept of fraud requires someone to provide a definition or measurement for the basis of what is a true. Thus, if the rules say a church is OK, then it can’t get sued. If the rules say church is illegal then it will get shut down.

    • Christopher says:

      The fraud argument is even sillier than that and it shows that these “libertarians” don’t even understand their own philosophy.

  12. libertarianprole says:

    Hard to sue something that describes itself as a faith for fraud. The word “faith” is quite a disclaimer. Personally I say people can believe whatever they want to in so far as they do not initiate force against others. But don’t mind me – I am just a libertarian prole.

  13. Chris says:

    As an atheist, I see religious beliefs as irrational and thus it “irks” me that irrational people would believe in libertarianism. I know it doesn’t mean that libertarianism is also irrational but it still bothers me.

  14. joeftansey says:

    Because mainstream Christians are pretty much the opposite of libertarians.

    It’s one thing to be a thoughtful Christian and have good reasons for your beliefs, but the majority of Christians are “just cus” Christians. They don’t have a robust theology, but they have a cost-benefit analysis that stops them from abandoning their faith. For example, I’ve met many Christians who get really upset because if there is no God, then “this is all for nothing” or “you’re just a bunch of cells”. Other Christians just don’t see any payoff to being heterodox. They’ll be scrutinized and shamed by their peers. Why go through the hassle?

    But this is exactly the kind of person who you should be terrified of – someone who can’t be convinced to stand up for anything other than their personal comfort or group loyalties. They’re going to cling to their beliefs even if it screws over tons of other people. A society where this is even *acceptable*, let alone mainstream, is immoral.

    To be sure, there are atheists who also fit this description, but my estimation is that 99.9% of Christians fall into this category, whereas only 90% of atheists do. It’s hard to say the Christians are the most impenetrable, because pretty much no one is willing to give any ground at all, but their conflict of interest is so apparent that it ticks “honest” libertarians off the most. At least liberals can pretend to care about the poor…

    • Z says:

      I’m not sure I agree with you about the numbers. I would say about 95% of both Christians and 95% of atheists fall into it, or maybe less, based on my experience. I think what you are missing is the fact that there are a lot more restrictions in some of these religions than in the secular humanist moral code. If you are a secular humanist, you can sleep around with as many women as you want, watch porn, etc etc. If you are christian, you cannot. Therefore I would put the number of self serving christians to be less than your 99.9%.

      also, there is not much of any difference in terms of personal charity between liberals and conservatives, in fact some studies put conservative charity above liberal charity, so i would say your last sentence is demonstrably false.

      i dont fall into either the religious or secular humanist category, by the way.

      • joeftansey says:

        “I think what you are missing is the fact that there are a lot more restrictions in some of these religions than in the secular humanist moral code. If you are a secular humanist, you can sleep around with as many women as you want, watch porn, etc etc. If you are christian, you cannot.”

        Yeah, you can.


        Christians self-report only slightly lower than regular people. When you adjust for the possibility that a hypocrite would tell a self-serving lie, they numbers probably even out.

        “in fact some studies put conservative charity above liberal charity, so i would say your last sentence is demonstrably false. ”

        I said that liberals can pretend to care about the poor, not that they actually do.

        • Z says:

          yeah, i suppose that’s right. to me it seems that religion can be divided into two main aspects: the moral aspect (meaning, do this, don’t do that, etc) and the spiritual part (connection to god and so on). I find that most religious people just take the spiritual part, since that’s the part that makes them feel good, and avoid the moral part, since there are too many restrictions and stuff they have to do. so i suppose your first point may be right.

          • joeftansey says:

            I find most religious people take the social and self-serving parts, and ignore the inconvenient spiritual and moral parts. People will say “God talks to me”, but they won’t say “God told me to donate $10,000 to charity”.

            • Stephan Jerde says:

              I know very few who say God speaks to them, other than in a roundabout way, like things working out well when they try to do the “Christian” thing, but if they have even a smattering of theology, they aren’t likely to say the $10k to charity thing. That would be a huge misunderstanding of the whole concept.

  15. Ken B says:

    Well I know you often misunderstand my psoitions on religion Bob, but I don’t hate organized religion either. Actually I sort of prefer the organized kind, where there is some intellectual rigor and restrictions on what you can do, to the unorganized Whatever-I-Want kind. What I object to in the religion threads is your attempt to exempt religion from reason. Unlike Hitchens I wish there were a god.

    As for the animus between your groups, I see several factors, and I am sure there are others too. Libertarians like to see themselves as iconclastic thinkers, unshackled by recieved wisdom. A rejection of authority, and the church is that. And god is all about compulsion.

  16. AD says:

    It’s not so much a libertarian thing, both libertarians and the left can agree that the religious right is made up of douchebags that want to legislate their morality

    • Ken B says:

      You underestimate the religious left.

    • Z says:

      As a libertarian, please do not associate me with the left.

  17. Dave says:

    While I don’t have a problem with libertarians being religious, I have a hard time understanding how they could be. Part of being a libertarian is digging beneath the surface of what you have been told your whole life to find the root of truth, morality, and economics. If you apply this same method to religion, Christianity in my experience, there are plenty of holes and to many similarities to religions of the area that predated Christianity.

    • Christopher says:

      Part of being a libertarian is digging beneath the surface of what you have been told your whole life to find the root of truth, morality

      It’s really astonishing. Libertarians complain all the time when so-called statists accuse them of not caring for the poor and so forth. Yet, when it comes to religion you do exactly the same sort of thing.

      It is precisely my eagerness to dig beneath the surface and to find the root of morality that made me become a Christian.

      You, on the other hand, on your quest to the root of truth found Libertarianism the root of which is a set of arbitrary axioms.

      • Ken B says:

        Drat you Christopher. I am forced to agree with you here. I think you are completely wrong about the real root of morality, but the dynamic you identify here is spot on.

        • Christopher says:

          Fair enough

        • Dan Lind says:

          I’ll bite.

          Do you know what’s the real root of morality?

          • Z says:

            There is nothing for sure. The most we have is ‘moral intuitions’, that is feelings or emotions of morality. And I’m skeptical about even that. I believe that we have other feelings, such as anger, disgust, embarrassment, etc, and our cultural upbringing and parents condition us to associate certain of those feelings in certain situations with the terms ‘immoral’ or ‘wrong’. I’m not sure there are any such feelings called ‘moral intuitions’, only anger, sadness, disgust, horror, etc.

          • Ken B says:

            I don’t need to to know some answers are wrong, do I? I don’t know why cancer metastasizes, but I know it’s not because Thor swings his hammer.

            • Dan Lind says:


              You’re saying you know the root of morality isn’t whatever Christopher found beneath the surface that made him become a Christian.

              Whether you know what’s the real root of morality, you’re not saying.

  18. LvM says:

    Bob, is it possible you experienced a lucid dream/out-of-body experience (OBE), which you interpreted as an encounter with a higher being in the form of god, because of certain concepts your catholic upbringing put in your mind?
    Encounters with god have been recreated by practitioners of OBE. These ‘encounters’ do feel totally real, you would have to know you were experiencing OBE to know it is a figment of your imagination, and not real.

    • Christopher says:

      Is it possible he experienced that because God really exists? And is it possible he was raised catholic because God wanted him to?

      • Ken B says:

        This is a dangerous argument. Bob has already cited me as the best evidence there is no god. I could cite MF as the best evidence that if there is a god he has a cruel sense of humour, and Gene Callahan that he must have a nasty streak.

  19. Dan Lind says:

    Bob, methinks you’re being a tad disingenuous. You’re too smart and too conscientiously empathic NOT to know how it is that religion is anathema to some of us.

    A specifically libertarian/anarcho-capitalist reason: If one grasps the concept of spontaneous order and is compelled to shred the last remnants of minarchism, then God as the wise overlord (a la Woods) of That Which Is also degenerates into an unnecessary and rather silly notion. Anarcho-capitalists who are theists appear to be hanging on to the idea of Force Monopoly by a Superior Being if only in a parallel universe of the spiritual, whatever that may be.

    You can take this one step further which I’ll illustrate like this. I have an automatic, knee jerk suspicion of people whose religion posits a God who gets involved as opposed to a more Thomistic, Theistic God. At some level I believe they’re suckers for power, whether lusting for it or readily submitting to it. They’ve allowed that power over the choices, actions, even thoughts of human beings is woven into the nature of things. On some level, maybe buried very deep, I fear they’re closet totalitarians.

    On the other hand, I concur with Fellner above where he says (maybe losing his exact meaning by using my own words) that you, and other “big name libertarians,” seem like good and decent people, clearly very smart and with genuine integrity. I’m open to the possibility that you’re an exception to my “believe in God -> sucker for power” rule. If so, God bless you.

    There are also intensely personal reasons, such as a born again Christian reason that’s extant in my own life.

    Born again Christianity causes a good man’s conscience to cannibalize itself – like Abraham brought to the brink of killing his son as an act of virtue.

    My father was a good and decent man, a born again, evangelical Christian. He lived his entire life with an inviolate commitment to his beliefs. Those beliefs compelled him to believe his son was damned by his God.

    I don’t call myself a libertarian but I sure as hell am a fellow traveler, and yeah, religion irks me a little.

    • Dan Lind says:

      Woops! First paragraph: “empathic” should read “empathetic.”

  20. Gamble says:

    Libertarianism merged with Christianity is the highest level of human evolution. Actually the 2 are 1 in the same…

  21. Chris H says:

    Honestly it seems to me that those libertarian atheists who have strong reactions against irrational beliefs are not sufficiently familiar with the literature on public choice economics. If rational ignorance or rational irrationality should be expected in conditions where holding true beliefs leads to little benefit (or perhaps even to actually negative consequences like lack of a sense of purpose or loss of social relations), then religion would qualify in that category. Of course, us atheists might be the irrational ones too, but supposing we aren’t that still shouldn’t lead to disdain for the religious. If it is rational to be irrational then at most (to put it simply) we should hate the game not the player. Even then, the vast majority of religions in the modern Western world isn’t worth hating on. They give people some purpose and friends without going out hurting people while also sometimes producing cool looking buildings. Certain particular faiths might cause more issues, but no more than many political ideologies (some of which being explicitly atheistic).

  22. Tony says:

    I was raised Catholic and now am a non practicing agnostic…

    Within the Libertarian community there are those “purists” who practice and encourage “groupthink”.. They are quick to ridicule those who cannot adopt their version of Utopia…. This sort of culling of the herd technique has been used by petty dictators for ages….

    The lovers of true freedom realize that ” The most important thing to do in your life is to not interfere with somebody else’s life. ”

    So there is room for religious thought and practice as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone elses Liberty and freedom…

    Sadly much of the leadership of organized religion involved a totalitarian viewpoint and intolerance of other viewpoints.. There is plenty of history to back that up.

    See a trend here? 😉

    • Andrew Keen says:

      This is the kind of tone deafness I was talking about below. I don’t think it’s an appropriate response to compare an atheist who made a joke about religion to a dictator.

      • Tony says:

        I was responding to Robert question..

        “I want to know why this irks so many libertarians in particular.”

        Whether or not the particular post Robert referenced is a joke or not, I thought his question to be a seperate issue from that .. maybe I misunderstood..

        Ive seen plenty of self proclaimed Libertarian atheists go bananas if someone didnt agree with them 100% .. same with some of the more rabid Paul supporters… I know simply because I am a Paul supporter and have spend endless amounts of time and Money in Minnesota trying to get the message out.. A message that gets very muddled when those purporting to spread Freedom are the first to define and set its limitations…

  23. Kevin L says:

    I’m a born again Christian and a pretty hard core libertarian, as well. When I see people who are libertarian politically and atheist spiritually and who are outspoken in their disdain for religion, my attempt to empathize with them – after first reminding myself that if I understand Scripture correctly, they are willingly separating themselves from God and inviting his wrath on their wrongdoing – is that many churches (in the case of Christianity) are politically invested, defensive of at least some aspect of government, and made up of average people who react emotionally to what they do not understand.

    To me, Scripture is not incompatible with a libertarian outlook on political and economic relationships. God explicitly claims for himself prerogatives that are strictly denied to us mortals: judgment, jealousy, worship, and so forth. The Mosaic law is of course very harsh on both moral and ceremonial offenses; it was meant to demonstrate the gap between God’s perfection and our sinfulness. And except for the few instances of divine judgment in the Scriptures, God has been very patient with humans – at least in this life. Paul writes that “God gave them over to their sinful desires.” Sounds pretty libertarian to me.

    Now it’s also true that Paul writes that authorities are God’s “agents of wrath.” That section of verses has for me been one to which it’s hard to reconcile the reasoning of libertarian politics. I’m still trying to let it shape my mind and not try to shape the Word to my understanding. But I also don’t want to take it out of context. It comes immediately after he writes “live at peace with all men,” and “don’t repay evil for evil.” And it comes right before he says to “put aside the deeds of darkness” and not to “think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” I think, then, it’s more an admonishment that the concerns of the world are secondary to the spiritual struggles around us than it is an absolute statement of the moral fortitude of government. Obviously not every government commends those who do well or punishes those who do wrong, even according to their own legislation. Yet believers are to devote their energy to peoples’ eternal well-being and not to trying to correct every error of human government.

  24. Rohit says:

    Hey Bob. Recent follower here, first time commenter.

    To me, the problem with our “libertarian heroes” (I say only partially in jest) being religious is not that “in a free market, most churches would be sued for fraud”, but rather in a free market, most churches would NOT be sued for fraud. The obvious cognitive dissonance ( I hope I am using that term correctly) here is that all religions (or at least the common western conceptions of them) claim to be advocating objective truth, yet on some level all these religions give some “truths” which are logically incompatible with some other “truths” of other religions. What is somewhat perplexing is that even though that all but perhaps one are giving misinformation, very very few can be successfully sued for fraudulent or even negligent information. My understanding of this is the same reason why psychics exist in the free market even though probably everyone must think at some level that psychics are frauds. They are providing a service completely based on misinformation, yet since everyone knows either extrasensory perception is bullshit or at least the mainstream theories and evidence on why ESP is bullshit, we assume the customers are adequately informed and let them make personal decisions and the government doesn’t go shutting down all the psychics. Likewise, even though we have a plethora of religions claiming objective truths that are incompatible with each other, everyone knows that there is no way of objectively proving/disproving a god and religion is mostly a matter of what you choose to have faith in, probably because of the subjective value to you, and therefore churches are allowed to exist.

    Obviously, freedom of religion and thought is important and So the grievance here is that libertarian leaders like yourself who are intelligent, decent people who do an amazing job of employing critical thinking skills in the field of economics and its subsequent public policy where so few do, yet you believe in something (that is a huge part of life) where critical thinking is presumably suspended.

    Even though I am a nontheist, I do enjoy the posts about Christianity you post where you do challenge the notion that the logic of religion doesn’t hold up, but for whatever reason you seem unwilling to post a solid defense of your religious beliefs. That would be an enjoyable post for me.

    On another note, can we be facebook friends?

  25. Andrew Keen says:

    This whole thread is a great exhibit of what is wrong (in my opinion) with libertarianism specifically and the state of discourse in general. The comment in question is clearly meant in jest (even though it’s not very funny). Recognize that. Responding to a joke with a serious inquiry or response makes you look like a humorless buffoon.

    This type of response is common among libertarians. I actually had to take a step back from libertarianism myself because I felt like I was losing my sense of humor. I would hear a political joke and think, “that’s not funny because premise X falls down upon further inspection.” Think of how Krugman looked in his response to Jon Stewart. Don’t get so invested in something that you can’t even laugh at yourself anymore.

    Let go of your intellectual hang ups. Recognize the joke for where it comes from (whether it be a position of ignorance or a difference of opinion) and respond in a tone appropriate way. In this case the appropriate response would be a witty retort like: “How much do you think thought police would make in a free market?” or “Why I advocate for liberty: stronger censorship” or the internet classic “Obvious troll is obvious”

    Libertarians, I love you, but you have to stop being so tone deaf.

  26. Bob Roddis says:

    1. The only religion that bothers me is the ubiquitous belief in the Mary Poppins Theory of Government where humans take on magical powers and are endowed with unique benevolence and omniscience. The barbaric “progressive” and Keynesian sub-cults of this belief system are presently the most troublesome in our current society.

    2. It is apparently because atheist libertarians hate Christians so much that no effort is ever made to explain to religious and pious types that RIGHT NOW employing Ancap concepts, new developments could be built restricted by the owners to like minded religious types and banning drugs, druggies, thugs, porn, public school and cable TV. The kids need never be exposed to popular culture. Since the streets would be private, no bad influence would ever be allowed in. They would just have to learn to live with the fact that they would be prohibited from initiating force against a “more liberal” private community across town. And vice versa for the more liberal community regarding the religious community. The culture war and the “gangsta” problem. solved.

    3. “Legalizing” drugs under the present system is a very poor second to true private neighborhoods and communities. Who wants to live next door to crack addicts? Who wants to send their kids to public schools with the kids of crack addicts? But that scenario is exactly and correctly what most non-ideological people think would happen pursuant to the typical libertarian sales pitch. And they are probably right.

  27. Egoist says:

    Some theist bashing libertarians just get offended that theists are praising a different God (“Yahwehism”) than libertarians (“Humanism”).

    It’s a “My Dad is better than your Dad” thing.

    • Enopoletus Harding says:

      Humans, however, clearly exist, unlike Yahweh.

      • Anonymous says:

        Because worshiping and praising an empirical object as God is totally different from worshiping Yahweh as God. /s

  28. Bob Roddis says:


    Myth #2 Libertarians are libertines: they are hedonists who hanker after “alternative life-styles.”

    This myth has recently been propounded by Irving Kristol, who identifies the libertarian ethic with the “hedonistic” and asserts that libertarians “worship the Sears Roebuck catalogue and all the ‘alternative life styles’ that capitalist affluence permits the individual to choose from.”2 The fact is that libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset. of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. Political theory deals with what is proper or improper for government to do, and government is distinguished from every other group in society as being the institution of organized violence. Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should he free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.

    It should not be surprising, therefore, that there are libertarians who are indeed hedonists and devotees of alternative life-styles, and that there are also libertarians who are firm adherents of “bourgeois” conventional or religious morality. There are libertarian libertines and there are libertarians who cleave firmly to the disciplines of natural or religious law. There are other libertarians who have no moral theory at all apart from the imperative of non-violation of rights. That is because libertarianism per se has no general or personal moral theory. Libertarianism does not offer a way of life; it offers liberty, so that each person is free to adopt and act upon his own values and moral principles. Libertarians agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end” – not necessarily the highest end on everyone’s personal scale of values.

  29. Razer says:

    I’m surprised therer are religious libertarians at all. I think of libertarians as the most reasoned people on earth and religious belief as the antithesis of reason. Nobody enters it through reason. They have it pounded in their head at a young age before they have the ability to reason. It’s how it stays alive, as the religious peddlers understand. You get the child, you have the adult. That’s why you see them target kids so actively. I’m always suspicious of those who claim they converted from atheism to religion. Most are liars and the others were already poisoned by religion early on. Very few reasoned adults who were absent of religion would become religious after giving it a reasoned examination. Can you imagine being told about an invisible sky fairy that sits on a cloud constantly judging you? Unless you are already exposed to that nonsense as a kid, you’d laugh your ass off.

    As much as I abhor religion (I rank it up there with statism), I cannot become what I hate and try to ban it. Then I’d just be another statist.

  30. Tod says:

    I think its because the libertarian movement has as a subset all those who oppose being ruled. Libertarianism provides them a rationale to justify their prior position.

    Also, those who are outraged at the governments authority have a tendency to swing against this until they are at the opposite extreme of no rule, forgetting that they may chose to submit to authority through contact or acknowledgment of divine superiority.

  31. GeePonder says:

    In the domain of the unprovable/un-disprovable I don’t believe one can help what one believes.

    If one could “help it”, it would only be because one did not really believe it.

  32. Bob Roddis says:

    It’s good to know that not only do we have to get everyone on board with the NAP thing, but we first must get EVERYONE on the planet to hold identical beliefs about the meaning of life.


  33. Bruce says:

    Libertarian don’t like authority. Religion implies an ultimate authority, we’re all accountable. It seems unsurprising that libertarian often don’t like religion.

  34. Archaeopteryx says:

    For myself, Bob, I get pissed at the Christians who teach things that are blatant falsehoods. If you want to believe in a God I have no problem with that, and I have to say that I think many of my friends are better people because of their faith. But when Christians try to get pseudo-science taught in schools, or when they brainwash their children is when I get upset.

    I grew up in a fundamentalist sect of Christianity, and had reality misrepresented to me for many, many years. I missed opportunities and made mistakes because I had a worldview that didn’t reflect reality. Keep your religion, keep your faith, that’s fine. But don’t lie to children about the world. Don’t tell them the earth is flat when it’s not, and don’t teach them Genesis myths as fact. They’re not.

    And be a little more epistemologically humble when it comes to things like hell. Teaching a child that they will burn in torment for eternity if they don’t do such and such or believe this or that borders on child abuse, in my opinion.

  35. ABT says:

    I know i’m late to the game but… I’ve always been puzzled by the hostility towards religion from so many libertarians.

    If you don’t believe then why do you care so much whether Bob and others believe?
    They promote the non-aggression principle from what I can tell, so why do you care if they believe there are supernatural repercussions to their actions in this life?
    There has been no force and it often sounds like those biting back are the angry/aggressive/snarky ones to me.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      I think it’s because religious beliefs also affects one’s behavior while living.

      Libertarian atheists perhaps look at the atrocities committed by people in the name of religious faiths, and conclude that they can be avoided if people stopped believing in the religious faiths that lead them to commit those atrocities.

      Note that it isn’t an argument against this to say “I can think of someone who did something terrible in the name of atheism”. That would be a tu quoque misdirection.

      • Bob Roddis says:

        But since most “atheists” tend to believe in the God of the “Mary Poppins Theory of Government”, it’s important that people of both the God and anti-God religions be converted to the NAP ASAP. Then in that context they can worry about saving the souls of everyone else from sin and/or God.

      • Stephan Jerde says:

        Yes, and “liberal” statists look at all the people killed by guns and conclude that can all be avoided if guns were banned.

        Religion itself is no more dangerous than a gun. Its the nutcase who’s dangerous, not the religion or the weapon.

        One who prides himself on clear thinking should be able to keep focused on the violent nutjob, and not get distracted by shiny objects…

  36. Jeffrey tucker says:

    I’m not sure that hostility toward religion is a feature of libertarianism any more than it is of any other highly intellectual sector of society. Skepticism as regards traditional-style faith has been a disproportionately prominent feature of learned writing for centuries.

    I suspect we are just more aware of it now because of the internet.

    • RPLong says:

      This is similar to what I was going to say.

      I know over-bearing religious nuts and atheist nuts of all political stripes. I don’t see it as a particularly libertarian issue.

      However, in answer to Bob’s question, I offer this:

      I’m drawn to libertarianism because I hold a fervent belief in the sanctity of the individual. I have never encountered a single religion that endorsed the sanctity of the individual. To me, theism and libertarianism are at odds because the former preaches self-abnegation while the latter preaches self-realization.

      I am aware of the religious arguments in favor of self-realization, but I personally find them a little confused and contradictory.

      Others’ mileage may vary.

      • Z says:

        I understand what you mean. However, though most of the arguments do seem to be confused and contradictory, there is definitely an element of self-abnegation that is seen as enhancing the sanctity of the individual. For example, if a religion teaches to avoid pornography or lust outside a somewhat arbitrary boundary, the idea is that such thoughts are essentially pollution and decrease a person’s sanctity and self-worth, and that the human being is too sacred to have such actions pollute it. I don’t find the religious moral rules on this consistent however, but neither do most atheists have a consistent view on this either.

  37. Jacques Fournier says:

    I largely quit arguing with religious people after I read this Michael Crichton essay on environmentalism as religion. http://www.hawaiifreepress.com/main/ArticlesMain/tabid/56/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2818/Crichton-Environmentalism-is-a-religion.aspx

    That’s not to say I don’t privately shake my head when I see some religious post by you, or Robert Higgs, or some other Austrian. I think the reason is that I wonder why a person with whom I agree on 99% of other things believes so strongly in something that I see no evidence of. For an instant I guess I wonder why I am so confident in Austrian Economics/libertarianism, when some of the most compelling arguments come from some people who believe in something I see no evidence of. Then I remember that Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand were atheists and I go about whatever else I was doing and don’t think about it again until I see another post about religion by someone like you or Robert Higgs.

    • Ken B says:

      Crichton was great. His Aliens Cause Global Warming is a classic. There should be a link on my blog if you scroll to the very early posts.

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