The tension between libertarianism and religion

Gordon Johnston examines the complex relationship between libertarianism and religion.

David Cameron unintentionally ignited a debate on the soul of the United Kingdom by pronouncing it to be a Christian country. The response from critics was equally as passionate as the original statement from our Prime Minister.

This led me to consider how religion impacts upon libertarianism.

As an ideology, libertarianism is simply about the freedom and choice of the individual away from the interference of authority in the form of the state. The individual must be free to succeed, or fail, as a result of their own decisions rather than at the whim of the state.

Why then should freedom stop beyond that which the state controls? Why should organised structural religion be free from libertarian critique? Religion is largely ignored in terms of freedom or viewed in such a way that the religious practices of religion must be allowed to be adhered to lest the freedom to practice religion is impinged upon.

The state and church grew together and it could be argued are equally culpable in the crime of stripping freedom from individuals. Church laws were often state laws and in some places, such as Northern Ireland, remain state law.

Religion is not a mantra of freedom but one of faith. It is the belief in something greater than that which the individual can comprehend. I have faith in science and economics whereby theories are rigorously tested and can change over time if disproved. Religion does not appear to have that flexibility, nor can it if it is to remain strong. To admit that the original texts were wrong would leave the new texts open to the same argument. To evolve, the organised church must state that the interpretation of the original text was wrong rather than the text itself.

Religion is therefore a slave to the past. It cannot suddenly develop new material without evidence appearing that would be globally significant.

Religion is…a slave to the past.

Our religious freedom is removed from us before we are at an age to understand what freedom is. Our parents generally guide us into the faith they practice. Indeed, Anglican parents enter into a form of contract when christening the child: agreeing that they will raise the child in that faith.

I accept that religion is a very personal issue for some and I do not wish to attack any individual religion: rather, how religion in a universal sense restricts our freedoms.

Religion has many positive aspects to it that that the libertarian movement has adopted, such as the promotion of charity rather than state-mandated handouts. Libertarians give to charity or those in need of help due to their own free will rather than due to the demands of church or state authority.

Religions also seek to teach us what their faith believes is the correct way to lead your life. It is their vision of how a good person should behave. If religion was a product, the individual could examine each religion and make a free choice of which, if any, religion is appropriate to follow. However – due to childhood teachings – religion tends to resemble a monopoly. Take it or leave it, with the option of leaving it presented as an eternity in a fiery hell.

Religion tends to resemble a monopoly. Take it or leave it, with the option of leaving it presented as an eternity in a fiery hell.

For all the good that religion has brought into this world, it is also guilty of much of the evil that resides in it. Religion has forced neighbours into war and continues to fuel conflict throughout the world. Religion has been the driving force under which unspeakable cruelty has been visited upon humans at different times throughout history. In different parts of the world today, this cruelty continues to operate under the umbrella of religion.

The organised church structures are responsibly for this corruption. Their power has went unchecked for centuries and they are largely only answerable only to internal discipline. Such a system caused the abuse of children throughout the world by religious officials, and their pain was exacerbated when those institutions closed ranks to protect their officials rather than heal the pain and suffering of their victims.

These religious structures are governed by rules of what is acceptable and what is not. You must not be drunk, you must not eat this or that, you must not do this to your body, when you can enjoy entertainment or what parts of your body you can display.

Is a libertarian not the author of their own destiny and capable of choosing their own path without being told what they must do or must not do? Such decisions are for the personal conscience of the individual: not for an authoritarian church to decide upon.

The rules of the various religions are a tool used to control a population. Failure to comply with these rules risks eternal damnation which will often bring the dissenting voice back into line. It is a powerful stick to beat the fearful with, and a big risk to gamble eternal damnation and hellfire for one cheeky hotdog.

The established churches may come to fear libertarianism, as it could represent a challenge to their control of populations. Once the individual is freed from their control, they will recognise how the established churches are addicted to power and status rather than the wellbeing of their flock. The individual may then choose for the first time to reject organised religion and embrace their creator on their own terms rather than the terms of their church.

How could a higher being be angry with a life within the ideals of libertarianism? Libertarianism is peaceful, responsible, charitable, based on freedom and voluntary exchange.


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