Monday, August 25, 2008

Is Religious Politics Libertarian?

Tibor R. Machan

In many ways the principles of a fully free society are the most hospitable to the great variety of faithful in a large society. The main reason for this is that in such a free society the right to private property is strictly protected. Even more, the strict protection of the right to private property serves religion well because it establishes a culture of tolerance and non-interference among the different faithful.

Tolerance, of course, isn’t acceptance--I can tolerate your weird jokes or garb without considering them desirable. However, I will not do anything against you because you make such jokes and wear such garb. I’ll leave you be. And in a free society members of a religions order must be tolerate towards those of another even if they disapprove of them so long as they carry on within their sphere, their private domain.

Some object, saying that such tolerance amounts to encouragement but this is really quote wrong. If I tolerate your strange clothes I by no stretch of the imagination encourage you to wear it. What I am doing is respecting your right to your life, liberty, and private property--I refuse to interfere with you. Not at all the same as approving of what you do!

Most religions are relatively uncommitted to the kind of political system under which they can function and be practiced. As long as the government does not ban their rituals, there is no conflict between state and church. Obviously, if a particular faith demanded that every Sunday a young child be sacrificed to God, this would be prohibited in a free society. That’s not religious freedom but religions oppression (unless it is an adult who voluntarily submits to such a sacrifice). But apart from such barbaric religious practices nearly everything adults might choose to do within the domain of their church can co-exist with the principles and citizens of a fully free society.

The few exceptions include religions faiths that demand that aggressive actions must be taken by the faithful toward some who are not among the faithful. Thus if a religious group embarked upon attacks on gays or gamblers or meat-eaters or those who would abort a fetus before it becomes a biological (as distinct from religiously understood) human being (around the 25th week of pregnancy), that group’s practices would be banned. Not because of religious discrimination but because of the fact that everyone has the right to life, liberty, property, etc., and the violation of these rights constitutes illegal conduct in a free society. It is not religions discrimination to prohibit the sacrifice of a child at some holiday! No one may do that!

Also, if a given religion accepts the idea that its faithful must follow an edict from its good book that amounts to the violation of human rights, that religion may not carry out this edict. If a religion holds that God demands that gays or gamblers or divorced people must be penalized, treated badly by the political authorities, in a free society this will not be acceptable.

There are many benefits to religions from living in a free society but one will not be available, namely, to forcibly establish a homogeneous culture that follows that religion’s dictates and none other. Such imperialism is just what some religions--or at least factions of religions--insist upon and they will not get it from citizens of a fully free society. The faithful who insist on such hegemony will simply not be satisfied. If their mission is to coerce everyone to follow their way--not just those of the faithful but everyone else--they will be rebuffed, opposed and if they take action to fulfill their mission, they will become criminals.

The laws of a fully free society are based on human nature, not on particular, sectarian conceptions of human nature. These laws are to govern members of the community as human beings, not as members of some particular religions faith. Of course, those of a religious faith may find this frustrating, just as vegetarians are frustrated by the existence of meat serving eateries and anti-gamblers by Las Vegas or Monte Carlo. But that is no justification for attacking those who do not embrace their edicts for proper living.

Human nature is such that it makes it possible for there to be millions of different proper ways to live, as well as some very improper ones. One needs to figure out which is which and fashion laws and public policy accordingly.

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