Conservatives are hypocrites, Part I: A critique of political religion from a Libertarian position!

19 Feb

By Qalina Tileli and Evan Zenobia

Individual rights and liberties are the battle cry of Western conservatives and libertarians. In their war on social programs and equality, they accuse all government measures that don’t serve the rich of threatening individual rights, property and freedom. Yet they are also closet theocrats, yearning for the reign of Christian values over our laws and society. This is utter hypocrisy. And we’re going to use their own tools to show it. That’s right. We’re attacking their nonsense with their other nonsense.

I would like to share with you all a few brief thoughts on religion and liberty, and I hope that my writings, while doubtlessly consuming far too much of very valuable time better spent with loved ones or at least laughing at cats, will nevertheless be readable and somewhat interesting. Essentially, I intend to argue that religion, organized as a political force, is counter-positioned to individual liberty. I will begin with a brief theoretical explanation and reinforce my argument with historical examples.

In the very first place, religion calls for a form of obedience. There is almost always a form of ritual worship or adoration of at least one supreme, supernatural being, or at the very least, as in animist cults or more meditation-oriented systems like Buddhism or Chinese philosophies, a ritual adherence to strict rules and customs that regulate behaviour as a means of connection to the divine or supernatural. Without this obedience, the promise of salvation is more distant.

In and of itself, this obedience only constricts the liberty of the individual up to her consent. The individual chooses her faith and chooses to restrict her choice of dress, diet, or whatever else the religion demands. The individual may ignore certain rules, all of them, or convert. And while it is obvious that the way of life in a convent or a monastery is one of strict, prudish routine, and that it could be hardly considered as free as a supermarket, tavern or boardwalk, every member makes the free choice to live that way.

However, adherence to a religion presupposes the supremacy of that faith over all others. The faithful are promised that their way of life, divinely-sanctioned, shall be rewarded with salvation. Therefore, the conviction of the supremacy of the faithful’s position, of the correction of their obedience, naturally leads to the conclusion that everyone should follow the same faith; if the faith is perfect, ordained by a supreme power beyond human comprehension, then why should anyone opt for another? It is defiance to not submit to the perfect faith. Besides, is it not in the interest of the unfaithful that they be brought to the light, to be saved from eternal damnation?

And, at that point, religion, inherently supremacist in the belief of its own perfection, becomes a social project and a collectivist vision. While it remains the choice of the individual to follow the faith to the point he feels correct, the faithful, convinced that theirs is the only righteous path, undertake the mission to turn everyone onto that path. And why not? Those who choose not follow are wrong, and missionary work is in the interest of the common good.

Once religion has become a social project, and once it is assumed that everyone should follow the one true path because it is perfect, it follows that the law should also follow the one true path. After all, why should the laws of men, imperfect as men are, defy the divinely ordained and sanctioned laws of God? Why should laws permit sin? Why should society fall into ignorance and the peril of damnation when the perfect way of life can be written into law? When one assumes her faith to perfect, it becomes difficult to argue against this.

Of course, God’s law often does protect individual liberty and property rights. Commandments banning murder, theft and lying come to mind. However, religion carries a wide and diverse array of rules that limit free choice. Again, when an individual chooses this way of life, there is no threat to the liberty of the people. But legally-enforced religion does.

History is rife with examples of religious law codes and their repression of individual rights. Welcomed and demanded by the faithful and their shepherds the state has brought legally enforced bans on gambling, alcohol, foods, clothing, music, “blasphemy,” art, pre- and extra-marital sex, birth control, homosexuality, divorce, cohabitation and masturbation. From this short list, it is glaringly apparent that religion as a political force threatens, among other individual rights, free speech, free trade and bodily integrity.

It is worth noting that where religion reigns with legal authority, pleasure is almost taboo. Meanwhile, Opus Dei and extremist Shi’ites are revered for the devotion their self-flogging demonstrates. But, of course, masturbation is crime against God and the law. That’s political religion in a nutshell: feel free to cut yourself open, but if you play with yourself we’ll send you to jail and then hell!

On a more serious note, consider prohibition. In the United States, puritanical Protestants were powerful enough to push through a constitutional amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the name of the common good. It is now common knowledge that prohibition was a disaster that did nothing more than enrich the mafia while doing nothing to actually curb the negative effects of alcoholism. And it goes without saying that it violated the right of individuals to consume and purchase what they wished. Most Muslim countries still ban the consumption and sale of alcohol today at the behest of the devout and in the name of the common good and adherence to the perfect religion.

Consider as well the ban in the Republic of Ireland on divorce, repealed only after a narrow referendum victory in the 1990s, which the revered Mother Theresa herself ferociously opposed. This same country also maintained a ban on contraception until 1980.

The religious fear of sex does not end with the Emerald Isle. Virtually every society, perhaps excluding Pagan Rome, Greece and the Native peoples of the Americas, enacted strict legal bans against homosexuality and supposed promiscuity, inspired by the Biblical tales of God’s wrath against the Sodomites. In some US states, laws against cohabitation remain on the books. Islam takes first prize in violent hostility to individual sexual choice, with a Koranic death penalty for adultery.

Even dress is not off-limits when God’s law is involved. While it can be argued that bans on nudity may be legitimate to protect children (although, is the naked human body really so offensive and hideous as to traumatize the young?) religious law codes often seek to regulate hairstyles, cosmetics, the display of skin, and the femininity or masculinity of given articles. Again, Islam takes first prize here, with many Muslim countries enforcing the (ironically non-Koranic) veiling of women. Still, as recent as the Napoleonic Wars, the women of ultra-Catholic Spain were veiled as per the Biblical demand that women cover their hair or be shaved. In yet more recent times in Christian societies have come bans on cross-dressing, exposing women’s chests and regulations of skirt lengths.

Free speech, too, is ceaselessly under the attack of organized religion, which shields itself behind charges of “blasphemy.” As such, the state, egged on by the devout, has banned books, music, and all forms of art. Scientists, journalists and intellectuals have been blacklisted, arrested or executed as heretics or blasphemers. Recall the house arrest of Galileo, the repression of teaching evolution in the United States, the iron grip of the Church on Quebec’s intellectual development and its crusade against the Institut Canadien. Today, the Russian Orthodox Church shamelessly collaborates with Putin’s tyranny, complicit in the jailing of Pussy Riot musicians.

Even in cases where all this taboos are not legally enforced, the political power of religion still shapes society and represses individual liberty through stigmatization. It is dishonest to say that only the state can limit individual freedom and choice.

It is impossible to defend any of these regulations and constraints from an individualist perspective. They are only defensible on two intertwined principles: first, that they are mandated by a perfect religion, whose perfection is proven by the second principle that they advance the collective interest of society.

Religion therefore subordinates individual will, choice and freedom to the interest of the collective, in the name of addressing sin which is interpreted as a social ill. Because religion inevitable shifts from individual connection with the divine to a social project, reason becomes collective. As such, the problems that exist in society, such as addiction, perversion, blasphemy are not considered the personal failures of individuals to meet their responsibilities, but rather manifestations of sin that flourish because of collective impiety. There is absolutely no consideration of individual liberty in the reasoning of political religion. Religion in general and political religion in particular, is fundamentally collectivist.

Religion can be thought of as the earliest form of identity politics. It identifies the faithful with titles such as “Chosen People,” or the “Ummah.” This subordinates an individual believer’s identity to one of membership in the collective. It is also expected that the individual will sacrifice in the interest of the collective.

But these collective identities also divide the world into two groups, pitting the faithful against all others in an “us and them” mentality. Again, to assume one’s faith’s perfection is to assume the inferiority of all others, and it therefore follows that all those who believe and live differently are either stubborn fools or evil enemies of God. Therefore, it becomes legitimate to reduce their individual liberty to choose their own way of worship. After all, repression makes the prospect of conversion to a privileged faith more attractive, thus rendering the marginalization of infidels holy and part of the social project aimed at improving the collective. At its most extreme, this collective reasoning mutates into violence. Whether it’s Hezbollah, Zionist fundamentalists or Protestant fanatics in Northern Ireland, the collectivism of religion shoves the individual out of the way as it bulldozes rights and freedoms in the name of holy struggle on behalf of the faithful.

But, one might argue, isn’t political religion a conservative movement? Haven’t religious movements been loyal allies of the right? Indeed, Evangelicals were instrumental in Ronald Reagan’s victory and many conservatives and libertarians, including Ron Paul, come from devout religious backgrounds. However, many of these religious types are purely social conservatives. They have much less interest in reigning in government spending and reducing the power of the state than they do in preserving “family values,” which usually amounts to demands for prayer in public schools, teaching creation and abstinence, turfing out gays and banning porn and gambling, most of which is fairly antithetical to individual rights.

And of course, political religion has a very poor track record with other political movements. Consider the enthusiastic support of significant portions of the clergy and devout of the Catholic Church in Nazism and other European fascist movements.

It is clear, then, that political religion is a fundamental threat to individual liberties. Libertarians and others who claim to fight for individual liberty must not succumb to the temptation of enforcing God’s will. If we may assume God exists, and that God is good, let us conclude that God should want us to be happy as good parents wish for their children. As such, let us be happy, let us be free to please ourselves with God’s gifts. Let us be free, and reject all those who claim to speak for God and seek to impose their rules upon us.


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