Your reason for hating Rand Paul sucks
Posted on March 10, 2014 at 11.41 pm
Thanks to Rare for publishing my latest:
As the liberty movement matures and continues to have real influence, libertarians need a new way to make voting decisions. Most elections won’t feature the black and white choice of a Ron Paul v. Mitt Romney match; and as new candidates with varying credentials come on the scene, simple purity tests become increasingly unhelpful.
So what should we do instead? I propose we borrow an idea from theology.
If you know anything about church history, you know that Christians have literally spent thousands of years arguing. It’s against that backdrop that we’ve come to so value an old saying which you may recognize: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
To visualize this advice, some theologians draw concentric circles of theology: In the center is dogma; in the middle ring, doctrines; in the outer ring, matters of opinion. So, for example, that Jesus is God is dogma—in other words, it’s a vital part of the Christian faith. That goes in the center.
A doctrinal issue would be something like free will v. predestination: It’s really important, but it’s not vital to the faith. Both Baptists (free will) and Presbyterians (predestination) are Christians. And in the outer circle of opinion are questions which can happily coexist in one church, like whether there are animals in heaven.
So how does this apply to politics?
Libertarians need a similar model to help decide which candidates they can support and which they can’t. Without these distinctions, it’s all too easy to reject a candidate who is wrong about an opinion-level issue even though he’s awesome on all “dogma” issues. Or libertarians might support a candidate who got a 90% on simple purity tests—but the 10% he got wrong was a “dogma” vital to liberty.
On Christianity & Anarchy
Posted on March 5, 2014 at 3.26 pm
Q. I am currently reading The Religion Virus. Great book. It got me thinking… If Humanism is criticized so heavily by Christians who generally believe in original sin… And anarchy typically relies on the idea that people aren’t as awful as the state and church want us to believe… Do you think anarchy and Christianity can survive together? — Anonymous, originally writing to Megan at The Free Lioness, who tagged me for an additional response.
A. First, a few preliminary comments and disclaimers:
- I haven’t read the book you mentioned.
- I do consider myself a Christian anarchist. Christian anarchy is about recognizing that whatever political authority (or lack thereof) you live under, it doesn’t get your allegiance if you’re a Christian, because that allegiance belongs to God, not any human power. It’s not a political position (maybe an anti-political position?), and it doesn’t come with any policy recommendations.
- Politically, I’m a minarchist libertarian, not an anarchist, as Megan mentioned.
- If you want to learn more about Christian anarchism, Jesus Radicals and Greg Boyd’s comments on church and state (in book, essay, Q&A, and sermon form) are both great resources.
Now, to address the original question section by section:
If Humanism is criticized so heavily by Christians…
Let’s start here. Humanism as most of us in the western world know it began in Europe in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. It was developed at the height of Christendom, primarily by Christians like the humanist philosopher — and devout Catholic — Erasmus. Humanism can even claim several Renaissance-era popes among its numbers.
Now, humanism grew out of the philosophical climate of its time. The Middle Ages had seen a new interest in the works of Aristotle, which were previously comparatively unknown in the west. The new influence of Aristotle launched what would become modern science. It also set up a major philosophical debate: Do we know truth according to our inherent reason (rationalism) or by observation of the world around us (empiricism)?
Christians landed on both sides of the argument (e.g. Descartes, a rationalist, and John Locke, an empiricist). Humanism, more than taking a side in this debate, was simply a renewed emphasis on broad learning. “Humanism was not an ideological programme but a body of literary knowledge and linguistic skill based on the ‘revival of good letters,’ which was a revival of a late-antique philology and grammar.” It was about educating people so they could live and choose well.
Now, while some modern humanism tends to be far more secular and even anti-faith in focus (and some Christians do critique it), there is no conflict between these fundamentals of humanism and Christianity.
…who generally believe in original sin…
At its most basic, original sin is the idea that in falling away from God, humans — who were originally made in God’s image, and thus were inherently good — gained in some way a tendency to choose to do evil things. (By the way, acceptance of a literal Adam and Eve and the snake story isn’t necessary for this view.)
From that super generic basis, though, the doctrine is interpreted in a variety of ways, each with its own implications. It sounds to me as if you might have in mind a very Calvinist view of original sin. (“Calvinist” refers mainly to Presbyterian and Reformed churches.)
In this perspective, the tendency to sin is actually something called “total depravity,” which is pretty much what it sounds like. Here, people who aren’t Christians are incapable of doing anything but sinning. They can’t even want to do right. With that sort of mindset, yes, anarchy seems like it wouldn’t get much support…but I do personally know staunch Calvinists who are equally staunch anarchists — so go figure. Suffice it to say I don’t fall into that camp.
But that’s not the only way to understand original sin and still be well within the range of Christian belief. In the Catholic Church, for instance, the result of original sin is that “human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin.” There’s a balance of humanity’s goodness because we’re made to be like God andour tendency to do wrong. For both Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church, we humans are fallen, but we still have free will.
Other types of Christians have different perspectives still. Anabaptists — the peace churches — hardly talk about “original sin” at all, in part because the phrase is never found in the Bible. Southern Baptists, likewise, do not tend to affirm original sin in the Calvinist sense, preferring to talk about wrongs individuals choose to do.
On whether it’s just a phase
Posted on March 3, 2014 at 9.15 pm
Q. What would you say to someone who thinks that being a libertarians is “just a phase” or that it’s “just a transitional period between political beliefs” and what are your personal thoughts on those concepts? — Rachel, from the internet.
A. Well, it would be silly to deny that libertarianism is a transitional phase for some people, because certainly it is — but so is every political philosophy or movement.
And it would also be silly, I think, to deny that libertarianism has something of a natural recruiting advantage among the young (who are not always very stable in their political beliefs) for several reasons:
First, while I believe liberty politics can and should be intensely practical, there are also aspects of it which are very idealistic. For better and worse, the young tend toward idealism, so the broad strokes of libertarianism — personal freedom, peace, free markets, and equal rights — have a strong appeal.
Second, though libertarianism is growing in popularity, it’s still comparatively unknown. And, frankly, there’s an allure to that, particularly for those exploring their own political ideas for the first time.
Third, novels like the works of Ayn Rand and George Orwell, while not technically libertarian, are very liberty-friendly — and also commonly assigned high school reading. As a result, many young people read these works, are temporarily riled up for the cause of liberty, and then later decide they believe something else or perhaps simply don’t care about politics at all. Thus, their libertarianism is dubbed “just a phase.”
Is any of this really a strike against libertarianism? I don’t think so.
Because here’s the thing: Every political philosophy gains and loses converts. Idealism is not a bad thing. And getting interested in something because your parents don’t know what it is or you read a really engaging novel doesn’t mean that you’re interested in something worthless — it might just mean that you’re 17.
That said, while there’s nothing wrong with being 17, I’d say that unless you’re a super-genius, there probably is something wrong with keeping the exact same political views and level of knowledge that you have at 17. It’s just that 17 is pretty young, and as you gain more life experience and learn more about the political issues which are important to you, your views will likely evolve and become more nuanced, even while possibly (hopefully!) maintaining that central commitment to liberty.
So while libertarianism itself isn’t just a transitional phase, the libertarianism you have at 17 probably should be. And that, I think, is the kind of libertarianism most people have in mind when they make this sort of “It’s just a phase” accusation. It’s honestly something of a straw man argument, and as long as you’re continuing to increase the breadth and depth of your knowledge (at any age), I wouldn’t be too concerned about it.
- This older post of mine: On Settling Down (politically).
- And for giggles, here’s an article from a guy who thinks libertarianism is The Very Worst Thing…but also that it’s not just a phase.
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