Stencil-JesusContrary to mainstream opinion, Christianity has played a significant and historical role in advancing human liberty. The following defense of Christianity is nothing short of brilliant, yet it was written by an atheist.

Dr. Walter Block's argument is so complete, that he teaches both atheists and Christians alike, about the value of religion.

The relationship of libertarianism and religion is a long and stormy one.

One of the strongest influences [Ayn Rand] has had on the libertarian movement is her belligerent atheism. For many adherents of the freedom philosophy, an aggressive rejection of God and all things religious might as well be the basic axiom of their world-view. I confess that this too was roughly my own belief on the subject, for many years.

To some, those still enthralled by the Randian vision of religion and liberty, it is bad enough for a libertarian to take a positive view of religion. For most, it will appear as nothing less than a logical contradiction for an atheist such as myself to be an actual supporter and even admirer of religion. Let me explain.

So, which institution is the greatest enemy of human liberty? There can be only one answer: the state in general, and, in particular, the totalitarian version thereof. Perhaps there is no greater example of such a government than the USSR, and its chief dictators, Lenin and Stalin (although primacy of place in terms of sheer numbers of innocents murdered might belong to Mao’s China). We thus ask, which institutions did these two Russian worthies single out for opprobrium? There can be only one answer: primarily, religion, and, secondarily, the family. It was no accident that the Soviets passed laws rewarding children for turning in their parents for anti-communistic activities. There is surely no better way to break up the family than this diabolical policy. And, how did they treat religion? To ask this is to answer it. Religion was made into public enemy number one, and its practitioners viciously hunted down.

Why pick on religion and the family? Because these are the two great competitors – against the state – for allegiance on the part of the people. The Communists were quite right, from their own evil perspective, to focus on these two institutions. All enemies of the overweening state, then, would do well to embrace religion and the family as their friends, whether they are themselves atheists or not, parents or not.

The main reason religion sticks in the craw of secular leaders is that this institution defines moral authority independently of their power. Every other organization in society (with the possible exception of the family) sees the state as the source of ultimate ethical sanction. Despite the fact that some religious leaders have indeed bowed the knee to government officials, there is a natural and basic enmity between the two sources of authority. The pope and other religious leaders may not have any regiments of soldiers, but they do have something lacking on the part of presidents and prime ministers, greatly to the regret of the latter.

Such is my own position. I reject religion, all religion, since, as an atheist, I am unconvinced of the existence of God. Indeed, I go further. I am no agnostic: I am convinced of His non-existence. However, as a political animal, I warmly embrace this institution. It is a bulwark against totalitarianism. He who wishes to oppose statist depredations cannot do so without the support of religion. Opposition to religion, even if based on intellectual grounds and not intended as a political statement, nevertheless amounts to de facto support of government.

But what of the fact that most if not all religions support the state. "Render unto Caesar… etc." It makes no nevermind. Notwithstanding the fact organized religion can often be found on the side of statism, these two dictators Lenin and Stalin, not, paradoxically, the leaders of such religions, had it right: despite the fact that religious people often support the government, these two institutions, religion and statism, are, at bottom, enemies. I am "with" Lenin and Stalin on this point. From their own perspective, they were entirely correct in brutally suppressing religious practice. This makes it all the more important that the rest of us, atheists or not, support those who worship God. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

It will at this point be strenuously objected that numerous innocent people have been murdered in the name of religion. True, alas, all too true. However, a little perspective comes not amiss at this juncture. Just how many people were killed by religious excesses, such as the Inquisition? Although estimates vary widely, the best estimates (see here) are that the number of deaths during this sad epoch, which took place over several centuries, was between 3,000 and 10,000; some experts, here, place the number as low as 2,000. Were it not murdered human beings that we are talking about, but considering solely the relative magnitudes, one might fairly say that this pales into utter insignificance compared to the devastation inflicted upon the human race by governments. According to the best estimates (see here, here, here, here, here and here), the victims of statism in the 20th century alone approached the 200 million mark. That is no misprint! To compare a few thousands of unjustified deaths with several hundreds of millions is unreasonable. Yes, even the murder of one victim is an outrage. But in comparing religion and government one must keep in mind these astronomical differences.

Then, there is the school of Salamanca, populated, mainly, by priests such as these: The Dominicans: Francisco de Vitoria, 1485–1546 ... The Jesuits: Luis Molina (Molineus), 1535–1600 ... This school of thought is truly our intellectual and moral predecessor. For the contribution of the School of Salamanca to the Austro-libertarian movement, see here, here, here, here, here, here ... and here. For other links between religion and libertarianism see here, here and here.

It is time, it is long past time, that the Austro-libertarian movement reject the virulent Randian opposition to religion. Yes, Ayn Rand has made contributions to our efforts. We must not throw out the baby with the bathwater. But, surely, anti-religious sentiment belongs in the latter category, not the former.

The views expressed above are consistent with the perspective of my long time mentor, Murray Rothbard. This scholar, who was often called "Mr. Libertarian," was very pro-religion, especially pro-Catholic. He ascribed the concepts of individualism and liberty to Christianity (and almost everything else good in Western civilization), and argued strongly that as long as libertarians made hatred of religion a basic or organizing principle, they would go nowhere, since the vast majority of people in all times and places have always been religious.

  • Robert

    I'm an atheist and libertarian. I also know something about the Soviet period, having completed a masters in Russian studies. Dr. Block's statement that the Soviets "single[d] out for opprobrium" religion is inaccurate at best. The truth is far more nuanced and textured. The Soviets were certainly deeply venemous to the Russian Orthodox Church (which was, let's not forget, supporters of the Whites during the Russian civil war), but were far more accomodationist to Muslims. Really, oppression was more about being an "enemy of the revolution" - however that was defined. A whole people could be defined that way, as Ukrainians found, much to their loss.

    I also find Dr. Block's statement that "religion and statism, are, at bottom, enemies" perplexing. They seem to co-exist quite well in, for example, many countries of the Middle East.

    • theCL

      You're right about Muslims, but I don't see how that breaks his argument, especially when talking about America. I can tell you as a Lutheran, the individuals allegiance is to God and family, not the State. On this blog under "Christianity," I've used biblical references to back up this claim.

      The key to understanding why libertarians shouldn't be turned-off by Christians, IMHO, is that Christianity doesn't seek to use force against you. In other words, nobody holds a gun to your head demanding you go to church. The State however, holds a gun to your head over anything it wants.

  • Robert

    It breaks his argument because he's not specifically talking about America, but making a general claim about religion and its alleged use as a bulwark against the state. If he's really talking about Christianity, it's a simple matter to recall historical periods when the Christian church and the state worked hand-in-hand to suppress liberty and life. Christians of a wide variety of political persuasions have used the Bible to support their political ideologies. Communism, for example, was founded largely by Christians. Reference also liberation theology.

    And Christians don't use force against you? Of course they do. They do it all the time through the ballot box. From an individual's perspective, it doesn't matter that his liberty is deprived by a dictator or a majority.

  • D’n

    The problem is that the fundamental tenant of nearly every religion is obedience to authority. The state claims that it is the source of all liberty. Religion claims the same thing. Yes religious groups can be opposed to the tyranny of the state. In the same way in medieval Europe their were people so loyal to the king that they fought against the control of the catholic church. Does that make kings agents of freedom? No, the enemy of my enemy is not actually my friend. They may be convenient, but they do not automatically become friends.
    Look at the Taliban, almost all of the middle east, most of southeast Asia, and the religious fight against gay marriage. Religion, like the state, claims that it has supreme moral authority to do whatever it wants. Religious libertarians are fine as long as they adhere to the principles of liberty over the principles of their religion. Otherwise they will oppose the state for the sole purpose of imposing a theocracy. Every single time that religion has gained power it has codified its religious strictures into law. Yes, unfortunately, many people have been threatened with a gun to the head to go to church. Even now throughout the world religions are using the law (which is forever backed by threat of violence) to enforce purely religious tenants.

  • Strabismus

    Robert, you are funny! It seems you are insecure in your beliefs and so you blame it on religion.

    Keep in mind, folks, that the religious are not the religion. True, most religions are man-made but you wouldn't say a mental hospital is a reprehensible institution simply because it houses those who are insane. It's WHY they're there and what happens there that matters. Don't overlook utility because of misuse. A knife can be dangerous: it can be used to kill a man. But it can also be used to cut bread and do many other good things. It would be foolish to say that we as humans are perfect. It would also be foolish to say that, though we are imperfect we don't need any guidance.

    Spite is one of the most self-destructive aspects of humans. If someone says something true but you detest that person or his/her ideologies, you are likely to either deny what they say or grudgingly agree with them. Truth is universal.

    One thing I disagree with in the article is that an enemy of one's enemy is a friend. What if it's a free-for-all and the enemy of your enemy also declares YOU to be his enemy?

  • misanthropope

    no despotism on earth has ever matched the intransigent hatred of human freedom that characterizes the death cults that fester in the Middle East and United States. There are terrible governments and merely bad ones, but every advance humanity has ever made has been against the full weight of ignorant, authoritarian, bigoted superstition.

    The ugliest charge that can be laid against libertarianism is that it has been influenced by Rand. She was a f***ing FICTION WRITER, you morons! she appeals to your ego and the critical thinking faculty just gets flushed down the old endocrine system. Zero difference from L Ron Hubbard

  • Colin

    The state is just another religion. There's this ominous thing out there. Last time around it was called "God", this time it's called "Government". It demands your obedience, and can crush you if you falter, but do exactly what you're told and everything will be okay.

    Just as there is no such thing as a god, only individuals and the things they say and do, there is no such thing as "the government", or "the state", or "the Public". Only individuals, and the things they say and do.

  • bittramp

    So somehow it becomes logical to side with a Theocracy? Hardly. If you believe that the people with imaginary cosmologies are somehow better than the power hungry, you are correct at picking the less of two evils. But there is that insidious marriage of the two.

    If you have bolstered the spirits of those fighting in your rebellion by telling them of the rewards they will receive in the afterlife, then yeah, you can't start backpedaling now, you big political animal, you. You have to start teaching tolerance. Once you see the demographics on our military force's volunteers, it suddenly makes sense to compromise and kowtow and hope you can use this as a wedge between state and population. But what happens when they start electing God fearin' ppl? You know, the ones whose ultimate authority is a complete work of fiction in your view.