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Why the Left Hates Religion

Many libertarian types, especially the college crowd, are somewhat hostile to religion.  This is unfortunate because it plays into the hands of the progressives who know they must destroy civil religion to accomplish their goals.  Because of this libertarians find themselves in danger of coming down on the wrong side in matters regarding church and state.  My goal here is to convince the atheist libertarian that they should (usually) come down on the side of the church.

I will start by defining religion.  As I explained in this post there are boundaries to what reason and observation of the physical world can tell us.  There are two types of information which lay beyond these boundaries.  The type explained in the above post is positive information regarding the laws of nature.  Some of this information is knowable but we don’t know it yet and some of it is theoretically unknowable like what forces created the universe and created the laws of nature.  The second type of information is normative.  All normative questions are inherently unanswerable by reason and observation alone.  Reason can tell you how to build a gun but it can’t tell you who you ought to use it against.  It can tell you how to make a car safer but it can’t tell you how you should value the risk to your life or the lives of others or the costs of being safer.

A religion is a system of beliefs that offers answers to these questions which reason cannot answer.  These questions include mainly: where did we come from? Where are we going? What should we do in between?  Now the important thing to notice is that everyone, at some point, has to answer something to these questions.  Even an agnostic, must consciously answer “I don’t know” to the first two questions.  A nihilist must answer “there is no answer” to the third.  Nonetheless, these are belief systems which are carefully constructed to arrive at these conclusions, and therefore they are religions by my definition.  (Note: obviously, you can define it in a different way which separates them but this is the definition that is germane to the point I am trying to make so just go with it and see if you really don’t agree with the point when I’m done.)

Next recall from this recent post that governments are formed by free people to enforce some set of moral values which they share upon those who do not share them.  Now consider several recent news stories.

Marines urinate on dead bodies.

The Airforce suspends ethics training because it references the bible.

The left complains about ten commandments in school (there’s one of these like every week it seems…).

Obama administration forces churches to pay for birth control.

Now consider the following bold statement: the secular left are at least as moralistic as the religious right.  Take the issue of the military.  The left is adamant that if you go half way around the world and trek into the wilderness to engage the sworn enemies of your people in mortal combat and come out victorious, it is a sin to disrespect the bodies of the people you just killed, who recently would have killed you if given the opportunity.  Now I happen to agree that an enlightened individual would not do this.  But enlightenment is not common and it takes a lot of effort to achieve.  When someone is trying to kill you (I imagine) your instinct is to hate them and to wish harm upon them.  It takes a carefully developed moral/ethical foundation to overcome this instinct.  One such foundation is embodied in Christianity which teaches that you should love your enemies.

Until recently the military had classes teaching that one should love your enemies and citing the bible.  But this is no longer allowed.  So if the left believes that you should love your enemies, and the bible teaches this, what is wrong with citing the bible when teaching it?  Put this question in the back of your mind and next to it put the word “God, country, corps.”

Now consider the presentation of the ten commandments in schools, courts, public buildings, etc. Before proceeding, if you are not Christian (or Jewish) see how many commandments you can list.  Remember, a government imposes some set of ethics on those who are not naturally inclined to adopt it.  So what is it that they are enforcing upon us?  Does it not include the following prohibitions?

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

It’s difficult not to notice that this essentially sums up the libertarian ethic (putting aside the question of how you define adultery).  Furthermore, it is fully embodied in our legal system, as well as being the foundation of western civilization.  So why must our children be shielded from this?  Are we afraid to teach them not to murder and steal?  Obviously not.  It is the first tablet which you must be shielded from.

I am the lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol on the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. . .

Now check your list of commandments that you knew.  How many of them were among the first five I listed and how many were among the second?  My guess is that the average person who knows about half the commandments knows most of the commandments which I listed first (the second tablet) and not many of those I listed second (first tablet).  The second tablet defines the proper relationship between man and his fellow-man.  The first defines the proper relationship between man and God.  It is important that the relationship with God be established first because without this there is no context for establishing a set of rules to govern the relations among men.   If Moses appeared out of nowhere holding only the second tablet, he would have no doubt been confronted with the question “but why must we do these things?”

So if you are an atheist/objectivist, libertarian type you are probably uncomfortable with the notion of God physically coming down on top of a mountain and declaring what you must do.    Notice that objectivism is a religion by my definition.  It answers questions which are not answerable by reason and observation alone (which is why I consider the name “objectivism” a misnomer).  So ask yourself what ethics you think man ought to follow.  The tenants of objectivism governing man’s interaction with other men are essentially, you shall not steal, you shall not murder, you shall not covet, you shall not defraud (bear false witness) etc.  But where do these values come from?  The only possible answer is “my concience dictates it.”  But this is essentially no different from saying “God tells me so.”  These are both just ways of saying that these values come from somewhere that can’t be explained, all I know is that I have them.

This brings us back to the structure of government.  Recall that a government of free men is formed by a group of people who come together based on a set of shared ethics for the purpose of imposing those ethics on those who do not naturally share them.  Therefore there is a power structure as follows.

1. God/conscience of those individuals who are  party to the social contract

2. Those party to the social contract acting collectively

3. Government

4. All individuals subject to the jurisdiction of the government taken individually

We can start at the bottom and answer the question “why must we do this” all the way up the chain.  For an individual, the answer to “why must I not murder” is “because if you do, the government will punish you.”  Notice of course, that for some individuals there may be other reasons, but if there were always other reasons, the government would not be necessary to enforce this ethic.  Then there is the question “why must the government enforce this prohibition on murder?” To which the answer is “because that is the will of the people who are party to the social contract by which it is created and preserved.”  By the way, this is why those people must preserve the ability to overthrow or otherwise disolve the government.  And then, the answer to the question “why do those who are party to the social contract demand that none shall murder?” is either “God wills it” or “their consciences dictate it.”  Take your pick, the principle is the same.

The goal of progressivism (as well as communism, socialism, fascism, and all other forms of collectivism) is to rework this structure so that the state is at the top.  There are different ways of approaching this but the progressive approach hinges on severing the tie between the individual and God.  This creates a moral vacuum which can be filled by government.  Everyone must be guided by some set of moral values, though they may or may not spend much effort considering what these are.  Because of this, progressives can’t simply convince us to have no conscience and to merely obey the government.  They must infiltrate our conscience so that we don’t realize that the things we consider our own values are coming from them.

Remember, progressives believe that most of the problems of humanity are caused by some aspect of human nature which they believe they can change over time.  This is why they have taken over our schools, universities, and media.  They believe that they can mold our conscience to mirror their desires.  But religion represents a supreme challenge to this goal because it is a source of morality and ethics which is independent of the state.  When someone recognizes God as the ultimate source of moral authority and God tells them not to covettheir neighbor’s ox, it is a lot harder for the government to get them to covet their neighbor’s ox.  The primary problem is not that the ethics professed by a religion contrast with the ethics that progressives believe in, it is that the source of those ethics is a threat to the power progressives seek.

This is why the left uses wedge issues to create a divide between the so-called “religious” and the “non-religious.”  For instance, the inherently religious questions of where we came from and where we are going are really of little importance to the functions of government.  The question of primary importance for government’s sake is “what should we do in between.”  However, if you want to keep someone from even considering the meaning of a religion, you can use these questions to convince them that it is foolish.  You do this essentially by mischaracterizing their belief about an unknowable question as a belief about a scientific (knowable) question and then claim that you can scientifically prove it wrong (creation vs. evolution).  Then if they don’t abandon their religious belief you claim that they don’t believe in reason and science.  No doubt you will be able to find some religious people who are idiots who will help you out with this.  You see, the wisdom in religion is subtle and it takes a concerted effort to understand.  This means you can shield people from religion if you can prevent them from from starting down this path in the first place.

This leads to two basic types of secularists.  They both accept a definition of God that they perceive others to have and reject it as a starting point of their religious beliefs, rather than looking at the universe and trying to determine the nature and proper position of God  in their lives based on the available information.  The first type is the hippie.  This type is a hedonist.  They don’t want to be bothered by the concentrated effort it takes to develop a clear system of ethics to guide their lives, and in reality they don’t want to be constrained by any system of ethics at all.  They preach “free love” and “if it feels good do it.”  Yet they are no less moralistic than the staunchest Christian.  They preach that war is immoral, poverty is immoral, people are too greedy, and every institution is oppressive.  Every problem is a result of “the system.”  Their moral values say almost nothing about how they should live and practically everything about what results the “system” should produce.  If the system doesn’t produce these results it is broken and it is the fault of everyone else: big corporations, politicians, bankers, the rich, racists, the Chinese, religious conservatives, etc.

This is exactly what the progressive wants because this person is at war with the laws of nature.  What they want is to live in a world without scarcity.  There is scarcity because some people are just too greedy.  Therefore, we can solve our problems by changing human nature.  Who can change human nature?  Why the state of course.  Therefore, the state must take actions to mold people’s moral values to conform with a more utopian vision of the universe.  If people’s consciences cannot be changed, then the state has moral authority to impose this more enlightened vision upon them against their will.

This is a profoundly moralistic view.  But there is a key difference between this approach to morality and that followed by most religions.  A religious person considers things like scarcity and human nature to be laws of nature.  Since these laws of nature come from God, it is foolish to quarrel with them.  The question which confronts us as men and women, is not what the laws of nature should be, but rather how we should behave in the presence of these laws.  Therefore, if someone from the government comes to a religious person and says that the government can change human nature, this person will most likely respond that such an attempt is both foolish and reckless.

The hippie, on the other hand, has no concept of a higher power from which the laws of nature are derived, and therefore, no notion that the laws of nature are immutable or desirable in any way.  Rather, the hippie often finds them annoying and would prefer to be rid of them.  Because of this, when someone comes to them and promises to overturn these laws, they are quick to make an idol in the form of the state or the collective or the party and bow down to it and worship it as though it actually had the power to do this–as though it were God.

This brings us to our final news story.  Here are some facts which result from the law of nature.

1.  Sex sometimes causes pregnancy.

2.  Pregnancy can be avoided fairly effectively with modern birth control methods.

3.  These methods require resources to produce and those resources could be used for other things.  In other words, there is a cost to being able to have sex without getting pregnant.

If you listen to a debate on TV about this issue, the person on the left will claim it is about “women’s rights.”  I heard several say that it is a “war on women.”  But this is completely ridiculous.  Nobody is trying to prevent women from having access to birth control.  All that catholics are saying is that they don’t want to pay for it.  They act as if the debate is between one side that wants people to be able to have sex without getting pregnant at no cost and one side that wants this to be costly or impossible.  But that is not the debate.  There is a cost!  It exists, this is a law of nature not of men.  Despite their protest that the universe would be more fair if certain things just appeared in abundance at no cost to anyone, they are unable to change these laws.  When they declare that you should be able to get something at zero cost, what they really mean is that someone else should be made to pay for it.  This dissatisfaction with nature’s law leads to covetous behavior.

This case is getting a lot of attention because the thing they are making someone else pay for is particularly offensive to their conscience but this is how all of their arguments work.  They declare that people have a “right” to something: food, housing, healthcare, contraception, broadband internet, etc.  What they mean by this is that God should have made the universe in such a way that we all get these things without having to do anything.  However, God refuses to respond to their protests by changing the laws of nature.  But that’s ok because they don’t believe in God.  So they petition their idols with prayer and their idols are quick to promise that they can change these laws.  You do deserve these things, and government can provide them.  We just need to take them from those evil rich people, and corporations, and bankers, etc.  After all, it’s their fault that the world is so miserable so it’s fine to take from them to correct these injustices in the laws of nature.  Covetousness combined with false idols leads to government sanctioned theft.

The original point of America was to make a system which imposed only the minimum ethical requirements for living together civilly on the people and leaving all other aspects of their life to their own conscience.  It’s obvious that there is no need for employers to pay for birth control in order for us to have a functioning society.  In fact, the opposite is far closer to the truth.  Anyone who wants birth control can go down to the drug store and buy it.  In fact, there’s not even a reason for it to be bound up in insurance to begin with (admitting of some exceptions) since it is a cost which is completely predictable and not subject to any random variation.  But In order to remake the world in their vision, they must erode our sense of being guided by our individual consciences, and they must create animosity between different groups.  This accomplishes both.

The message is clear.  You can have your freedom of religion, and association but it must be confined to a sphere which we determine.  You must do whatever we demand of you, associate with whomever we say in whatever way we say regardless of any conscientious objections you may have.  But don’t worry we won’t tell you everything, some things you will get to choose.  You can worship however you want, you just can’t do whatever you want.  We decide what you must or must not do.  If we don’t say anything about it then you can turn to your conscience.  In this way you can keep your God, you just have to rearrange the order of supremacy.  You see, it goes country, corps, then God.

The only way to end up with a society based on liberty, property rights, and mutual respect, is to place God (which you may call nature if you are so inclined) in his seat at the head of our moral and political system.  This doesn’t mean that the state must enforce everything the bible tells us to do in our individual lives.  It just means we must not collectively make war on nature’s law.  If we place the state in his seat, we end up with a society based on coveting our neighbors possessions and theft becomes an instrument of public policy.  And what’s more, we do end up enforcing everything the secular progressive handbook prescribes for our individual lives as evidenced by the compulsion to pay for someone else’s birth control.

This brings me to the second type of non-believer: the philosopher.  This type is concerned with morality and ethics and is willing to spend a lot of effort contemplating the subject.  But because he has accepted the notion that religion is inherently irrational, he refuses to devote any attention to any source of ethics which he calls a religion.  He is determined to construct a system of ethics based only on reason.  But this is impossible because the root cause of morality is inherently unexplainable in this way.  Faced with this predicament, he either admits defeat and becomes a nihilist, proclaiming that there’s no such thing as morality and nothing really matters, or he adopts some philosophy which is either denies or ignores its root cause.  The progressives who occupy the halls of our great academic institutions offer plenty of answers to these types which fit into their vision but there are still some who manage to arrive at something reasonable–objectivism for instance…. It is to this last type that this post is primarily directed.

The goal of progressives is to remould the world nearer to their hearts’ desire.  People with religion are a problem for them because they recognize this as an affront to God and natural law.  Hippies play right into their hands because, having no connection to God, they are anxious to put their faith in someone who promises to remould the world nearer to their hearts’ desire.  A nihilist is inconsequential, they will not drive the movement nor will they oppose it.  Objectivists are also a problem for them because they share essentially the same values as most religious people but they are a relatively small group and they are divided from those who share their values because of an unnecessary animosity and often downright contempt for religion.

Furthermore, they lack a foundation for their ethics because they refuse to acknowledge the truth of their origin.  You don’t have to call it God if you don’t want, but you must be able to answer the question “where do my morals come from?”  If you insist that the answer to this question must be objective in the sense that it should imply the same morals and ethics for everyone if they would only reason properly, you will always be defeated because this is not possible.  The only answer you can give is “because my conscience dictates it.”

Once you have said this, realize that you are saying essentially the same thing that a Christian is saying when they say “because God wills it.”  And when you say “man cannot live in conflict with the laws of nature,” you are saying the same thing as when they say “you shall have no other Gods before me.”  When you say that if we expect the government to manage every aspect of our lives and give them power over us in order to do so there will be serious unintended negative consequences, you are saying the same thing as “You shall not make for yourself an idol on the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  And finally when you say “you shall not steal, murder, covet, etc.,” you are saying the same thing as when they say “you shall not steal, murder, covet, etc.”  Then, God willing (heh heh), we will all realize that we are on the same side.

  1. February 14, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Reason CAN tell you how you ought to use a gun. Religion doesn’t answer the questions reason cannot, it just pretends to. An atheist or agnostic says, “I don’t know” to those questions you list above. It is humble. Religion has the arrogance of assuming knowledge that nobody has obtained (that I’m aware of).
    The commandments aren’t really the tenants of Objectivism. All of Objectivism’s tenets are based on rational selfish. In other words, it sometimes is morally permissible to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery, etc. The values of Objectivism are derived from reason and the promotion of one’s rational self-interest. All Objectivist ethics are derived from these principles. They are not dictated by some imaginary being and definitely not the government. The values of religion are derived from “I said so” and the most commonly practiced religions teach self-sacrifice; something that Objectivists rightly abhor. In fact, this notion of self-sacrifice is most likely a huge contributing factor to the expansion of the state.
    Yes, the goal of progressivism is to have the state at the top of the power structure. This is why so many dictators and political movements have sought to undermine the power of religion. I agree with you that they are trying to defy scarcity, and your points about the laws of nature are valid. I see what your point is about people substituting the state for God. I think you hit the nail over the head when you mentioned the “war against women” as being absurd. I think Ayn Rand made this point many times. However, I think the whole point is that both ideologies are based on unreason. Remember that there has only ever been one openly atheist Congressman.
    I don’t understand why you see the need to substitute the word God for the concept of the laws of nature. The “laws of nature” is much more precise and won’t make people wonder why you believe in something not based upon anything. “Because God wills it” and “man cannot live in conflict with the laws of nature” are NOT the same thing. To you it might mean that, but for the vast majority of believers it means believing in a fairy tale.
    I am completely unwilling to accept this argument that we are all on the same side. I think you are also avoiding what religion actually is for the great majority of people. Religion means believing in something based on faith instead of reason and practicing self-sacrifice. It’s a deadly combination.
    Last word. Accepting the laws of nature, which are immutable, is rational.

  2. Free Radical
    February 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    No you’re missing the whole point. “there’s only ever been one openly atheist congressman.” You are doing exactly what I’m saying they always get you to do. You are saying “here is someone who claims to be religious, and they are doing things I don’t agree with, therefore religion doesn’t make sense.” The point is not that everyone who claims to be a Christian is always right. The point is that religion contains certain elements of wisdom that, if properly understood, are important to avoiding the destruction these people would bring upon us. This wisdom is independent of what congressmen claim to be religious.

    And more importantly you are claiming objectivism is based on reason and there are answers to these questions based purely on reason but you are not making a logical argument, you are just saying that it’s true which, also, is exactly what I said objectivists do. You start by saying you don’t know the answers to these questions but you also say that objectivism can tell you how you should use a gun, this is a clear contradiction.

    Religion (at least Christianity and Judeism) don’t teach self-sacrifice in the way Ayn Rand defines it (sacrificing a higher value for a lower value or a nonvalue). It just tries to help people identify and pursue higher values and avoid sacrificing them for lower values. This is another misunderstanding of religion that is the result of mischaracterization and an overall lack of effort to understand which is the whole problem I am trying to explain.

    THERE IS NO OBJECTIVE DEFINITION OF “RATIONAL SELF-INTEREST.” Any way you can define this is open to debate. The only reason you can claim something is in your self interest is in reference to your interests which are inherently subjective. There is no way to give a scientific answer to a normative question. Surely you don’t disagree with this. Every intro science class (including econ 200) tells you this. But all moral questions are normative. You’re not giving an argument against this statement you’re just denying it. You’re the one denying reason!

    Value is subjective (also see your econ 200 text). There is no rational way to prove that some particular action is or is not “self sacrifice.” The denial of sacrifice is not a starting point for a system of ethics. I completely agree with it but it is meaningless without knowing the values of things. Since this is inherently subjective there is no way to objectively say that one thing is more valuable than something else. It can only come from our conscience which reason is incapable of explaining. Reason cannot prescribe normative values. Objective vlaues are derived from “I said so.” That is the only way to derive any values.

    You’re the one calling what other people believe a fairy tale. You’re the one insisting on substituting one word for another. If I say all the same things but substitute God for nature you completely agree with them. As soon as I use the word God you irrationally start rejecting anything associated with it. (see above). This makes no sense and it is detrimental to your understanding of the universe. This is what I am trying to tell you.

    Christianity also says there is a “time to kill” etc. it doesn’t teach that there is never an appropriate time to do these things. In fact the old testament is full of God-sanctioned killing. The point is that the actual ethics that libertarians would try to embody in the laws of a state are essentially the same ones outlined in the ten commandments, you shall not kill, steal, covet, etc. Surely you don’t disagree with this either. You are just rejecting them because they are presented to you in association with God and, again, that’s the whole point of what I’m saying. This is not a helpful attitude.

  1. May 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm
  2. July 26, 2012 at 6:18 pm

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