From Ayn Rand to Penn Jillette, libertarian ideas and atheism are often paired. Penn Jillette claims that his atheism and his libertarianism both stem from his realization that no one really has all the answers to the tough questions. Ayn Rand denounced all forms of “mysticism,” which she defined as basically anything a person experiences that cannot be objectively proven including “instinct,” “intuition,” and “perceptions of some other reality.” Just the other day, an anarchist friend shared an article about a girl who was mistreated for being an atheist, saying “Religion is a plague that needs to be eradicated…”
This is a common mistake that is made among all types of people. Whenever they see something that is taken too far or distorted in such a way to cause harm, they want to call for that thing to be eliminated. However, that logic is like eliminating all dessert food because it can be used to create obesity. The dessert food is only one vehicle leading to obesity. Without it, obesity will still exist.
Likewise, the root of the problem shown in the article above is not religion itself. I have seen both sides of religion up close and personal. I know that believing and obeying blindly out of fear can convince people to do bad things. I know that people with hate in their hearts can use religion as a powerful vehicle to do horrible things and convince those blind followers to help. However, even without religion, those people could still find followers who would accept their authority. Like dessert, religion can be used for harm, but it is not right to place the blame for that harm on all of religion.
It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of many of the forms religion takes. I have written before about how questioning all beliefs is an important aspect of liberty. It is true that many forms of religious experience advocate blind obedience and sometimes even hate. Religion in that form is very dangerous. However, it is important to remember that is not the way everyone approaches religion.
Some of the most wonderful and kind people I know are religious. One example is my former roommate, Maria, who is one of the most devout people I have ever met. She is also one of the most enlightened and wonderful people I have ever met…one of those rare people who has really thought out and considered her beliefs rather than going with what she was taught by authority. She and I will probably never agree on religion, but I have the utmost respect for her religious practice. In the same vein, the group of atheists I previously mentioned are also wonderful people who do great things for liberty.
Only those closest to me know that even I have a spiritual bent. I take bits and pieces from various religions I have learned along the way, but mostly I connect with a greater power when I am staring at the stars, on the side of a mountain, or watching the ocean waves. For me it is within myself and although it seems different, I don’t think it is that much different from Maria’s experience. I do perceive a reality beyond what I can objectively prove. If that makes me a mystic, then so be it, but neither my spirituality nor Maria’s religion are a threat to liberty or a plague to be eradicated.
There are some questions in the world that just can’t be objectively answered. Just like dessert, exploring the unknown and our spirituality as humans may be enjoyed in a healthy way. The plagues to be eradicated are blind obedience and hate within people which cause harm whether manifested through religion or otherwise.