I will never forget the first time I made my mom cry. I had told her I didn’t know if I believed in God. To someone who had spent years trying to “raise me right,” there wasn’t a more devastating phrase I could have uttered.

I used to think that my journey to liberty began when I started to learn economics and follow politics. As my understanding of liberty has deepened, I know it began much earlier.

You see, I grew up within a Christian group with traditions that were far more antiquated and legalistic than the typical standards of most of the familiar denominations of Christianity. To put it politely, the lifestyle would seem a bit odd to most people. The members stick to strict codes of dress and conduct, avoiding television, internet, and many other things they think could “corrupt” them. Every detail of our lives was regulated by this group and to question wasn’t just discouraged, it was considered a blatant sin.

I remember the whispered conversations late at night when my little sister, Emily, would crawl into my bed. We would talk about the big questions of life. I don’t think we ever discussed government policies, yet we were discovering liberty by questioning the forms of authority we saw.

We had an agreement, and I would repeat it often so she didn’t forget. “Don’t tell mom I said this.” To me, it was bad enough for my mom to cry because she thought I was going to hell. The last thing I wanted was mom blaming me for my innocent sister’s supposed descent into the fiery pits!

Looking at my family now, I realize that Emily was wiser than me. Although she kept our agreement, Emily spoke up with her reasoned and sincere thoughts and questions. Humbly, she sought to understand, not just to be “right.” Over time, my family members stopped believing in the group’s authority over their lives. The rigid mandates began to look more and more ridiculous. We all live a completely different lifestyle now and enjoy a more open and understanding approach to the world.

The reaction I often get, and perhaps your first thought, might be that my family was just crazy… maybe just a few fries short of a happy meal if you know what I’m saying. How could they hold on to such a rigid belief system at their own expense? Yet, the reality is that they aren’t that much different from most people.

Their problem is not unique to religions, Democrats, Republicans, or any other group. It’s a human problem. Our minds prefer the known to the unknown. We are most comfortable believing what is accepted within our social group and other institutions than stepping into the unknown.

This is the real challenge of liberty. Questioning only the state will not liberate us! We must question all forms of arbitrary authority over our lives through an open mind, reason, and kindness. We should approach not just our careers or our politics, but our entire lives, in an entrepreneurial way. Only then can we know liberty.

  • Zach

    Great article! Good luck on your journey.

    • Brittney Wheeler

      Thanks! Good luck on yours as well.

  • 7thPillar

    I had a similar experience, though my Christian upbringing seems to have been a bit more mainstream than yours. I was born into a Catholic family, in a Catholic neighborhood (99.9% Catholic). I recall asking the only non-catholic friend in the neighborhood why they didn’t attend our church, and was shocked to learn, that there are more than one type of Christian! At the age a ten, my family moved to a neighborhood that was 50% Jewish. Until that time, “Jew” was something you called someone you didn’t like. I learned quickly that not only were there more than one flavor of Christianity, but religions with no room for Christ.

    In High School, I took an Asian history class. This was the first time I was exposed to the cultures of the world at large, and was attracted to the teachings of Buddha. By my senior year I was a practicing Buddhist and my mother was appalled. “How can you believe in that?” she implored. “I believe in Buddhism because it makes sense. Why do you believe in Christianity? Because you were born into a Christian family? Without checking out or considering the alternatives? I choose. You never bothered.”

    In my early adulthood I migrated to Taoism for its mystical aspects until I learned that there was an underground stream of Mysticism based in Western Culture. Some are happy dancing on the onion skin of spirituality, while some of us prefer the depths. While all roads may lead to the mountain top, only those who choose for themselves their path are likely to arrive.


    • Brittney Wheeler

      Thanks for sharing your story! Although I don’t practice a religion, I can relate to your interest in exploring other religions and other cultures. In college, I was drawn to religious studies courses because I am fascinated by religion, spirituality, and the human capacity for belief in general.

      I hope your family has learned to respect your decision to do your own thing. It takes courage to question and explore to create your own life, but I think it is worth the effort. It makes life an adventure!

  • Dan

    Great, much needed article.

    Just as minarchists fail to see the logical consistency of anarcho-capitalism, religious libertarians often don’t see the similarities between the State and the Church.

    I feel it’s inevitable to a certain extent that they will eventually, just by virtue of the fact that they have already come so far in their line of thinking.

    • Brittney Wheeler

      I often wonder what makes some people question authority while others comply. For example, I mentioned one of my sisters in this piece. What I didn’t mention was that I have two other sisters. One of them was completely compliant and would make an effort to avoid hearing my conversations with Emily because they made her upset.

      I definitely see the many parallels between the State and the Church. I also think there are many different formal and informal institutions which can function as the “authority” over a person. I’m curious if others have examples of this. If so, how harmful do you think it is?

  • Brian Lehman

    Good post. I too am an atheist and libertarian. For me, they both developed around the same period of time. I was a conservative and an evangelical but in my mid-20’s realized that I really didn’t believe in either one. I realized that liberty was the one thing that I truly loved in my heart. Both government and religion attempt to force us to live by rules invented by someone else that often do not make sense to us. We are best served when we come up with our own rules, provided we don’t harm others.

    • Brittney Wheeler

      “Both government and religion attempt to force us to live by rules invented by someone else that often do not make sense to us.”

      Yes! That is exactly what was so difficult for me when I tried to digest the rules of the church. I wanted to rationalize them as with anything else, but they just didn’t make sense to me. It still took me a long time to fully reject the authority of the church and trust my own reasoning because fear had been instilled in me from an early age.