I recently heard a religiously conservative talk radio host, Mike Church, argue with an atheist caller.
The atheist caller criticized the host for claiming that freedom would perish in a society of ‘Godless people.’ Church’s premise was that a free society needs moral people to survive, and that there is no morality without God.
‘Who is to make these free people moral, if not God?’ asked Mike Church.
Unfortunately, the caller stammered and had no response. But I do.
Who is to make a free people moral? The free people themselves!
Morality applies to the area of choice. If a person makes virtuous choices, we call the person moral. If the person makes bad choices, we call him immoral. These terms, of course, are out of fashion. But in some form or another — in emotional reaction, if nothing else — we are all passing judgments on ourselves, and others, all the time. Be honest. There’s no escaping it! Your emotions and value judgments contain some implicit idea of what morality is, even if you refuse to call it by that name.
Mike Church and other religious conservatives are all in favor of emphasizing choice and personal responsibility. But they contradict themselves when they imply that human beings are unable to make choices without suspending their reason, and their thinking, in favor of faith alone.
Blind faith is what dictators seek and demand. If it’s freedom you’re seeking, then blind faith is the last thing you want to encourage. What you want to encourage, if freedom is your goal, are individuals who use reason, logic and science in all that they do. They apply rational thought, as a choice, in every waking hour of their lives. These are the kind of people who require and insist on freedom. They MUST have freedom, because you cannot think without freedom. People who are willing to hand over their thinking minds to any external authority, supernatural or otherwise, will not demand freedom. Most likely, they will be frightened of it.
This is why conservatism, as we know it, has been so toxic to the cause of freedom. The more we have elected conservatives to office, the more freedom has gone by the wayside. George W. Bush compromised freedom more than upholding it, and then we got Obama, a committed enemy of freedom. Conservatives never give us even close to what they promise us. This is because conservatives, at least the serious ones, are not really seeking freedom. They might think they are. But in all honesty, they cannot. The extent to which they take their ideas about supernaturalism seriously is the extent to which they must disregard their quest for freedom.
You cannot go up to somebody and say, ‘Stop thinking. Put your faith elsewhere, in a higher power, outside of yourself’ and then in the same breath tell them, ‘Take responsibility for yourself. Do not expect anyone else to be your keeper.’ Religions—all religions, in some form or another—stress the minimizing (if not elimination) of individual identity in favor of the society.
Selfishness is condemned by every single religion in existence—and certainly all the major ones. It’s insane to tell somebody, ‘Put yourself last’ and then in the same breath tell them, ‘You’re responsible for your life.’ The two things are polar opposites. If you put yourself last, how can you possibly act self-responsibly? And why should you?
Liberals, at least, are consistent. They condemn selfishness, usually from a secular point-of-view. (The powerful and wealthy liberal rulers practice self-interest, but they don’t want their lessers to ever do so.) They say we must have a Big Government, if not an outright socialist or fascist government, to ensure that people keep their selfish wants and desires in check. They are wrong, even evil, in both their intentions and policies. But they are, unlike the conservatives, consistent. Liberals and socialists do not blink, and even when they lose elections, they maintain control over the agenda, cashing in after each and every victory. They are ‘strong,’ but only because nobody ever challenges them at the core.
Rationality and reason are inseparable from freedom. The spectacle of watching deeply religious people try to champion freedom is becoming too much to watch.
Morality implies making the right choice. Religion teaches that the right choice is to surrender your rational mind to faith, and to minimize the self for the sake of others. But faith and service will deliver us into Big Government, be it socialism or fascism or religious theocracy. Faith and service are the virtues and values of the welfare state, and the entitlement state, not a republic where government’s sole purpose is to protect people from violence and otherwise leave them alone. Faith and service motivate people to be shaped, not to shape themselves. And there will always be those who stand ready to shape others, using the force of government.
I know there are religious people, including talk show host Mike Church and others, who feel deeply in favor of freedom. But they’re contradicting themselves, more than they know. What are they really after? My theory: Separation of church and state. They yearn for freedom, but it’s religion that they want to leave alone, not reason or secularism. Some of these religious conservatives, like Rick Santorum, actually want to impose the dictatorship of religion through the force of the state. Some are not this bad. But they all share in common a desire to put faith before reason, and self-sacrifice before self-interested, self-responsible living.
I don’t know what the future holds. But this contradiction is too glaring not to have dire consequences, if left uncorrected. An individual with a contradiction such as this would sooner or later collapse into despair, and perhaps even suicide. A society operates on the same principle, and the general trends of the society will rule, in the end. At present, and for years now, those trends have not been good.
Generally speaking, few are aware of this contradiction and even fewer will speak up about it. History may record that the tragedy of America, mankind’s first attempt at liberty, was botched by an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.
Freedom and faith as one? It will never happen.
Faith inevitably leads to force. There’s no way around it.