"[T]here are, at bottom, basically two ways to order social affairs, Coercively, through the mechanisms of the state -- what we can call political society. And voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations -- what we can call civil society. ... In a civil society, you make the decision. In a political society, someone else does. ... Civil society is based on reason, eloquence, and persuasion, which is to say voluntarism. Political society, on the other hand, is based on force." ~ Ed Crane
The God Question
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
Why does it matter, to market anarchists, whether or not God exists? Surely all would be able, in a free society, to believe whatever they wish about religion?
That was the thrust of Paul Bonneau's recent article here, and he added that it's counterproductive for the libertarian spokesman to ridicule the religious. His point is well taken. In the comments appended to what he wrote, some felt that ridicule doesn't hurt much, but I tend to agree that it probably does--if it's directed at the person holding the belief being scorned. That might well offend him, and stop him listening to us further. In any case, it's bad manners.
On the other hand, I'm not so sure it hurts to ridicule a ridiculous belief itself--indeed, it's sometimes hard not to. I see quite a difference between saying "Jones is an idiot, he believes in God" and "Here's why a belief in God is idiotic, and I hope Jones will stay clear of it." The first brands Jones as a fool in himself, perhaps permanently unable to remedy his condition, while the second offers him help to avoid a pitfall, or to climb out of one.
But still, why does it matter?
It matters because the prime task of those wishing to bring a free society about is to move our statist neighbors away from their belief in the need for, and efficacy of, government; to show (as Larken Rose has, in his remarkable book The Most Dangerous Superstition) that the belief that government rightly exercises authority over us is a complete myth, and even that government itself is a complete myth, that the State doesn't actually exist. This can only happen when our statist friend begins to think straight; to rid his mind of pre-judgments, of non-rational premises. To grow up, intellectually. Then of course, having understood the real nature of human beings and of government, to resolve never to work for the latter; only then will it disappear.
So first and foremost, we have the task of changing our friend's mode of thought; to move him from faith to reason. Until that's done, any apparent "conversion" to a rational view of the world--to an acceptance of the self-ownership axiom and so of market anarchism--is likely to be shallow. It's unlikely that he will be able or willing to bring along any of his friends with him, and of course, if that one-to-one teaching process ("going viral") doesn't happen, we won't see any free society in our lifetimes, and given that WMDs exist and are proliferating, that may well mean, not ever.
Now, can a properly thorough makeover of the mind encompass rejection of the government myth, yet retention of the god myth? For the two are very similar. Both involve believing a proposition that is plainly not true when examined dispassionately. In the first case, the irrational belief is that someone else can order one's life better than one can order it oneself (or as I noticed somewhere recently, "A politician is someone able to spend your money better than you can"), which is obvious nonsense on its face. In the second case, the irrational belief is that there exists an undefined and undefinable entity that nobody can see, hear, touch, smell or taste, and yet who created everything that exists and who is closely interested in the conduct of each of seven billion individual humans; a proposition that has m-y-t-h written all over it in huge letters.
Further, we mustn't forget Old Nick, the furnace operator with horns, green skin and a long tail. He was invented to "solve" the problem that evil exists in a world created by one allegedly both benevolent and omnipotent. But wasn't Nick created, also? So he doesn't really solve the problem at all? Yes he was, say the mythcrafters, as a very senior angel; but in a moment of pride, he exercised free will and fell to Hell. So is free will reluctantly included in their world view, and neatly associated with evil. Still, Lucifer's big tumble solves nothing anyway, because if God created free will, responsibility can be left on mere humans who exercise it, and where it belongs; no copout is available, such as "the Devil made me do it."
That free-will thingie has incidentally given a lot of trouble to Calvinist theologians, who are no strangers to reason. They concluded that there really isn't much, and that some people are predestined to damnation. That repugnant result springs directly from their false premise--so let's be careful, always to check our premises.
In a more rational world view, evil is what may happen when humans acquire power over other humans. See more here.
Both myths, about government and god, are totally absurd; if a person comes to his senses fully enough to abandon the first, why would he not also abandon the second? And if he does retain it, why should not his statist friend, whom he is trying to turn into a clear-thinking person, accuse him of gross inconsistency and say, for example, "if you keep your religious fairy tale, I'll keep my government fairy tale"? That would be a response extremely hard to gainsay.
That's why it matters.