Monday, 20 February 2012

Religion as an argument for libertarianism

Twitter is once again abuzz with comment about religion, Dawkins, Santorum, blah, blah, blah.

I have seen plenty of people arguing that the UK is a Christian country, I have seen plenty of people banging on about the need for secularism and I've seen plenty of people arguing that people should be free to believe whatever they want, as long as they don't foist it on the rest of us.

And actually, I've some sympathy for people preaching (ho! ho!) religious tolerance. I went to church plenty as a child, tried really hard but I just couldn't make myself believe. But there are clearly a load of people who despite their doubts and challenges continue to believe in some kind of God. In much the same way I can't make myself believe, they can't make themselves unbelieve.

But there is a vast difference between people having an individual belief and people have a wish to force their beliefs onto others. No sane person has a problem with a Muslim quietly enjoying their own faith, plenty of people have a problem with Muslims wishing to force Britain into some sort of Caliphate. Nobody has a problem with Anglican going to church on a Sunday, but loads of people have issues with the Anglican Church being the UK's official religion and part of the establishment.

And so on and so on.

And that made me think. If people can be so tolerant about other people's faith as long as it's not forced onto society as a whole, why is it so irrational for me to want to live in a society that share the common faith in the beneficence of the state?

I mean, plenty of people will say they'd happily live in a godless, atheistic society. Most of these people would further say that if the state was officially atheist, they would have no problem with individuals having their own belief. And I suspect that most genuine believers in a given religion would actually be quite happy to live in a society that was officially atheist but allowed them to congregate voluntarily, enjoy their faith and was generally tolerant.

I've never had a conversation with a statist that didn't eventually come down to some form of handwaving that anarchism could never work. Utimately, their belief in the state is as unquestioning and central to their being as religion. It is unquestioning belief that some things just cannot work unless there is a state. I have an equally unquestioning belief that society can function better, people will be happier, communities will be closer, etc., etc. in a state-free society. It may not look entirely like the world looks today, but even statists will not argue that the world today is how they're really like it to be.

Much like Christians who argue that the world would be better if everyone was Christian, statists invariably call for more power and more money to be given to the state, because the state has some sort of magical formula for making things better. To which I say "Norn Iron" - that really was a showcase for Christianity, wasn't it?

So to me, it looks like statism has all the hallmarks of a religion. Perhaps libertarianism is too.

But why then is it so entirely insane for me to say that I want to live in a society where other people's belief in the state (which has, like religion, killed at least as many as it has saved and for equally ludicrous reasons) does not apply to me, but if you want to go ahead and band together (voluntarily) as a state and live under statist rules, you can, as long as you don't inflict those rules on people who don't want to live under them?

Why is that a perfectly reasonable approach to religion, but not to the state?


David Hadley said...

Religion is an ideology and ideology is a religion.

See this old blog post of mine.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Hang about, "the state" just means that people living in any defined geographic area abide by common rules.

You or I would prefer fewer rules, others would prefer more rules, including rules on things like what colour cigarette packets should be (I'm not joking), but there are certain things, like reducing violent crime or crime generally at which states are very good.

Compare e.g. the UK with Somalia or Afghanisation, or Pakistan or lots of African countries. We have "a state" and they are "failed states", and I am quite happy having a state which locks up murderers, rapists, muggers and thieves.

There is other stuff like refuse collection or road building which is also better done collectively. If we waited until every private landowner between Town A and Town B agreed for a motorway or railway to be built, we'd have absolutely no motorways or railways in this country.

The problem is when those people elected to run the core functions of the state get ideas above their station and lose sight of the fact that it is THE PEOPLE abiding by common rules which creates all these positive aspects of "the state" and not the few people in charge, they have little to do with it, we could choose MPs by lottery and they wouldn't be much better or worse than the elected ones.

Ed P said...

Norn Iron was/is about more rival gangs protecting their turf - the religious divide was a convenient cover for drugs & extortion.
I don't see how the State & religion are materially comparable when their areas of operation are very different. Unless you consider closed religious communities, where some of the few positive aspects of the State are involved, there doesn't seem to be that much overlap.
But in terms of controlling people, restricting freedoms and forcing compliance, they're virtually indistinguishable.