Beliefs Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

Libertarianism at Boston College

Religious Freedom Stamp
Religious Freedom Stamp

Religious Freedom Stamp

How is libertarianism wrong? Yesterday, at Boston College, we counted the ways.

Co-sponsored by B.C.’s thriving School of Theology and Ministry and the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, the day-long colloquium featured lectures by political philosopher Alan Ryan and Boisi Center director Alan Wolfe, who respectively assailed libertarianism for taking a naïve view of property rights and for manifesting a species of ideological totalitarianism. Various panelists — Catholic theologians — demonstrated its opposition to Catholic understandings of the common good.

Of course, across-the-board libertarianism is the exception rather than the rule in America. Economic libertarianism tends to attract Republicans; civil libertarianism, Democrats. And then there’s moral libertarianism, embraced by libertines.

In the time I was given, I made the case for a new species: spiritual libertarianism.

This is a form of libertarianism that sets as its highest political task not free markets or free speech or (let us say) making the country safe for sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, but the free exercise of religion. This new spiritual libertarianism has, in the past decade, established itself on the American right.

The recent fight over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has provoked various expressions of spiritual libertarianism, including a letter from several prominent Catholics and Southern Baptists that declared, “America was founded on the idea that religious liberty matters because religious belief matters in a uniquely life-giving and powerful way.”

If our founding documents are to be believed, America — the United States — was founded on the idea that people should be able to govern themselves, but never mind. For conservatives anxious to preserve moral norms they see as as threatened, religious liberty has become the trump card of American politics. Check it out.

 

 

 

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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  • “The distinctively new development is what I propose calling spiritual libertarianism.
    This is a form of libertarianism that sets as its highest political task not free markets or free speech or (let us say) making the country safe for sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, but the free exercise of religion. This new spiritual libertarianism has, in the past decade, established itself on the American right.”
    “I’ll just conclude by saying that libertarianism, in its spiritual form, is very much at war with common-goodism in the Church today.”

    This may be language that the world understands and finds mutual community agreement upon. But the “Christian” church within the American society, by and large, is far from libertarian if a majority peals forth, “My rights! Our rights! O world, why persecuteth thou me?” The people you speak of, and the ones in the news of late, are actually the Legalists. They are the same ones who want prayer in the schools, as long as it is their own. In Jesus day, they are called Pharisee.

    These same legalists come wielding a big book of Holy words chosen specifically to condemn the actions of the legal libertines in our free society. At the same time, they justify their own actions–the crimes of their own faith community. The libertines take note of such hypocrisy but the legalist somehow suddenly see, hear and speak no evil.

    What we experience in this country is a mirror of previous civilizations (Rome) where freedom became both the champion of rights and synchronously the drug that numbed the sensibilities of those infected with greed and pleasure as a god. Such Libertines then became the law makers, eventually becoming their own god, crushing the Legalists with their own stones.

    With our commitment to pluralism’s, we have no choice but to be liberal in our offers of freedom, (even if we go the way of Rome) yet our battle with balance is certainly not new. If just the Christian community set an example for us all, this would be a minor miracle. Their bible speaks to them,

    “My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love. All that the Law says can be summed up in the command to love others as much as you love yourself. But if you keep attacking each other like wild animals, you had better watch out or you will destroy yourselves.”
    Galatians 5:13-15

    In Christianity, both the Libertine and the Legalist are called to a brand of maturity and balance, seldom seen carried out as of late. In reality, they are called to abandon both extremes in what is to be a transformation, changing of mind and attitudes to that of Christ himself as a metamorphosis.

    St Paul, the tent maker, I am sure, would have made a tent for that Roman guard who spat in his face, bound him and threw stones at him. (maybe even a cake)

    Jesus surely would have used his carpentry skills to carve out a cradle for the child of a Samaritan woman caught in adultery. Why are we Christians so all mighty self-righteous when it comes to serving those who profess no Christ?

    Will we ever have a country where the legalistic leave alone those bent to lifestyles that offend their conscience or their tiny God? Are there enough constitutional liberals to balance them?

    Will those libertines (ACLU) fight for the rights of all–even the KKK clansman who wants the black baker to make their wedding cake? Hey –anythings possible today.

    As for “common good-ism”, a definition of your social, political and spiritual harmonies dream-state. I wish you and us all well.

  • Of course Boston College, a private Jesuit Catholic research university, is opposed to a movement dedicated to the maximum freedom of choice for the individual. Whatever flaws such a political philosophy may have, it is morally superior to the rule by the self appointed, such as the Jesuit order.

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