Here, I’m going to stir the waters a bit. My fellow admin and I agree on many things. Indeed our areas of agreement much outweigh our areas of difference. However, I’m going to explore probably the primary area of difference now.
On two separate occasions the issue of liberty has been discussed in the context of the western Judeo-Christian culture. When it cropped up again in the latter post by luikkerland, I felt compelled to comment.
Liberty does not require a religious context. We do not need religion – or more specifically, the Christian one or the belief in deities to develop a sound moral standing or to develop the codified laws that regulate our interactions with each other. Every society has developed the same basic principles. The golden rule is woven into the fabric of human interaction irrespective of the prevailing belief system.
Yes, I realise that atheistic movements have been responsible for mass slaughter in recent history, but so too have there been religious slaughters, including those in the name of Jesus Christ (although, frankly, he would have been horrified at much of what has been done in his name, I suspect). However, the belief system or the lack of one is moot. It may have been an excuse, but that is all. Morality is something we have within ourselves and we can choose to behave in a moral way regardless of what we believe about gods or not.
We tread on dangerous ground when we start to talk about positive liberty backed up by regulation, permission or religious codes. Liberty is merely you leaving me alone to live my life as I see fit – regardless of whether it offends your religious sensibilities. As long as I do not impinge on your liberty to live your life as you see fit, then we should rub along just fine. I don’t need to believe in your god(s) to be a moral person. I can work out the difference between right and wrong perfectly well without religious teachings or holy books. My basic humanity suffices.
Nor, for that matter do I accept the point that there is confusion when we oppose the death penalty and yet are content for abortion to be legal. I am not remotely confused about either. When one takes these positions as I do, all I see is consistency that is itself consistent with minimising the reach of the state into the lives of its citizens. Indeed, those positions do not need to be held for moral reasons anyway – both can be maintained for entirely pragmatic ones. The execution of an innocent and a return to back street abortions being the outcomes of a reversal of the present situation and neither are desirable irrespective of one’s moral position on the matter.
Finally, that Judeo-Christian culture. Much of what we in the Anglosphere admire about our system is derived from common law. The law between men that originated at the time of Richard II when he sent circuit judges about the country to arbitrate disputes. Their decisions were recorded and used in subsequent similar disputes. The culture at the time was Catholic Christian and the people were devoutly religious, with the Church holding great sway over both the state and the individual. Indeed, the country was a borderline theocracy. However, so too was the rest of Europe, yet we developed a cultural system that was – and is – better than theirs despite that common Christian background. Common law is not based upon religious teaching, is is based upon pragmatism and common sense. It does not need the church or its teachings to survive intact.
Liberty does not need religion to survive. Religion does tend to rely on liberty though. So, while I am fully supportive of the idea of a written constitution and would defend absolutely the right to practice one’s religion without fear or favour; as I mentioned in my earlier comment, the first amendment had it spot on, frankly:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Let’s keep it that way.
Update. The Nameless Libertarian takes a similar view.