Religion & the Bill of Rights

January 25, 2002

This letter was received this past week in response to my article, "What Is America?" My response follows the letter.

Dear Mr. Browne,

I've been a fan for a few years. It's a pleasure to hear you speak and I generally agree with your views on a return to a constitutional government. But, the one thing that has consistently kept me from voting for the Libertarian party is its moral ambivalence or the appearance of it. The Libertarian Party talks about small government but leaves out the most important thing for the survival of any free society.

What you have excluded from your column about what makes America great is the foundation upon which your 3 pillars rest. What makes America great is the ability of its people to see good and evil and the general religiousness of its people which makes Americans generally good. 80% of Americans claim to be Christians but one doesn't necessarily have to be religious to be good. The fact that religiousness pervades our society is what makes it better.

It is this religiousness that creates moral clarity and makes us good. It is what separates Americans and Europeans. It is this goodness that fosters self-governance which in turns fosters small and less intrusive government. If Americans were ever to lose this sense of goodness, America would cease to be great.

America is great because the foundation of our republic is the Judeo-Christian ethic to "love thy neighbor as thyself". Our Founders knew it, talked about it, believed it and felt that it should be taught. They also believed that one didn't have to be a Christian to subscribe to that ethic and that one shouldn't be forced to be a Christian. It is what makes American culture unique in the world. You talk about the Founders and their ideas but you strip the ethic from those ideas and American history by not talking about it.

If you strip the ethic from your 3 pillars of America's greatness, your argument collapses. What good is the Bill of Rights if people don't "love thy neighbor as thyself"? What good is free association if people don't "love thy neighbor as thyself"? What good is the capitalist system if people don't "love thy neighbor as thyself"? They are no good. You cannot escape the moral ethic. I'm not saying that one has to be a Christian but we must all share the same moral ethic.

It's unfortunate that I've not heard you talk about this. It is your silence and the silence of the Libertarian party that has kept me from voting Libertarian. Perhaps, I'm wrong about you and the Libertarian party but it would be refreshing to hear about this from a party that would use the ideas of our Founders in their entirety. After all, they were religious men whose ideas are wonderful but their religiousness makes them outcasts in the country which they founded.

Best regards,

[Name withheld]

 

Dear Mr. ------:

Thank you for your message, and for your thoughtful comments.

Unfortunately, I can't agree with your conclusions.

"What makes America great is the ability of its people see good and evil and the general religiousness of its people which makes Americans generally good. . . . The fact that religiousness pervades our society is what makes it better."

For the past four months, we've been hearing how "religious" the Taliban was. Religion isn't lacking in Saudi Arabia or Iceland or even Zimbabwe.

"It is this religiousness that creates moral clarity and makes us good. It is what separates Americans and Europeans."

The Pilgrims escaped from Europe because they wanted freedom from the religiousness that pervaded the Old World. Of course, it wasn't religion per se they were fleeing, but the idea that some people know so well what is right and what is wrong that they feel justified in imposing their religious beliefs by force upon others.

"It is this goodness that fosters self-governance which in turns fosters small and less intrusive government. If Americans were ever to lose this sense of goodness, America would cease to be great."

If Americans have this sense of "goodness," why are there two million people in prison? Why does government at all levels extract 47% of the national income for its own political purposes? Where is that "less intrusive government" you're talking about? How is there a "sense of goodness" when our government is bombing innocent people in Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Libya, and other places?

"What good is the Bill of Rights if people don't "love thy neighbor as thyself"? What good is free association if people don't "love thy neighbor as thyself"? What good is the capitalist system if people don't "love thy neighbor as thyself"? They are no good."

What good is loving thy neighbor as thyself if the government doesn't allow you to choose your own neighbors?

Without the Bill of Rights, without the freedom to decide for oneself (not have decisions imposed coercively by people with supposedly superior morals and religiousness), an individual is no longer a moral agent; he is just a robot being programmed by the politicians and bureaucrats. Without freedom, there is no morality or responsibility.

I appreciate what you're trying to say and to achieve. But to attribute American's past greatness (it is no longer great) to the "goodness" of the people begs the question: Why would all those good people happen to congregate in America? Why not in France or Tibet or Niger?

If Americans were once uniquely good, it was because they had the freedom to face the consequences of their own acts and thus learned the importance of being good. In a society without the Bill of Rights, free association, and the free market, people have much less incentive to learn to be good.

"It is your silence and the silence of the Libertarian party that has kept me from voting Libertarian."

Then whom do you vote for? The big-government Republicans or the big-government Democrats?

If you hold against the Libertarians the fact that they alone truly believe in the freedom of religion set forth in the Bill of Rights, I believe you're cutting off your nose to spite your face. Religion should be promoted by people, not by governments. We don't need to see folks like Bill Clinton or George Bush walking out of a church holding a Bible. We need to see government shrink to a fraction of its present size, so that people are free to grow and learn to be good.

With best wishes,

Harry Browne


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