My Politico-Religious Journey

By:  Bob Gifford @ http://ergodubito.org/

A few days ago, Hilzoy brought to my attention the latest fad among wingnuts. It appears all the cool kids on the right are talking about going Galt. Boy, this brings back some memories.

You see, I was once a libertarian. Hard to believe, I know, but true.

Like many college students, I read Ayn Rand when I was in college, which like the gateway drug that Rand is, led me to read some books on libertarianism, and I was hooked. There is something so perfect about libertarianism, especially when viewed through a Randian lens. Poor people are poor because of their laziness and moral defects. Rich people are rich due to hard work and virtue. Government bureaucrats are leeches trying to take what is not theirs. In the end, there is justice: everyone gets what they deserve, not in some after-life, but here and now on this earth. How romantic. How perfect.

Yes, but.

Libertarian thinkers have added to this a whole theoretical edifice explaining how free markets can price anything and everything can be privatized all to the ever-increasing welfare of the virtuous citizenry and to the detriment of the shifty poor and controlling government autocrats. Through college and business school I was enamored of this ideology. This was how the world should work, and if it didn’t, it was because vested interests were depriving us of our freedom. Capitalists unite! We have nothing to lose but our chains!

Yes, but.

There was another ideology running through my college and grad school years. I had been raised and confirmed Lutheran, but was wandering in the desert during those years. I had many late night conversations about God and religion, and read a smattering of books on theology. I had several of what I would call conversion experiences, except that they didn’t really lead to any enduring conversion. It was all rather cerebral. But there was something profoundly true to me about all this Christianity stuff.

The Christianity I knew had nothing to do with today’s moral judging from the religious right. It didn’t depend upon a church hierarchy throwing around its weight in the name of ecclesiastical authority. It wasn’t defined by the drama of today’s fights over gay rights or attempts to sneak creationism into the schools. There was no political grandstanding. It was a deeply humble, self-emptying, other-serving Christianity.

Still today, the Christianity I know is virtually invisible to those not looking for it. The leaders of my denomination issue a stream of press releases about the need for relief for disaster victims, funding for food stamps, or services for the homeless. There are always urges to do more for the hungry around the world. Micro-credit, mosquito nets, schools, health clinics, water projects, goats (yes, goats!) for the global poor. But none of it ever makes headlines. The AA meeting in the church basement isn’t newsworthy. But there it is all the same.

As an adult, I had to decide between these two ideologies. I tried to reconcile them, and thought I had succeeded for awhile. But I was once asked to sign a petition to “end world hunger”. I wouldn’t sign it because it went against my libertarian ideals. Later, I thought about that decision. How could any Christian not lend their voice to the effort to end world hunger? What about the least of these? I came to realize that this world, the real world, the one we’re stuck with, isn’t just. There are both poor and rich who do not deserve to be so. Even the best of us are not quite as noble as Ayn Rand would have us believe, and the worst are not quite as evil. Markets themselves are sustained and thrive because of government regulation, not in spite of it. There are things none of us can do alone, and which we must come together to accomplish through government. While we must always be on guard against the excesses of government, we all need government to do what only it can.

This need for government isn’t just pragmatic, it’s also moral. A Randian libertarian utopia would rapidly turn into a morally unjust dystopia. And I don’t speak of morality the way the culture warriors do, but the way the Christianity I know does. I’m not talking about sex, drugs or wardrobe malfunctions, but morality as a glimmer of the Kingdom of God. Without that kind of moral justice, we would live in a world where power begets more power, disregard for others is rewarded, and justice isn’t available for those without the ability to pay for it.

So I am now a political independent, but in the current environment aligned mostly with Democrats. And my religious wanderings have brought me to the religious home I left as a teenager. And Ayn Rand is left where she belongs: to gather dust.

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