I’ve explained part of my intellectual progress to libertarianism before.1 On occasion I’m asked about my views on philosophy, Ayn Rand/Objectivism, and religion. So a short précis is in order.
I was born in 1965 in Louisiana and attended private Catholic schools. I a good student, bookish, and loved philosophy and science. I was very interested in religion and was very devout; I was an altar boy for several years. For a while I was reading books on various occult or pseudoscientific topics, e.g. pyramid power, Nostradamus, Chariots of the Gods, how to cast spells, and the like. I never really believed it, I think (though I did try a few spells), but it stoked my imagination, just as Star Wars and sci-fi and novels and comics did.
I ended up being kind of contrarian: rejecting conventional religious and political views—becoming atheist and anarchist (which is expressed in an amateur poem I wrote, Big Enough). In my early teens I was devoutly Catholic and would sometimes argue with my Baptist cousins and friends. I thought Protestantism and fundamentalism to be ridiculous. I had been taught, in Catholic school, about evolution and also that the Old Testament was not necessarily literally true. Baptists and fundamentalists who rejected evolution and thought Adam and Eve and Jonah and the Whale and Noah and the Ark were literally true—I thought they were nuts, simplistic hicks and rubes.
I used to mow the lawn at my parents’ house in the country—about 4 acres. With a Gravely tractor. It would take all Saturday morning, about 3–4 hours, as I recall. A weekly chore. I would think a lot during those times. I remember, I was perhaps 14, and was toying with these ideas. It occurred to me first how silly were Buddhists, Protestants, etc., who thought they “just happened” to be born into the right religious beliefs. They didn’t know that Catholicism was the right one. And then, of course, it struck me that this reasoning applied to me, too. So I started thinking, “Hey, waitaminnit”. (I had similar thoughts about being an American: “How lucky I am to have been born into just the right country, at just the right modern time in history!” Okay, I still kinda believe that one.)
And then, I started pondering the notion of Hell. It seemed obvious to me that a just God would never consign someone to eternal punishment for some finite series of sins; it simply seemed disproportionate. In fact, I thought, a just God would never create a being He knew would end up going to Hell (this led to a strange fantasy that everyone in the world was either really good, and destined for Hell, or was some fake-evil robot created by God just to play the part of the “bad” people in life—but nevermind).
After forming such skeptical views and rejecting the Christian notion of Hell, this sort of gave me “permission” to start asking more questions internally. I remember I was mowing the lawn one day and I dared to start thinking about Christ and his divinity and the stories I had been told about him. As I recall, it took only about 5 seconds, after I gave myself permission to “go there,” that the scales fell from my eyes and I started to think it was all nonsense. I can’t remember my exact age but I believe this is around 14 or 15 or so.
Soon after, in 11th grade, I think, as I mention in How I Became A Libertarian, a librarian at Catholic High, Ms. Reinhardt, recommended that I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I did and this got me reading all of Rand’s other works and then many other free market works and political theory, e.g. Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, Milton Friedman, and others. Reading Rand also entrenched my atheism. When I went to college, I started publishing columns in the school newspaper on political-economic topics, even though I was at the time studying electrical engineering.
So, around the age 16 or 17, I became a pretty die-hard Objectivist/libertarian. At first I resisted writings by “libertarians” because of Rand’s admonitions against libertarianism; but finally I could not help notice the basic thrust of the Libertarian Party pamphlets I saw on campus, and other libertarian works, was basically identical to what attracted me to the political aspect of Rand’s philosophy. So I read Rothbard, the Tannehills, and other anarchists, and soon, by the middle of law school (1989 or so) had converted also to an anarchist libertarian.
So: atheist at 15, libertarian at 17, anarchist at 22 or so.
Husband at 27, father at 37. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
See also: The Unidirectionality of Conversions
- How I Became A Libertarian, LewRockwell.com, December 18, 2002; published as “Being a Libertarian” in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians (compiled by Walter Block; Mises Institute 2010). See also The Greatest Libertarian Books. [↩]