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.2 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. See also other biographical material. [↩]
- Sort of like this, but more vintage. [↩]
Very interesting. What I would LOVE is you talk this out with Murphy, Woods or Tucker. They, like you, are all briliant but you guys have some disagreements. These three, I belive, are religious.
I only heard you argue twice with an opponent. Once with Jan Helfeld (that was ugly but informative, Jan embarassed himself, you annihilated him) and once with Block over selling oneself into slavery. Again, hugely interesting and I must admit Block won me over.
Either way, it’s so much more interesting when it’s genuine disagreement. You guys are all friends and truth lovers so it would be civil and logical (not like the Helfeld nonsense).
I get the main ideas. Let’s get into the controversial stuff so you show to the rest of the world how disagreement can be dealt with! And it would also be hugely informative because this religious stuff is a big divide and everyone just steps around the topic..
“After…rejecting the Christian notion of Hell…” What’s interesting about this is that Orthodox Christians have never had any such notion of hell. For the Orthodox, hell isn’t some place where a torturous deity eternally punishes people for their finite transgressions. Rather, hell is a disease of the heart, a disordered mode of being, in which one’s energies are out of harmony with the natural order of reality. Hell is not some far-off, abstract fear — it is an empirical fact, experienced here and now by those who are estranged from others, by those who cannot be at peace within themselves, by those who are victimized by injustice, and by those who suffer privation. Paradise (or heaven), conversely, is purity of heart, well-ordered existence, energetic harmony, communal love for others, peace of soul, and salvation of the oppressed. This too can become an empirical reality for those who obtain it. The original Christian gospel, still preserved in the Orthodox Church, is that all are called to strive for this paradise, and to extend it to every human being. Indeed, heaven is not truly heaven until there is not a single soul left in hell, for how can I be in heaven while my loved ones are in hell? Their suffering turns my heaven into hell, and causes me to leave heaven to venture into their hell in hopes of saving them from hell. This is in keeping with the example of Christ, of whom the apostle Peter (and many others) say that he ventured into hell to save all who were held captive by futility in death.
This all may sound very strange and eastern, and that’s because, well, it is! Christianity was originally (and still is for us) an “eastern” religion, with a narrative completely different from what has developed within western Christianity. In the west, the whole focus became about figuring out how to appease a capricious, tyrannical deity so that you might end up in the “good” column of his ledger. In the east, God has no ledger, but rather loves all mankind without exception, for God is love. With no concern for imaginary ledgers, eastern Christians believe that the purpose of humanity is union with God, which is to become pure love.
Obviously you were not instructed correctly about Catholic doctrine concerning “hell”. It is not Dante’s inferno. It is state of separation from God.
You have every right to be an atheist. However, making that choice based on an incorrect interpretation of Catholic theology is not very defensible. You might want to revisit the doctrine of the Catholic church before 1962. The new non-Catholic Catholic church during your lifetime has been in apostasy and apparently your instruction was deficient in explaining traditional Catholicism correctly.
it does not matter–it would not have made a difference. It’s all dirt-worship.
If you’re interested in spirituality, I recommend that you listen to Bernardo Kastrup. He has some interesting thoughts on idealism and materialism.