by L. Neil Smith
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
For a little while I’ve found myself on the mailing list of a religious individual who keeps sending me messages having to do with Jesus.
I tolerated it because it’s easy enough to delete messages (like everybody else, I get bundles of very promising offers from Nigeria, and I’ve probably won a couple billion dollars by now in this or that lottery). But finally I got tired of it and I wrote the guy telling him politely that his messages were wasting my time and his electrons, and asking him to take me off his list. Quite obligingly, he said he would, but his parting words seemed to require an answer, and this (allowing for some editorial changes I made later) is what I wrote to him.
Matt (I’ve changed his name, here),
I don’t write about the subject of religion very often, mainly because I think there are more important issues everybody ought to be concerned with if our civilization is going to survive. I’m doing it now, because you seem to be a nice enough fellow, and it will give me something different to run in The Libertarian Enterprise next weekend.
Don’t worry, I’ll leave your name out of it.
I am about to turn 65 years old. For a number of reasons, I have made an intense study of religions all my life. I have read the King James Bible through twice, and even some of the Apocrypha. I have read the Book of Mormon. I have read two different translations of the Q’ran.
I have read Dianetics, as well as the basic writings of Marx and Engels. I am reasonably conversant with the religious tenets and principles of Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and Jains, and even more so with those of the Mayans, Aztecs, and ancient Peruvians. I have long been strangely afflicted with a bizarre fascination with the internal politics of the Roman Catholic Church. As a teenager, in the Boy Scouts of America, I earned the God and Country Award and could readily teach comparative religion, say, at some community college somewhere.
Although Jewish customs and ideas suffuse our general culture, most of what I know about the beliefs and practices of Judaism I learned from my friend and co-author the late Aaron Zelman when we wrote the novels The Mitzvah and Hope together about ten years ago.
One of my many God and Country tasks was to engineer the weekly broadcast of Protestant church services on the Air Force base where I lived, which means that I attended church every Sunday for two years (not always the easiest thing to do in the middle of sub-arctic winter weather) and listened to the Lutheran chaplain, who was also my God and Country counselor, express his religious views to the assembled congregation.
I have also been an atheist since I was about eight years old (the chaplain knew it; I always felt that he wanted me to be confirmed in my convictions, not just to make my choice out of ignorance), simply because, even then, the notion of a god seemed as silly to me as that of the Easter Bunny. Nothing I have witnessed in the 56 years since then has altered that initial impression. It is my experience that all religions are equally crazy and that history clearly demonstrates that every one of them is extremely destructive to our species. I don’t ask anybody else to agree with me about this, and I get along fine with a majority of the religious people I know, largely because I believe in minding my own damned business and they appear to believe in minding theirs.
My personal outlook—my epistemology—is that of a scientist, and if you have been persuaded that science is “just another kind of faith”, you have been cruelly misled. It’s the diametric opposite of faith. The Scientific Method is very simple: I look at the world all around me. I form opinions about how things work. I then test those opinions, either empirically, or against the historical record, and I modify those opinions in accordance with the mandates of objective reality.
I have, as a consequence, adopted the body of scientific fact known as Evolution by Natural Selection. I am a Darwinist. For the same reasons, I have embraced the individualistic ethical principles of Ayn Rand. I am a libertarian, which means that I am a person who has sworn an oath never to initiatephysical force against another human being for any reason, nor to advocate or delegate initiated force.
I do, however, practice self-defense. The key word is “initiate”.
I consider anyone who agrees with non-initiation, which my readers and I call the “Zero Aggression Principle”, no matter what else they may happen to believe, to be a friend and comrade in the struggle for liberty.
Happy with this piece? Annoyed? Disagree? Speak your peace.
Note: All letters to this address will be considered for
publication unless they say explicitly Not For Publication
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