THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 852, December 20, 2015
The important question is not
"What's your religion?" but
"How do you feel about the Bill of Rights?"
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Maybe it's because I've been a libertarian for so long, accustomed to being no more than a tiny mote floating in a vast ocean of those who disagree with me about almost everything. Or maybe it's because I grew up the son of a mother who described herself frequently as a "fallen away Catholic" and a father to whom religion was never very important. In any event, It's always bothered me more that people disregard the Bill of Rights than what's written in some holy tome or another.
Religiously, the inhabitants of Earth are divided between the "People of the Book", and everybody else; between those whose beliefs are part of a particular Middle Eastern Bronze Age tradition, and those whose beliefs come from somewhere else. A myriad of Somewhere Elses. These beliefs range from the Christan "Transubstantiation of the Host" in which wine and crackers are viewed as being miraculously transformed into the blood and flesh of the Saviour to Papuan natives ceremonially eating a recently deceased relative's brain, and over the ages, folks have fought and died to defend them—or impose them on others.
It's that latter tendency that puzzles me and poses a problem. I have never experienced whatever it is that might cause me to force others to behave as if they agreed with me. As I said, maybe it's because, practically since I was a larva, I've been willing and able to vow, "I swear by my life and my love of it, that I will never live my life for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)
Or maybe it was just Mom and Dad.
The oldest People of the Book, the Jews, understand this, after some 3000 years. For the most part, they're not looking for converts, and they make it as difficult as they can to join their "church". The next lot, the Christians, are about 2000 years old, and many still eagerly seek to persuade others to sign up, although the weapons they wield are words. The youngest group, the Muslims, are much like the Jews and Christians, but they have those among their number who leave notes on their neighbors' front doors that command, "Convert now or be beheaded!".
The most civilized words ever written (nobody knows for sure by whom) were, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In fact, Western Civilization consists of millions of individuals who tacitly agree with that idea. Note that what we're discussing here is an open society, not multiculturalism. Those who believe in conversion by the sword (or by the bomb or by the AK-47) need not apply. We seek the freedom to argue about anything -- and let our ideas rise or fall on merit—not to avoid arguing out of fear.
Or to decline to state our own beliefs because someone else might be "offended". All over our country right now, school administrators and retail store managers or other flea-witted necktie-wearers are forbidding children or others they imagine they control to celebrate the holidays of their own culture. The stage play A Charlie Brown Christmas is okay until it gets to the Biblical quote (and the centerpiece of the work) about shepherds and the manger. Department store bosses attempt to keep their employees from wishing customers a Merry Christmas.
The word "asinine" barely touches on this stupidity. Take my word as a lifelong atheist that I am pleased, not threatened by somebody wishing me a Merry Christmas, and I wish it to them, right back. If my Jewish friends wish me a Happy Chanukah, that is more than all right, too.
As an anthopological enthusiast, I have often observed that, in every culture that experiences a change of seasons, there comes a time, in the middle of the coldest, darkest season, when somebody shouts, "I have had enough of this gloom! Lets start a fire and get drunk! Later on, somebody gave that suggestion—which proved very popular—religious significance, and the midwinter holidays were born.
In fact, what we presently call Christmas didn't have to wait until the baby Jesus was born (exactly like the god-king Mithras, very popular among Imperial Roman soldiers) in a stable. Four thousand three hundred years ago, the people of Babylon were celebrating a holiday they called "Zagmuk". It is the oldest such holiday in our civilization that I can discover. It runs for two weeks, heralds the eventual coming of Spring, and celebrates the victory of the god-king Marduk and his faithful pet dragon Maugdo or Mushussu over the evil forces of Chaos. At last, a holiday that Vulcans and Objectivists can love.
In some collateral cultures, I'm informed, Zagmuk begins when the epic battle is started, Marduk loses and gets killed, but rises again on the final day of the holiday season, proving for all time that there's nothing new under the sun. Chaos is never beaten altogether (a good thing for Eris and all those Discordians among us) but is weak if we all try to keep the spirit of Zagmuk in our hearts the whole year round.
Looking out at the war-weary world, or watching it on our screens, it's obvious we could use some Chaos-battling now. But Chaos is best battled with words and ideas, not by dropping bombs on innocent people or murdering them with stolen AK-47 rifles. That's barbarism, not civilization. It is deeply regrettable that the present occupant of the White House, and everybody who wants the job after him is a barbarian.
This holiday season, try to remember for the sake of Western civilization, that whether the guy sitting next to you on the bus enjoys Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Festivus, Tet, or even Zagmuk, the vast majority of humans simply desire a better life for ourselves and our children. Those willing to kill or die imposing their beliefs on others are a microscopic minority and easily vanquished if you have prepared yourself properly. (Never let any politician tell you differently; 'twere best done with something that starts with a 4.) Therefore, the important question is not "What's your religion?" but "How do you feel about the Bill of Rights?"
Happy Zagmuk to all of us.
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