Libertarians, Morality, and Religion

by Richard “Chip” Peterson, PhD Aug.5, 2010


            Many people accuse Libertarians of being immoral. They are not immoral. They just believe that moral behavior is the responsibility of each individual, not of the government. In the Libertarian view governments should prohibit people from physically harming, stealing from, cheating or defrauding other people. However, if a person's actions do not harm or threaten only themselves, not other people, Libertarians believe that the government should not interfere with that individual's behavior.

            Individually, Libertarians may be very moral people. They are bound by the moral code in which they individually believe. Many are very religious and follow the moral code advanced by their religion. However, they recognize that other people may follow different moral codes.

            In the area of religion, for instance, some religions require that their pious followers attend church daily. Others religions require that their adherents pray 5 times a day. Some may celebrate their Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday, while others may celebrate their Sabbath on Sunday. Various religions also have different codes of morality. Like the  founding fathers of our country, Libertarians believe that people should be free to practice their religion any way they wish as long as their religion does not harm or threaten others. They also believe that government power should not be used to force people to follow any one set of religious practices to the exclusion of others. People should be free to choose and practice their own moral code as long as their actions do not harm or threaten others.

            Personally, I try to follow a very strict moral code. For instance, I believe it is wrong to lie. That is not a practice that is conformable with being a politician. However, I believe it is possible for someone to remain silent rather than to lie. I also believe that many of the moral codes taught by organized religions have merit. I don't believe that violating a specific religion's moral code necessarily constitutes a mortal sin that will be punished in one's afterlife. However, I believe that violating such codes often will lead to situations that will create unhappiness or problems in one's secular life.      Violations of various religions' moral codes may be disruptive to society or physically or psychologically harmful to the individual who violates those codes. Some of the codes may become obsolete over time; for instance, it is no longer harmful to eat pork since people can now control the  trichinosis parasite that often caused pork eaters to suffer from infection and painful disabilities in ancient times—which was the reason such restrictions were initially imposed.  However, other codes retain merit since they prevent people from engaging in behaviors that may be psychologically or socially harmful to them –such as prohibitions against premarital or extramarital sexual activity. My belief is that the observance of many traditional moral codes may allow people to lead a happier contemporary life, without suffering from pangs of guilt or from psychological or social problems. Such benefits can accrue regardless of whether the observance of specific moral codes does or does not allow an individual  to be more favorably situated, in heaven versus hell or purgatory, in his or her afterlife.

            My beliefs, however, are my beliefs. As a Libertarian, I do not feel that government force should be used to impose my beliefs upon others. However, I do believe that government force can be appropriately used to prevent or punish people who would harm others. For instance, I believe the government should apprehend and punish murderers, not because they have broken a religious moral code (a commandment), but because they have harmed other people. I also believe the government has an appropriate role to play in preventing and punishing people who have harmed, threatened, cheated, or stolen from others, regardless of whether such behavior is explicitly forbidden by a religious commandment.

            In general, other Libertarians all share the belief that government force can appropriately be used to prevent or punish people from harming others. However, each Libertarian is entitled to have whatever other religious beliefs or moral codes he or she may choose to obey.


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