At my church's Oktoberfest yesterday, I was speaking with some members -- he's a fighter pilot, she's a writer -- about our shared libertarianism. My congregation -- located just outside of Washington, D.C. -- has all political persuasions (including the wrong ones!) but we have more than a few members who are libertarian.
Anyway, I thought of that while reading this Washington Post item about Ron Paul. Headlined "Ron Paul the religious." It begins by noting that Paul, who is an obstetrician, is adamantly pro-life and is running ads to that effect in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. So why is that newsworthy?:
It’s not the kind of message normally associated with Paul, who is best known for challenging his fellow Republicans on foreign interventions and government bailouts. But the libertarian-minded lawmaker is actually very religious.
OK, while the ad actually does include some phrase alluding to Paul's religiosity, one doesn't need to be religious in order to believe that it's wrong to kill unborn children. And prior to the word "religious" above, nothing religious is mentioned. I know many pro-life libertarians who are religious but plenty of pro-life libertarians who aren't. So while the ad's mention of religion makes this a valid angle to address in an article, it was handled a bit clumsily here.
He’s not a member, but officials at First Baptist Church of Lake Jackson, Texas say Paul attends services whenever he’s in town. He left the Episcopalian church in which he was raised in part over its stance on abortion rights.
Correct in part but incorrect in part. At this point, the best thing I can do is point you to Sarah Pulliam Bailey's excellent Q&A with Paul from that recent Values Voters Summit over at Christianity Today. I sort of want to excerpt the whole thing but here is the relevant portion:
Can you talk about your faith background? For instance, did you have a conversion experience?
Not as some others describe it. I think the most important religious experience I had was when I was raised in a Lutheran church where confirmation was very important. Church was obviously very important. We all went to church every week as a family affair. But confirmation was when we got to be teenagers and make a decision to go through the lessons and study and learn and make a commitment. At home, birthdays were something, but no parties. Of course it was during World War II and the Great Depression, so there weren't a lot of parties, but there was an acknowledgement. But confirmation was a very important event. Everybody in the family came and it was acknowledged. Yes, I remember that very clearly, because we were old enough to make a commitment and that was when the commitment was made.
He goes on to say that he attends a Baptist church but raised his kids in the Episcopal Church, leaving over that church's stance on abortion and spending of mission funds on political causes.
OK, back to the Post:
Do Paul’s religious positions put him at odds with his libertarian fans? It would seem so.
Pew describes libertarians as ”much less religious than other GOP-oriented groups.” Only 26 percent of Libertarians attend church weekly, although 53 percent say that religion is a large part of their lives.
At this point, I just got confused. Are we talking about libertarians (people who espouse a political philosophy that upholds individual liberty) or Libertarians (members of a particular political party). I'm the former but not the latter. Never have been and likely never will be. Ron Paul has been both but for the most part has been a libertarian in the Republican Party. The distinction is key. How did Pew define libertarians? I might also point out that if a majority of "Libertarians" (much more "libertarians," I assume) say religion is a large part of their lives, how do Paul's "religious positions" put him at odd with his fans? And are these really most accurately characterized as "religious positions"? I don't think so.
The article then goes back and forth and back and forth between small "l" libertarians and the Libertarian Party, much to my confusion (particularly when combined with some rather grievous copy editing problems).
Having said all that, though, I don't want to criticize too much. I'm really glad that someone is at least writing about libertarianism, even if the confusion between the Libertarian Party and the libertarian movement is rampant. And it's nice that a big paper is noticing that libertarians can be religious or irreligious and pro-life or pro-choice. The article actually explained that the dividing line for that libertarian debate is mostly about whether you believe that human life should be protected when it begins. The article probably could have done a better job explaining the pro-choice position.
One final point. I came to this article from a Washington Post tweet that said something like "can a libertarian be a culture warrior?" I can't help but wonder why we only use that term for one side of the abortion debate and not the other. Or why we describe the folks who are responding to some progressive attempt to change the culture as warriors and not the ones advancing the change. Or maybe we should just drop the "warrior" language entirely, recognizing that everyone -- whether they're Occupying Wall Street, advocating for a smaller government, or anything between -- is hoping to shape the culture in the way they prefer.