How Big Is Your Tent?

“I am not one of ‘those’ types, whatever type you have in mind.”

~ Anna O. Morgenstern

When I was regularly attending church, between the early and late 80’s, way back before becoming a fire-breathing atheist (and thereby damned myself to a life of unfettered and guilt-free joy on earth, followed by an eternity fighting off all manner of demons in a very hot place) I occasionally enjoyed attending church generally, and one church in particular.  It’s not really important for me to identify the specific denomination (although the members of this church would balk at the use of that term) except to say this:  The members of this church spent large portions of every Sunday congratulating themselves on the fact that they were the only people, religious or otherwise—particularly in comparison to the Catholics—who would ever see Heaven.  In retrospect, I reckon many denominations take this approach, although not to the extent of this particular faith.  Paraphrasing the comic, these people took it to a whole…’nother… level!  Never, not once in many stirring and thought-provoking sermons did the pastor—and I heard several different ones—fail to mention this ostensive fact.

Of one thing we can be certain:  They were certain.

That particular (and frankly, somewhat annoying) foible aside, the thing that comes to mind now—and this is an observation I had not previously considered in the context of libertarianism—is that this church was different in one other substantive way from any other church I attended during that approximately 10-year period.  By way of establishing my credentials for making such a comparison, it is worth noting that I grew up in an A.M.E. Zion Church in North Carolina.  I have attended Baptist churches, Methodist churches, predominantly black churches, predominantly white churches, Lutheran churches, churches where they have a professional-quality choir, churches where there is purposely no choir, churches where the pastor preaches for 2 hours, churches where the pastor preaches for 15 minutes, and pretty much everything in between.

As a matter of fact, I have attended churches where the members scream and shout like James Brown and churches where even a modest “Amen!” uttered under one’s breath draws harsh glares.  I’ve been to churches where they pass the offering plate every 10 minutes and churches where they never even bring money up.  (The latter is rare, but I digress.)  I’ve enjoyed church services that employed timing so precise as to engender thoughts of military marching bands and churches so entrenched in the concept of CP Time that the sermon had not begun by 2:30 p.m. even though the service began at 11:00 a.m.   (No, I’m not making that up.  Having had the good fortune to be seated in the balcony, I sneaked out the back around 2:45 p.m., pausing briefly to make eye contact with a girl I had met during Happy Hour the previous Friday night.  Again, I digress.)

Anyway, so I’ve been around when it comes to churches.

What made the particular church of which I speak so different?  And what does that difference have to do with libertarianism generally and anarchism particularly?  Simply this:  that church—like radical libertarianism—seemed to attract and accept all comers.  Wait.  Stop.  Don’t look up my e-mail address yet!  Please, save your card and letters.  I know your church is open-minded.  I know your church loves “all God’s children” and all that.  No, I don’t need any examples from last week’s Volunteer Recognition Dinner.

My point is simply this:  My experience has been that the folks who attend a given church—and who ascribe to a mainstream political ideology—generally tend to “look” the same, inside and out.  Not at the church about which I speak.  What was one major difference?  There were noticeable numbers of interracial couples.  And these weren’t just patrons, but members with responsibility.  Maybe now, in 2010, after the U.S. has elected a black president and we’re all hip-hopped, ride-pimped, and enjoying The Wire together over a bottle of “ultra premium” Ciroc vodka advertised on prime time TV by Puffy—yes, I still call him Puffy—this seems like a small point to notice.  I assure you, it was not.  In the early 80’s in Western New York the number of interracial couples openly walking the streets was already more than I had seen in my entire life growing up in the South.  And the number of interracial couples I saw at this church was still obvious even against that backdrop.  This church seemed to attract and accept those with differences.

And so it is with freedom.  Libertarianism, at its core, is about individualism, full-bodied, raw, thick and chewy, leave-me-the-hell-alone, individualism.  One does not need to understand methodological individualism to “get” this truth.  One just needs to be unique himself, while he also understands and accepts uniqueness in others.  (Diversity is the current buzzword, isn’t it?)  That’s how one can tell that the neocons or the Moral Majority members or Rush Limbaugh’s ditto heads are not libertarians, no matter if they attempt to steal the nomenclature.  When one is trying to get elected and/or take over the tools of coercion for himself, it requires that he appeal to an audience.  (This is also why voting cannot be a libertarian exploit.)  There is a reason why every presidential candidate wears a suit and tie that looks like they were purchased at the same store.  They were.  Not (necessarily) so with radical libertarianism!  If you’re not worried about forming a coalition for the express purpose of imposing your beliefs on everyone else, it frees you to just be yourself.  And with that freedom will come this inevitability:  Anyone who could not find true acceptance in one of the mainstream clubs will eventually find his way to yours.

Good for them!  Welcome.  Have a seat.  (Or stand.  It’s up to you, and always will be.)

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