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RIP Marshall Fritz

Posted on 2008.11.06 at 15:53
Current Mood: grateful
My hands hurt, but I want to type this out:

The same day that Michael Crichton died recently, one Marshall Fritz also died of cancer. The libertarians out there probably know him, and others probably don't; here are some links to explain:

Alliance for the Separation of School & State
Advocates for Self-Government

I want to tell a little story about him. Many years ago when I was a young undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I met Marshall Fritz. At the time, I considered myself a political libertarian (minarchist), although I was still continuously exploring. I attended some meetings of the Libertarian (largely, Libertarian Party) group on campus. (This was before I went further with developing my own philosophical work, on  Prometheanism, in which—though largely ignorant of 'anarchism' at the time—I derived a more resolute and consistent stance against the State than simply shrinking it or keeping it at bay.) Well, one of our projects was to bring Marshall Fritz to deliver a lecture on campus, which he was happy to do to drum up interest in his petition for the separation of school and state

This was bound to be a thankless task for poor Fritz, but I didn't realize just how thankless. There was the predictable, cliched random statist heckler, who barely sat through Fritz's bombastic yet friendly and rather interesting presentation on his case — including the history of how and why education was socialized in the US, and noting some of the many problems with public schools — then asked three snotty questions sarcastically, and then rudely walked out, leaving Fritz to politely answer the man's objections before the rest of the audience. But what really surprised me was the reactions of our "Libertarian" group — most of them, anyway — which comprised the majority of the audience for the lecture, unfortunately. I was the only one, if I remember correctly, who came down after the lecture to sign the petition (which I was planning to do even before hearing the presentation or met Fritz, because I supported the principle wholeheartedly and still do). The others were just as appalled as could be, and quite rude to their guest. It took me until our next exchanges on email to discover why.

You see, Marshall had committed the great sin of being a Christian. Not only that, he was partly interested in separating school and state and giving parents more choices for religious reasons; in fact, he explained the fact that one of the reasons public schools appealed to Americans in the first place was to control religion, specifically, to de-Catholicize young "papist" Irish children — in order words, to brainwash them to become good little Protestants. Not only was Marshall Fritz unapologetically Christian in his interests, even mentioning the Bible once or twice IIRC (shock of shocks), but he was also personally bombastic and exuberant, not at all shy about his fuddy-duddy manners and general social conservatism. The young secular Libertarian urban university kids found some or all of this stuff unforgivable. In short, while I was paying attention to common ground, to the man's central idea and point of persuasion, they were picking apart his manner, and his lifestyle, and his aesthetics, and found it repulsive. One even said that he was convinced that American kids should be forced to attend public schools if only so they wouldn't be exposed to Marshall Fritz, or something like that. Some libertarian!

These supposed believers in ideas and advocates of freedom proved utterly unable to put aside their personal tastes, quibbles, and unnecessary in-fighting in order to focus on substance and common ground, and actually focus on strategy, collaboration and the goal of liberation. Over and over, I have seen this pathetic pattern repeat itself in the years since, among libertarians (minarchists and anarchists), other anarchists, socialists, and every other kind of freedom advocate or anti-State activist or intellectual.

In retrospect, I learned a lot from that experience. I want to pay homage to Marshall Fritz now, a brave, brave man who taught a lesson to a lot of people by a twofold example: one, his refusal to get stuck on what we don't have in common, and two, his incredible, stubborn persistence to stick to his beliefs in the face of constant abuse.


(Anonymous) at 2008-11-06 22:29 (UTC) (Link)

RIP Marshall Fritz

Good story. Thanks [FB]
warmbodyreally at 2008-11-06 23:16 (UTC) (Link)
Considering there was no need to spend a great deal of time identifying himself as a Christian in order to build support for the separation petition, I'd venture to say that there is equal blame on both sides for the theo/ideological divide that occured. Had he mentioned the germane religious issues (anti-Catholic bias) more academically, without tying it to his own advocacy for Christianity, there's a good chance he wouldn't have alienated them. Of course, we are talking about college students here - fledgling adults, still growing into those big paws and ears - they may have stewed him no matter how he approached the divide.

I think it's the aggressive proselytizing, more than anything else, that disturbs nonbelivers about theists - at least, I know it is what bothers me most about them - and evangelizing is held by Christianity to be of penultimate importance. I know that I rue conversing with my father's second wife, or opening email she might send me, for that very reason. I've told her, in no uncertain terms, that there is nothing short of a physical appearance of the diety that would convince me of its existance - yet the Christian ethos tells her she must keep pestering me in order to "Save my soul." You wanna save my soul? Put my Sam Cooke records in a time capsule. It takes respect on both sides to come to accord, and Christian teaching leaves little room to respect the wishes of other parties.

My take, from your recollection, is that not only did he not "get stuck on what we don't have in common", he failed to consider the expected reaction of those who don't hold Christianity in high regard. He didn't "play to the audience."

Still, it's a sad day to find out he passed, probably after a long period of suffering with illness.
wisdomdancer at 2008-11-07 00:39 (UTC) (Link)
No, he didn't play to the audience, but he spent his life trying to build consensus on common ground. He invented that World's Smallest Political Quiz, for example.

Granted, he didn't always realize when he was turning people off, or how. I didn't say one of his virtues was brilliance, or an astute strategic mind. He was a big good-natured, old-fashioned, irrepressible lug.

But you're missing the point, here: when an issue is THAT important, anyone who can't see beyond incidentals is at fault. If Christian and non-Christian freedom advocates can't work together they will lose, simply by the numbers. We cannot afford to lose. It's a bigger issue than other personal beliefs.

Also: evangelizing is not universal among all kinds of Christians by any means. And you can't expect them to keep their beliefs quiet because you don't like them, any more than you would be willing to keep yours quiet. There's simply no way around it: we have to learn to disagree in a tolerant, constructive way.

"Christian teaching leaves little room to respect the wishes of other parties."

You're wrong. Don't accept the evangelical, dispensationalist bastards' word that they represent Christianity. Let's be clear that there is a big difference between post-millennial pietist Christians who demand we remake the sociopolitical world to fit their beliefs (through force and popularity) and those who believe in choice, and separating church from State. The latter include most of the Austrian economists and many of the Paulians, by the way. Just try to imagine the libertarian movement without all of them and their work.

Not to mention, in my experience, quite a few atheists are just as obnoxiously evangelical. For example, many clearly think agnostics are inferior wimps, because they admit "I don't know," and don't immediately assume they know other individuals can't possibly benefit in any way from religious belief. Half the time, atheists are, frankly, jerks about it.
(Anonymous) at 2008-11-08 17:40 (UTC) (Link)
I'm aware of who he was, and what he authored. I'm not trying to villify the man. My earliest study of these particular issues was among self-proclaimed "Born-Again Christians", and I knew many fitting that description very well, admiring several of them. I also knew that it was not prudent to speak of my non-Christian beliefs when in their presence. I wasn't going to win their favor by pointing out what a conflicted, contradictory mess of recycled Pagan, Hebrew and Egyptian/Babylonian mythology that religion is. Those Christians in the group, however, never refrained from injecting Christian theology into any discussion. Christianity, despite any contention to the contrary, is the dominant culture in this country, and those professing belief in it have the same sort of privelege that is in Liberal circles attributed to Whites, Males, Heterosexuals [continue dominant cultural subsets ad nauseum]. They have no fear of expressing their beliefs which come from being a part of the majority - and find it highly distasteful, at best, when a minority that holds conflicting beliefs dares assail their ears with such blasphemy.

I'm also not trying to say that those who walked out were seeing their own interests clearly, that they weren't cutting their own throats by avoiding contact with this man. What I am saying is that you have protrayed them in an unfavorable light, while portraying Mr. Fritz as the innocent victim. It takes just as much energy to take offense as it does to intend to offend. Just as they failed to see the common ground, he failed to avoid the things that one could reasonably expect would perturb them.

Regarding the evangelical nature of monotheistic religion, I'm not going to bother wasting the energy to debate it. Suffice it to say the Christian scripures purport that all disbelief is punishable for eternity are rife with directives that believers are to "Spread the Word." This is largely true of any monotheistic belief system - they all teach there is one True God, so any other belief must, logigally, be in error and need correction. Tolerance only manifests when believers manifest either apathy, or hold in higher respect conflicting political values which demand that nonbelievers have a civil right to disagree, prioritizing their ideology over their theology.

Some might call those who place people who claim belief in God, but place higher value on mere men's political philosophy, hypocrites. I call them potential atheists. However, I wouldn't try to convert them if I was concurrently trying to sell them sofas! I mean, really! Ideas have to be sold to the audience, unless you're "preaching to the choir", which is basically a waste of time.

If he wanted that audience to make time for him, he would have had to choose to refrain from any semblance of theological evangelism. The proof is in the pudding - they didn't want to hear a sermon, so they left before they might have.

It may well have been against their own advantage to leave, but Mr. Fritz was remiss in not seeing that probablity and that sticking to the matter at hand - small government - would have benefitted his political goal. He, instead, lost the opportunity to evangelize to that group on both theological and political issues. The choice was his own - sell them ideology, or make himself feel better expressing his belief in a God for which there is no proof, and which belief is known to offend secular audiences.

Oh, and for the record, I can be a total jerk about atheism - when doing so doesn't interfere with another of my goals. I think belief in deities to be at the foundation of everything that weakens interpersonal relations, by propagating unrealistic expectations of reality. When the primary issue is one of such great import, sometimes it is necessary to be completely frank. It doesn't frequently win over the audience, but can plant the necessary seed of doubt in the "swing state" members of the audience. It is NEVER advisable when immediate agreement is one's objective.

wisdomdancer at 2008-11-09 23:29 (UTC) (Link)
He didn't evangelize, actually. Never said he did. He just didn't go out of his way at all to hide his own beliefs.
sobekptah at 2008-11-07 04:25 (UTC) (Link)

Unrelated, just leaving the link for you:


(Anonymous) at 2009-11-23 23:37 (UTC) (Link)

Quotation of Plato

And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul.
Quotation of Plato
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