Friday, October 29, 2010

The Libertine Libertarian

Every now and then, some conservative prognosticator gets it in his head to compile a list of something with conservative themes. It could be rock songs, movies, books, fictional characters – you name it, somebody has, or soon will, come up with a list. This fascination with lists is not limited to conservatives. Catholics, especially our friends at L’Osservatore Romano, have contracted the bug as well.

When the list in question is conservative authors of science fiction, one almost always finds Robert Heinlein’s name on the list. Indeed, Heinlein appears to have a large number of fans on the right side of the political spectrum. I read quite a bit of Heinlein in my youth, and I think I know what I’m talking about when I say that Heinlein might have been a libertarian (and a libertine one at that!), but he was no conservative, as I understand the term.

Heinlein’s fiction is not friendly to religion and traditional morality. In Time Enough for Love, the protagonist travels back in time, where he seduces his own mother. In Job: A Comedy of Justice, the characters “marry” into a family with multiple husbands and wives involved in polyamorous bisexual relationships. Also in Job, we learn that the devil is a misunderstood swinger who’s much more fun that the uptight God. Meanwhile, Stranger in a Strange Land presents us with a Christ-like figure from Mars who preaches that “Thou art God” (as is the tree in the meadow, so don’t think too highly about yourself) and instructs his followers to cook him into a soup for dinner after he dies.

I was in my teens when I read most of my Heinlein. It’s a wonder that I turned out as I did (and maybe explains some of the flaws with which I still struggle). I don’t think that my parents had any idea what kind of amorality I was absorbing through my choice of literature. That’s why I try hard to monitor what my own kids are reading.

Heinlein’s stories are fun to read, and they do promote some virtues, such as self-reliance and civic responsibility, but they also promote a world-view that is incompatible with Christian morality. He should only be read by adults capable of recognizing and filtering out the bunk.

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