Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Letter Concerning Toleration - Locke

Locke's 'A Letter Concerning Toleration'  seems a bit odd at times, because the message is so completely obvious.  Locke says 'I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic of the true Church' and then backs up this observation at length.  I liked this bit:
The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light.

And this:
I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other.

That still seems like a tricky distinction to some, but mostly now because of our difficulties with drawing barriers for government actions.  As I said, the message is obvious because this has been our reality for some time but we must remember that when Locke wrote this, England was in convulsions over how people worship.  Today we see little difference between Catholics and mainline protestant worshipers but the distinction then was big enough to cause wars.
One interesting note is that Locke does not preach tolerance to atheists.  He was afraid that their disconnect from belief in God would make them wholly amoral and untrustworthy.  I don't know what he would have thought of the Deism of Jefferson or similar.
This piece is interesting and short, but more of historical interest now than a guide to personal behavior.  Yes, we should let people worship how they will, especially without the guidance or interference of the state.  Yes, it's wrong and un-Christian to try to physically force people to worship in a certain way. 
But we know that now.

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