Monday, August 11, 2008

Reading the Great Thinkers, Part Deux

Or: What was John Locke up to, anyway?
By Tom Van Dyke


OK, you read Part Un... What a minute, you did read Part Un, din't you? If you didn't, that's OK, go back and check it out. We'll wait.

[Da-da-dee... Really, no time pressure. Take your time. Read it twice. It was written and re-written at least four times...]

OK, welcome back. Now you know the drill. What's wrong with this cover?




Hehe. That's right. John Locke originally published The Reasonableness of Christianity anonymously, too.


Why would he do such a thing?


The first answer is that he didn't want the Holy Rollers to come down on his head although they did anyway, specifically a hotdog named John Edwards. A well-founded fear, then.

The second answer is that John Locke was a genuine philosopher; philosophers take no conventions for granted. They test and prove, and most importantly, ask the Big Questions over and over. Locke asks these questions until the end of his life, his studies and thoughts increasingly concentrating on the Bible and Christian theology, and his next set of answers is interrupted only by death. He wasn't interested in being either a public intellectual or a preacher. He just wanted people to ask themselves the same questions he was asking of himself.

It's indisputable that Locke ended up with some answers that were in conflict with the prevailing Christian orthodoxy of England in the late 1600s. But what is his purpose in writing The Reasonableness of Christianity? To reform the prevailing theology? Who is he writing to?

I submit it's the "cool guys," the intellectuals, the "philosophers," who are finding Christianity a bit too quaint and besides, are understandably repulsed by self-appointed defenders of the faith like the aforementioned John Edwards, real jerks. Christians tend to give Christianity a bad name.

So when John Locke publishes this title page [1696] as his motivation and intention,


I tend to take him at his word.

All I can offer in support is my own testimony, folks. If you google "tom van dyke" and locate his various writings on politics and faith, you won't find arguments claiming the Christian religion is true.

But you might find him [me] clearing up various misconceptions about it, arguing against either cementheaded interpretations of Scripture or against cementheaded ridicule of it. I might not argue for Christianity or even the existence of God, but I do freely argue for their possibility as being the truth.

So who do I write to? I don't frequent the sites dominated by orthodoxers like John Edwards; I find such folks tend to be beyond reason, or even feeling, and I don't see any point in debating the subtleties of dogma. When at an advanced age, Ben Franklin was quizzed about the divinity of Jesus, and he replied he'd find out soon enough. Well, I'm not quite of advanced age, but I find his answer servicable.

And so, I write for the "cool guys" [and gals] in fora like this one, simply asking them to keep the Big Questions open in their minds and hearts. It would be the philosophical thing for them to do. Whatever Locke's faith was, he wouldn't argue from it, God forbid, because one man's faith is another man's nonsense.

If you were to collect and title my own published canon, you might title it something like The Reasonableness of Christianity. When you read John Locke, think of me every now and again, because whenever I write, I think of him.

Translated from Latin: "Near this place lies John Locke. If you ask what kind of a man he was, he answers that he lived content with his own small fortune. Bred a scholar, he made his learning subservient only to the cause of truth. This you will learn from his writings, which will show you everything else concerning him, with greater truth, than the suspect praises of an epitaph. His virtues, indeed, if he had any, were too little for him to propose as matter of praise to himself, or as an example to you. Let his vices be buried with him. Of good life, you have an example in the gospel, should you desire it; of vice, would there were none for you; of mortality, surely you have one here and everywhere, and may you learn from it. That he was born on the 29th of August in the year of our Lord 1632, and that he died on the 28th of October in the year of our Lord 1704, this tablet, which itself will soon perish, is a record."
---John Locke's reputed epitaph.

I got it off the Wiki, although this book from 1809 might be a more authoritative source. My Latin is weak, and I can't afford a plane ticket to London to check it out for us all just now. To our friend and faithful commenter OFT: Here is your conscientious reply re Locke, as promised. I hope it surprised you, at least just a little.

6 comments:

Jonathan Rowe said...

Great post. I am going to link parts 1 & 2 to my other blogs to see this is as widely read as possible.

Pinky said...

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I read Victor Nuovo's introduction to Locke's writings at the link you gave.
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I take it that Locke spent some good time thinking about his own thinking--metathinking to coin a neolgism.
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My intention is to learn more about Locke. So, thanx for your post.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Merci, fellows. Gratified that you spent the time to read the Nuovo as a gateway to Locke, Pinky. Well done, sir-or-madam.

Pinky said...

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Phil, that's my name. Sir doesn't seem very proper for an old curmudgeon like me.
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One thing I would like to see from some of you more well informed on America's history is some work on Retrofitting America's Religiosity, I think it would help us get a good handle on American Creation.
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For example, if we looked at William Ellery Channing and back tracked his ideas, we might learn a little more about how our roots were involved in that evolution.
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Does anyone think that might be a worthwhile pursuit?
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Pinky I've blogged about Channing before and Lindsey has sent an invitation to an attorney who happens to be a Unitarian Universalist who knows something about Channing. I'm waiting to see if he posts here before I start posting on Channing.

Pinky said...

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Thankee Kindly.
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