Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Locke and Toleration, Salvation and Politics

It was the rise of Protestantism that
made religious intolerance intolerable

by Tom Van Dyke


In 2010, there are approximately 34,000 sects of Protestantism. Other religions measure their sects and denominations in mere handfuls.


After witnessing the tragedy of religious wars of Europe, and fleeing from it, the Americans figured out that soteriology [the business of salvation, of the next world] doesn't have to be synonymous with political theology [the business of this world].

Thank God. Mebbe I'm going to hell, or mebbe you are, but let's all be Americans, live in peace, and talk about it over a beer. This is our political theology in a nutshell. Thankfully, salvation isn't up to politics, law, or a democratic vote.

And frankly, I'm happy that the question of my salvation and the afterlife is up to God, and not you. I suspect we would all send each other to hell a lot quicker than God would.


The political theology of the Founding was this: God and His Providence are an immediate reality, not an abstract "doctrine." He looks down upon us, and smiles or frowns upon us depending on our actions, and is not some absentee landlord.

The corollary is that rights are endowed by God, and that there's a higher order than merely man's law. That was the Founding, and for that I say God bless America.

Yes, the soteriology of “a future state of rewards and punishments” was seen as largely necessary for good individual conduct. And a proper theological understanding of liberty—--freedom—---is our liberation from the bondage of sin, from base human desire, by the grace of God. You might scare a few people into proper conduct by threatening them with hell, but probably not for long.

Most men will only behave decently---Christian-ly---because of their love of God. He loves his neighbor only because he loves God: our neighbor is not very lovable, let's face it. I want to shoot one of mine. [Two or three, actually.]

Such virtue and therefore self-governance were seen as necessary for this liberty thing to work, and that was expected to be inculcated by religion. Liberty is not license, said John Locke, and no Founder disagreed. [Not even the peg-legged sybarite Gouverneur Morris.]

It was Mr. Locke, in his famous “Letter Concerning Toleration,” who made the elegant theological point that no government can get you into heaven anyway. So much for soteriology and the state.

“The care, therefore, of every man’s soul belongs unto himself and is to be left unto himself. But what if he neglect the care of his soul? I answer: What if he neglect the care of his health or of his estate, which things are nearlier related to the government of the magistrate than the other?

...

No man can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no. Nay, God Himself will not save men against their wills.”

No government is going to get you into heaven. Who could argue with that? Perhaps John Locke is a product of the Enlightenment, but that's a theological argument worthy of Augustine or Aquinas. I doubt Luther or Calvin object to it either.

And leaving out the theological or "rights" questions about the right to religious freedom, in the 1600s, Europe proved that the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s spawned so many "heretical" sects that if Christendom had to burn all its heretics, it would have run out of wood.

Any theology that doesn't hold up on earth as it is in heaven probably isn't a very good one. "Love your neighbor as yourself" works pretty well: your neighbor is more likely to love you if you don't shoot him. "Kill the infidel" doesn't work as well, since he thinks you're an infidel, too. Ouch.

And even if you kill him for his own good, that's not going to get him into heaven, so it's not very nice, and it's not even charitable either. Better to let him live, and hope one day God shows him the error of his ways, in His Own time, not yours.

27 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom,
The question today is not whether God will save another or not, or whether God's Providence will "win out". It is the question of how to understand reality and man within a naturalist scheme. And that doesn't take into account religious doctrine.

You seem to assume that one cannot be tolerant of neighbor without "God". I disagree. Toleration today is a useful tool for those that want to gain political power, because of the value of "dialogue". There are some things that our Founders found to be of value because of principle and were not tolerable. And one of them was authoritarianism. Isn't self-governance what the Founders valued?

Self-governance would correct intolerant attitudes and actions, if one lives in a society that values liberal democracy. As then, each person is given a "place" to make claim on his understanding and conscience. The legal right to liberty is then not an absolute. But, I don't think denying what has been the history of a "people" is wise. The Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church did not happen overnight and many were burned at the stake to make that change. These that gave their lives believed in "God".

The Founders believed in liberty and justice for all, but not when it gave special priviledge to a certain religious conviction. Islam has been promoted by our tax monies, all in the name of peace. But, isn't this against what the Founders understood as tolerance? Congress was not to sanction a specific tradition...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Also, the Revolutionary era was "won" by the shedding of blood because of "principle".

Jonathan Rowe said...

Very nice can't find much to disagree with.

Though, I do dispute making a distinction between "liberty" and "license" on any grounds other than whether you directly hurt someone's rights (pick their pocket or break their leg as Jefferson put it) is workable.

King of Ireland said...

This may blow the Unitarian theory out of the water even in religious tolerance Jon. The liberty and license thing is something we need to unpack more here and I think is at the heart of the libertarian split between the religious and non. I bring this up because both use the founding to bolster their case.

King of Ireland said...

Tom,

This is really very good. Unless, someone can come up with a good reason why sotierology and political theology should be linked then a post like this may well bring light upon the crack in the foundation of that frame of discussion. Once the crack becomes apparent it is only a matter of time before the whole building is in danger.

I think there is still some room for discussion on how the Enlightenment or Unitarians helped bring about the "right" to religious freedom. I think you did well to leave that as an aside to your main point.

I think you should take this post and write and essay or perhaps a book to fill in the holes to prove the case. You can probably piece together the last two years of discussions here and come up with a book.

I just read a biography of Columbus from the 30's. It hits the real story head on. Needless to say that much of what has come down to us, even from scholars, is suspect if he is right. He did some things that were hard to explain but even Las Casas who blasted him in his History of the Indies when he felt he needed to, thought on the balance he was a decent god-fearing man.

King of Ireland said...

I might add that the founder's had to work through a lot of the same issues with the African Slaves and Columbus did with the Native Americans. The Queen rejected the slave trade at first and Las Casas seems to have won the day in the later arguments. It seems to me that because Protestantism rejected Catholic thought it had to go through the same horror story.

MLK was not afraid to use Catholic arguments for rights and the words of Aquinas and Augustine and made some compelling arguments for the truth of the Declaration of Independence having a Christian influence.

When I have time, I think I am going to do a post on it. I was amazed that he used many of the same arguments that we have discussed here.

King of Ireland said...

Jon,

Could you go into more detail on what you mean by the liberty not license argument you made? Maybe a post? I know you get tired of hearing this but if Tom is right here then this is where you take on the religious right on their own ground. I would make the case that Aquinas, from what I read so far though I am far from understanding him, seems to more or less agree with Jefferson's view.


Ofcourse they would disagree on religous tolerance and I think that is a lot of your point in these discussions. But I think Protestantism, in its own way dealt with the tolerance issue as he states.

King of Ireland said...

Both arguments have their flaws but Amos has Frazer beat because he frames the discussion right and seperates sotierology from political theology. But that is where the real battle begins to truly understand Western Christian thought and what ideas it handed down to us. The MLK/Glenn Beck discussion is a good starting point. Though I think the methods of both are flawed in the end.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom,
The question today is not whether God will save another or not, or whether God's Providence will "win out". It is the question of how to understand reality and man within a naturalist scheme. And that doesn't take into account religious doctrine.


Why not? Even Jefferson argues that it seems to be man's nature, proven from history, that man tends to believe in God.

Neither of us are speaking specifically of "doctrine" here, so I ignore your use of the word. "Doctrine" would fall under "soteriology," precisely what I'm excluding here.

However, that God is a reality is a basic of "political theology" or else it's merely political philosophy.

But no, you don't have to believe in God to be tolerant. But you need to be "tolerant" of the belief in God if you want to be a good citizen of a society that does.

_____________

Jon, many/most traditional Christians see the Trinity as a dealbreaker, but after reviewing the unitarianism of the Founding era, which holds the Bible as Divine Truth and Jesus as Messiah, I disagree. I cannot see so far where Jesus divinity or the soteriology of the Atonement makes a difference one way or another in a Christian political theology.

As for "liberty and license," King is right that there's a "zone of autonomy" where God neither commands nor prohibits something" per Aquinas. The question is how big that zone can be for a society becomes unstable or incoherent.

But that's a question of prudence, since the answer will not be the same for all societies.

BTW, this post began as a comments colloquy with Thomas Fleming, paleo-conservative godfather, uberCatholic and philological scholar of Aristotle, Aquinas etc. he maintains "rights" don't exist atall, ESPECIALLY religious freedom. The Founding is Enlightenment and unChristian, blahblahblah.

He had a special animus for "rights" unitarians like MLK, and threatened to ban me from his site for irrelevance.

Which told me I got his goat. Heh heh.

Pinky said...

.
heh heh
.
Here's Pangle:
The core of Strauss's thought is the famous "theologico-political problem," a problem, he said that "remained the theme of my studies" from very early on ... In the first place, the theological-political problem represents for Strauss the "core" or "nerve" of the West.
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Looks like he was thinking of this blog site.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom,
"merely political philosophy"?

Political theology begins with God, whereas, political philosophy asks the question about human knowledge and begins from there...I personally think it is dangerous to begin with God, because of authoritarianism and man's propensity to "use" God for his own political ends. But, that is my uneducated view.

Political philosophers was what the Founders were, weren't they?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Didn't they start with Providence, even the "unitarian" ones?

Didn't they start with a "natural law," an eternal law, a law higher than the laws of men?

Because if they didn't, then there is no such thing as "unalienable rights," only rights granted by the state.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Of course, government do or don't grant rights. This is what makes America great!

Scientists today do not agree as to what creates the universe and all that is in it. All scientists understand that there is no one theory that describes natural order in "natural philosophy" (physics).

In the Founding era, most everyone believed in some form of "God", whether through the order of the universe, or specific intervention.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted:

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch3s5.html

All discussions here must keep it in mind. I've never found a Founder who disagreed with it.

This is more than mere deism.

King of Ireland said...

Tom,

The "zone of autonomy" actually goes back further than Aquinas but I get your point. I plan to finish that book review of Tierney's book and then dig into that some more to see what it really meant and how the idea has evolved.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, obviously there are things that the Bible doesn't tell us. Like what to do with 34,000 sects of Christianity!

There are some things we're going to have to use the brain God gave us to sort out for ourselves.

Either that or kill each other until only one sect is left.

And then if you disagree with me on anything, well, it's curtains for you, heretic.

Pinky said...

.
I'm surprised there are only 34,000 different branches of Christianity when there are many more interpretations of the Bible.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, Jon Rowe just wrote me the same thing! Well, done, Pinky & Jon.

Certainly makes you wonder if freedom of religious conscience isn't a natural right just as a practical matter. Even if there is a God, he apparently gave us free will to believe in him or not, and even if he gave us revelation [the Bible], clearly he gave us free will and intellect to interpret it almost an uncountable number of ways. That's the lesson of Protestantism, anyway.

King of Ireland said...

Certainly makes you wonder if freedom of religious conscience isn't a natural right just as a practical matter. Even if there is a God, he apparently gave us free will to believe in him or not, and even if he gave us revelation [the Bible], clearly he gave us free will and intellect to interpret it almost an uncountable number of ways. That's the lesson of Protestantism, anyway."


Seems that way to me. That goes back to the liberty vs. license and "zone of autonomy" thing. It seems like there was not much tolerance in Catholicism until Las Casas and then was about as natural as Protestantism was in that it was not practical to go kill every tribe that believed different.

These things have a way of working themselves out even if the motives are not always right behind why it happens.

Pinky said...

,
Free Will.

You guys ever read, The Grand Inquisitor by Dostoevsky?
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What was the cardinal's name?
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He sure didn't approve of Free Will.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, there is also free will to violate right reason. That's not good. I'm not sure about that part of what I wrote.

But I'm pretty sure about the doctrine/soteriology part, at least once we figure Protestantism into the equation.

Pinky said...

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There most certainly are a great many interpretations of biblical truths within the Protestant denominations.
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I think, for outsiders, the fact might be a little discombobulating. But, most Protestant Christians and almost every Evangelical Christian understands the reason for such diversity. Its purpose is seen as a divine strategy to propagate the faith to those who wouldn't otherwise come into the fold. If you're one of the flock, it makes perfect sense. If you're not, it goes past you like a wisp.
.
In all of the discussioneering at this site, it is surprising that Strauss isn't more a main subject of concern as he seems to be on to that subject in some metaphorical sense. And, if the engineers of this site would put him on the table as being germane to the confusion about the Founding Fathers and their intent to create a secular or Christian state, we might get some insight into what has been going on in the world since the Enlightenment.
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Yuh think?
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BTW, I mentioned Pangle in a recent post, I meant Steven Smith. Sorry about that.
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King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

Strauss is discussed here almost as much as George Washington! He is on the table. But I think Tom's post and the discussions here seem to be pointing to the fact that he was wrong. For crying out loud MLK went back to the Canon Law arguments for dignity and rights and cited Aquinas and Augustine not the Enlightenment. I do not think he even cited any Protestants.

This stuff goes way back and was not some product of the Enlightenment. Strauss seems to confuse the American and French Revolutions and it is the latter and not the former that was "License" not "Liberty".

In other words, it contained a relativism that was unknown to our founding. When that became apparent all the founders except maybe Jefferson and definitely turned their back on it. They replaced tyranny with anarchy that brought worse tyranny:

THE VERY THING THAT RESISTANCE THEORY IS SUPPOSED TO GUARD AGAINST.

Looks like it worked in the case of America!

Pinky said...

.
In regards to what KOI wrote, I was thinking more about how Strauss dealt with Spinoza, Kant, Cohen, and Rosenweig compared to universal moral law vs externally imposed laws. And, how Strauss blames the Enlightenment for the confusion.
.
I have to spend some serious study time on this before I can say anything of much worth.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Strauss rejects traditional natural law theory as an improper combination of theology and philosophy. He believes never the twain shall meet.

But that's exactly what happened at the Founding.

Strauss' interest is not in history, it's purely in philosophy. He's not very helpful when it comes to religion, either, and really doesn't have much to say about Christianity's content. Like many political philosophers, he throws Christianity in a box marked "Religion" with all the others, regardless of content, and through his European eyes, lumps America in with the entire West and "liberal democracy."

Now he could end up being right, that America turns out to be just another modernist state like the social democracies of Europe, with no real differences to speak of. Not just yet, though, in my view.

I'd recommend the "Straussian" Harry Jaffa, who takes a much more romantic and Christian view of the Founding, but I don't like his work or his logic very much. As another Strauss student, George Anastaplo says, I tend to agree with Jaffa's conclusions but not the reasoning he uses to get there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Here Pinky, try this

http://www.archive.org/details/LeoStraussOnAlexisDeTocqueville

Strauss didn't write much on America, so that's a goodie.

My favorite "Straussian" on America is Thomas G. West.

http://www.vindicatingthefounders.com/

Come to think of it, I need to hit these two pieces myself. Thx.

King of Ireland said...

Maybe JOn can repost his piece on Jaffa? Tom can you email him and ask?