Monday, March 21, 2016

Locke on Theological Error, Heresy, and Orthodoxy

by John Locke
Guest Blogger

That the thing may be made clearer by an example, let us suppose two churches — the one of Arminians, the other of Calvinists — residing in the city of Constantinople.

Will anyone say that either of these churches has right to deprive the members of the other of their estates and liberty (as we see practised elsewhere) because of their differing from it in some doctrines and ceremonies, whilst the Turks, in the meanwhile, silently stand by and laugh to see with what inhuman cruelty Christians thus rage against Christians? But if one of these churches hath this power of treating the other ill, I ask which of them it is to whom that power belongs, and by what right? It will be answered, undoubtedly, that it is the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous or heretical.

This is, in great and specious words, to say just nothing at all. For every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical. For whatsoever any church believes, it believes to be true and the contrary unto those things it pronounce; to be error. 

[BF mine--Ed.]

So that the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge, either at Constantinople or elsewhere upon earth, by whose sentence it can be determined. The decision of that question belongs only to the Supreme judge of all men, to whom also alone belongs the punishment of the erroneous. In the meanwhile, let those men consider how heinously they sin, who, adding injustice, if not to their error, yet certainly to their pride, do rashly and arrogantly take upon them to misuse the servants of another master, who are not at all accountable to them.

Read the whole thing.


jimmiraybob said...

Well, I was going to take the rest of the week off to attend to springtime yard issues but, since you keep asking me to produce material on Spinoza’s influence of the founding, I’ll take a break from raking and comment.

Locke’s theory of toleration alone does not get us to the level of toleration as championed by many of the founding fathers and as guaranteed and protected in the Constitution. For that, one must look elsewhere – perhaps to Locke’s time spent in Amsterdam with its more radical notions of toleration. Of course Locke could not openly advocate for the kind of general toleration that, let’s say, someone like Spinoza and others were advancing in the relatively more tolerant Netherlands in the mid- to late-17th century while Locke was there in exile (see Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus (TTP)).

The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment: (1)

”Precisely as the warring moderate and radical wings of the Enlightenment produced rival and antagonistic theories of religion, science, morality, law and politics – the former extolling monarchical power, the latter democratic republicanism – so the two Enlightenments forged powerfully contrasting notions of toleration. On the one side was what came to be widely acknowledged as the acceptable face of toleration, a toleration rooted in the Dutch Arminians – Epsicopius, Limborch, Le Clerc – and, following them, John Locke. This was aptly characterized by the great Venetian theologian, Concina, in 1754, as essentially a ‘tollerantismo between the Christian Churches.’ Its core was freedom of worship and the peaceful coexistence of dissenting Churches alongside each national, or public, Church. What in their great majority eighteenth-century writers were entirely unwilling to endorse was the other kind of toleration – the radicals’ demand for freedom of thought and expression, including the expression of ideas incompatible with the core tenets of revealed religion upheld by the Churches.”

Continues Below

jimmiraybob said...

He goes on to compare and contrast Spinoza’s and Locke’s theories of toleration:

”For Locke’s theory is essentially a theological conception, asserting that it is for every individual not just to assume responsibility for seeking the salvation of his or her soul but, as Epsicopius and Limborch urged, to perform openly that form of worship by which he or she seeks salvation. Locke’s toleration then revolves primarily around freedom of worship and theological discussion, placing little emphasis on freedom of thought, speech and persuasion beyond what relates to freedom of conscience… which, in principle, might be Jewish or Mohammedan as well as Christian.”

”By contrast the toleration of Spinoza (and van den Enden) subsequently espoused by Walten, Leenhof, Wyermars, Toland, Collins, d’Argens, and Mandeville, among others, is essentially philosophical, republican and explicitly anti-theological. Freedom of thought and speech, designated libertas philosophandi by Spinoza, is the primary goal, while saving souls plays no part either in their advocacy of toleration or setting limits to toleration which, Spinoza concedes, may in a given society be advisable. ”

”Precisely because it is a theological conception, Locke’s toleration is grudging, on doctrinal grounds, in according toleration to some groups and emphatic in denying toleration to others. In Locke three limitations on toleration are especially evident. First, his tolerance being what has been called a ‘privilege’ or ‘immunity’ from the form of worship otherwise generally prescribed in England by Crown and Parliament or mutatis mutandis by sovereign authority in other lands, it can only unequivocally pertain to those who adhere to an organized, permitted congregation for which exception can be claimed, such as, in the English case, Protestant dissenters, Catholics, Quakers, Catholics, Jews and potentially Muslims. Those who subscribe to no precise form of worship, be they agnostics, deists or indifferenti, while nor expressly excluded, languish in a vague limbo, lacking any defined status or recognized freedom.”

”Secondly, there is Locke’s well-known equivocation (unlike Epsicopius and Limborch, who are more accommodating on this point) regarding Catholics. The question whether they should be tolerated is left in doubt for Locke, because the secular authority is not obliged to permit Churches which claim an authority, such as that of the Pope, deemed by adherents to transcend that of the territorial sovereign and even be capable of nullifying it. A third major curtailment in Locke is the categorical exclusion of ‘atheists’, a broad and flexible category in contemporary parlance, which embraced non-providential deists and pantheists. Since they reject divine Providence, participate in no acknowledged form of worship, and do not seek to save their souls, by definition they are not entitled to toleration. ‘Those are not at all to be tolerated’, insists Locke, ‘who deny the being of a God’, not least because ‘promises, covenants and oaths, which are bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.’ According to Locke, the ‘taking away of God but even in thought, dissolves all.’”

Continues Below

jimmiraybob said...

”By contrast, in Spinoza, freedom of worship, far from constituting the core of toleration, is very much a secondary question, a topic which he discusses only briefly and peripherally. For in Spinoza toleration has primarily to do with individual freedom, not a coexistence of Churches, and still less the freedom of ecclesiastical structures to increase their followings, expand their resources, and build up their educational establishments.”


”In the democratic republic of the radicals it is not therefore the aspiration of individuals for spiritual redemption which drives the push for toleration, as in Locke and the mainstream Enlightenment, but rather the quest for individual liberty, freedom of thought and freedom to publish ideas which may be ‘philosophical’ in the new sense coined by Spinoza and his followers, and later embraced by the English deists and the French philosophes, meaning rooted in systems of thought based on ‘natural reason’ and, consequently, incompatible with, and opposed to, the Churches’ theological conception of God, man and the universe…”

”By insisting that ‘the less freedom of judgement is granted to men the further are they removed from the most natural state and consequently the more repressive the regime’, Spinoza clears a much wider space for freedom of speech and the press than is allocated by Locke’s or Rousseau’s toleration… All attempts, admonishes Spinoza, to curb expression of views, and censure books, not only curtails legitimate freedom but endangers the State… At the close of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Spinoza concludes ‘that the state can pursue no safer course than regard piety and religion as consisting solely in charity and just dealing and that the right of the sovereign, both in the religious and secular spheres, should be restricted to men’s actions, with everyone being allowed to think what he wishes and say what he thinks.’”

(1) Jonathan Israel, (2002). Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (Paperback Edition). Oxford University Press, pp 265-268. Oxford University Press, pp 265-268.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, you were asked to defend Matthew Stewart's main thesis, of Spinozan atheism in the American Founding, which you have failed to do, because it didn't exist beyond minor figures who don't amount to squat.

Further, please make your points and arguments--if any--in your own words.

The point of this excerpt is to illustrate how one Protestant sect can have no theological authority over any other, and neither does the government have the wherewithal to choose between them. Locke's argument is more common sense than theology here.

jimmiraybob said...

"...please make your points and arguments--if any--in your own words."

Your post didn't even do this.

”…you were asked to defend Matthew Stewart's main thesis, of Spinozan atheism in the American Founding…”

I don’t recall that Stewart either called Spinoza an atheist or that he made the argument that “Spinozan atheism was reflected in the founding." His main thesis, as can be discerned from the title, is that America’s founding had heretical origins as in, Nature’s God; The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. If one reads the book one finds out that he does not in any way deny the religious influences on the founding. If one reads the book one also finds that, as Stewart clearly acknowledges, it is a polemic squarely aimed to counter claims that the US was founded as a Christian nation and that the Constitution rests solely on Christian and Biblical principles.

It’s inconvenient for me to reread the book to find every occurrence of Stewart referencing atheism (especially when others won’t even read it the first time) but mostly he makes the contention that the founders* presented many of the ideas of “popular deism,” which was “the radical and essentially atheistic philosophy** on which the modern liberal state rests.” That is what I addressed when you posted on Locke’s Toleration and I recalled Israel’s comments.

Incidentally, Spinoza himself denied that he was an atheist and, if I recall correctly Stewart points that out. Spinoza was largely defined by the fierce refutations of his moderate Enlightenment enemies including religious leaders, theologians, priests and lay apologists – also including the Cambridge Platonists.

*As I’ve written before, Stewart makes the same mistake that so many do by using the shorthand “The Founders” when he should be more specific and say some founders.

** I would also argue that deism was not a philosophy in as far as there was no school of deism and no creeds and no doctrines and nothing with which to define orthodoxy, heterodoxy, or heresy.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...
"...please make your points and arguments--if any--in your own words."

Your post didn't even do this.

The custom on this blog is to explore primary sources [except when it comes to bashing David Barton, of course]. John Locke is a primary source.

There are other blogs that play 'dueling scholars.' This is not one of them. If you have an opinion relevant to the post, kindly state it, in your own words, if you are so able.

To get back on topic, I do find Locke's hypothetical of a Constantinople, and its mockery, indeed shaming, of unChristian behavior between Christians the most effective part of this excerpt.

whilst the Turks, in the meanwhile, silently stand by and laugh to see with what inhuman cruelty Christians thus rage against Christians

jimmiraybob said...

"The custom on this blog is to explore primary sources..."

While there is an emphasis on the importance on primary documents here, the custom on this blog is to use a wide variety of material from lectures on YouTube to scholarly articles, to books and book reviews to articles in popular media. I've been around these parts for a while.

Since Locke's toleration was posted in the context of theological error, heresy and orthodoxy, my comments are within bounds. Locke fits well into the moderate Enlightenment narrative, referred to as the protestant narrative by Wayne Hutson in his The Engish Deists (2009), and there's no denying his direct influence on the founding - that's not what my comment was about.

I was merely pointing out that "Locke’s theory of toleration alone does not get us to the level of toleration as championed by many of the founding fathers and as guaranteed and protected in the Constitution." there was a more radical element of toleration incorporated into the constitution that Israel well articulates. I don't think that a Radical Enlightenment, identified by its more radical (at the time) ideas of egalitarianism and democratic republicanism, was also in the mix and readily available to the FFs traveling overseas and to the common man via trade and newspapers, magazines, plays, and conversations in colonial coffee houses and taverns.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Catholicism was sui generis and proscribed because of its political dimension. There was actual war in the 1500-1600s in Britain over Catholicism when both Mary Queen of Scots and James II each tried to make Catholicism the official religion again.

Locke himself had fled to Holland because his patron Shaftsbury had plotted an insurrection against James! Damn right he was worried about Catholicism, and for plenty good reason!

Catholic France had just come to the aid of the Revolution, and there were few enough Catholics in Founding-era America that it was not a political worry. Same is true of Islam--there were so precious few Muslims that tolerance of them was without consequences, symbolic, not real. Had the Founders been faced with jihad just as Britain had been faced by political Catholicism, it is difficult to say they'd have been so Barney about it.

The nub of the issue is that since the Reformation had shattered into dozens if not hundreds of competing Protestant sects, religious tolerance was a practical, not an abstract matter, which is the point of posting this excerpt. The key is not so much getting religion out of the government business, but the other way around: The magistrate is unequipped to decide religious truth.