Friday, June 14, 2019

Christianity & Religious Liberty

This new book Robert Louis Wilken, Liberty in the Things of God, looks to be a must read. I disagree with the subtitle of the American Conservative review article that doesn't credit "The Enlightenment." Yes, there were sources of religious liberty that preceded the Enlightenment. But it was during the Enlightenment when such became normative. A taste from the article:
This tension reached a climax during the Reformation and post-Reformation era. Wilken includes chapters on Lutheran Germany, Calvinist and Zwinglian Switzerland, and on Catholic-Protestant battles in France, the Netherlands, and England. Readers may be surprised to learn how often it was not just Protestants but also Catholics who turned to liberty in defense of their religious beliefs. Nuns in Germany, clergyman in Switzerland, Benedictine abbots in France, and papist lawyers in England all appealed to their consciences in the face of Protestant persecution. Indeed, while Reformation history is full of Catholic oppression of Protestants, it is equally full of Protestants oppressing, persecuting, and even forbidding Catholic worship. 
It is ultimately the Englishmen—Roger Williams, John Owen, William Penn, and John Locke—to whom America and the West are indebted for their conception of religious freedom. Williams argued that liberty of conscience applied to all men equally, including dissenting Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even the hated Catholics. He also “severed the link between the two tables of the law,” meaning that he rejected any role for the state in the affairs of the church and vice versa. Owen, in turn, interpreted Tertullian’s earlier cited argument to mean that “liberty of conscience is a natural right” rather than one created and protected by the state. Penn, meanwhile, argued that this liberty of conscience necessarily extended to public worship. Locke, finally, incorporated some of these elements, but went even further by arguing that religious communities are fundamentally voluntary societies composed of individuals possessing “free and spontaneous” rights.
For instance the Calvinist covenanters like Samuel Rutherford and John Knox who were "good" on resistance to tyrants in the face of Romans 13 were still defending Calvin having Servetus put to death for denying the Trinity. By the time of the American Founding, John Witherspoon and his Presbyterians had accepted liberty of conscience as an unalienable right.


Tom Van Dyke said...

I disagree with the subtitle of the American Conservative review article that doesn't credit "The Enlightenment." Yes, there were sources of religious liberty that preceded the Enlightenment. But it was during the Enlightenment when such became normative.

Now "the Enlightenment" is a time period? This puts everything after 1650 or so under its umbrella. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The problem is that the American Revolution must needs be lumped in with the French. This is not warranted. They were quite different foundationally. Rousseau is not Locke.

Further, as we see with Pufendorf, the doctrine of a natural right to religious conscience is inextricably tied to the religio-political violence in Europe [partially allayed by the Peace of Westphalia], and to the problems of minority sects like the Huguenots holding their place against persecution [later to be echoed in America by Quakers and even Baptists].

In the end, the freedom of religious conscience--although it goes back to even Tertullian circa 200 CE--is necessitated by the rise of Protestantism and the conflicts it generated. Thomas Hobbes would be quite fine with the state Church of England controlling religion for the sake of domestic peace. But Protestantism refused to remain under that thumb--and that includes when Mary Queen of Scots [beheaded], Charles I* [beheaded] and James II [exiled] trying to restore Catholicism as boss, or at least were perceived to be.


*Perhaps more accurately a crypto-Catholic

Jonathan Rowe said...

No, not "now." It always has been referred to as a time period.

We've been through this before. Rousseau may have been more influential to the FR than the AR, but Locke was influential to both.

Out of all of the "things" that MOST influenced the French Revolution, the American Revolution ranks #1.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, YOU are using it as a time period. The Wiki properly identifies it as a "movement."

The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment) was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".

Again, the problem is it hijacks the streams of Christian thought and puts them under a secular umbrella. This is why the Christian origins of stuff like the natural right to religious conscience are important and probative.

Our Founding Truth said...

The author didn't provide any sources of tertullian's words that i saw. If he did say that, he was out of his mind, given Christ and Paul do not allow that. God is the author of both church and the state. Tertullian is allowing paganism and idolatry, just as the ff's did.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Wiki is defining it as an "Age" that existed during the 18th Century in Europe. It's always been defined as an age.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You are still using the term--a term of art, not historical rigor--to hijack everything after 1650 or so as a product of the Enlightenment. But there's an unbroken line of Christian political thought from the 1500s that leads to the same "liberalism" of freedom of religious conscience, necessitated by the rapidly splintering theologies of the Reformation.

Voltaire ended his most-quoted letter, “On the Presbyterians,” by observing: “If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other’s throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.”