I'm going to reproduce the first half of the post and then let you (if interested) read the second half at the original location. As he wrote:
...Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars has recently suggested I should support my claim that the Enlightenment, not the Reformation, was the true source of religious tolerance as we now understand it.
He asks, “Didn’t the Reformation pave the way for the Enlightenment in many ways?”
In a sense, the answer to his question is yes–but the Reformation paved the way for the Enlightenment in much the same way that the existence of smallpox paved the way for vaccination, or in the same way that Marxism paved the way for the Austrian School in the twentieth century.
And yet I often hear just the opposite: “Martin Luther… ah, he helped establish religious tolerance!”
Would that it were, but it is not.
It could be that a good deal of what I’m about to write won’t even address Mr. Brayton’s original concern; quite possibly, he shares none of the misconceptions that I’m about to attack. And on the off chance that he does share them, I will gladly look the other way if he wants to abandon them in private.
To state the key contention as baldly as possible: Christianity is more tolerant than any other world religion, and that it owes this tolerance to the Reformation.
No doubt it is a comforting belief. And in practice, both Protestants and Catholics today do tend to be quite tolerant. A few exceptions exist, but we need not consider them here. In general, one could do far worse than to live in a majority-Christian country.
But there is nothing inherent about Christianity’s tolerance. On the contrary, Christianity became tolerant almost in spite of itself, and it only did so when the other alternatives had been exhausted.
I say this not to deprecate Christianity, but because there is a grave danger in thinking that we need no longer attend to the problem of religious tolerance. In every age, the urge to intolerance presents itself anew. We must not become complacent about the freedom of conscience any more than we would take for granted the other rights that we now enjoy.
I will argue in this essay that the Enlightenment is the true intellectual origin of tolerance as we know it, and, while there could not have been an Enlightenment without a Reformation, it is a serious mistake to confuse or equate the two.
Nor do individual instances of tolerance before the Enlightenment tell us very much about the origins of present-day attitudes: Until the Enlightenment, wherever an official tolerance existed, it was almost always a particular and revocable license to practice one specific minority religion, and to do so only under highly restrictive conditions. In a sense, these were merely truces in the fighting, often agreed to simply because it was impossible to eradicate the religious minority. These early and frankly misnamed “tolerances” were in no sense predicated on the notion that an individual has a moral obligation to seek the truth for himself, unconstrained by the civil authority.
This last is what we now expect, and until the late seventeenth century, nothing even close to it could be found in Europe. It was also not until this time–the era of John Locke and Pierre Bayle–that an organized, philosophical defense appeared for the principle of general religious toleration.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
For the rest, read it here.