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Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)

de John Locke

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Ever since humankind raised its head toward the heavens in search of universal understanding and spiritual fulfillment, wars, pogroms, persecution, prejudice, and contempt have been the means of resolving the many and varied disagreements that have arisen over matters religious. In his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke offers a compelling plea for freedom of conscience and religious expression. He outlines the limits of social and political incursion into the realm of personal belief or non-belief, discusses the dangers of mixing church and state, and strikes hard at those who would use the power of the state to fulfill religious or political goals. Rational persuasion is always to be encouraged in the hope that wayward souls may find a moral direction in life, but the use of force in such matters is unwarranted and unacceptable. Locke also addresses the question of denominational infighting and relations among the major religions. Talk of heresy and schism should be set aside in favor of understanding and cooperation to achieve mutually desirable social ends.… (mais)
Adicionado recentemente porbiblioteca privada, SeekingApatheia, RachelPollock, stefano_chiesa, NickAG, theonlycmw, Gianfranc0, old_whateley
Bibliotecas HistóricasAlured Popple, Thomas Jefferson
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  Murtra | Oct 27, 2020 |
Sin, you say?

John Locke says, in A Letter Concerning Toleration:
“Idolatry, say some, is a sin and therefore not to be tolerated. If they said it were therefore to be avoided, the inference were good. But it does not follow that because it is a sin it ought therefore to be punished by the magistrate. For it does not belong unto the magistrate to…[punish] everything…that he takes to be a sin against God…The reason is [not every sin] is prejudicial to other men’s rights…”

Really? That comment provokes questions. Why call an act a sin if it’s not even prejudicial to other’s rights? Is it that such a sin is in some way prejudicial to God’s rights? If so, omnipotence must be an easily distressed condition.

Sin, though, despite its importance in religion, proves not central to Locke in his essay, making it hard to know how we can affirm with confidence and his concurrence that a sin or any other act is, in fact, “prejudicial to other men’s rights” and thus fit matter for the magistrate. Perhaps he discusses this comprehensively elsewhere in his writings.

What to say, then? Just that it’s clear Locke would wish us to treat doubtfully any suggestion that a law be enacted against some offense to a holy teaching. That teaching may not be holy in each religion and therefore not an offense to all. If the offense is also prejudicial to civil rights, as those rights are understood by a society, then it becomes eligible to be subject to civil law. But any law that might then arise does not owe its justification to religious observance or teaching. As Locke avers, “the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate…neither can nor ought in any manner be extended to the salvation of souls.”

One wonders if Locke’s opinion divorcing civil jurisdiction from salvation was on the minds of those who constructed the United States Constitution when they avoided including such words as “God” or “Creator” or “Christian” or “Holy” or “Sin” anywhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

As for the “tolerance” that is Locke’s subject: If you are an Atheist, don’t think he says you should be tolerated. He writes that you shouldn’t be. Whether there are limits to the intolerance you should be permitted to suffer is left unclear.

But hey, if Atheists can find it in themselves to become Pagans then everything is cool: “neither Pagan, nor Mahometan, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion. The Gospel commands no such thing.”

Keep in mind, I urge you, in some places “The Pagans”* are an outlaw motorcycle gang and the affiliated rites and responsibilities may be something you ought not to adopt or even tolerate. But as a Pagan of this kind you’d probably not be much inclined to accept unsolicited advice from me or from John Locke. In that you’d be true to the spirit of not a few religious sects.

This Letter is quite a letter.

* Scarce as outlaw motorcycle gangs were in 17th-century England and Europe, I suppose Locke must mean by “Pagan” an adherent of any religion not very familiar to him. Dang. ( )
  dypaloh | Feb 22, 2018 |
Un testo di grande attualit sulla necessità della separazione tra potere temporale e spirituale,nelle Chiese e tra Stato e Chiese, sull'importanza fondamentale della tolleranza,tra uomini di diverso credo religioso.Leggendo opere di questo tipo,scritte da ormai molto tempo,vengono alla mente due possibilità:1. esistono pochi uomini che riescono ad intuire verità dell'uomo2. esistono molti uomini che non le intendono.Probabilmente sono vere entrambe. ( )
  AlessandraEtFabio | Dec 22, 2017 |
Surprisingly, unsettlingly modern and relevant. Very interesting to note his contact with the Dutch Mennonites & Quakers. ( )
  rsairs | Nov 10, 2015 |
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  OberlinSWAP | Aug 1, 2015 |
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Ever since humankind raised its head toward the heavens in search of universal understanding and spiritual fulfillment, wars, pogroms, persecution, prejudice, and contempt have been the means of resolving the many and varied disagreements that have arisen over matters religious. In his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke offers a compelling plea for freedom of conscience and religious expression. He outlines the limits of social and political incursion into the realm of personal belief or non-belief, discusses the dangers of mixing church and state, and strikes hard at those who would use the power of the state to fulfill religious or political goals. Rational persuasion is always to be encouraged in the hope that wayward souls may find a moral direction in life, but the use of force in such matters is unwarranted and unacceptable. Locke also addresses the question of denominational infighting and relations among the major religions. Talk of heresy and schism should be set aside in favor of understanding and cooperation to achieve mutually desirable social ends.

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