Letter Concerning Tolerance.doc

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Political Science
POL 1201
Elizabeth Beaumont

Letter Concerning Tolerance The Emergence of Religious Tolerance, Liberty of Conscience, and Separation of Church and State Key themes: • Liberty of conscience or right to free conscience • Separation of church and state ◦ Proper sphere of civil authority ◦ Proper sphere of religious or church authority • The "duty" of religious tolerance (and its limits) Historical Context • Throughout much of wester and non-western history, politics and religion overlapped, and there was no separation of church and state, and religious non-believers and dissenters were penalized or persecuted. ◦ Socrates is one famous example, Galileo is another • 16th c. -- Protestant Reformation: fractures Europe into competing religious sects, provoking civil wars and religious persecutions that persisted into Locke's era • In England, religious conflict helped spark the English Civil War. After monarchy was restored, laws repressed many "dissenting" sects -- Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and others • Many early colonist of New England emigrated partly to gain freedom to practice their "dissenting" religions, including Puritanism • When James II assumed power in England, Locke and many others feared he would establish Catholicism and persecutor Protestants Locke's Background • Locke was raised a Puritan, and though it's not entirely clear what his religious views were, he seem strongly influenced by this background • He had been thinking and writing about religious toleration for years before he wrote his Letter while in exile in Holland, where he was further influenced by Spinoza's writing on religious toleration • As with Locke's 2nd Treatise, Locke published his "Letter" anonymously • His views on tolerance did not meet immediate or widespread acceptance. He wrote 3 other essays on tolerance Historical Religious Conflict • Crusades for Christianity 1099-1456 • Religious Wars in Europe 1524-1648 • Witchcraft Hysteria in Europe and New England 16th and 17th century 1. From 1500 to 1600, 50,000-80,000 suspected witches were executed in Europe, often burned at the stake. About 80% were women. Execution rates varied among countries: from a high of about 26,000 in Germany, to 10,000 in France, to 1,000 in England Connections to Locke's 2nd Treatise • Another facet of Locke's rejection to any form of absolute power housed in any person or institution, whether religious of political. • Builds on basic ideas of legitimate political authority he mapped out in 2nd treatise, ◦ However, he is now highlighting and focusing on an element of liberty and natural right not explicitly expressed in the trope of "life, liberty, and property" in the 2nd Treatise -- a natural or inalienable "liberty of conscience," or the right to choose and freely practice one's own religious beliefs. • Some consider liberty of conscience or our "metaphysical property rights," the oat important foundation or contribution of classical liberalism to modern political ideas and practices. ◦ He thinks liberty of conscience places duties and limits not only on governments, churches/religious societies, and secular and religious leaders Locke's Distinction/Separation between Civil and Religious Authority • And overarching argument for Separation of Church and State: ◦ He believes the church should be "absolutely separate" from Commonwealth and that the "boundaries of each are fixed and immovable" • Argues religious and civil authority possess different spheres of legitimate authority and power • Important secular and theological elements of his argument, used to justify his ideas ◦ reduce conflict/violence/war What does locks think the Proper Sphere and Boundaries of Civil Authority Should Be? 1. Proper business of civil government is protection of rights of life, liberty,property (2nd treatise), not saving should 2. Religion is a matter of reason and "inward persuasion only" and cannot be coerced -- this is beyond human power and force of arms 3. We must each car for our own souls through personal inquiry and reason, which means we must also be free to "neglect" our souls 4. All people are equal with respect to access to religious truth -- Princes have no special access to religious truth 5. Truth can fend for itself and is strongest when emerging from "her own light": the business of law is not to "provide for the truth of opinions but for the safety and security of the commonwealth and of every particular moan's goods and person" Locke's Religious Pluralism and its Connection to Religious Skepticism or Uncertainty(?) • A central problem with legislating religion is that there are numerous churches and religions Each of them consider
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