Sunday, October 10, 2010

Contra Lockean Toleration

Lockean Argument:
p1: There is no way for a man to know the truth of the doctrines of religion.
p2: There exist among men competing claims to know the truth of the doctrines of religion.
p3: If (p1) & (p2) are true, then these doctrines of religion cannot be universally and completely true but must be merely particularly and partially true to those men who believe in them.
p4: If (p1) & (p3) are true, then there is likewise no way for the State to know the truth of a particular and partial religious doctrine.
p5: The imposition of a religion is justified if and only if a religion is universally and completely true.
p6: If (p3) & (p5) are true, then the imposition of a particular religion cannot be justified.
p7: The State may only act in a manner which is justified.
p8: If (p6) and (p7) are true, then the state may not impose religion.

Therefore: The State may not impose any religion and must remain impartial to them.

c1: God is All-knowing and completely knows what is right and true.
c2: If (c1) is true, then God would only reveal that religion which is universally and completely true.

c3: Men may know the truth or falsity of the doctrines of religion through reason and revelation.
c4: If (c3) is true, then (p1) is false

[The conflict between the propositions (c3) and (p1) is whether reason may discern the truth or falsity of religious doctrines. Locke’s adherence to (p1) is a consequence of his empiricist epistemology, or his belief that all knowledge is gained through sensory perception. As the doctrines of religion (such as the incarnation of Christ and the Trinity) are not beheld through sensory perception, Locke would dismiss them as unknowable.]

c5: If (c1) & (c3) are true and men believe in God and his revealed religion, then these men believe in the universal and complete truth of this revealed religion.
c6: if (c5) is true, then (p3) is false
c7: if (p1) & (p3) are false, then (p6), (p7), and (p8) are false

Therefore: Men do not believe in religion because it is partially and particularly true, but because revealed religion is universally and completely true. To judge a religion to be particularly and partially true is to deny the completeness and universality of its truth. To deny the completeness and universality of the truth of a revealed religion is therefore to deny that a religion is the true religion, as revealed by God.

Locke argues the inability to know the true and correct doctrine from among competing religions means that we cannot choose a particular religion which should then be imposed upon everyone. This conclusion is founded upon two premises: (p1) that the mind is incapable of judging the correctness and truth of religious doctrines, and (p3) that judgments of the correct and true doctrinal content of religion are partial, particular and incompletely true. (p1) is the result of Locke's reductionist empiricist epistemology. (p3) is based on Locke's failure to distinguish the social demography of religion, or the relative share of adherents of a religion, from the propositional content of religion, or what the religion itself claims. In Locke's time, there was in England a plurality of particular religions confessing a variety of Christian doctrines. However, these doctrines all claimed to be confessing universally and completely true doctrines rather than particularly and partially true doctrines. Locke mistakenly interpreted the appearance of religious pluralism to mean that the propositional content of religion was only particularly and partially true. Yet for a religion to be particularly and partially true would contradict the completeness and universality which religion claims to be the inspired result of God's knowledge and revelation: (c1) & (c2). A believer in God's revealed religion believes that the religion of God is universally and completely true for everyone. If a religion is universally and completely true for everyone, and it is best to know what is true and reject what is false, then everyone ought to accept and believe in the true religion of God. It would be a contradiction for a Christian to maintain that God’s revealed religion is both completely and partially true or that two religions are both completely true if their doctrines contradict. Therefore a Christian must affirm the universal and complete truth of God’s revealed religion.

Furthermore Locke is not exempted from these qualities of belief. If Locke believes that Christianity is only particularly and partially true, then he cannot also believe that Christianity is universally and completely true. Neither might Locke assert that he holds a belief which is only partially and particularly true, which must be held to be is true for everyone. No one can both believe that something, whether christology, physics, soteriology or mathematics, is true for particular people and yet might be universally worthy of belief for everyone. Locke may escape this conundrum only by sneakily introducing a novel religious belief which resembles Christianity, and which is implied to be universally and not particularly true: this novel religious confession is Locke’s advocacy of public toleration and secularism. Locke believes that public secularism is universally right, good and true, while enjoying the advantage of remaining impartial in its judgment of particular religious doctrines. Unbeknownst to Locke’s reader, his novel confession of public secularism is, in fact, merely another particular religious doctrine which claims to be universally true. Locke believes that public secularism is not a religion, yet contains within its doctrines every doctrine which is essential to public Christianity, while subtracting those accidental, superfluous and extraneous doctrines of Christianity which are so violently disputed in Locke's England. Locke believes that the circumscription of Christianity to a private practice and the elevation of public secularism to the policy of the state will preserve the essential doctrines and morals of Christianity while allowing individuals to freely devote themselves to the various accidental, superfluous, and unnecessary doctrines of older forms of Christianity. Because Locke believes that public secularism is universally rather than particularly true, he believes that he can escape from his own conundrum of imposing a particular religion upon a people who believe in a variety of religious doctrines.

However, Locke's concept of public secularism is just as partial and particular as he believes Christianity to be. Locke did not know this because his naïve and mistaken empiricist epistemology led him to believe there could be a simpler Christianity, without the traditional supernatural and supersensory beliefs. An attempt to simplify Christianity to its essential doctrines has been an ongoing project of Protestant theology since Martin Luther. This view supposes that the so-called accidental doctrines of Christianity have been corrupted through an incorrect organic development in history, while reason can rediscover the now-submerged essential and core components of Christianity. Locke’s secularism is therefore a particular form of empiricist Protestant Christianity. If Locke's secularism is particular and not universal then he indicts himself for the very same religious partisanship, intolerance and bigotry which he criticizes the variety of Christian sects of England in his time. Moreover, the falseness of Locke's epistemology means that he is exposed as an unwitting and contradictory hypocrite. In fairness to John Locke, it was not by any lack of imagination, ambition, or good will that he further distorted public and political Christianity. Rather it was by a naïve enthusiasm for empiricism and a regrettable lack of foresight that he promulgated so many injurious political doctrines.

"Locke's contemporary, Jonas Proast, responded by saying that Locke's three arguments really amount to just two, that true faith cannot be forced and that we have no more reason to think that we are right than anyone else has. Proast argued that force can be helpful in bringing people to the truth “indirectly, and at a distance.” His idea was that although force cannot directly bring about a change of mind or heart, it can cause people to consider arguments that they would otherwise ignore or prevent them from hearing or reading things that would lead them astray. If force is indirectly useful in bringing people to the true faith, then Locke has not provided a persuasive argument. As for Locke's argument about the harm of a magistrate whose religion is false using force to promote it, Proast claimed that this was irrelevant since there is a morally relevant difference between affirming that the magistrate may promote the religion he thinks true and affirming that he may promote the religion that actually is true. Proast thought that unless one was a complete skeptic, one must believe that the reasons for one's own position are objectively better than those for other positions.

Jeremy Waldron (1993), in an influential article, restated the substance of Proast's objection for a contemporary audience. He argued that, leaving aside Locke's Christian arguments, his main position was that it was instrumentally irrational, from the perspective of the persecutor, to use force in matters of religion because force acts only on the will and belief is not something that we change at will. Waldron pointed out that this argument blocks only one particular reason for persecution, not all reasons. Thus it would not stop someone who used religious persecution for some end other than religious conversion, such as preserving the peace. Even in cases where persecution does have a religious goal, Waldron agrees with Proast that force may be indirectly effective in changing people's beliefs."

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