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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Standing on the shoulders of giants (is a big head start) (doesn't leave me cold)

Alexander's middle name is/was Locke. The greatest tragedy in my life will (I hope) always be the fact I never got a chance to explain the meanings of his name to him.

(tear gas attack)

Anyway, Locke and Spinoza are my two favorite Enlightenment philosophers on the subject of religion. Pico made similar arguments during the Renaissance.

Amazing how the true meaning of "liberal" has been distorted and ruined by the passing of time. Marxists are not liberals, or even close.
I have been reading it (Locke’s first major publication, A Letter Concerning Toleration -- Chip) because it so directly addresses the most difficult question of the moment: how can people with different beliefs live with one another in peace? Locke’s first translator sums up the situation as it was in the 1690s: “This narrowness of spirit on all sides has undoubtedly been the principal occasion of our miseries and confusions. But whatever has been the occasion, it is now high time to seek for a thorough cure. We have need for more generous remedies than have yet been made use of . . . absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty, is the thing we stand in need of.”

This last sentence was much quoted in the American Revolution, as though the precis had been written by Locke himself. But it was not, and it goes beyond what Locke himself believed. The criticism of “narrowness of spirit” is certainly Lockean, and so is the call for “generous remedies”, but he was a physician and not a fanatic, even in the cause of liberty. He calls for liberty restrained by reason and law, rather than absolute liberty in all kinds and circumstances. That makes him more helpful to our age of contradiction.

Locke argues that religion is a matter for the individual not the State. “The care of every man’s soul belongs unto himself, and is to be left unto himself.” The State ought to give equal protection to all churches and religious opinions. There should be no persecution on religious grounds, indeed: “We must not content ourselves with the narrow measures of bare justice. Charity, bounty and liberality must be added to it. This the Gospel enjoins; this reason directs; and this the natural fellowship we are born into requires of us.”

Locke did not believe in using force but in “the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. Such is the nature of the understanding that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force”. His liberalism is based on the natural independence of the human mind. It is ultimately a psychological theory.

Food for thought as you watch Muslims all over the world respond to orchestrated calls for violence over months-old cartoons:
Seventeenth-century Islam was included in the criticism. “It is ridiculous for anyone to profess himself to be a Mohametan (sic) only in his religion, but in everything else a faithful subject to a Christian magistrate, while at the same time he acknowledges himself bound to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople, who himself is entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor.” Fortunately, the Papacy no longer claims the right to excommunicate and depose monarchs, there is no Ottoman Emperor, and if there still is a Mufti of Constantinople he certainly has no universal authority in Islam. But Osama bin Laden really is a dangerous man who does claim obedience of his followers.

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