Philosophy vs. the Human Situation: Analysis of John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration

Pages: 2 (582 words) Published: May 29, 2014
Why did John Locke believe it was irrational to attempt to force someone to become a Christian against their will?
17th century philosopher John Locke wrote ‘A Letter Concerning Toleration’ (Locke 1685) in a time when religious intolerance among different Christian faiths was endemic throughout Europe. We will be examining and outlining extracts from this Letter to ascertain why attempting to use force on someone to become a Christian against their will, is irrational:-

‘The care of each man’s soul and of the things of heaven ... is left entirely too every man’s self’ (ibid. p.44). Locke wrote. By this he means that each man is responsible for their own salvation, and no other person is or could be saviour of another mans soul in an absolute sense, and that it is a matter of individual conscience not what they or others will. Warburton states this is an unquestioned assumption by Locke “as this it is not a view that he argues for, but rather it is something that Locke takes for granted” (Warburton, Arguments for Freedom. p39,p2).

Locke also argues for preserving individual freedom of religious belief in the face of possible oppression by the state “The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate” (ibid.p18) .Here Locke suggests by this, that Law enforcement is out side the remit for soul salvation, therefore governments cannot enforce or legislate for there populations beliefs, as they can only use external force which he believes is inappropriate as they can never bring about the requisite change in religious belief of people: and that “only inner persuasion of mind is acceptable to God” (ibid.p18).

Submitting a person to torture (prevalent in 17th century religious persecutions) is of no value to their oppressors Locke declares. And that any verbal utterances or signed agreements extracted under duress could not bring about a real change of belief, as he claims that only “light and evidence” can make this possible. Torture can make...
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