What is distinctive about the relationship between religion and politics in the modern period?
“I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the Business of Civil government from that of religion.”
As John Locke makes evident in his Letter Concerning Toleration, it is most important and fundamentally essential to define the limits of both religion and politics – their proper places in civil society. Only with government-sponsored toleration is religion allowed to prosper in the modern period; it fits neatly within the mechanisms of modern politics.
As human beings, we are inclined to be in a constant state of competition and conflict. Equality and a limited supply of goods make this conflict inevitable, and it is our self-interest without limit that fuels this competition: “But man, whose joy consisteth in comparing himself with other men, can relish nothing but what is imminent.” Our desire to acquire as many goods as possible at the expense of others is kept in check only by our morality. Without morality, these vices would prove to be our self-destruction. However, through moral action, to some degree we set limits on ourselves. It is this moral right to save oneself that immediately sets into motion a desire to seek peace. Only out of this most selfish interest is peace motivated, and it is this interest alone that allows for the establishment of the state.
The business of the state is solely upholding compacts, or the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: “The Commonwealth seems to me to be a society of Men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing of their own Civil Interests.” The government acts on the authority of the nation to protect and preserve this civil society: “The power of civil government relates only to Men’s civil interests.” A civil government has no place outside the realm of worldly goods. Its power resides only within civil matters. If and when the power of the...
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