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John Locke on Religious Tolerance

john locke

Locke said tolerance was the chief characteristic of the true Christian.

Jon Miltimore | June 14, 2016

John Locke (1632-1704) was one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. The English philosopher’s ideas are at the core of the American Founding; in fact, it can be argued that his thoughts shaped the minds of the American Revolution more than any single thinker.

While Locke is best known for his treatises on government, he also wrote on religion.

Locke was a Christian who grew up during the Thirty Years War (1638-1648), one of the most destructive conflicts in Europe’s bloody history. The war was largely a religious conflict, the product of the Protestation Reformation that divided European states into more than a thousand Protestant and Catholic states.

The conflict no doubt shaped Locke’s views and Christian philosophy.

A deeply religious man, Locke made the case for religious tolerance in a famous letter he wrote in 1689 titled “A Letter Concerning Toleration.”

“Since you are pleased to inquire what are my thoughts about the mutual toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must needs answer you freely that I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church.”

Locke said Christian tolerance (“charity, meekness, and good-will in general”) should be extended to all people, not just fellow Christians, and those who fail in this regard fall “short of being a true Christian himself.”

By what authority does he draw on to make this claim? The New Testament.

“If the Gospel and the apostles may be credited, no man can be a Christian without charity and without that faith which works, not by force, but by love.”

Locke closed his essay by stating that Christians seeking to advance the Christian Church through “arms that do not belong to the Christian warfare.”

3 thoughts on “John Locke on Religious Tolerance

  1. The religious tolerance sought was always and everywhere between Protestant sects. Superstitious papists need not apply, and Jews and Mahometans were not even a consideration, the former being ignored as a tiny minority and the later having always been kept at arms length due to their manifest incompatibility with Western Society.

  2. We can and do Help.
    That doesn’t mean we need to allow anyone to emigrate to our country…

  3. I just went through EU Customs in Lisbon.
    The line was a mile long. Most people on line were males in their 20-30’s and appeared to come from Africa or the Middle East. Obviously those flights had just landed but it wasn’t pretty and doesn’t bode well for EU immigration policy…
    In my view, the problem, especially with those two groups in particular is that they will never assimilate into the general population.
    Look at the Algerian populations in France…
    These groups band together on ethnic and religious grounds limiting their economic opportunities.
    They became bitter and angry and some radicalize.
    Let’s help them within their countries, not allow and encourage a mass migration.
    Obama’s foreign policy was the worst in the history of this nation and started with his apology tour in 2009.
    We need border security and rational immigration policy that allows people who share our values, will assimilate and who will contribute to our society to enter the country permanently.
    Of course this logical position makes me a racist, bigot in the eyes of the liberal progressive left.
    To hell with political correctness!
    I love the diversity of our nation, but the intolerance and the refusal to assimilate by certain ethnic and religious groups should not be rewarded with citizenship.

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