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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  23 practice. The greatest part of mankind cannot know, and therefore they must believe. 66 The success of his Letter Concerning Toleration may have dealt orthodoxy a mortal wound, but the rest of the Letter clearly suggests that Locke expects the various sects to flounder on in the marketplace of ideas. It seems that Locke does not think that the extinction of the Biblical religions is either necessary or possible. Rather, in his treatment of religion, Locke has the more limited aim of encouraging man’s freedom; if men are given religious freedom—and if they are free to redirect their hope in an afterlife towards the pursuit of property in this life—Locke is confident that revealed religion will weaken naturally. While careful readers of Locke’s works will detect their decidedly un- Christian character, most men will live in ignorance of Locke’s true thoughts concerning Christianity. 67 Paine, believing that freedom is impossible so long as one lives in ignorance, has grander plans. Due to the inaccuracy of Biblical history, the dubiousness of revelation and perceived moral degeneracy of the revealed religions, Paine repeatedly—and famously— urges his readers to embrace Deism. It is only in the CREATION that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they be. It is an ever existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all 66 John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, Ed. I.T. Ramsey, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958), para. 243, p. 66. I am indebted to Zuckert’s discussion of this particular aspect of Locke’s thought on Christianity. Zuckert, 155-162. 67 Locke’s un-Christian treatments of politics, property, and human equality are the subject of many fine studies. In addition to Zuckert’s fine treatment, see Thomas L. Pangle, The Spirit of Modern Republicanism, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

Authors: Parsons, William.
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23
practice. The greatest part of mankind cannot know, and therefore they
must believe.
66
The success of his Letter Concerning Toleration may have dealt orthodoxy a
mortal wound, but the rest of the Letter clearly suggests that Locke expects the various
sects to flounder on in the marketplace of ideas. It seems that Locke does not think that
the extinction of the Biblical religions is either necessary or possible. Rather, in his
treatment of religion, Locke has the more limited aim of encouraging man’s freedom; if
men are given religious freedom—and if they are free to redirect their hope in an afterlife
towards the pursuit of property in this life—Locke is confident that revealed religion will
weaken naturally. While careful readers of Locke’s works will detect their decidedly un-
Christian character, most men will live in ignorance of Locke’s true thoughts concerning
Christianity.
67
Paine, believing that freedom is impossible so long as one lives in
ignorance, has grander plans.
Due to the inaccuracy of Biblical history, the dubiousness of revelation and
perceived moral degeneracy of the revealed religions, Paine repeatedly—and famously—
urges his readers to embrace Deism.
It is only in the CREATION that all our ideas and conceptions of a word
of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language,
independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and
various as they be. It is an ever existing original, which every man can
read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it
cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the
will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from
one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all
66
John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, Ed. I.T. Ramsey, (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1958), para. 243, p. 66. I am indebted to Zuckert’s discussion of this particular aspect of Locke’s thought
on Christianity. Zuckert, 155-162.
67
Locke’s un-Christian treatments of politics, property, and human equality are the subject of many fine
studies. In addition to Zuckert’s fine treatment, see Thomas L. Pangle, The Spirit of Modern
Republicanism
, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).


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