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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  4 does not have the profound distaste for physical suffering that Locke attributes to him. Whereas Locke shudders at the thought “That any man should think fit to cause another man—whose salvation he heartily desires—to expire in torments, and that even in an unconverted state,” Christ teaches his disciples to “fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 9 Put simply, the New Testament does not support Locke’s claim that Christian charity demands a respect for the lives of dissenters rather than the strongest concern for the salvation of their souls. In light of the dearth of Biblical evidence in support of Locke’s argument, his attempt to undermine the authority of the persecutors by accusing them of lasciviousness strikes the reader as a shallow rhetorical ploy. Moreover, Locke’s positive teaching on toleration misleadingly attributes undue significance to the Biblical injunction to “turn the other cheek.” 10 This lesson is important to the tradition of Christian pacifism, but it is far from the only, or most important, lesson; when a man’s eternal soul is at stake, Christ demands that his followers evangelize aggressively. While Christians might debate whether the Gospel sanctions a particular evangelizing tactic, it is clear that Locke’s interpretation of charity as mere toleration is a distortion of Christ’s teaching. Despite the weakness of this argument, its success is essential to Locke’s goal, which he reveals early in the Letter. According to Locke, the greatest threats to both true religion and proper civil government are intolerant Christians and vicious governments. Whereas the former agitate for governmental persecution of minority sects, the latter are prepared with the Gospel of peace and the exemplary holiness of their conversation. This was His method.” Letter 25. 9 Letter 25; Matthew 11.28. 10 Matthew 5:38-42

Authors: Parsons, William.
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4
does not have the profound distaste for physical suffering that Locke attributes to him.
Whereas Locke shudders at the thought “That any man should think fit to cause another
man—whose salvation he heartily desires—to expire in torments, and that even in an
unconverted state,” Christ teaches his disciples to “fear not them which kill the body, but
are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and
body in hell.”
9
Put simply, the New Testament does not support Locke’s claim that
Christian charity demands a respect for the lives of dissenters rather than the strongest
concern for the salvation of their souls. In light of the dearth of Biblical evidence in
support of Locke’s argument, his attempt to undermine the authority of the persecutors by
accusing them of lasciviousness strikes the reader as a shallow rhetorical ploy.
Moreover, Locke’s positive teaching on toleration misleadingly attributes undue
significance to the Biblical injunction to “turn the other cheek.”
10
This lesson is
important to the tradition of Christian pacifism, but it is far from the only, or most
important, lesson; when a man’s eternal soul is at stake, Christ demands that his followers
evangelize aggressively. While Christians might debate whether the Gospel sanctions a
particular evangelizing tactic, it is clear that Locke’s interpretation of charity as mere
toleration is a distortion of Christ’s teaching.
Despite the weakness of this argument, its success is essential to Locke’s goal,
which he reveals early in the Letter. According to Locke, the greatest threats to both true
religion and proper civil government are intolerant Christians and vicious governments.
Whereas the former agitate for governmental persecution of minority sects, the latter are

prepared with the Gospel of peace and the exemplary holiness of their conversation. This was His
method.” Letter 25.
9
Letter 25; Matthew 11.28.
10
Matthew 5:38-42


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