I partially agree with Locke’s position on laws dealing with articles of faith My problem arises when he says “m those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist” (Locke, 435) The reasons I disagree are there is no proof of a God, a Christian God is not a just judge, and by saying this he contradicts himself concerning separation of civil and religious society I agree that governments have no say in what religions preach as long as it doesn’t cause harm to others, just as religions have no say in governing. It is an infringement on their civil rights and should not be tolerated. People have a right to believe what they want, but I feel Locke does not entirely follow his own arguments. My first problem comes in the form of atheism, in that there is no proof of a God, there is also no proof that there isn’t a God, and I‘ll address that shortly.
I‘m tempted to invoke Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword, a philosophical razor that states we should not debate something that cannot be proven mathematically or logically, but I feel it would cut this paper too short, Let us assume there is no God for the moment. If an individual signs a contract in the name of God it is an empty promise. If there were ever to come a day when it is proven there is not a God these individuals would be more inclined to forfeit the oaths made in the initial contract, whereas an atheist would still hold to the contract knowing that they agreed with something, not in the name of a God, but in the name of themselves if such a time ever comes it will be those lacking belief that hold society together.
Following Locke’s argument and still assuming there is no God, the entire world would be in a perpetual state of anarchy, in fact, it would have been this way since the dawn of time. There would be no humanity as we know it now. It is obvious in our age that this did not, and is highly unlikely it ever will happen. The number of people in the world professing no belief in a God is growing, and society is chugging along just the same as 100, or even 1000, years ago, Now let us assume there is a God I argue that an atheist would still be a part of civil society, in that they are still making those promises to God even if they don’t believe in a God. The atheists who break covenants with God will be sent to the same judge that determines the fate of those who believe and did not break covenants. Locke says “God… is the only judge… who will retribute unto everyone at the last day… according to his sincerity and uprightness in endeavoring to promote piety, and the public weal and peace of mankind”. For this argument, I’ll continue to assume there is a God, In the quote religion is only one part of the equation.
The other two deal with living and helping other people in life. In most cases two-out-of-three wins. If a God does not take into account the good a person has done in life because they did not believe in him then that God should not be considered just, and deserves no worship. This idea of a Christian God being the supreme judge is bothersome. This is the same God that flooded the world because of people‘s “sins,” This act could be considered the ultimate infringement of religion on civil society There was obviously some sort of society during the times when this flood supposedly happened, as cities (in this case Sodom and Gomorrah) are a result of civil society (Locke gives a brief synopsis of how cities occur on p. 289). Because the people of the earth at the time did worship this God enough, or went against what God thought was right, he decided to destroy them, with the exception of Noah.
These people may not have been living an ideal life according to a Christian God, but they were living the lives they wanted, otherwise they would not have agreed to form that society. On to what I think are contradictions in Locke‘s argument. In the Letter to SH. he states: “No person whatsoever shall disturb, molest, or persecute another for his speculative opinions in religion, or his way or worship.” Atheism is a speculative opinion on religion, and by saying atheists deserve no toleration he is giving an opening to disturb, molest, or persecute a person for their opinions of religion, Locke says that “… single persons, nor Churches, nay, nor even commonwealths, have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other, upon the pretense of religion,” I find this to be another contradiction to his statement on atheists.
As I argued before even if an individual does not believe in a God, and if a God exists, they are still beholden to the promises they made in that God’s name. By removing atheists from civil society he is providing yet another opening for others to invade civil rights and take what they want from atheists. To conclude: I agree with some aspects of what Locke says concerning articles of faith in his letter on toleration. I agree that magistrates should have no say in what religion preaches as long as it does not cause harm to others, but I disagree when he says atheists should not be tolerated, as he is making assumptions without proof of a God. It bothers me that a God who has proven himself to have little self-restraint is the ultimate judge, and I feel that Locke has contradicted himself on the separation of religious and civil society.