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A Letter Concerning Toleration (Hackett Classics) Paperback – July 1, 1983
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Locke very eloquently argues for a common sense position, one that was very influential, particularly in America, where it 'held' for a couple of centuries.
... I will not here tax the pride and ambition of some, the passion and uncharitable zeal of others. These are faults from which human affairs can perhaps scarce ever be perfectly freed; but yet such as nobody will bear the plain imputation of, without covering them with some specious colour; and so pretend to commendation, whilst they are carried away by their own irregular passions. But, however, that some may not colour their spirit of persecution and unchristian cruelty with a pretence of care of the public weal and observation of the laws; ... in a word, that none may impose either upon himself or others, by the pretences of loyalty and obedience to the prince, or of tenderness and sincerity in the worship of God; I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other.
If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.
"Toleration" is out of favor in these more enlightened times, alas, and I suspect the people who could learn the most from this short, cogent pamphlet are the most likely to shut their ears against it.
Given the contentiousness of debate in Locke's day, I think I may plump for the edition with more context:
A Letter Concerning Toleration and Other Writings (The Thomas Hollis Library)
But the "Letter" by itself is well worth reading, even foundational.
The conscience of men and the rituals and ideals of each particular religion and not the purview of the state. Civil society is not the concern of government. The state has limited duties and the prescribing the faith of people is not one of them.
His argument today applies to issues of polygamy, gay marriage, etc as issues for INTERNAL matters of a church, whom and how they decide membership while the state must treat all fairly before the law.
Locke argues that unless the church is violating general rules of society, their rules of membership are not the purview of government. He is a true advocate for the separation of religion and government