By - - RELIGION AND ETHICS
Added: Tue, 21 Feb 2012 01:04:03 UTC
Throughout the seventeenth century, European civilisation was tortured by religious conflict. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and other political thinkers of the time wrote against a background of terrible dislocations: the wars of religion; religion-tinged political struggles between great European dynasties; and the ruinous conflict between the British Crown and parliament.
The troubled times provided an occasion to rethink the proper relationship between the claims of religion and the operation of worldly (or secular) political power.
Although Hobbes's greatest single work, Leviathan (1651), consists largely of theological analysis to defend his model of the state, its most important line of argument uses entirely secular reasoning. That is, Hobbes analyses the function and operation of the state in terms of human beings' worldly interests.
For Hobbes, the state should aim at limited secular goals, such as peace and security, and the kind of material prosperity that these facilitate. It should view religious rivalries as just one more threat to peace.
However, he thought, the secular ruler cannot be merely indifferent to religious matters. To ensure that the peace is maintained, the ruler must suppress outward expressions of all religions except one - no rivalry of doctrines can be allowed.
Other seventeenth-century thinkers moved decisively in a more liberal direction. Among these, Locke was enormously influential. In A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), he accepts the Hobbesian analysis, insofar as he sees the state as the result of a social contract and defines its role in entirely secular terms. But he draws totally different practical conclusions.
Relevant posts on Religion and Ethics website
http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/01/25/3415283.htm 25-Jan Russell Blackford (above)
http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/02/03/3422519.htm 3-Feb William Cavanaugh
http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/02/08/3425814.htm 8-Feb Russell Blackford
http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/02/13/3429329.htm 13-Feb William Cavanaugh