In Part 3, a similar point: that liberty of conscience--starting with and centered on religious belief--emerged as a liberal value in response to historical developments.
Here we look more at the detailed working out of what has already been described more broadly-that tolerance developed first as pragmatic necessity, then as a positive principle.
On close inspection, the positive principle of tolerance was there from the beginning of the Reformation, but it was highly ambiguous, and was sharply contradicted in practice. It was only after the pragmatic necessity was realized that the positive principle firmly took root.
SINCE THE REFORMATION.
1. The Argument for Religious Freedom.
It is often said that the modern idea of freedom first appeared, or at least first became formidable, in the Reformation. The first of its champions to make a mark in the world was Luther, who asserted the "priesthood of all believers," and who said that "God desires to be alone in our consciences, and desires that His word alone should prevail."
(1) Luther's "preisthood of all believers, though it had precursors, signaled a new departure, radically recentering religious authority within the individual consceince.
(2) Luther's hold on his own principle was ambiguous and contradicted by his own practice. In a way, this was inevitable. The principle, though a foundation of individualism, is a social principle, nonetheless-this is how we ought to live together. A priesthood, after all, is a form of fellowship, not merely a collection of isolated individuals. It requires a society that has embraced and practiced such precepts to hold itself accountable-even its leaders who don't always live up to their ideals. This is another reason why society matters, and why liberalism is fundamentally a social philosophy: individual liberty can only be preserved and flourish where it is firmly established as a social value.
(3) The extreme "relativism" of today-even to the point of post-modernist interpretations-was present at the beginning with Luther, though of course not realized. This is not some later invention, as conservatives (including conservative Lutherans, naturally) would like to claim. The invention was Luther's, even if it was inadvertant. Those who came later brought profound changes, to be sure, but they did this based on working out implications that were already there from the beginning.
To punish men for beliefs they dare to avow is to risk punishing the sincere and to allow hypocrites to go unpunished. Castellion's arguments were directed at Calvin, who only a few months earlier had had Servetus burned to death as a heretic. Castellion's plea was not only for a wide toleration; he condemned extreme measures against any heretic. He was concerned for the quality of faith, for the spiritual condition of the believer. Yet he did not advocate full liberty of conscience; he did not put it forward as a principle that anyone may hold and publish any religious beliefs, and may worship God as he pleases, provided he does not propagate beliefs and indulge in practices that endanger the peace and the secure enjoyment of rights.
(4) Castellion may be regarded as possibly the first authentic modern religious liberal. This is because
Castellion's defense of tolerance was supported by explicitly liberal ideas. This is true despite the fact that he did not advocate full liberty of conscience. He had a distinctively liberal attitude, even if he did not follow it all the way. Thus, it is fair to say that Luther's idea give birth to a liberal view, but Castellion embodies a liberal view-though not fully realized..
There are three liberal arguments Castellion advances, which we can amplify as follows:
(5) God is merciful, and nurturant. He does not punish men for not meeting impossible standards. To doubt this-to demand orthodoxy-is to doubt the goodness of God. Thus, one could argue, it is the strident orthodox believer who commits clear heresy, when he accuses an unorthodox believer of the same. It's the old mote-beam thing.
(6) We can't substitute ourselves for God. Belief must be sincere, to be acceptable to God. But only God can know who is sincere. Human punishment risks punishing the sincere-the righteous-while letting hypocrites go. It is arrogant on our part to believe we know God's will. Separation of church and state is thus rooted in proper humility before God. Bringing them together is based on pride and arrogance. It is the path of Lucifer.
(7) The spriritual condition of the believer is a prime concern. It cannot simply be trumped by claiming "true faith." All that we can do, as mortals, is to try to support one another in our own spiritual quests. We may do this by encouragement, persuasion, even questioning, but not by such coercive means that would interfere with sincere belief. There is no Strict Parent "right way" that can trump the Nurturant Parent concern for the individuals own spiritual condition.
Next: Two Pragmatice Lessons
(8) Domestic peace and security come from tolerance, not uniformity.
(9) Persecution doesn't work, anyway.
After many a hard knock for over a hundred years, we're finally ready to get serious about putting Luther and Castellion together, supported by these two pragmatic lessons. The major players are Spinoza, Locke, and Bayle:
We interupt this paragraph to say, "Here comes the real kicker":
This is very important! Locke is a monster figure [in a good way] in the history of liberalism. This is partially justified, merely because of how often, how widely and how fundamentally he is cited. However, it is a mistake to fetishize him, and particularly to ignore the fact that in matters of religion-one of his two main contributions (the other being social contract theory)-he is not an originator, but a synthesizer and summarizer. You will find an awful lot of Locke-worship among libertarians. Probably worth a whole book in itself. But the most significant thing to say here is that Locke's views are the result of a long social and historical process. They did not spring from his brow in a virgin birth. Individualism is, once again, an outgrowth of a specific social milieu.
A pretty darn robust wall of separation, don'tcha think?
No belief is to be suppressed merely because it is heretical, nor any practice merely because it is offensive to God. No doubt, what is offensive to God is sinful, but what is sinful is not punishable by man. No man deserves punishment at the hands of other men, unless he has offended some man, unless he has invaded his rights. Locke, in this Letter, seems at times to come close to saying what J. S. Mill was to say long afterwards: that men are answerable to civil authority only for their harmful and not their immoral actions. Yet he does not say it outright, nor even clearly imply it.
This ambiguity is also important to note. This is something that libertarians, with their ahistorical presentism, are particularly prone to miss. But Locke still took for granted, to a degree unclear in his writings, the police powers of the state. (This has nothing to do with Hill Street Blue, it's the older, broader meaning of the word, to police: to regulate.) It is police powers that libertarians absolutely deny-except, for some inexplicable reason, to enforce contracts.
Over time, liberals have significantly shifted their background assumptions about how far police powers may extend, and why. They have never denied all police powers, but they have often focused their attention on the dangers that police powers bring. Locke was a prime example of this.
The text itself delves into this, though without the specific warnings against libertarian misreading:
Here's the twist:
And here's another blow at the simplistic libertarian holiness-of-contracts view, on the way to making a deeper point: Liberals have always been concerned with the issue of preserving social order, they have always wrestled with the threat of undermining it. What they have not done-which social conservatives (and todays communitarians, too) almost always do-is to take this concept of social order and mythologize it, absolutize it and freeze it in past formulations.
Hence, it's perfectly consistent with centuries of liberal thought for liberals to argue in support of gay marriage precisely because it preserves social order, albeit in a form that is not, presently, regarded as tradtional. </stack of digressions>
Now, where was I? Oh yes: Another blow at the simplistic libertarian holiness-of-contracts view, yada-yada-yada:
See, nothing new here. We got our principles we can all agree on, and fight like the dickens over how to apply them. And we delude ourselves that some dead white dude 300 years ago had all the answers, if only we'd just go back to what he said.
What he said: "Well, maybe."
And that's the liberal way. Keep the conversation going....