John Locke didn’t quite fit the Deist mold, for he fully believed in miracles and biblical revelation. Furthermore, while Deists argued that the rational soul with its heavenly heritage could unveil God’s work, Locke’s mind had no such power. Worse, his rejection of innate ideas actually undermined Deism. For if the mind was a net of imperfect associations, prone to prejudice, superstition, and delusion, then it was hardly dominated by a universally endowed right reason, but rather pedestrian, often wrong, reason. Nonetheless, Locke’s ethics echoed some Deist views and attracted its advocates, since he also believed God’s desire was encoded in His design and could be found in natural law.
Among the most prominent of Deists was the Irishman John Toland. In 1696, he penned his Christianity Not Mysterious, a book deeply indebted to Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding. Reason, though deeply vulnerable to deception, was still the only grounds for certitude. Matters of faith should always be rational. Even biblical commandments must stand up to logic before becoming law. Hauled before a grand jury, Toland became notorious. Shunned as a pariah, he ended up homeless and destitute. Thirty years later, incensed believers, still bitter, assaulted his idea that God was an analogy.
In 1707, Locke’s pupil Anthony Collins dared to publish An Essay Concerning the Use of Reason, which denied religious mysteries and revelations, and argued that all morality rested on logic. Another Lockean, John Trenchard, used the master to debunk superstitions, noting how easily the mind could be fooled to worship shadows and clouds as gods. The deistic Matthew Tindal wielded Locke like a whip to demand that reason test all Christian beliefs.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
George Makari Publishes Long Article about John Locke
In Salon here. A taste: