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Samuel Rickless

You say: "In order to be a true Christian it is necessary and, it seems, sufficient that one exhibits "charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all mankind." What's astonishing about this is not just that doctrine is irrelevant, but one does not even require (as Hobbes suggest) faith that Christ is the savior. This is an embrace of Christian pacifism ("meekness) and a doctrine of cosmopolitan humanitarian works ("charity...good will," etc.) It turns Christianity into a purely moral doctrine."

The passage you quote commits to the necessity claim, but not to the sufficiency claim. Locke says that if you are destitute of charity, meekness, and good-will, then you are not a true Christian. But he does not say that if you possess charity, meekness, and good-will, then you ARE a true Christian. He can't say this, because he doesn't believe it. In Chapter 4 (and others) of The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke says that believing that Jesus is the Messiah is both necessary and sufficient to count as a believer. To count as a true Christian, i.e., as someone who will be saved, one needs also to act in accordance with the virtues of charity, meekness, and good-will. The true Christian, then, is someone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah and who possesses the requisite moral virtues. Locke recognizes that there are persons of other faiths who exhibit the moral virtues but who don't count as true Christians because they don't believe in the Messiah.

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for your comments, Sam.
First, you ignore that I was a bit more cautious in asserting the sufficiency claim. (I used "it seems.")
Second, I was making no claims about what Locke believes because (a) that is irrelevant by Locke's lights in this work--that's up to each person's conscience/private faith; (b) his argument does not rely on his private beliefs in the Letter.
Third, you rely on a later work to infer what Locke may have thought while writing the Letter. That strikes me as a bit dubious, especially because the latter work is rhetorically challenging. (To be clear: I do not deny that Locke is a systematic thinker.)
Fourth, more important even IF Locke thought while writing the Letter that to be a true Christian you also need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, his text does not state it and his text cannot state it because it would violate his tolerance requirement (which rules out legislating for other churches what they can or cannot believe on matters of doctrine) and it would require one to interpret Scripture (which goes against the spirit if not the letter of the Letter).

Samuel Rickless

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your replies. A few thoughts to share with you.

1. Yes, you say "it seems', but the qualifier drops out of the next few sentences. It is difficult to know whether you mean the qualifier to apply to everything else you say after that sentence, but my guess is that you don't. Which brings up the question: Do you mean to say that it only *seems" that, according to Locke, "Christianity [is a ] purely moral doctrine"? Or do you mean to say that, according to Locke, Christianity *really is* no more than a purely moral doctrine?

2.I don't understand what you mean when you say that you were making no claims about what Locke believes. You are quoting from the Letter, and I understand you to be offering an interpretation of what Locke writes in the Letter. If you are not offering an interpretation of this sort, what are you saying? Are you saying that *you* think that Christianity is a purely moral doctrine? Are you saying that some of what Locke writes leads you (never mind how) to the thought that Christianity is a purely moral doctrine? I'm not being facetious here. I would really like to know what you are trying to say.

3. The first Letter is 1689. The Reasonableness is 1695. Are you thinking that Locke's views changed drastically in that six year period? If he is, as you recognize, a systematic thinker, who doesn't give us any sign that he has changed his mind on the subject of the necessary and sufficient conditions for counting as a Christian, then I would think that the default assumption should be that his thoughts about these matters in 1689 are not different from his thoughts just a few years later.

Moreover, as you know, there are three letters on toleration, the last of which is 1692. In the second Letter (1690), Locke talks about what is essential to Christianity without explaining what those essentials are (see Woolhouse 336). Just a few years later, Locke spells out what he was presupposing in the second and third Letters: that the belief that Jesus is the Messiah (along with a few concomitants) is what one needs to *believe* in order to be a true Christian, and the rest that's needed is repentance and a commitment to a life of virtue.

It's just too much to believe that there are radical changes in Locke's views during this time. He is deepening his thoughts, not replacing one set of thoughts with another (incompatible) set.

4. There is no inconsistency between (i) the claim that one should not legislate for other churches what to believe on matters of doctrine and (ii) the claim that Christianity requires belief that Jesus is the Messiah. If you get together with your friends, and what unites you is the belief that God exists, that the Old Testament gets it right, and that the New Testament gets it wrong (so that Jesus is not the Messiah), then the principle of toleration says that the state shouldn't legislate for your church (or, rather, synagogue) what to believe. You should be left free to believe what you want (within certain constraints -- no Catholics, because you can't have allegiance to two different societies, and no atheists, because we can't trust them to keep their compacts). What (ii) entails is that you and your friends are not Christians. But so what? All that follows is that the principle of toleration applies to non-Christians, which is not a surprise.

I'm not understanding the point about Scripture. Are you saying that the proposition (call it "P") that you need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah in order to be a Christian requires you to interpret Scripture? I don't see why. Maybe Scripture says that Jesus is the Messiah and that you need to believe this in order to be saved. As Locke sees it, this is pretty clearly in the text, so it shouldn't be in dispute. This is part of what he's saying in the Reasonableness. There may be a germ of a problem here for Locke, but he seems blissfully unaware of it. And besides, if one doesn't derive the belief that P from Scripture itself, there is no problem. (I'm not even getting into the difference between the letter and the spirit of the Letter.)

Eric Schliesser

Dear Sam,
Thank you for your questions which clarify the dialectic.
1. I am claiming that in the first Letter (and, perhaps, only in the First Letter), *True* Christianity is no more than a purely moral doctrine (and a bit of social/political utility). That's compatible with various forms of Christianity claiming to be more than that and also various churches, who consider themselves Christian, to claim more than that. I recognize this is a very contriversial claim about the first Letter, and I understand why one would be tempted by Locke's other writings to dispute it. I also claim that Locke is cautious in asserting it.
2. Our real difference is on this point. I would argue that Locke's First Letter is not a report on Locke's beliefs, but a series of arguments and redefinitions meant to serve various political ends. One can hold the previous sentence while allowing that (i) Locke is not lying and (ii) Locke's private views on matters of faith go beyond the claims of the Letter and (iii) I am wrong about Locke's views on true christianity.
3. I am no Locke scholar-scholar, but I believe Locke's Letter has its roots in Locke's thought going back, I think to the late 1660s and undoubtedly also reflects, in part, his Dutch experiences in the 1680s [this is clear from some of the examples}, including his engagement with Van Limborch and, probably, his reflections on Spinoza/Spinozism. In addition, it is quite possible that the first letter is the end point of a series of reflections; and that once he is back in England after the Glorious Revolution, he changes his views or emphases in various ways. [I agree if all else were equal then the nearness in time between the works is a strike against that claim; but as it happens, the period involves dramatic political and geographic changes in his life.]
4. I am not sure what to say that does not merely repeat my post. On (ii) we simply disagree about the contents of the Letter; I deny that in the Ltter Locke embraces the idea that Christianity requires belief that Jesus is the Messiah (although undoubtedly he may think that his readers will attribute the view to him).

Samuel Rickless

Hi Eric,

Thanks. This helps.

1.If True Christianity is a purely moral doctrine, and a Jew or Muslim (or atheist!) accepts the moral doctrine, then the Jew or Muslim (or atheist!) counts as a True Christian. I don't know what to say except that this strikes me as an obvious reductio of the claim that Christianity is a purely moral doctrine. Otherwise, moral Jews, Muslims, and atheists would be True Christians. Locke is something of a latitudinarian, but not this much of a latitudinarian!

2. What is your *evidence* for the claim that the First Letter is not a report of Locke's own views? The letter was published anonymously. If Locke is hiding his identity as the author, why should he hide his own views? What reason would he have for producing a work that does not reflect his own views? Did he ever do that in other works? Locke writes two other Letters in defense of the first. Do you really think he's busy writing these extremely long responses in defense of views he does not hold? He's taking Proast's responses personally, just as he took Stillingfleet's criticisms personally.

3. The First Letter was written around 1685, and published in 1689. What matters to whether the letter reflects the author's views is not when it was scribbled, but when it was published. If Locke did not think the Letter reflected his views at the time of publication (because, say, he had changed his mind between the time of scribbling and the time of publication), he wouldn't have published it. This is common sense. Besides, if Locke is busy defending the contents of the First Letter in the Second and Third Letters (in 1690 and 1692), you can bet that he still accepts the contents of the First Letter in 1692. And, as I say, the Reasonableness is published in 1695.

4. I thought your point was that the First Letter is *inconsistent* with the view that Christianity requires belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Am I right that you've accepted that it's *consistent*? Beyond this, my point is that Locke says in the Reasonableness that Christianity requires belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and that it may be reasonably inferred from this that this is something Locke believes when he publishes the First Letter in 1689. Notice that this is a *very* minimal requirement. It allows *very wide* latitude when it comes to *true* Christianity. In the late 17th century, there were many Anglicans (e.g.) who thought that Protestant dissenters (Quakers, Anabaptists, etc.) were not *true* Christians. This is what Locke vehemently opposes. But he's not crazy. He does think that something more than morality is needed to count as a true *Christian*.

Eric Schliesser

Dear Sam,
We are starting to reach diminishing returns of this exchange. (So, I won't answer all your concerns.)
1. Maybe a reductio, but I would claim that Locke participates in, and helps make popular, a more general movement that turns Christianity into a purely ethical doctrine. That's a dangerous thing to do in the late 1680s (and hence anonymity), but not unprecedented then.
2. Sorry, but you misunderstand the position. On my reading, Locke is making a political intervention in which he argues for what he takes to be salutary political doctrines. He is not reporting his own faith; nor is he lying. The previous two sentences/three propositions imply no contradiction and I am unsure what you find so hard to understand here. (I do suspect that you are imposing your norms of assertion on another thinker.)
3. We have different hypotheses about the evolution of Locke's views that he is willing to assert in public.
4. It is inconsistent with the latter view if the Letter is reporting Locke's doctrine of faith. But I am denying that the Letter expresses his faith.

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