Thursday, July 24, 2008

Locke, stock, and barrel

Okay, I know that's a pretty corny and well-used title, but I couldn't resist. I finished reading a biography on John Locke and started reading about David Hume's 'philosophical politics', and decided I had something to say. The division of church and state is something that's been taking a few hits these days, what with people trying to bring back morning prayers and prayer in general to the school system. There was a time when church and state were not on either sides of a wide gulf. One has only to look to Ireland to see the whole Catholic vs. Protestant ordeal and know that church and state intermingle better than most would think. It was like this in England as well during Locke's day (and even before), what with Popish plots and Protestant plots against whichever king or queen was in power back then. Look back far enough, and the ghosts of QE1 and Queen Mary rise up. Queen Mary had tons of Protestants killed, while QE1 did the exact same thing to as many Catholics.
By Locke's day, the rampant bloodshed had calmed down, but loyalty to a specific religion was still a huge factor in advancement in the British world. 'Popery' was wrong when a Protestant ruler was in charge, and when a Catholic ruler was in charge, the Protestants were in the wrong. People still spent time in the Tower of London based on what they believed or who they followed. Locke himself had to escape to Holland for a while following one of these famous plots. Not a bad thing, considering he suffered from asthma and the smog in London was brutal in those days. (It wasn't really that good during the early 1900's either, but moving on...)
Things were not nailed down and set in stone like they are now. QE2 is of the Anglican (Protestant) Church, and nobody in their right mind would dream of trying to bring her down. Then again, her power is severely limited by the British Government, and government is no longer based on religion, like it was in the days of Whigs vs. Tories. The Middle East is now the only place where groups go at each other based on religion, but I can discuss Muslim vs. Israeli another time. Still, things are more or less nailed down, and I have to wonder what would happen if this was not the case.
There's a lot to be said for religious tolerance, which is what Locke was calling for, and I am grateful that he and many others called and continue to call for it. Still, life would be a little more interesting if things weren't so set in stone, I think.

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