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Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  1. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    It’s funny, Jon, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how the question “Was John Locke a christian?” is either interesting or relevant. I mean, I don’t want to denigrate a dead man’s legacy, but I surely hope he contributed more to Lockian scholarship than an answer to this question.

    {{Maybe I’m feeling surly…}}Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      I believe he’s relaying a personal conversation he had, related to Jon’s interests, not necessarily Sigmund’s, at least not one of his major interests.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater
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      The significance of the question wouldn’t be whether Locke personally, whatever that means, was a Christian believer, whatever that means, but would be whether Lockean principles pre-suppose or lead inevitably to a view and practice of Christianity that believing Christians in the main would or must consider atheistic or anti-Christian – whether a Lockean republic, which it will be further argued the American republic was in some large part designed to be, would be a Christian republic, and, if so, what kind of Christian republic it would be, and then whether the proper stance of a faithful Christian toward that republic would be 1) to support it and participate in it (or fight for it), or 2) to tolerate it, or 3) to oppose or seek to escape or replace it.

      That American Christians to a great extent, and unlike many of their European counterparts, came to the first and at worst the second positions may explain much about American history.

      In my own reading of Strauss, incidentally, I have not found a declaration of Locke’s atheism. Maybe I missed it. Maybe in Strauss’ lectures or letters he is more overt with that claim, but, where he discusses Locke at length in NATURAL RIGHT AND HISTORY, what I find is a careful explication of Locke’s defense of a right and need to diverge from dogma in search of truth, and the carefully supported, politically and historically profoundly significant argument that precisely that government concerned with the spiritual health of its citizens would protect their freedom to come to right belief and conduct on their own and authentically, rather than by coercion and in that sense falsely.

      From this formulation you can derive, I believe, the modern liberal idea as a moral idea with broad application in society, politics, and economics, the enduring basis of the American civic religion. Some have argued in addition that this civic religion, and the order that it supports, is in this sense an essentially Christian, lineally Protestant religion. Whether a “Christianity without Christ” or “without ‘Christ'” could be really Christian (ever) – or even most authentically Christian – is another question, or basis of a delicate inquiry, implied by this line of argument. It was Locke, after all, who asked us to take “words.. for what they are, the signs of our ideas only, and not for things themselves.” The question is therefore also simultaneously what we could specifically mean by “atheist,” which in key respects may be something very different from Locke and his contemporaries would have understood by the term.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod
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        CK,

        but would be whether Lockean principles pre-suppose or lead inevitably to a view and practice of Christianity that believing Christians in the main would or must consider atheistic or anti-Christian

        Oh, I get that that’s the issue. But even then the answer is still trivial. I mean, Christians can go around trying to make all the “correct thinkers” into secretly-really Christians, but that doesn’t change the facts on the ground: that at that point we’re not talking about a particular thinker’s thoughts or their truth and practicality anymore, we’re just attempting to confirm either that Christian’s have always had “the goods” or that all good thought is Christian.

        Neither one is interesting except insofar as I’m inclined to reject the methodology employed. 🙂

        That said, I rather liked your comment and wonder if I haven’t subtly refudiated myownself given what I said about it….Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Stillwater: That said, I rather liked your comment and wonder if I haven’t subtly refudiated myownself given what I said about it….

          Probly safer to act (or refrain from acting) in a manner consistent with your main position that the topic is of no interest to you.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod
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            says:

            Good point. Like I said.

            What’s interesting to me is the effort expended to make Locke into a Christian. Meta-meta!! At that point, we’re not talking about the world anymore, just individual psychology. Which is more interesting than Locke’s christianity, tho not much. (Except at the meta-meta level!)Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to CK MacLeod
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        says:

        Whether Strauss taught Locke was an atheist.

        I think this relates to the last post on the need to write esoterically in liberal democracy. Now that society is open and dissent/heretics aren’t persecuted, there is no longer a “need” in this sense. But there may be other good reasons for philosophers to write esoterically.

        So I get the sense that Strauss employed his own esoteric message for a different reason: to protect the gods of the City (in this case the objective truth of “reason” and “revelation”).

        Or it could be that Strauss’ followers — whom Sigmund termed the “neo-Straussians” — who are to blame for seeing Locke as an atheist. And it’s true in Natural Right & History, Strauss doesn’t blatantly (exoterically) call Locke an atheist (or out himself as one). But I get the sense that such is the intended (esoteric) message.

        In Ravelstein, Saul Bellow named Strauss as “Davarr” which is Hebrew for “Word.” So when I read Allan Bloom, and Bloom is going farther than Strauss, Bloom really may just be giving us more on the “true Strauss.”

        This is what Thomas West writes on Bloom on Hobbes & Locke:

        “… As for politics, says Bloom, America was founded on modern principles of liberty and equality that we got from Hobbes and Locke. Liberty turned out to mean freedom from all self-restraint, and equality turned out to mean the destruction of all differences of rank and even of nature. Our Founders may have acted, or have pretended to act, “with a firm reliance on divine providence” (Declaration of Independence) but their natural-rights philosophy, says Bloom, came from the atheists Hobbes and Locke. (Bloom hedges on whether the Founders were self-conscious atheists or merely the dupes of clever and lying philosophers.) …”

        http://www.claremont.org/basicPageArticles/allan-bloom-and-america/#.Vc8-LPnakxI

        This is what Bloom said in The Closing of the American Mind about “the philosophers.”

        “The philosophers appeared to deny the very existence of God, or at least of the Christian God.”

        (See here for the context.)

        Strauss was also rumored to have said that “no true philosopher can believe in God.” Again, that’s arguably Strauss’ esoteric message.Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Jon Rowe
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          says:

          Is an atheism or so-called atheism confined to the area between the lines, never asserted as such but instead a matter of rumors, in any sense the same as an atheism shouted from the rooftops and fiercely asserted as atheism in popular books from the title down? What if the difference between a vague atheism or atheistic tendency, an open-minded agnosticism, or consciousness of apparent final irresolvability for us of certain problems (and even of the desirability of their remaining unresolved), and an atheism of utter certitude of its own perfect and universal validity is a critical difference?

          The question that Strauss repeats – using the ecclesiastical Latin – at a critical point in his writings, “What would God be?” was a question pondered by the Scholastics, in relation to proposed philosophical proofs for the (so-called) “existence of God.” The “existence of God” is itself or becomes a problematic expression, as some of Strauss’s German-Jewish contemporaries in particular, and in a different way Heidegger, noted. Strauss’s statement that “no true philosopher can believe in God,” if he ever uttered it as you quote it, is or would have been necessarily as much a statement about “philosophy” and “belief” as about whatever is or would be named by the word at the end of the sentence. In short, Strauss depicts the philosophical disposition as a disposition of questioning all, and therefore the opposite of any unquestioning certitude – of any unquestioning disposition whatsoever, including especially the one implied by a certain idea of the meaning of “belief,” and demanded by a certain kind of believer.

          I am going to cut myself short here rather than enter into all day session on this topic, but my point is simply that the questions of atheism and belief are philosophical questions – or the extent to which they can justly be treated as other than philosophical questions would be itself a philosophical question (and so on). Treating them as (possibly) simple questions of historical or biographical fact would therefore, from the perspective of philosophy, be to distort and reduce them. It is to adopt particular (I would say deprecatory) presumptions about the questions – about “what God would be,” about “what Godlessness would be.”

          Operation on the basis of presumptions, in this way, may or may not be justifiable or necessary for certain purposes. It may even be a better way of proceeding, or anyway many people seem to think so. Either way, it is the opposite of how Strauss (not only Strauss) defines authentically philosophical questioning. The anti-philosophical approach among other things sets aside the possibility that human beings, or thought or language or thought and language, are not capable of extinguishing ambiguity from any self-consistent and coherent discussion of these matters, much to the dismay of the zealots of revelation or anti-revelation (“tyrants of the kingdom of God” in Rosenzweig’s phrase).Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod
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            says:

            but my point is simply that the questions of atheism and belief are philosophical questions – or the extent to which they can justly be treated as other than philosophical questions would be itself a philosophical question (and so on). Treating them as (possibly) simple questions of historical or biographical fact would therefore, from the perspective of philosophy, be to distort and reduce them.

            Exactly. Even tho we may hold that view for different reasons I agree with what you wrote up there. Treating the question “Was Locke a Christian?” as admitting an empirical answer is – it seems to me – fantastically confused.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              I wonder about something, perhaps you have a good way to pose the question:

              Like most other atheists I know, I grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture; and a lot of my morals root in Judeo-Christian ethics. Believing that families are good, for instance. Caring for the weak, the poor, and being peaceful. Caring for the environment by being good stewards.

              So I would say I’m culturally Christian, but my belief is atheist.

              Is this a way of looking at potentially-atheist (meaning belief), now-dead Christian (cultural) philosophers?Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Jon Rowe
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          says:

          Now that society is open and dissent/heretics aren’t persecuted, there is no longer a “need” in this sense.

          While it is true, generally, that avowed atheists don’t have to fear execution, etc. as they once did, I don’t think I’d go so far as to say they aren’t persecuted; and most atheists I know are not shout-it-from-the-rooftops types because they are, indeed, persecuted, looked down upon, considered immoral, and all sorts of other nasty stuff that being indoctrinated into religious cults perpetuate to maintain control over their minions. I mean believers.Report

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