Everyone Orthodox to Themselves: John Locke and His American Students on Religion and Liberal Society
By John Colman
JMC fellow John Colman has just released a new book exploring the religious views and political theologies of John Locke and three of his American students: Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson:
Religious liberty is one of the hallmarks of American democracy, but the principal architects of this liberty believed that it was only compatible with a certain form of Christianity—namely, a liberal, rational, Christianity. Conservative and postliberal champions of the freedom of religion often ignore this point, sometimes even arguing that orthodox Christianity was, or should be, at the root of democratic liberty.
Everyone Orthodox to Themselves, John Colman’s close study of the religious views and political theologies of John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, shows otherwise. Colman demonstrates that Locke and his three American students specifically took aim at the idea of orthodoxy, which they argued continuously tempted its believers to try to impose an artificial uniformity upon the religious diversity that naturally exists in society and thought it necessary to advance a more rational, nondogmatic Christianity given the threat they saw religious orthodoxy posed to a free, liberal society.
While recent arguments have endorsed the idea that there is a crisis of liberalism that can only be met by the revival of more orthodox forms of religious devotion, Colman argues that, according to some of the most prominent American Founders and their philosophic predecessors, such orthodoxy is incompatible with religious freedom and the right to free inquiry. Everyone Orthodox to Themselves demonstrates that only a nondogmatic, rationalist Christianity could be made a friend rather than an adversary to the inalienable right of religious liberty.
Colman’s work reveals how the reform of Christianity, and with it the inculcation of a particular theological disposition, is necessary to secure religious liberty and the right of free inquiry. The book also establishes the importance of Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity for his larger argument for toleration.
John Colman is an Associate Professor of Politics and Director of the Honors Program at Ave Maria University. Aside from Everyone Orthodox to Themselves, he is the author of Lucretius as Theorist of Political Life.
Professor Colman is a JMC fellow.
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