Locke was neither an extreme libertarian nor a proponent of a Christian government. He could advocate religious liberty and insist on morals legislation because he believed that all citizens had access to moral truths through the natural law, and thus could be held accountable regardless of religious beliefs. One may or may not find natural law plausible, but it occupies a respected place within Western—and Christian—political thought and Locke was hardly out of the ordinary in his reliance on it. Indeed, it is hard to know how [David] Gushee could avoid relying on something similar if he believes, as I’m sure he does, that non-Christians should abide by secular laws forbidding theft or sexual assault. One can, I note in passing, offer reasons as to the wrongness of theft, or even same-sex marriage, without relying on scripture.
Gushee has discovered a “Locke” that John Locke himself would not recognize. Founding-era Americans would not recognize Gushee’s Locke either. Gushee describes Locke’s views as emerging victorious over Christendom in 1791, though in fact Locke was much more influential in the events leading up to 1776 than he was in the constructive task of establishing a new constitution. Needless to say, Locke’s views, were they truly to sanction the sort of public license that Gushee claims, would never have enjoyed the acclaim they did amidst a founding generation that had rather robust views about public morality and the government’s role in protecting it.
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