John Locke: Forcing Someone to Become a Christian Essay

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In the letter ‘A Letter Concerning Toleration’ John Locke sets out the arguments as to why it is irrational to force someone to become Christian against their will and whilst Locke writes as a Christian it acknowledged that it is true for all religious beliefs. As a whole his letter makes a case for the toleration of other religious beliefs.
The main argument within the letter is the irrationality argument but it also included others such as the unchristian argument and the inconsistency argument.
The irrationality argument begins with the following assumption: ‘The care of each man’s soul, and of the things of heaven… is left entirely to every man’s self’ in Horton and Mendum (eds) (1991), p.44
Whilst this assumption itself is
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The second premise necessitates a greater explanation as it asserts that it is impossible to alter religious beliefs through coercion despite its practice in seventeenth century England. Under torture it is quite possible, even likely, that the persecuted will actively admit to anything even though he knows it to be untrue and in the same way will admit a change in belief in order for the torture to cease.
However Locke stated that it is impossible for this sort of intervention to alter one’s beliefs as the formation of beliefs takes many years and derives from what a person believes true based on the evidence they have seen. The act of being tortured may force them to admit another belief but this cannot have any lasting impact on their belief because it does not chance their mind; it just forces them to admit something that they know in their hearts is not true.
If we are happy that Locke’s two premises are indeed valid then the conclusion is true. Magistrates only sanction is coercion; coercion cannot alter religious beliefs; therefore it is illogical for magistrates to attempt to alter religious beliefs as they have no means of achieving their aim. Thus toleration seems the only rational course of action.
Recently the philosopher Jeremy Waldron has criticised Locke’s

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