Everyone Orthodox to Themselves
John Locke and His American Students on Religion and Liberal Society
American Political Thought
Sales Date: July 28, 2023
- Published: July 2023
- Published: July 2023
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, non-dogmatic 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 non-dogmatic, 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 returns to John Locke and three thinkers he calls Locke’s ‘American Students’ to mount a counteroffensive against the recent upsurge of illiberal thinking. Colman’s readings of Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson are astute and subtle; his case on behalf of their positions on religious liberty and free inquiry well-informed and persuasive.”—Michael Zuckert, Nancy R. Dreux Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame and author of A Nation So Conceived: Abraham Lincoln and the Paradox of Democratic Sovereignty
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Religious Liberty, Free Inquiry, and the Problem of Orthodoxy
1. The Crisis of Liberalism and the Return of Orthodoxy
2. Toward a Theology of Liberalism: Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity
3. Benjamin Franklin and the Hemphill Affair: Making Good Citizens, Not Good Presbyterians
4. James Madison and the Ambition of Making Laws for the Human Mind
5. Diamonds from Dunghills: Jefferson’s Materialism, Free Inquiry, and Religious Reform