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State Toleration of Religion: John Locke’s Opinion


The relations between government and religion are not always smooth. To solve this problem many philosophers, discuss the question of whether the state should tolerate religion or not. John Locke was one of the representatives of the philosophic world who cared greatly about the problem of the state, religion and tolerance. He believed that the state should exercise religious tolerance because religion is a lawful affair, all activities are done by divine committees are for good and that religion meets the aims and desires of jurisdiction; but, at the same time, John Locke denied that similar tolerance should be extended to atheists because they confess no rules and believe in nothing, there are not restricted by any law and consider themselves as idols, who can do whatever they want.

The State Should Exercise Religious Tolerance Because Religion Is a Lawful Affair

Religion, no matter how it is expressed, always follows the law. John Locke is sure that:

These religious societies I call Churches; and these, I say, the magistrate ought to tolerate, for the business of these assemblies of the people is nothing but what is lawful for every man in particular to take care of — I mean the salvation of their souls; nor in this case is there any difference between the National Church and other separated congregations (par. 42).

It is impossible to reject this opinion as to if to consider different religions and to follow their canons it will be understood that all of them try to persuade people to be law-abiding. Going to different Churches it is possible to notice that religion always asks its people to follow rules, both God’s rules and state’s rules as obedience is one of the ways to God.

John Locke was sure that religion helps the state to make people law-abiding. Reading the quote mentioned above, it may be concluded that Locke also believed that religion helped people to understand that following the law is crucial, as only by being obedient to the law people will be able to save their souls. Therefore, it may be concluded that religion helps the state to maintain discipline in society, and the state should be tolerant of it.

All Activities Done by Religious Committees Are for Good

Religion committees care about people’s commonwealth and this should be valued by the state. All that is done by religion is directed on people with the purpose to make them better that will do a good service for them in the future. The commonwealth for John Locke is the “procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests. Civil interests I call life, liberty, health… and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like” (par. 5). Religion also cares about people and wants them to live a good life, to be healthy and free from different prejudices. Moreover, mental and physical liberty is also the main consideration of any religion. People are free and they should belong to no one especially against their wishes.

Different religions have different canons. Some of them care about only people’s souls, the others are sure that people should be ready for the other life and they need to have some material values. Still, all religions agree that people should be given the best. The state should also care about people’s well-being. The religious consideration of people’s commonwealth meets the state’s desires greatly. So, the state should be interested in religious toleration as its purposes correspond to the state’s ones, act for people’s good.

Government Should Tolerate Religion Because It Meets the Desires of Jurisdiction for Good

Following religious canons, people are sure to follow jurisdiction laws, implemented both by the government and by the Church. John Locke is sure that people will be able to live well if they will follow religious and civil jurisdiction laws. In other words, people are unable to make their lives perfect, so they have to follow something to reach it. In the discussed case, God and Governor are two creatures that should be listened to. The jurisdiction of God is unrestricted and people listen to the laws which are implemented by God.

John Locke is sure that, “Moral actions belong, therefore, to the jurisdiction both of the outward and inward court; both of the civil and domestic governor; I mean both of the magistrate and conscience” (par. 61). He means that the state should tolerate religion as it helps to maintain law. Religion and state should work together as they all care about justice in the world and common intentions may be more effective. That is why John Locke dwells upon the importance of cooperation of religion and government in the questions of justice and jurisdiction with the purpose to maintain peace.

Atheists Should Not Be Tolerated by the State

Dwelling upon the similarities of all religions in the questions of their mission, for good, John Loch is sure that atheism is not a religion and it must not be tolerated by the state; he writes “those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God” (par. 71). The reasons of such attitude to atheism are numerous, one of them is that “promises, covenants, and oaths… have no hold upon an atheist” (Locke par. 71). The meaning is that if an atheist believes in nothing, it is impossible to believe in his/her words, they are empty. Moreover, atheists’ belief in nothing makes it impossible to restrict or influence them by something. This is one of the main reasons why the state should not tolerate atheists. Moreover, atheism may not be considered a religion at all.

John Locke presents one more idea on why atheists should not be tolerated by the government, “those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretense of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration” (par. 71). So, it is understood that those who make nothing good for the state should not be tolerated, like atheists, as their absence of belief just harms society.


In conclusion, John Locke is a great philosopher who, dwelling upon the relations between state and religion, said that the state should exercise religious tolerance because religion serves the law, activities provided by divine committees are directed for good and religion meets the mission and desires of jurisdiction. At the same time, John Locke denied that similar tolerance should be extended to atheists because they confess no rules and believe in nothing, they are not restricted by any law. The absence of control makes them free in their actions which may differ from religion and state desires.

Works Cited

Locke, John. A Letter Concerning Toleration. 1689. Web.


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