Volume 23, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2003
Jennifer A. Herdt
Locke, Martyrdom, and the Disciplinary Power of the Church
While refraining from merely reinscribing liberal hagiographies of Locke, this essay questions recent accounts of Locke as facilitator of an insidious subordination of church to state in the early modern period. Locke's defense of toleration and the claims of conscience represent the recovery of key aspects of Christian charity, not the subordination of church to state, and his conception of church membership as voluntary serves as a salutary reminder that loyalty cannot ultimately be coerced, but resides in a bond of trust. While Locke's account of the church is inadequate and his attempt to separate civil and religious realms flounders, these flaws rested in part on problematic assumptions about the fundamentally otherworldly orientation of Christianity and thus the purely instrumental character of the church. These are assumptions shared with earlier Christian thinkers and hardly distinctively modern or liberal.