September 19, 2019
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Equal Liberty of Conscience with Martha Nussbaum


(light, peaceful music) – It’s some 30 years since
I first met Martha Nussbaum, it was I think in Oxford, it
could’ve been in Princeton, but what brought us
together on that occasion was our common interest
in Greek philosophy and literature, that was 30 years ago. 30 years since then that’s
just who I am still, I’m still Greek philosophy and literature. The difference between us is
that while Professor Nussbaum continues to work a great
deal in those fields, she’s expanded her range
of concerns and expertise to the point where she’s become
the author and spokesperson for a quite remarkable
blend of philosophical, literary, social, political, educational, and legal contributions. The names of some of our
former Foerster lecturers of course are very familiar,
some less familiar, but I’m sure no one came
into this room today without knowing the
name of Martha Nussbaum. At a time when public
intellectuals are a rare commodity, especially ones of authentic
ability and substance, Martha Nussbaum is a signal exception. Her publishing productivity
and versatility are legendary; in the last decade alone
she’s produced a large volume virtually every year with books
as different in their scope as upheavals of thought,
which is cutting edge theory on the cognitive nature of the emotions, women and human development,
which reflects her social work and experience in India, her latest book, if I have my facts right,
will be Liberty of Conscience; The Attack on America’s
Tradition of Religious Equality. I think we’re going to
get a sample of this work in today’s lecture, with its
reference to Roger Williams, the 17th century London clergyman who became the founder of
Providence, Rhode Island. Now, Martha’s never let up
on her original interests in Greek philosophy and
literature, as I said, and philosophy in general. In fact, these interests,
and I think especially her devotion to Aristotle, on whom she published her first book, have significantly helped
to shape her approach to such gigantic modern
issues as affirmative action, feminism, gay rights,
third world economics, and international justice. After all, Aristotelian ethics psychology and literary theory presuppose the notion that human beings are emotional
as well as rational animals, rational of course features in Aristotle’s classic definition of the human being, but it’s central to
Aristotle’s ethical view that we are emotional animals too. The importance of tempering
reason with feeling, or tempering feeling with
reason, seem to me constant and consistent themes in Martha’s work, and in the urgency of her voice, whatever her theme or concern. Many of us in this room are
instructed in the humanities. A stark justification for our calling is that study of great
literature, or art, or philosophy is supposed to enlarge the mind, broaden the cultural perspective, and enhance critical thinking. As members of a public
university, moreover, we are beneficiaries of tax dollars, fewer, no doubt, than we would like, but a sizeable number of dollars, and that benefaction reflects the belief that what we do as educators
is for the public good. Yet while Berkeley and many
other American universities regularly reap top ranks in surveys, the role of the intellectual
as an influential public voice in this land, never great, I think, but the present threatens
to become quite silent, or at least unheeded. Fortunately that will not happen under the watch of Martha Nussbaum. She is a tireless speaker and writer on behalf of what she
deems to be the public good as measured by concepts of
reason, humanity, and compassion. Now, to play that role
is not only quite rare, it also calls for unusual
eloquence and persuasion, and for great energy and courage. By taking on the huge issues that she does Professor Nussbaum risks
controversy and criticism, and she’s had her share of
controversy and criticism, especially from those of us who stay within the comfort zones
of our own disciplines and ivory towers. Long may you continue, Martha,
your dedicated activism, and your life of what Aristotle
calls practical rationality. As Chicago’s first, sorry,
as Chicago’s Ernst Freund Distinguished Service
Professor of Law and Ethics, we are indeed honored
to have you in Berkeley as our 2006-7 Foerster lecturer. We are eager to hear you speak on equal Liberty of
Conscience, Roger Williams, and the roots of a
Constitutional tradition. So I have much pleasure in
welcoming Martha Nussbaum to the podium, Martha. (audience applauding) – Well, thank you very much Tony, I really appreciate that. It’s really great to be here, the book that Tony mentioned
is a book in progress, of which you’ll get a little sample. What I wanted to do, seeing
the climate of polarization and animosity over issues
of the relationship between religion and the public good was to try to write
something that I think, by tracing some of the philosophical and historical foundations of
the constitutional tradition, we may be able to promote
some kind of stable consensus, so at any rate that’s the
aim of the book as a whole, and I’d be very glad to have questions about how some of the things I’ll say here about the early tradition shed
light on contemporary issues like the 10 Commandments and
the Pledge of Allegiance, and so forth. Okay, two quotations to begin with, the first is from Roger
Williams’s major book The Bloody Tenant of Persecution, 1644; sixthly it is the will and command of God that since the coming of
His Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most
Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in
all nations and countries. And the second is a letter
that Roger Williams wrote to the governors of
Massachusetts and Connecticut who did not extend liberty of conscience to all those other groups; yourselves pretend liberty of conscience, but alas, it is but
self, the great God self, only to yourselves. Life was tough for the settlers
of 17th Century New England, they responded to hardship
by trying to gain God’s favor for their new colony, which
required, as they saw it, establishing and sternly
enforcing a religious orthodoxy. By punishing or banishing
those who disobeyed in word or deed, they
hoped to cast impurity from their common life. The idea that a good
community would be one that allowed all people to
seek God in their own way took root only gradually
and with great struggle. This lecture traces that
struggle focusing on the life and ideas of one of the
century’s great apostles of religious liberty and
fairness, Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Rhode Island and seminal philosophical writer about the persecuted conscience. American writings about religious liberty were in conversation with
similar work in Britain, and there are striking similarities between the arguments used in Williams’s two most influential books published in 1644 and 1652, and those used more famously
and later by John Locke. Nonetheless, the American tradition has some distinctive features that ultimately proved valuable in forging our constitutional heritage. The American tradition I wanna recover contains first an emphasis
on the tremendous importance of a mutually respectful civil peace among people who differ in
conscientious commitment. The vulnerability of all Americans in the perilous new world they had chosen led to a recognition which
came much slower in Europe, if indeed it has come at all, that people with different views of life’s ultimate meaning and purpose really need to learn to live together on terms of equal respect, if
they were to survive at all. Roger Williams dramatizes
this idea from the start by making his work a
dialogue between two friends called Truth and Peace, in
which Truth acknowledges the deep importance of
reaching accommodation with people whom one
believes to be in error. The second distinctive feature
of the American tradition is a personal and highly emotional sense of the precariousness
and the vulnerability of each individual person’s conscience, that seat of imagination,
emotion, thought, and moral choice through
which each person seeks for meaning in his or her own way. The experience of both solitude and space that the wild world conveyed
to its new inhabitants brought with it a picture of human life as a risky and lonely quest. This idea in turn led to the
thought that this search, this striving of conscience,
is what is most precious about the journey of human
life, and that each person, Protestant, Catholic,
Jew, Muslim, or Pagan, must be permitted to conduct
it in his or her own way without interference either from the state or from orthodox religion. To impose an orthodoxy upon the conscience is nothing less than what Williams, in a memorable and repeated
image, calls soul rape. Third, and perhaps most important for the overall argument I’m
trying to make in this book, Williams grounds his
views of church and state in an idea of fairness and impartiality of equal respect for conscience. In my larger project
I argue that this idea links the Free Exercise Clause
to the Establishment Clause, and provides very good guidance as we confront difficult
contemporary issues. So first, section one,
the wild and howling land. Life in New England was
fragile and exposed; if people did not die on
the voyage to the new land, they knew well that they
might die shortly in it, whether from starvation, disease, or cold, or at the hands of the native inhabitants whose claims to the land
they utterly ignored. On the dubious authority of a land claim made by James I they grasped for security, alleging that the land was their own because Englishmen first discovered it, something that Roger
Williams called, quote, “a solemn public lie,” end quote. He added the sarcastic comment, quote, “Christian kings, so-called,
are invested with right “by virtue of their Christianity
to take and give away “the lands and countries
of other men,” end quote. The world around them really was alarming; the wind, the seas, the
forests, the deep snows, all of this was strange to people accustomed to life in England,
whether urban or rural. Quote, “but oh poor dust and ashes,” Roger Williams wrote of
himself and his fellows, “like stones once rolling down the Alps, “like the Indian canoes or
English boats loose and adrift. “Where stop we until
infinite mercy stop us?” In his remarkable book Key
to the Languages of America, a study of the Indian tribes,
their life and languages, written during a sea voyage
back to England in 1643, Williams ponders the
Indians’ ability to coexist with impermanence and
constant vulnerability in what he calls this
wild and howling land. Astonishingly, the Indians
don’t mind picking up and moving on to a new place
whenever climate, or insects, or sheer inclination moves them. Quote, “I once in travel lodged at a house “at which in my return I hoped
to have lodged again there “the next night, but the
house was gone in the interim, “and I was glad to lodge
under a tree,” end quote. This sense of life as transient,
as requiring reinvention at each moment deeply shaped
the new American’s culture and ultimately their
religious sensibilities. The Indians may have made
their peace with transience; the Puritans, used to a very different sort of life, resisted. To keep the world at bay
they found it prudent to enforce orthodoxy of religious belief, expression, and practice,
suppressing dissent. John Cotton, 1595 to 1652, pastor of the First Church of Boston, one of Massachusetts’ most
influential religious leaders, and Roger Williams’s life-long
intellectual adversary, wrote copiously in defense
of religious persecution, arguing that it was
necessary for civil order. It was also God’s will, he
said, in order to separate the diseased element of society
from the healthy element. As he and Williams wrangled endlessly about whether people diverse
in faith and way of life could coexist peacefully in civil society, Cotton maintained again and again that the wholesome parts of a community cannot but be corrupted by
the presence of heretics and dissentients unless those people are brought to judgment, punished, and if they don’t repent, banished. Sometimes the desire to keep sin at bay did not content itself with
persecution and banishment. Witch trials, as you all know, were common in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, and John Demos’s research shows that the most common so-called
victim of the witches was not actually the famous teenage girls, but instead, much more
commonly a young adult male of the verge of responsible adulthood. Demos concludes that
heightened vulnerability and uncertainty about
whether one would be able to make a life at all led to
the desire to demonize others. Such reactions to insecurity
are sadly familiar throughout America’s history. Arthur Miller was quite right
to connect the witch trials to witch hunting of leftists
in the McCarthy era. Today we’re told by our
leaders that we’re living in another time of heightened
vulnerability, a time, a couple of nights ago we were
told that civilization itself is actually at stake. In this situation it’s all
too easy to let the longing for homogeneity and control ride roughshod over the spirit of fairness and respect, projecting the causes of
instability onto other people, grabbing hold of Cotton’s
seductive metaphor of a stain or taint in our
midst that must be removed if we are to resist destruction. There are, however, other ways
of living in difficult times. What makes Roger Williams
of particular interest is not just the quality
of his philosophical work, which is high, it is also
the way in which he offers an alternative to the paranoid
response to uncertainty, urging on his readers’
attitudes of fairness, reasonableness, and
civility, words which recur with obsessive frequency throughout the two
philosophical dialogues, totaling about some-1,000 pages which constitute his major works. Section two, to ship myself
all alone in a poor canoe, Williams’s Rhode Island. Williams is typically remembered as a religious and political
leader rather than a thinker. If his ideas are recalled at all, he’s identified with one
uncharacteristic phrase he used once in a
letter, namely the phrase the wall of separation
between church and state, rather than for the careful
and extensive arguments about the evils of persecution, the primacy of the individual conscience, and the jurisdictions proper to the civil and the religious fears. His ideas are rarely set out with care, and the relationship of those
ideas to those of more famous 17th century philosophers,
Locke in particular, is rarely appreciated, although in fact his important
writings of the 1640s anticipate Locke’s letter
concerning toleration, 1689, in every major point. But since Williams was a
leader as well as a thinker, and since his work needs to be assessed in the context of his life and career, we first should recount his story. Williams was born in
England probably in 1603 to a prosperous merchant family. He grew up in London
near the Smithfield plain where religious dissenters were sometimes burnt at the stake. As a young man he attracted the attention of the distinguished lawyer,
who I should say also was steeped in stoic
natural law arguments, so this is the intellectual
background, Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice of the king’s bench. Coke arranged for the
young man’s education at Sutton’s hospital, the
future Charterhouse School, and then at Pembroke Hall
in Cambridge University where Williams received his A.B. in 1627 after a classical education that focused on natural law theories,
deriving from ancient Greek and Roman stoicism, which
diffused Coke’s work and which were much en vogue at the time. Williams quickly impressed
by his remarkable flair for languages, mastering
Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Dutch. In this way he made the
friendship of John Milton; he taught Milton Dutch
in exchange for receiving Hebrew lessons. On graduation, Williams took
orders in the Church of England and in 1629 accepted the post of Chaplain at Otes in Essex, the manor
house of Sir William Masham, grandfather of the Sir Francis Masham who was Locke’s host at Otes in the 1690s. In 1630 a leading Puritan reformer was placed in the pillory. One of his ears was cut off, one side of his nose was split, and he was branded on the
face with the letters SS for sower of sedition. Later the other side of his nose was split and his other ear was cut off. For good measure the
man was then in prison for the rest of his life. Williams, who witnessed these events, and who was already very critical
of the Anglican orthodoxy, decided that he could not live the religious life he wanted in England; he set sail for Massachusetts. At first Williams was warmly welcomed by the leaders of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony; although in Boston his views
about the individual conscience were found too radical, he was welcomed by the congregation at Salem. He expressed his religious ideas freely, at the same time he published a pamphlet attacking the colonists’ claims
to the Indians’ property. The officials of Massachusetts
Bay called him into court but took no action when Williams agreed to withdraw the pamphlet from circulation. He continued, however,
to teach the falsity of the colonists’ property claim, he also urged resistance to
a proposed oath of loyalty to be taken by all colonists. During this period Williams
spent some peaceful months at Plymouth, where he pursued his study of Indian life and languages. By 1635-6, authorities
saw that Williams was bent on continuing his divisive teaching; they ordered him to be arrested. Tipped off in advance he fled. Looking back on the incident
from Providence in 1670 he describes it this way; “I was unkindly and
un-Christianly, as I believe, “drive from my house and land,
and my wife and children, “in the midst of New England winter. “Now about 35 years past, I
steered my course from Salem, “though in winter snow which
I feel yet, until these parts, “where I may say as
Jacob, Penial, that is, “I have seen the face of God.” So begins the story of Rhode Island; in keeping with his sense
of divine deliverance Williams named the new colony Providence. The key part of the life
of that new settlement was respectful friendship
with the Indians. Williams had always treated
them as human beings, not beasts or devils, he
respected their dignity. When the great Narragansett
chief Canonicus, who spoke no English,
broke a stick 10 times to demonstrate 10 instances
of broken English promises, Williams understood his
meaning and took his part. When the colonists objected that the Indians couldn’t own land because they were nomadic,
Williams described their regular seasonal hunting practices, arguing that these
practices were sufficient to establish property claims, a legal argument that
strikingly anticipates very recent litigation over
aboriginal land in Australia. Linguist that he was, he
reports having at this period, quote, “a constant zealous desire “to dive into the Natives’ language,” and he learned several of the languages by actually living with the Indians for long periods of time. “God was pleased,” he says,
“to give me a painful, “patient spirit to lodge with
them in their smoky holes “to gain their tongues, et cetera.” When Williams arrived as a refugee then, his dealings with the Indians
had long prepared the way for a fruitful relationship. Chiefs Massasoit and
Canonicus welcomed him like an old friend
because he had befriended them before he needed them, and had given them lots
of gifts for many years. He was already known as
a good public debater in the Native languages,
and therefore, quote, “held with them as a sachem,” end quote. One of the key provisions of
the charter of Rhode Island was, quote, “it shall not be lawful “to or for the rest of the colonies “to invade or molest the
Native Indians,” end quote, a provision that Williams
particularly sought from the king, and when granted, applauded, noting that hostility
to the Indians, quote, “hath hither to been
practiced to our continual “and great grievance and
disturbance,” end quote. Throughout his life, Williams
continued these friendships. As he wrote to the governor
of Massachusetts Bay explaining why he refused
to return to Massachusetts, quote, “I feel safer down here
among the Christian savages “along Narraganset Bay than I
do among the savage Christians “of Massachusetts Bay.” And that didn’t mean that
they had been converted, he never tried to convert the Indians, he just meant that their
behavior exemplified the Christian spirit more truly than the behavior of the
people in Massachusetts. He’s very fond of noting
examples of Indian decency and honesty, and contrasting this behavior with that of the other
neighbors in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Williams’s experience
of finding integrity, dignity, and goodness outside
the parameters of orthodoxy surely shaped his evolving
views of conscience, but there was already something
antinomian about Williams, something that led him
to those friendships in the first place; a respectful curiosity about the varieties of humanity that’s the paradigm of something
that played a good role in the history of the American colonies as a nation of strangers and immigrants. Williams immediately provided
for religious liberty in the new colony. The majority would make
policy, but, quote, “only in civil things,” end quote. Broad liberty of conscience
was officially guaranteed. Rhode Island rapidly became a haven for people who were in
trouble in other places. Other settlements were
founded; Baptists, Quakers, and other dissidents joined
the Puritan dissenters. In 1658 15 Portuguese-Jewish
families arrived in Newport. Although the Touro Synagogue, America’s oldest
surviving Jewish synagogue and its first Sephardic synagogue, was not dedicated until 1763, Jews enjoyed the same religious
liberty granted to others, a fact that’s rather astonishing when we note that Jews in Britain gained full civil rights only in 1858. In 1643 Williams set sail for England to secure a formal charter
for the new colony. During the voyage he wrote his book about the Indian languages. While in England he wrote and published The Bloody Tenant of Persecution. A democratic charter was obtained, and the colony proclaimed
liberty of conscience. In 1652 Rhode Island passed
the first law in North America making slavery illegal. By this time Williams had been won over by the Baptists’ arguments
in favor of adult baptism. He was re-baptized in
1639, and from that time on he referred to himself simply as a seeker. Meanwhile John Cotton’s angry
reply to The Bloody Tenant, published in 1647, led Williams
to produce another work about 100 pages longer than the first one, refuting all of Cotton’s arguments. Published in 1652 in London during another of Williams’s visits to England, it bears the unwieldy title, The Bloody Tenant Yet More Bloody: By Mr. Cotton’s Endeavor to Wash it White in the Blood of the Lambe of Whose Precious Blood Split
in the Blood of His Servants, and of the Blood of Millions
Split in Former and Later Wars for Conscience Sake, That Most
Bloody Tenant of Persecution for Cause of Conscience,
Upon a Second Trial, is Found Now More Apparently
and More Notoriously Guilty. (audience laughing) You see why philosophers really
can’t cope with this man, he’s a very, very prolix writer. The civil wars and the
restoration made it necessary to renegotiate the charter. Williams again went to England
and found in Charles II a ready ally for his experiment
in religious liberty. Williams notes that the
Barbados already permitted religious liberty by omission and policy rather than by explicit royal guarantee. Quote, “but our grant is
crowned with the king’s “extraordinary favor to this colony “in which His Majesty declared himself “that he would experiment “whether civil government could consist “with such liberty of conscience.” With amusement he describes
the shocked reaction of the king’s ministers when they read the unorthodox document. Quote, “but fearing the lion’s roaring “they couched against
their wills in obedience “to His Majesty’s pleasure,” end quote. The charter was shocking indeed, not only in its odd provision
regarding the Indians, but above all in its clause
regarding religious liberty, which goes like this; no
person within the said colony at any time hereafter shall
be anywise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any differences in opinion
in matters of religion, and he do not actually
disturb the civil peace of said colony, but that all
and every person and persons may from time to time, and
at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own
judgements and consciences in matters of religious concernments throughout the tract of
land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves
peaceably and quietly, and not using this liberty
to lie sententiousness or profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others. Any law, statute, or
clause therein contained, or to be contained, usage
or custom of this realm to the contrary hereof in
anywise, notwithstanding. Okay, what does this clause protect? Belief in the expression of opinion in religious matters
clearly, but Williams, throughout his philosophical writings, was very careful to insist
that acts of worship should also enjoy protection. Indeed in his writings we
rarely encounter the word belief without the word worship or practice. In the passage I just read
at the beginning of the talk, taken from the introduction
to The Bloody Tenant, consciences and worships
are all permitted. Elsewhere he uses phrases such as for either professing doctrine
or practicing worship, doctrine or practice,
et cetera, et cetera. It’s a bit unfortunate that
the charter is less precise, but we can understand the
latitude of its protection from the other direction as stopping where civil disturbance and violation of the
rights of others begins. Williams was no John Steward Mill; he thought that the
business of civil government included not only
protection of individuals from harm to their rights by others, but also the maintenance of
public order and morality. Thus, like virtually
everyone at this time, he favored laws against adultery and other so-called moral offenses, not, however, on religious grounds. His conception of public
morality, as we’ll see later, keeps it quite distinct from religious norms and justifications. The final provision in the
clause is especially interesting. The charter guarantees
liberty of religious belief and practice even when a law or custom already on the books forbids it. In other words, if the law says you have to swear an oath before God to hold public office, this law
is nullified by the charter. Moreover, it appears that
the charter nullifies the applicability of laws to individuals whenever such laws threaten
their religious liberty. If a law says that people
have to testify in court on a Saturday and your
religion forbids this, then that law is
non-applicable in your case. In other words it would appear
that Williams is forging the legal concept of accommodation, which soon became very widely
accepted in the colonies. Laws of general applicability have force only up to the point where they
threaten religious liberty, just so long as public order
and safety are not at stake. This was not mere talk; Williams
was notoriously skeptical about Sunday as the
chosen day for no work, he had considerable sympathy
with the theological arguments of the Seventh Day Baptists. More generally he saw the burden that comes with imposing a
majority practice on everyone; Rhode Island had no Sunday
law during his lifetime. Section three, this conscience
is found in all mankind, Williams’s defense of religious liberty. Behind this impressive
political achievement is a body of thought
as rich on these issues as that of Locke, and
considerably more perceptive, concerning the psychology of
both persecutor and victim. At its heart is an idea or
image on which Williams focused, with deep emotion and obsessional zeal, the idea of the preciousness and dignity of the individual human conscience. Williams defines
conscience as wholly light, and as, quote, “a
persuasion fixed in the mind “and heart of a man which
enforceth him to judge “and to do so and so with respect to God, “his worship, et cetera.” It is, he says, quote,
“indeed the man,” end quote. Williams has his own very
intense religious beliefs, and these beliefs entail
that most people around him are in error; error,
however, does not mean that they do not have the
precious faculty of conscience. This conscience, he writes,
“is found in all mankind; “in Jews, Turks, Papists,
Protestants, Pagans, “et cetera,” end quote. And even though one thing that’s precious about the conscience is
its ability ultimately to find the truth, that’s
not what Williams emphasizes, what he reveres as the committed search, the sincere quest for meaning. Quote, “I commend that
man, whether Jew, or Turk, “or Papist, or whoever,
that steers no otherwise “than his conscience dares; “for neighbor, you shall find it rare “to meet with men of
conscience,” end quote. One can’t help thinking
of Williams’s respect for his Indian friends when
one reads passages like this. Furthermore, since he says
that men of conscience are rare but the conscience itself is in everyone, he clearly holds that the
precious faculty of conscience exists even in less virtuous people, and that all deserve basic human respect. So everyone has inside him or herself something infinitely precious, something that demands
respect from us all, and something in regard to which
we are all basically equal. Williams now argues that
this precious something needs space to unfold itself,
to pursue its own way. To respect human beings is
therefore to accord them that sort of space, and to accord it to each and every one of them. He expresses indignation
that someone, quote, “that speaks so tenderly for his own “hath yet so little
respect, mercy, or pity “to the like-conscientious
persuasions of other men. “Are the thousands of millions
of millions of consciences “at home and abroad fuel only
for a prison, for a whip, “for a stake, for a gallows? “Are no consciences to breathe the air “but such as suit and
sample his?” end quote. These images are revealing; they tell us that Williams
thinks of consciences as delicate, vulnerable living things, things that need to breathe the air and not to be imprisoned. There are so many of them in
prison all over the world, but all alike should have breathing space. Williams has the very keen
sensitivity to any damage to this precious thing,
comparing persecution repeatedly to spiritual and soul rape. And it is soul rape, he says,
when any person is limited with respect to either belief or practice, so long as he is not harming others or violating other civil
laws duly constituted. Quote, “I acknowledge
that to molest any person, “Jew or gentile, for
either professing doctrine “or practicing worship,
merely religious or spiritual, “it is to persecute him. “And such a person, whatever
his doctrine or practice “be true or false, suffereth
persecution for conscience. “This persecution is
therefore a terrible error.” Williams explicitly says
that it is a worse thing than being a heretic, indeed, he goes on, persecution is a doctrine, quote, “which no uncleanness, no
adultery, incest, sodomy, “or bestiality can equal. “This ravishing enforcing,
explicitly or implicitly, “the very souls and
consciences of all the nations “and inhabitants of the world,” end quote. Williams doesn’t believe that the offenses to which he compares
persecution are trivial; indeed, he’s rather inclined to favor the death penalty for adultery, so we can see how strong his
objection to persecution is, if it’s worse than these things. Most rulers in all ages, he concludes after very copious historical surveys, have practiced violence
to the souls of men. Conscience then is not
invulnerable to worldly conditions; it can be in prison that is prevented from carrying out its search in action, and it can even be raped,
that is damaged or defiled. One of Williams’s reasons
for abhorring persecution is instrumental; if you force someone it hardens their
opposition, thus preventing their voluntary conversion,
hence their salvation. He makes this point repeatedly
in that homonym argument with John Cotton, and it was
a common Protestant argument in the period, one that
Locke later makes central to his own case for toleration. But Williams makes much
less of this argument than does Locke, and one can’t
really read Williams’s text and doubt that Williams also
thinks damage to conscience an intrinsic wrong, a desecration
of what is most precious about a human life. Moreover, he insists repeatedly
that this precious something is worthy of equal respect,
and is equally in us all, therefore, it’s a heinous wrong
to give it freedom for some and to deny the same freedom to others. Again and again he hammers home the charge of partiality and unfairness; magistrates, he says, give liberty with a partial hand
and an unequal balance. How, quote, “will this appear to be equal “in the very eye of common
peace and righteousness?” His own marginal
summaries of his argument, particularly in the later book, keep recurring to this
theme saying things like unchristian partiality, gross partiality to private interests, or gross partiality, the bloody doctrine of persecution. Williams as a keen nose for
special pleading and unfairness, and he sees it everywhere restrictions on religious liberty are found. He suggests that the
error of the persecutor is a kind of anxiety-ridden greed, which is hypocritically
disguised as virtue. Each person, anxious and insecure, aims to carve out special
protections and privileges for himself by attacking in others what he most values in his own life. In his letter to the
governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut, which I read earlier, he indicts them for a hypocritical and unfair set of principles, for worshiping, in effect,
only the great God’s self. If persecution is the worst of errors, liberty of conscience is, as
Williams repeatedly states, a most precious and invaluable jewel. The proponent of liberty, he goes on, does not indulge in special pleading, even though he believes that he’s right he doesn’t puff himself up, for he knows how difficult his quest is. He remembers God’s mercy to him and he has mercy on those whom
he believes to be in error. He also has an even-handed, fair-minded spirit of love
and civility to all men, a civility that includes
respect for their freedom. In one remarkable passage Williams writes that persecution is not only, quote, “to take the being of
Christianity out of the world, “but to take away all civility “and the world out of the world, “and to lay all upon heaps
of confusion,” end quote. What does he mean by
saying that persecution takes the world out of the world? I think he’s expressing the view that the spirit of love and gentleness combined with a spirit of fair play are at the heart of our
worldly lives with one another. Take these things away and
you despoil the world itself, you make it nothing but
a heap of confusion. Williams is an emotional writer, his sense of his own religion is deeply subjective and passionate; nonetheless it’s not
implausible to compare his core ideas to those that will animate the philosophy of Comte a century later. I should add that both
owe debt to the stoics, which has gotta be a
topic for another time. At the heart at the thought
of both men are two ideas; the duty to respect humanity as an end wherever we find it,
and the duty to be fair, not to make an exception
for one’s own case. Comte’s categorical
imperative asks each person to test the principle
of his or her conduct by asking whether it could,
without contradiction, be made a universal law
for all human beings. This test will show us whether
we’ve been selfishly partial to our own case. Williams’s critique of the
leaders of Massachusetts and Connecticut is that their
ideas can’t pass Comte’s test; they love freedom, but
only for themselves. They could not will
persecution as a universal law, and their selfishness prevents them from willing freedom of conscience, which could pass the Comtean
test, as a universal law. Comte’s second test is of
course the formula of humanity asking us to test our principle by seeing whether it
treats humanity as an end, we are to ask whether we’re
really showing respect to the dignity of human beings or whether we’re just
using them as objects in the pursuit of our own selfish ends. This complaint too is a constant theme in Williams’s writing; the
conscience is precious, but people use other people’s consciences to serve their own
anxious and greedy ends. Comte’s third way of testing principles invokes the idea of autonomy, we’re to ask ourselves whether
we can view our principle as a law that we could give to ourselves. There’s no precise echo of
this part of Comte in Williams, but his insistence on
the deeply personal quest of the individual conscience, and the priceless value
of freedom in this quest, is in great sympathy with
Comte’s way of thinking. For both, the source of moral principles and of all moral worth is
ultimately in our own freedom, and that freedom must be respected; for both, doing the right thing because of obedience to a
law imposed from outside has no moral worth at all. Finally, Comte speaks of good principles as constituting a realm of ends, a virtual society of free beings who each respect one another as equals. I believe that this idea is very much what Williams is after when he says that persecution takes the
world out of the world, it destroys the basis of human fellowship in respect, freedom, and civility. Williams then lies at the beginning of a distinctive tradition of thought about religious fairness that
resonates to the present day, in John Rawls’s distinguished work on liberty and equal respect. Compared to both Comte and Rawls Williams has an extra measure
of psychological insight helping us see why
persecution is so attractive, and what emotional
attitudes might be required to resist it. Section four, a model of
church and civil power. If Williams had offered only
an account of conscience and its fair impartial treatment, he would already have
made a large contribution to our understanding of religious liberty. He accomplished, however, much more, developing an elaborate account
of the proper jurisdictions of religious and civil authority that anticipates Locke’s
more famous account in every major point, and that still offers helpful guidance. In this part of his work
Williams is replying to a so-called model of church and state proposed by John Cotton. Truth says to Peace, oh,
what book do you have there? Peace produces Cotton’s large book and reads from it at great length the claim that the church
must hold high authority in the civil realm, and should be superior to all civil magistrates if
peace is to be preserved. The 200 pages that follow contain Williams’s alternative model. According to Williams there
are two separate sets of ends and activities in human life,
separate though related. Corresponding to these are
two utterly different sorts of jurisdiction, two sorts of authority. Civil or a state authority concerns the bodies and goods of subjects, exactly the characterization
that Locke later gives. Haven’t been able to prove
whether Locke knew this work, Quentin Skinner and
other Locke scholars are, Locke never cites what he’s read, but the similarities are so great, and he was living in the same house where Williams did his early work, so it seems highly likely
that Locke is lifting some of this from Williams. Civil authority must protect
people’s entitlements to property and bodily security, and it may properly use force to do so. The civil law applies to all including members of the clergy. The foundation of civil
authority lies in the people, and it is the people who
are entitled democratically to choose civil magistrates. The other sphere of human
life is that of the soul and its safety. Law and force have absolutely
no place in this sphere, which must be governed by persuasion only. Churches and their officers have this fear as their jurisdiction,
but with the proviso that their only proper
means of addressing the soul is persuasion. The two sorts of authority,
civil and spiritual, can coexist peaceably together. Peace is in jeopardy only to the extent that churches overstep their boundaries and start making civil law, or interfering with people’s property, livelihood, and liberty. Williams now tells us
that there is, of course, a way in which the civil state needs to make laws respecting religion; namely it has to make laws protecting it, saying for example,
quote, “that no persons, “Papists, Jews, Turks, or Indians “be disturbed at their worship, “a thing which the very Indians abhor “to practice toward any.” Such protective laws
are not only permitted, they’re extremely
important, and he calls them “the Magna Carta of the
highest liberties,” end quote. But there is, he continues,
another type of law respecting religion that’s very different from these protective laws; the
sort of law that establishes or forbids acts of worship, says who can or cannot be a minister, and so on. To say that these should
be civil laws, quote, “is as far from reason as the
that the commandments of Paul “were civil and earthly
constitutions,” end quote. John Cotton makes two claims
that Williams must answer if he is to defend his
radical position well. First Cotton makes a claim
about peace and stability; people simply can’t live
at peace with one another unless some religious
orthodoxy is established. In response, Williams invokes both reason and experience on his side; people with false
religious views, he says, may be perfectly decent
and peaceable citizens. We can see this all the time, people do live together peacefully so long as they respect one
another’s conscience space. Once again life with the Indians provides a handy illustration. What really breaks the
peace is persecution; quote, “such persons
only break the kingdom’s “or city’s peace who cry
out for prisons and swords “against such who cross their judgment “or practice in religion.” The other argument of Cotton’s
on which Williams focuses is an argument about competence. Cotton claims that being a good citizen and being a good civil
magistrate are inseparable from having the correct religion; we simply don’t want our public
life to be run by sinners because they’re making
very important decisions, and if they’re sinners they will do so sinfully and badly. Here Williams makes one
of his most interesting, and for the time, very novel, arguments. God, he says, has created different sorts of goodness in the world. There are diverse sorts of goodness corresponding to the
different sorts of things that God has created. He illustrates this point at great length talking about the goodness of artifacts, the goodness of plants, the
goodness of animals, and so on. But one of the ways God
created diversity in the world was to create a type of, quote,
“civil or moral goodness,” end quote, that is, quote,
“commendable and beautiful,” end quote, in its own
right and that is distinct from spiritual goodness. It can be there in its
full form and be beautiful even if the person is in religious error. Even, quote, “though Godliness, “which is infinitely more
beautiful, be wonting,” end quote. What’s needed to be a good
subject in a civil state is the moral sort of goodness, and it is that sort as well that we need in our civil magistrates. Later returning to this point, he insists that the foundation
of the magistrate’s authority quote, “is not religious,
Christian, et cetera, “but natural, humane,
and civil,” end quote. For many activities in human life a worldly foundation is sufficient. Quote, “a Christian
captain, Christian merchant, “physician, lawyer, pilot, father, master, “and so consequently
magistrate, et cetera, “is no more a captain,
merchant, physician, “lawyer, pilot, father,
master, magistrate, et cetera, “than a captain, merchant, et cetera “of any other conscience
or religion,” end quote. Particularly surprising, I think, is his causal mention of father as one of those roles whose
duties can be faithfully and completely fulfilled independently of spiritual enlightenment. In short, for Williams the civil state has a moral foundation,
but a moral foundation need not be, and for reasons
of fairness to all must not be, a religious foundation. The necessary moral virtues, honesty is one to which Williams
devotes special attention, can be agreed on in practice by people from many different doctrines. To be sure, he adds, a person’s religion will connect these moral
virtues to religious ends, but so far as the moral
sphere itself goes, orthodox and dissenter,
religious and non-religious, can all agree. It’s not fanciful to
see here an adumbration of John Rawls’s idea of civil society as involving a set of what Rawls calls freestanding moral
principles concerning which people from different
comprehensive doctrines can join in what Rawls calls
an overlapping consensus. Like Williams, Rawls stresses that political society
has a moral foundation, but he holds that this is a module that can be linked to
different religious doctrines, or non-religious doctrines, in
a variety of different ways. Although religious people
will certainly feel that their religion provides
the moral principles with their highest ends
or deepest sources, here again he agrees with Williams, they can nonetheless agree
about the moral terrain in a way that is, for practical
purposes, freestanding, that is, not requiring the acceptance of any particular religious
orthodoxy for its justification. So we don’t have exactly
a wall of separation between people’s religions and
their political principles, recall that Williams used
that phrase only once and in a polemical context in a letter, not at all in his thousand
pages of major writing, we do have separation of jurisdictions between church and state. But where people are concerned
they will rightly see the morality of public life as one part of their own comprehensive doctrine, a part, nonetheless, that
they can share with others without converting them
to what they take to be the true religion. This idea is, I think,
a much more helpful idea to think with than the
bare idea of separation, which might suggest that the state doesn’t have anything to do
with the deep ethical matters that are central to the religions. The state needs to be
built on moral principles, and it would be weird or tyrannical to ask religious people to accept the idea that moral principles are utterly separate from their own religious principles. The idea of an overlapping consensus, or to put it Williams’s way, the idea of a moral and natural goodness that we can share while differing on ultimate religious ends,
is an idea that helps us think about our common life together much better than the unclear and
misleading idea of separation. We must respect one another’s
freedom and equality, the deep sources of conscience that lead us through
the wilderness of life. We will only do this if we
keep religious orthodoxy out of our common political life, but we can and must base that common life on ethical principles that for many also have a religious meaning
and a religious justification. All we need to do when we join with others in a common political and moral life is to acknowledge that
someone might actually have those ethical virtues in
the way that is relevant for political life, while
not sharing our own view of life’s ultimate meaning. If we once grant that, then
Williams’s other argument concerning fairness and impartiality will lead us to want a state that has no religious orthodoxy, that is just in that sense
separate from religion. Concluding section, Truth and Peace; their meetings seldom and short. Looking back from our own time to the time before the founding, we often associate the constitutional idea of freedom of conscience and the related idea of non-establishment more with enlightenment,
rationalism, and deism than with their 17th century precursors. But Williams’s version of doctrines that later became part
of the enlightenment is distinctive in a number of ways, ways that continue to
exert a deep influence on America’s thought and life, and that I think are
valuable for us today. First of all, Williams
speaks as a religious person; skepticism about religion
or denigration of religion is no part of his brief
for religious liberty, as it is for Jefferson, who
often said things about religion that seemed dismissive or scoffing. Many Americans who have
a hard time identifying with Jefferson’s rather
smug disdain for religiosity can perhaps find their own
concerns well represented in Williams’s spiritual quest. His arguments show that one may be a deeply committed religious person while yet believing that fairness and the worth of the individual conscience require a wide and
equal religious liberty, and a ban on religious establishment. Truth and Peace loved one another, although their meetings,
as he ruefully says at the end of his second
book, are seldom and short. Second, Williams’s romantic
and deeply emotional picture of the conscience as a lonely
and vulnerable traveler in life’s great wilderness is the source of a distinctively American
set of religious attitudes that are attractive starting
points for religious thought. America’s tradition is rather different from many European traditions,
much more skeptical of any kind of public
orthodoxy or homogeneity. Williams’s idea of conscience explains the roots of this tradition and shows why it is compelling. If we see things Williams’s way
we will be strongly inclined to a delicate accommodation,
even under law, of eccentric religious
needs in all citizens, as well as to scrupulous fairness and constant self-criticism
in our pursuit of civil peace. Truth and Peace don’t meet often, so often they come into each other they meet up lovingly only to be parted by the persecutor’s sword, by hypocrisy and and selfish partiality. But they have a surprise ally; at the end of The Bloody Tenant a third character makes her appearance. “But lo,” says Peace, “who’s here?” Truth replies, “Our sister Patience, “whose desired company is
as needful as delightful.” Patience utters not a single word, but she’s clearly there. The year before in his
book on Indian languages Williams has written eloquently of the patience of the Indians, who can sit silently for ages
waiting for what they want. Quote, “every man hath
his pipe of their tobacco, “and a deep silence they make, “and attention give to him that speaketh.” To his impatient world Williams
commended that example. Now at the close of his great dialogue Patience is represented
as, in effect, an Indian; silent after the prolixity of her sisters waiting for a time that
may be very long in coming, a time of equal respect
for people who differ. In that silence, at the
close of so much speech, rests Williams’s hope for the future. Thanks. (audience applauding) (light, peaceful music)

Otis Rodgers

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Daniel Lackey Posted on April 13, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Seek therapy.

    Reply
  2. Daniel Lackey Posted on April 13, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Wow. Totally awesome, dude.

    Reply
  3. Daniel Lackey Posted on April 13, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Religion is by definition nothing spiritual in itself; it is, rather, that 'hard crust of external discipline' (P. Rieff, Triumph of the Therapeutic. Kurzwitz (1987) probes that 'crust' in a manner reminiscent of Pwaber and Goreman (2000, 2001), who discuss the delicacy of 'toppings' postulated by Boomer and Loud (1990) in their post-structural re-reading of the later London monographs of Anna Freud and the private correspondence between Foucault and Jerry Falwell.

    Reply
  4. Daniel Lackey Posted on April 13, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    A better reading of R. Williams vis-a-vis his immersion in the language of the Wachamachamilla Tribe of Eastern RI is to be found in Lowe (1998), Miltman and Farze (1988) and Burns and Allen (1957).

    Reply
  5. contemplativegirl21 Posted on April 30, 2010 at 3:11 am

    @ibar3734 Really? I emailed her the other day, and she was extremely kind and generous in her reply, while also giving me sound advice regarding my studies in philosophy…

    To take that kind of time out of her schedule to respond to someone whom she need not have, I think, is extremely telling of her generous character.

    Reply
  6. akwinata1 Posted on September 13, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Americans made holocaust of Indians. They were protestants not catholics. Even they were protestants and not atheists they did it. Now atheists are making holocaust of unborne children but some sick Christians are helping them. Do you listen to God: do not kill? Jesus is the truth.

    Reply
  7. Redshift313 Posted on January 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    There Is NO god… religion is a myth. Just read Plato and the Bible and compare which is written by a greater mind. There is no comparison… Plato is superior in every way possible.

    Reply
  8. creemej Posted on February 27, 2012 at 9:52 am

    What we need are philosophes that can explain all these reasoning in some simple words.
    Why is it, that I do understand Ayn Rand and the Objectivism.
    I know that it is a radical theory and I think that is not easy to see a world of Objectivism.
    But all this academic philosophy is not better.
    Martha, please come back to earth!

    Reply
  9. SonTimba Posted on November 2, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Objectivism is not really philosophy in the sense that actually tries to answer questions about existance. It is true that in many aspects a philosophy is a point of view, but not all points of views are philosophical, and this is true of objectivism. Its not about it being a radical theory, its about Objectivism not being able to tackle in a coherent manner questions on being, epistemology, existance, etc. To say life's purpose is to be productive still leaves alot of questions to be answered.

    Reply
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