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Religious Inclusion and Exclusion

Religious Inclusion and Exclusion

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson provides a brief historical overview of religious toleration, and describes how the original understanding of "toleration" has changed into the contemporary categories of "inclusion" and "exclusion."

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Video Transcription

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Hello. Welcome. Let's start by listing our key terms. Toleration, sensus communis, and religious ecumenicalism, or acumenism. These terms will be provided and referred to throughout the tutorial, and they're also at the end of the tutorial for your convenience. Another term that I think is useful in linking these ideas and these terms is participation.

Being a part of something, willingly engaging in some process or a group structure. And the title of the tutorial is religious inclusion and exclusion. These terms, at first glance, seem to have a built-in construction of power and control, or authority. In other words, the authority to include someone or some group, or exclude someone or some group.

At first glance, that seems to be the case-- religious inclusion or exclusion. So willingly joining and participating in society and religious life versus being permitted to or denied from enjoying that right. That's the theme of this tutorial. We'll look at some of the justifications and rationale behind an influential argument for both inclusion and exclusion. And the most important ground for this, however, is free will. So if you're willing, we have to go back to the 17th century, and we'll have to do that to get started, so here we go.

An Englishman called John Locke, the most influential member of the Anglican church of England, an enlightenment philosopher, he wrote on a range of subjects, including mathematics, philosophy, political philosophy, and religion, which was one of his most passionate subjects. And one of his most important essays has been Essay Concerning Toleration, written in 1689. And for Locke and others, the question of religious toleration and tolerance is a tricky endeavor, because of the nature of belief itself.

In his view, there should be no tolerance of atheism, for example. But if religion is based on beliefs, and tolerance is based on the value of recognizing different beliefs, how can atheism, which is also a belief-- a belief that there is no God-- how can atheism be legitimately excluded? Well, let's see how Locke justifies this.

We have to remember that Locke was a very religious person, and his ideas served to transform the way society and religion function with respect to the other. With respect to the other, reciprocity. The idea of reciprocity, reciprocal exchange. This was a central theme in his writings while it relates back to participation. A few moments ago, we looked at the contrast between being permitted or denied inclusion in the process of society and willingly participating.

Locke believed that for someone to participate in the processes of society, they had to inhabit or understand some form of religious ground. Now the ground that religion offers is the freedom to pursue the truth, the equal right of all individuals to seek and search. And the collective search then, which includes all genuine religious inquiry, thus provides the moral structure for society.

So the reciprocal relationship between the individual and society, between an individual's decision to participate of his own free will, and society's reception of that individual-- this is in fact based on equality. Let me write it on the board.

So you'll have a formal definition of toleration at the end of this tutorial, which you should use. These are some additional ideas to help you think about it, though. So toleration, when we're studying Locke and applying it to modern society now as we're doing, toleration equals free and equal society bound by the moral structures that religion provides. And that, in turn, equals the free individual.

And the reciprocity goes both ways. So there's a logical equivalence. The free individual willingly participates in society, because he expects this fundamental truth of equality to be recognized. He is a free and equal individual created equal, and he expects that to be recognized when he willingly joins society. So that is his motivation for becoming involved and participating in society.

And the other way, the society accepts the individual that willingly chooses to join, but of course, the condition is religion. And we're going to look more closely at that now.

So to say that maybe a little differently, on the basis of equality then, man joins society with the understanding that this natural equality will be recognized and affirmed, precisely because it is fundamentally reciprocal. For Locke, however, if some part of the equation is missing, namely the principle of ascribing individually to the free search for understanding, which religion and moral education provide, well, then this bars or excludes one or many from certain aspects and functions of society.

It doesn't deny his fundamental innate God-given equality. It has more to do with the human understanding, and he goes into this in his essay, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Concerning toleration, religion and God are the principal binding forces for society. The bind is reinforced by commitments and oaths and moral standards, which are upheld by each individual.

An atheist, according to Locke, is not bound to these commitments and oaths. Given his outlook of a godless world and society, the reciprocity is not there for the atheist. So for Locke, that's how atheism forms the main exception to religious tolerance. As for Locke's level of tolerance for other non-Christian religions, there are many different interpretations of that. What is more clear and agreed upon, however, is that he had no tolerance for religious zealots who tirelessly pushed religious conversion on other people.

Which brings us to the idea of a more comprehensive religious pluralism, sometimes applied as a synonym for ecumenicalism, which is an attitude toward religion that emphasizes commonalities over differences. And religious pluralism is a description of the attitude and behavior of the society. Valuing the diversity and the practice of different paths toward truth, toward God, and toward understanding. In this sense, pluralism acts as a societal norm.

So religious pluralism might seek to find the balance between the harsh exclusion of bigotry on the one hand and acumenism or ecumenicalism on the other, which in some cases might tend to favor unity to the point or commonality and forming unity to the point of disregarding the value of potential differences and variety and plurality.

In Locke's Essay Concerning Toleration, he also introduces the tenets of a modern relationship between religion and the political structures, which he believes are meant to uphold and protect the values of freedom, tolerance, and the right and importance of an individual search for understanding.

He says, "I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other."

From this, we see the modern application of the separation of church and state. In a modern-- in our global, mobile society, the challenges of toleration are perhaps more tangible than during Locke's time. For example, back in England where Locke's church of England functions as the national church, yet despite this fact there are fewer regular churchgoers than there are those who attend mosque.

So the ongoing question for all times is, if religion often provides the basis for many social conventions, and there are many different religions instructing these conventions, what is the real common ground?

Well, Locke referred to the Latin term, sensus communis, which originated with Aristotle and was also used a lot during the Middle Ages. And it carries with it a strong sense of morality and community relations. It has to do with how we perceive, form, and integrate sensory input, and eventually represent it to ourselves, and how we represent it to the world. Locke held that religious structures offer this unifying common sense, another justification for tolerance.

Because without this unifying sensibility, countries might crumble and have and potentially do.

So now we can review a little bit. We went over our key terms in different ways. We talked about toleration. We talked about census communis, and we talked about religious ecumenicalism or acumenism. We applied these to an understanding of John Locke's influential essay from 1689, Essay Concerning Toleration. And we used that as a ground for understanding modern day tolerance and modern day religious plurality.

And we applied a few new terms to help us think about that. And we started with participation, and we understood that society and the individual are related in a sense that equality are some terms that give them this sort of equivalence. The terms themself are within each side and create an equivalence. And we also talked about pluralism as another form of religious toleration that is not without its hurdles and complications.

Terms to Know
Religious Ecumenicalism

An attitude toward religion that emphasize commonalities over differences.

Sensus Communis

A shared moral sense that tends to unite a community.


Recognition of the right of others to believe as they choose.