Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Over at The Public Discourse, Micah Watson demolishes David Gushee’s attempt to draft John Locke into service in favor of gay marriage. Watson does an admirable job of establishing that Locke saw no contradiction between 1) religious freedom and government based on natural law, and 2) public regulation of familly, marriage, and sex in the interest of procreation and the nurturing of children, even going far beyond anything desired by most public opponents of gay marriage today.

Some points I’d like to add:

1) Watson doesn’t directly challenge Gushee’s characterization of Locke’s politics as something other than “Christian.” This is something I run into all the time - if it’s Lockean it’s not Christian, and if it’s Christian it’s not Lockean. In fact, Locke’s politics rely extensively on Christianity in numerous respects , especially in anthropology . Locke drew primarily on Christian intellectual sources (though I will admit there is a serious incursion by the non-Christian nominalists, who got their hooks into Locke through their critique of Descartes) and in turn had extensive influence on subsequent Christian thought. Jonathan Edwards, for example, drank very deeply at the Lockean well.

2) For the record, Locke may or may not have held unorthodox views about the Trinity - the evidence is incomplete - but he was at the very least Christian in the ways that matter most for the formulation of political philosophy. As I once heard someone say, “Locke thought he was a Christian.”

3) Watson doesn’t pursue Locke’s views on marriage more broadly, but they are stronger than most people are led to believe. For example, Locke thinks the natural law absolutely forbids divorce if there are minor children in the family. If that were enacted into law today, how radical of a change would it be from the status quo ?

4) Watson’s piece is titled “John Locke and the Evangelical Retreat from Marriage.” What evangelical retreat from marriage?

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles