Religion through the back door

John Holbo, in response to the Kerry/Communion crisis, makes an interesting detour into European history by siting the beginnings of political liberal traditions in the aftermath of the bloody and horrific Thirty Years War; where the combatants (Protestant and Catholic monarchs, princes, & states) came to the conclusion that since neither side could prevail over the other, that some sort of modus vivendi must prevail lest both sides perish. That modus vivendi was the Treaty of Westphalia, and essentially put "imposing religious confession by force" out of bounds. It had a number of other salutory effects (such as incorporating a consensus agreement among the monarchs, princes, and statelings that war in the future should be done for material reasons[1], and not because you don't like your neighbor's social policy or ideology), but the point was that some aspect of the personal was now considered apolitical (various territories were, after the treaty, considered officially and perpetually Catholic or Protestant, but dissenters were allowed, by virtue of the treaty, to 'exit' such territories where they had no religious 'voice'.)

Quoting Holbo quoting Mill:

But when the heat of the conflict was over, without giving a complete victory to any party, and each church or sect was reduced to limit its hopes to retaining possession of the ground it already occupied; minorities, seeing that they had no chance of becoming majorities, were under the necessity of pleading to those whom they could not convert, for permission to differ. It is accordingly on this battle-field,[2] almost solely, that the rights of the individual against society have been asserted on broad grounds of principle, and the claim of society to exercise authority over dissentients openly controverted. The great writers to whom the world owes what religious liberty it possesses, have mostly asserted freedom of conscience as an indefeasible right, and denied absolutely that a human being is accountable to others for his religious belief. Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale. (Emphasis added)

It follows from a liberal tolerance of religious dissent that in time more and more of social differences should be considered apolitical and matters of conscience, which would seem to reach a culmination in the 'Spirit of 1776' among the signers of the US Declaration of Independence.


fn1. That is, war was OK for overt economic and imperial purposes, but war to change the society/religious affiliation of your neighbors was taboo. At least until the French Revolution & Bonaparte.

fn2. I presume Mill means 'Battle-field' in the figurative sense, though I see it as true in the literal sense- the only way that this form of liberal toleration got to be argued on principle at all is because there were 30 years of bloody 'warre of all against all' that preceeded the new liberal argument.

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