John Brown: Atheistic principles are at the root of pleading for toleration of false religions

John Brown: Atheistic principles are at the root of pleading for toleration of false religions

From On the Absurdity of Authoritative Toleration of Gross Heresy, Blasphemy or Idolatry

John Brown of Haddington unearths the heart behind toleration of false religions:  atheism. 

Men’s pleadings for toleration of false religions do, all of them, necessarily proceed on their adopting such atheistical principles as the following:

  1. Men’s natural or civil rights to their property, liberty, profits and honours, are not originally derived from God, and ought to protect them in their most outrageous sinning against Him.
  2. Men’s consciences have a right and authority, underived from and independent of God, by which it can warrant them to think and speak of, or act towards God, as insolently and blasphemously as they please.
  3. If the law of God be any rule to men, it is not so in respect of any intrinsic meaning affixed to it by Him, but merely as it is understood by every man, particularly in that which relates to their behaviour towards God.
  4. All men being ready to mistake [err]. We therefore ought always to believe that our opponents may have as just a view of the scriptures as ourselves, and never to condemn them for that which they do not own to be blasphemy, idolatry, or heresy.
  5. A magistrate’s right and authority to govern others doth not originate in God as the Creator, Preserver, and King of nations, but in magistrates themselves, or in their subjects. Therefore, their powers may be exercised as they please, particularly in requiring or allowing their subjects to belie [betray], blaspheme, or rob God.
  6. Magistrates may be moral governors, deputies or lieutenants, under God, without having any power or authority relating to religion or His honour.
  7. Not the Law of God natural or revealed, but the laws of nations ought to be the supreme standard of all civil governm
  8. Not the declarative glory of God, as the Most High over all the earth, but the civil peace and prosperity of nations ought to be the chief end of magistrates in all their acts of government.
  9. Men’s natural rights of conscience, or their civil rights, or the authority of magistrates, may or ought to empower, warrant, or protect them in gross heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, or other outrageous abuse and injury of God; but can by no means warrant or protect them in calumny, theft, murder, or any other injuries against men.
  10. There is no real difference between moral good and evil, at least in things pertaining to God. Therefore, true and false religion are equally calculated to promote the welfare of civil society, and the virtues which render men good, peaceable, useful, and honourable rulers or subjects, and hence heretics, blasphemers, and idolaters may be good subjects.
  11. The favour or indignation of God is of no importance to civil society. Therefore, magistrates ought to use no means to procure His favour by the encouragement of true religion, or to avert His indignation by the restraint of gross heresy, blasphemy, or idolatry, but only labour to procure the friendship of men and prevent their injuring the character, property, or bodies of their subjects.

That all these propositions are really atheistical, is manifest. They all give up the necessary existence, infinite excellency, and absolute supremacy of God, without any of which He cannot be God at all.  That Locke, Hoadly, Blackburn, Voltaire, and others, all advocates for authoritative toleration of false religion, found their pleadings on the above propositions, is no less evident to every judicious and unbiased observer.  Nay, did not modesty forbid, I might defy all the world to plead for such toleration, without taking all, or some of the above or like atheistical propositions for granted.