Freedom of Conscience
(II) Orthodoxy vs. Freedom
Gnostic-Manichaean Dualism


In English political thought [the gnostic-Manichaean dualism of orthodoxy and freedom] has its venerable ancestry in Hobbes's Leviathan with its opposition of the "Christian Commonwealth" to the "Kingdom of Darkness"; and the tradition is both preserved and renewed in Mr.[R.G.] Collingwood's New Leviathan where the dualism, in the more secularist form of "Civilization" and "Barbarism," is erected into the principle that defines political cultures and governs the process of history. This dualistic formula, while adequately expressing the political perspective of a gnostic metaphysician, will, however, not pass the test of critical application. The thesis that there is no religious freedom under a system based on orthodoxy must be rejected.

There was, of course, religious freedom in plenty during the Middle Ages, as is attested by the range of religious personalities from Saint Francis to Saint Thomas, by the range of theological speculation from realism to nominalism, by the foundation of numerous special religiones within Christianity, ranging from hermits to military orders, and by the great mystics from Eckhardt to Cusanus. But such concrete reminders should not overshadow the general argument that, whenever a great religious civilization unfolds, somebody must have taken the liberty to create it.

Nevertheless, the thesis [that unlike modern Protestant England, Medieval Christianity was an oppressor of freedom of conscience and religion] has a nucleus of truth; heretics were persecuted, indeed; and some varieties of religious experience were not allowed the freedom to express themselves.

The gnostic-Manichaean dualism of orthodoxy and freedom must, therefore, be reduced to the theoretical question: In what respect was religious freedom expanded through insistence on the freedom of conscience? The question is all the more important because even under the new dispensation it is agreed that religious freedom has its limits. When Adamite sectarians were informed by their consciences that the naked truth of God would best be represented by walking in the street without clothes, even a Roger Williams drew the line.

CW VOL 11,
The Oxford Political Philosophers , p 33.

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