Locke and Hobbes

I was reading in philosophical hermeneutics this past month for something I was writing. I came across an excellent essay by Anthony Thiselton on "New Testament Interpretation in Historical Perspective." What jumped out at me was how much time political philosophers like Locke and Hobbes spent interpreting the bible to promote their own rationalist aims. Mark Lilla makes a similar point in his recent The Stillborn God. Whereas some secularists avoid theology for the sake of the political order, Lilla contends that the key to a healthy secular society is a certain degree of sophistication in political theology. He cites Hobbes in particular as a master at using political theology towards secularising ends. In any case, whether religious or not, theological literacy is valuable to thinking and engaging the claims of religion in public.

This March 21, Russell Blackford will be giving a Religion in Political Life seminar at the University of Newcastle's Cultural Collections. He'll discuss his new Blackwells Press book, Freedom of Religion and the Secular State, where he explicitly discusses Locke's proposal. In any case, here's how Thiselton puts it:

There is a parallel to Locke in the response of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) to royalist appeals to Christian theology to support the divine right of kings and to parliamentarian appeals to a doctrine of the priesthood of all believers to support a more egalitarian political order. Locke and Hobbes approached theological issues independently against a theologically or ecclesially manipulative background. Locke produced a painstaking critical apparatus of notes on Paul to serve the single ‘plain meaning,’ which was to cut across all social and religious attempts to commandeer Pauline texts for manipulative purposes. His motivation was not a ‘secular worldview’ as such; he was a religious man. The issue was not an assimilation of Christian faith into his empirical or rationalist philosophy. Too often Locke has been seen through the eyes of the ecclesiastical writers of his own time who formulated counterattacks against his use of the common sense ‘reason’ and his appeals to the ‘plain sense’ of the Bible. But he appealed to reason, not against genuine faith as such, but against manipulative religion, whether from the political and religious left or from the political and religious right.
— Anthony Thiselton "New Testament Intperpretation in Historical Perspective" pp. 11-12