Letter: Hoddle's offence

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Sir: Glenn Hoddle's expression of unorthodox religious beliefs has been defended on the grounds of religious toleration. The British tradition of toleration owes its origins to the philosophical arguments of John Locke. Locke argues that we can never be sure that any religious view is false and so it is wrong to restrict a person's belief.

However, Locke circumscribes the right to religious toleration. Firstly, he limits toleration in cases where the expression of a religious belief is likely to be harmful or offensive to the commonwealth. It is for this reason that Locke withholds toleration from atheists and Catholics. Secondly, he argues that religious beliefs must stem from an individual's genuine concern with their spiritual well-being and a detailed consideration of the evidence available. All our religious beliefs must pass the test of reason. On these grounds Locke attacks the claims of "enthusiasts" who claim direct knowledge of God's divine will or sacrifice their judgement to the opinions of prophets or seers.

It seems to me that Mr Hoddle's comments fall foul of both the conditions Locke sets. As to the first, his comments were offensive to an important section of society. As to the second, it is possible that Hoddle's religious convictions stem from a genuine attempt to engage his rational faculties in the consideration of the nature and scope of faith. It seems far more likely, however, that Hoddle's views, characterised by a smorgasbord approach to faith, the dubious influence of Mrs Drewery, and an emphasis upon the power of spirituality over reason, are closer to Locke's "enthusiasts".


School of Philosophy

University of Leeds