Tag Archives: Lawrence Christopher Skufca


Lawrence Christopher Skufca


My name is Lawrence Christopher Skufca. I am a civil rights advocate and community organizer in the Camden, New Jersey area. I hold a Juris Doctor from Rutgers School of Law; a B.A. in Political Science from Furman University; and an A.A. in the Humanities from Tri-County Technical College. I passed the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Bar Examinations in 2011.

While attending Rutgers Law School, I was a strong vocal critic of the concentration of political and economic power which had coalesced in Camden, arguing that self-interested economic policies had created a perpetual recession for the City’s residents. I advocated for reform of the existing political patronage system which was pilfering public funds received from state and federal grants earmarked for the City’s economic recovery. I championed giving the residents a voice in the economic decisions affecting their daily lives and putting an end to the financially incestuous relationship between local powerbrokers, elected officials and Camden’s public institutions which served to obstruct the public interest.

Post-graduation I became active in local politics and organizing community information campaigns. I argued that local business leaders enriching themselves at the expense of the taxpayers, an evaporating tax base, a crumbling municipal infrastructure and the absence of economic opportunities had combined to create inhumane conditions for the City’s residents. I worked as a consultant for primary challengers seeking to change the existing political culture and assisted them in diagnosing the problems Camden faced. I became a thorn in the side of those seeking to exploit the financially vulnerable and stifle public dissent.

The last decade has been bittersweet. My own personal efforts have amounted to little more than being an annoying Gadfly which irritates the hides of those in power.  But my persistent buzz introduced the idea that change was possible and encouraged others to join in the struggle.  One can dare to hope that their buzz will create a persistent drone which further serves to erode the foundations of the established patronage system.  One can dare to dream that the City Invincible will once again live up to its name.

Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a book written by Max Weber, a German sociologist, economist, and politician. In his book, Weber argues that the theological ideas of protestant sects such as the Calvinists played a role in creating the morality of capitalism. Calvinists believe in predestination–that God has already determined who is saved and damned. As Calvinism developed, a deep psychological need for clues about whether one was actually saved arose, and Calvinists looked to their success in worldly activity for those clues. Thus, they came to equate material success and financial gain as signs of God’s favor.

Weber asserts that the modern spirit of capitalism sees profit as an end in itself, and the pursuit of profit as a virtuous endeavor. As a consequence, capitalism promotes the notion that socioeconomic differences are the measure of one’s virtue — or lack thereof. Theologically this has resulted in the emergence of what has been termed The Prosperity Gospel — socioeconomic differences are divinely ordained, therefore, material prosperity is the sign of God’s blessing upon the faithful while those who lack means have been deemed unworthy.

The ethical problem with such a simplistic political and religious model is that it not only provides credence for the vilification of the poor, but it also supplies a moral justification for failing to seek a more egalitarian social arrangement. Things are the way they should be, any lack of equality is due to a lack of virtue, effort or God’s favor. This relieves adherents of any duty to acknowledge that social injustices such as corruption, patronage or exploitation occur, let alone that they have any moral responsibility in  effectuating change.

Video supplied by the BBC Radio 4 series about life’s big questions – A History of Ideas. http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofideas

This project is from the BBC in partnership with The Open University, the animations were created by Cognitive.

The Invisible Crime

It’s called the invisible crime.  The $32 billion annual human trafficking industry coerces approximately 20 to 30 million adults and children into the sex trade or indentured servitude each year. What many Americans do not realize is just how prevalent human trafficking is right here in the U.S. and how varied the victims are.
Trafficking cuts across gender and ethnicity, with some victims being brought to the U.S. with false promises of a better life. Others are vulnerable U.S. citizens who have been coerced or manipulated into indentured servitude. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry and an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the U.S. each year.
Human trafficking is present when a person is recruited, harbored, provided for or obtained for the purposes of exploitation — often sold as chattel property.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, trafficking victims, two-thirds of whom are female, are recruited by means of force, fraud, or coercion and are often subjected to sexual servitude or compelled to perform manual and service labor. Under U.S. law, any minor under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion.

More Individuals are Being Trafficked Today Than at Any Other Point in History

Though the institution of slavery has been banned across the globe, more than 29 million people are living in forced servitude, the greatest number in recorded history. Trafficking laws vary from state to state, with victims often being arrested and treated like criminals, reinforcing their belief that the police can’t be trusted. Advocates are calling for a “Uniform Law,” one that will allow all agencies to properly identify victims, provide rehabilitative services, and prosecute traffickers.

Some 15,000 people are trafficked each year right here in the U.S. and they’re most likely working for you. According to slaveryfootprint.org, there’s a good chance that a number of trafficking victims have contributed to making the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the laptop on which you’re reading this story. Find out how many slaves you employ by taking the Slavery Footprint quiz and then learn how you can urge major retailers to be more transparent.


The Statistics

  • Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries.
  • Globally, the average cost of a slave is $90.
  • There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today.
  • According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children.
  • Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.
  • According to some estimates, approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation, and 19% involves labor exploitation.
  • The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14 years old. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.
  • California harbors 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas on the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than any other state in the US. 15% of those calls are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
  • The Super Bowl has the largest annual incidence of human trafficking in the U.S. One rescued trafficking victim states that she was expected to sleep with approximately 25 men per day during such events.

Assisting a Victim is Easier than You Might Think

Learn to Recognize the Red Flags. The following is a partial list of potential red flags and indicators of human trafficking and modern slavery. If you recognize any of these signs, please call 1-888-373-7888 to report a situation to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. A number of organizations, including the Polaris Project, Not for Sale and the Project to End Human Trafficking, are also working to put an end to modern-day slavery.

The presence of these red flags is an indication that further assessment may be necessary to identify a potential human trafficking situation. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Indicators reference conditions a potential victim might exhibit.

A person may be trafficked if he or she:

  • Cannot leave his or her job to find another one
  • Does not have control over his or her wages or money
  • Works but receives little or no pay
  • Has no choice about hours worked or under what conditions
  • Shows signs of physical abuse or injury
  • Is accompanied everywhere by someone who speaks for him/her
  • Appears to be fearful of or under the control of another person
  • Has health issues that have not been attended to
  • Owes money to an employer or another person whom s/he feels bound to repay
  • May describe moving or changing jobs suddenly and often
  • Is unfamiliar with the neighborhood where they live or work
  • Is not working in the job originally promised to him/her
  • Is travelling with minimal or inappropriate luggage/belongings
  • Lacks identification, passport or other travel documents or does not have control over his or her documentation
  • Does not have control over his or her finances
  • Provides sexual services in a strip club, massage parlor, brothel or other locations and has a manager or pimp
  • Is a laborer, domestic servant or caretaker but never leave the home or workplace
  • Is unable to freely contact friends or family
  • Is not allowed to socialize or attend religious services
  • Has restricted freedom of movement
  • Is a juvenile engaged in a commercial sex act

Trafficking victims may be reluctant to report or seek services because they:

  • Do not know or understand that they are being exploited
  • Are threatened that if they tell anyone, they or their families will be hurt
  • Have complex relationships with their traffickers that involve deep levels of psychological conditioning based on fear or misplaced feelings of love
  • Are unfamiliar with their surroundings and do not know whom to trust
  • Do not know help exists or where to go for it
  • Are unfamiliar with the laws, cultures, and languages of the destination location or country
  • Fear retribution and forcible removal or deportation to countries in which they may face imprisonment or other hardship
  • Fear law enforcement and other authorities
  • Are addicted to drugs
  • Are in debt to their traffickers
  • Are sending much needed money back ‘home’ and worry about not being able to do this

Religion and Psychology: Complementary Disciplines or Competing Ideologies?

Religion and Science have shared a complex relationship which has historically fluctuated between cooperation and conflict. Both disciplines arise from an intellectual desire to explain the natural world, but their paths have diverged over the nature of knowledge. Holmes Rolston III, a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University, sees their missions as complimentary, but different: “science operates with the presumption that there are causes to things, religion with the presumption that there are meanings to things.” [1]. Using the Aristotlean model, science generally deals the notion of efficient causation, the explanation of how phenomenon occurs, while religion deals with the notion of final causation, or why it occurs. [2].

Science claims objectivity by incorporating the scientific method. Its goal is to compile empirically observable facts in an effort to understand and predict phenomena in the Natural World. It then tries to establish cause and effect relationships and create explanatory theories of how the universe operates. Its reasoning is deductive; it observes the specific to make inferences about the general. Reality is only experienced through the senses and should remain value neutral. The purpose of Science is to explain what is, not what ought to be.

Religion agrees that the world is intelligible and is capable of being logically understood. However, natural law alone “provides only the beginning of illumination.” [3]. The understanding gained through our senses is useful, but incomplete. Its full value is realized by imparting significance, or “meaning” to the phenomenon. Reality is subject to our conscious awareness; shaped by interpretation, as well as, by experience. Religion’s purpose is to supply the meanings for why things happen; to explain what is in order to evaluate what ought to be. In this feature, Religion is more akin to Philosophy than Science.

According to Rolston, the problem occurs when the two disciplines transcend these boundaries by trying to explain the world in the other’s terms. Each discipline operates logically only within its own paradigm. Science is constrained to explaining causal events through quantitative proofs while Religion is restricted to applying qualitative proofs. This principle is exemplified by the social sciences attempts to measure abstract concepts such as Justice or Happiness. When Science enters into the realm of meanings, its method no longer retains its validity. Likewise, religious logic breaks down when it attempts to attribute causes.

Psychology can be fairly assessed as trying to accomplish both objectives. In its study of the organic biology of the brain, its course remains scientific. Psychology explores biological makeup, chemical reactions, and neural activity through synaptic nerves in an attempt to compile causal explanations for how the organic brain operates. It uses the same methodology as biologists, chemists, and physicists. Where it deviates from its sure scientific footing is through its attempt to assess how the conscious mind operates. Here it seems to enter the realm of the theosophical by trying to derive meaning for why the sentient mind interprets reality in the way that it does.

A valid critique of Psychology is justified when it turns its attention away from testable hypothesis’ to generate its theories. It often takes a philosophical approach in its inquiries and tries to legitimize subjective intellectual contemplation as objective scientific evaluation. The questions it attempts to answer, such as the origin of religious belief, however, are not always scientific in nature. It is at these times that a conflict between Psychology and Religion arises, and they become little more than competing ideologies.

For the purposes of this paper I will take a look at two competing psychological theories about the origin and nature of religious belief. The first contribution will be an analysis of Sigmund Freud’s Future of an Illusion, which offers a negative view of Religion. The second text will be William James’ lectures on The Varieties of Religious Experience which present a more optimistic view of Religion. Hopefully this will shed some light on the difficulties Psychology faces when attempting to inquire into the nature of religious belief.

Freud and Religion

Freud became aware of subconscious mental processes while treating mental patients suffering from neurosis and hysteria. Freud developed a method of analyzing human pathology termed Psychoanalysis which he viewed as an application of the scientific method to the study of human behavior. In an exercise called free association, Freud asked patients to randomly express their thoughts in therapy sessions. Freud believed this provided valuable insights into how the human mind draws conclusions about reality.

Freud theorized that the human psyche was controlled in a large part by the subconscious which sought to project primal instincts such as fear, sexuality and aggression outwardly. According to Freud, emotional symptoms and character traits were complex solutions to the unresolved conflicts of childhood. He believed that the subconscious was a composition of unrealized instincts and desires which manifested themselves in the personality of an individual. This was the basis for his analysis of religious beliefs.

Freud believed religious belief arises as a form of wish fulfillment in man’s psychological attempts to control the uncertainty of nature and fate, “life and the universe must be robbed of its terrors.” [4]. Freud saw the development of consciousness as part of the evolutionary process, with religious belief being an initial stage. In this developmental stage, which he termed “humanization of nature,” Freud suggests:

Impersonal forces and destinies cannot be approached; they remain eternally remote. But if the elements have passions that rage as they do in our own souls, if death itself is not something spontaneous but the violent act of an evil will, If everywhere in nature there are beings around us that we can know in our own society, then we can breathe freely, can feel at home in the uncanny and can deal by psychical means with our senseless psychology. [5].

Freud believed that the “humanization of nature” allowed individuals to project feelings of control over natural forces. The individual cannot comprehend the overwhelming forces of nature as his equal, therefore he makes them divine and gives them the attributes of a father. “It has an infantile prototype … For once before one has found oneself in a similar state of helplessness: as a small child, in relation to one’s parents.” [6]. Parents, like nature, cause fear in individuals by stripping them of their sense of control “thus it was natural to assimilate the two situations.” [7]. The father figure is adopted as the model for the divinity. He is to be feared for his powerful influence on the survival of the child, and yet trusted for his protection against external dangers.

At this point Freud turns toward the failing of the original model. There was a gradual shift in the understanding of the Gods’ role in controlling nature. As individuals realized that the Gods did not protect them from pain and suffering, they made the Gods subordinate to Fate. The Gods who created fate, along with nature, had arranged it so they could leave them to operate on their own. “The more autonomous nature became and the more the god’s withdrew from it … the more did morality become their domain.” [8]. The Gods attention turned towards remedying “the defects and evils of civilization.” [9]. This change in commission resulted in a handing down of divine precepts which “were elevated beyond human society and were extended to nature and the universe.” [10].

According to Freud, this led to the understanding of a higher moral order and purpose, imparting religious significance to individual lives. The divine attributes eventually evolved into a single divine entity projected as a benevolent caretaker whose rules protect us from the “merciless” forces of this world. “In the end all good is rewarded and all evil punished, if not actually in this form of life then in the later existences that begin after death.” [11]. This allows the individual to rationalize the existence of pain and suffering in the world and permits hope of a distant redress of grievances.

Freud’s conclusion is that religious teachings are not the product of experience or the end results of rational logic, but are simply illusions. Religious beliefs, in his assessment, are the product of our subconscious desires to fulfill “the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” [12]. Religious belief is wish fulfillment projected into the external world; God is simply a false archetype constructed as a form of psychological defense mechanism.

Freud’s belief is that the provability of Science is superior to that of Religion, and that the illusion will eventually pass into oblivion. On an individual level, Religion is simply cerebral self medication, whereas on a societal level, it is a means of coercing reluctant individuals into suppressing their primal instincts. According to Freud, this is the one saving grace of Religion.

A legitimate criticism of Freud is that he abandons the scientific method for the same type of philosophical inquiry into epistemology which he rejects. Freud collects no empirical data, forms no testable hypothesis, and presents no objective evidence to support his theory of Religion. His assumptions wind up being just as unproven as the dogma of religious belief. Freud acknowledges this lack of evidence, simply asking us to rely on the validity of the psychoanalytic approach.

Another critique of Freud’s “humanization of nature” model is that individuals are driven to pursue both, religious and scientific knowledge for the same reasons; the lack of control over one’s environment leads one to inquire into cause and effect relationships in an effort to control their environment. Scientific inquiry best serves these interests when attempting to control defined physical and chemical interaction, and is quite deficient in explaining social relationships. Conversely, religious practice is limited in scope to the examination of human behavior. With the exception of Occultism, Religion does not concern itself with controlling physical processes.  Therefore, both disciplines serve different, but necessary, psychological needs.

An atheistic reliance on Science in the social realm simply provides a rationalization for dismissing unwanted moral restraints.  “Why can’t the theist put down Freud’s rival belief? Antireligious “scientific” belief is really the same in kind, a governing Weltanschauung, and we can easily postulate it for some unconscious rebellion against one’s parents, some desire to be free from guilt or moral commandments…” [13].

Finally, Freud’s analysis fails to adequately account for the belief systems of Eastern religions. Freud’s explanation of unconscious archetypes does not account for the development of non-deistic belief systems such as Buddhism or Confucianism, which do not provide the psychological comfort of a  personal deity. Neither does it adequately address the belief shared by Hindus and Deists, of an impersonal, mechanistic God whose primary function is to administer the proper functioning of divinely ordained cycles and relationships within the natural world. Not all religious belief systems fit easily into the paradigm of Freud’s psychoanalytic hypothesis.

As a result, Freud’s analysis leaves the door open for the possibility that the concept of the Divine exists as a form of innate knowledge, rather than being the result of socialization.  Assuming, arguendo, the ontological arguments of Socrates and Rene Descartes, the concept of God may simply be the unconscious acknowledgement  that we understand such abstract concepts as infinity, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, despite the fact they form no part of the human experience. In this scenario, it would be natural for an individual to analogize the divine attributes with  comprehensible human archetypes, such as father, mother, king, teacher and healer. Perhaps, this is the most rational way to communicate abstract concepts which are not commonly experienced through sensory perception. Personalizing the divine attributes through human archetypes may simply be the best educational tool we have developed for conveying universally intuited moral understanding.

James and Religion

In 1902, distinguished psychologist and philosopher, William James, gave a series of lectures at the University of Edinburgh, entitled, The Varieties of Religious Experience. James studied the written testimony of numerous individuals attempting to describe their personal spiritual experiences, in an attempt to conduct an empirical study of religious beliefs. Like Freud, most of his observations came from individual case studies and his arguments have more of a philosophical ring to them.  However, in contrast to Freud,  James focuses on the personal nature of religious experience outside the context of socialized community belief structures.

James views Religion as an individual consciousness, rather than a group experience. His position is that the truly religious person is not shaped by society. James acknowledges there is a superficial mode of Religion in which the adherent follows “conventional observances” as proscribed by his culture. James agrees that in this type of simple religious observance, the adherent is not intellectually transformed, but simply conditioned to perform traditional practices and customs. James writes this off as “meaningless” religious observance. To James, the true believer is an eccentric personality and individualistic in his approach, pointing out that many religious believers are inspired to act in ways that are contrary to traditional norms. This is exhibited by the “exceptional and eccentric” demeanor of religious reformers such as George Foxx. [14].

James argues that an individual’s religious beliefs are grounded in the conscious: “All our attitudes moral, practical, or emotional, as well as religious are due to the ‘objects’ of our consciousness, the things which we believe to exist, whether real or ideally along with ourselves.” [15]. Concrete concepts such as God, as well as more abstract concepts such as mercy, justice, and holiness exist as “pure ideas” of which the individual has no prior experience. These ideals may be “present to our senses” or may merely exist as thought, but they bring forth sincere and genuine responses.

The paradox is that words like God, soul, and immortality have no sub-context in the natural world. They are theoretically devoid of any significance yet are understood in the context of religious practice much the same way as Science lends significance to words such as time and space in the material world. According to James, “This absolute determinability of our mind by abstractions is one of the cardinal facts in our human constitution.” [16].

James’ view is that attributing human characteristics  to God is a consequence of the inability to meaningfully express the concepts Religion deals with. These abstract religious concepts are internalized as intuitions that operate on a deeper level than rational thought. In James’ view rationality is preconditioned for by our intuitions and is an inferior method for founding belief: “The truth is that in metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality have already been impressed in favor of the same conclusion.” [17]. Our instinct leads and our intelligence follows. As a result, no belief system, whether scientific or rational, can be changed by rational argument.

James did not see the natural world as perceived through the senses as a providing a full measure of reality. James speculated “…so long as we deal with the cosmic and the general we deal only with the symbols of reality, but as soon as we deal with private and personal phenomena as such, we deal with realities in the completest sense of the term” [18].

In James’ opinion, our inner experience may be subjective and unscientific, but it has the greatest effect on shaping our reality. Inner religious motivations lead to changes in character and manifest themselves in the deeds accomplished by the religious individual. The “stronghold of religion” lies in this individuality, or self-actualization of the believer, and through this “the theologian’s contention that the religious man is moved by an external power is vindicated.” [19].

James acknowledges that proof of whether God exists is not needed for Religion to serve its purpose. James determines the way to save the utility of religious belief is by supplying justification for the illusion. His defense of Religion consigns the Divinity to the role of little more than an inspirational device. For James, the actual power of God is manifested through the individual’s belief in God.

James’ view of Religion is very individualistic in this sense. There is no sense of community, morality, or an ordered universe such as prevails in many religious traditions. James disposes of any notion of a universal purpose by assigning personal beliefs about the divine dictate as overbeliefs. In James’ view, a person is only capable of ascertaining the divine will for their own behavior and interactions.

James dismisses the notion of a personal deity, defining God is a personal experience rather than a sovereign entity. This addresses the critique that Religion is oppressive in the application of its subjective moral standards onto unwilling members of society, but it takes much of the substance away from what a Divine Being is or represents in most cultures.

At a purely subjective level Religion is vindicated. Whether or not religious tenets are correct is of no consequence as long as they prove useful to the individual. The subconscious self creates a personal entity which guides us through our personal reality, making God a “causal agent as well as a medium of communion.” [20]. This subjective perception of reality serves a rational function of empowering the individual religious believer.


Freud and James’ individual case studies leave us with an unsatisfactory scientific resolution as to the original source of religious faith. Ironically, both theories fall victim to the same epistemological shortcomings they originally set out to confront by examining the source of the concept of God. What we are left with is the centuries old question DeCartes left us with — does the intrinsic belief in God originate from an idea implanted by an external force which acts upon us, or is it simply the by-product of an innate desire to assign meaning to an incomprehensible world.

Neither Freud nor James provides us with a scientific solution to the problem. They offer no insights on what empirical data we should collect, form no testable hypothesis to validate their conclusions, do not control for different religious ideologies, and base their findings on a miniscule sample of humanity. Instead, each man relies on the trustworthiness of the psychoanalytic approach to correctly diagnose the subjective, unconscious motivations of their subjects.  Freud and James both come to the determination that religious belief is an internalized rationalization of the outside world, but arrive at different conclusions for the utility this rationalization serves.

For Freud, religious belief is simply a psychological defense mechanism — a kind of personalized rationalization to provide us with a sense of self-control over an unpredictable and hostile environment. Its usefulness is in providing  a societal control mechanism which coerces reluctant individuals into suppressing their primal instincts.

James, on the other hand, views religious belief as an individualized experience. Our inner experience helps shape our reality. The utility of Religion is in the self-actualization of the believer which empowers us to achieve greater accomplishments. Personal faith motivates us to look beyond our individual deficiencies.

Neither intellectual attributes religious belief to a pathological condition or a deficiency in critical reasoning skills. Conversely, each psychologist views Religion as a natural cognitive outgrowth of the mind’s attempt to process imperfect information which cannot be experienced through our natural senses. What motivates us to attach personal significance to mundane human experiences? Why do individuals continue in their religious faith with little or no tangible proof of its utility? Is the belief in a Divine Being helpful or harmful to our daily existence? These are qualitative inquiries which fall outside the realm of testable scientific hypothesis. As such, they are subjective experiences which become matters of personal conscience.

Psychology’s conjecture into how the mind forms abstract religious concepts requires it to resort to the same speculative ontological arguments for which it criticizes  Theology.  Psychology retains its sure scientific footing when it limits its scope to the ream of quantifiable proofs; it overreaches when it attempts to magnify subjective  individual  experiences into broad, generalized assumptions. Likewise, Religion retains its integrity when it limits its examination to the realm of individual human potential; overreaching when it attempts to extrapolate broad, generalized principles and indiscriminately apply them at an organizational level. When reduced to over-simplified, dogmatic doctrine, both fields of study are susceptible to harmful misapplication. It is at these ideological impasses that Psychology and Religion stop functioning as  complimentary disciplines and become little more than competing belief systems.

By Lawrence Christopher Skufca (2007)

Some Rights Reserved


[1]. Holmes Rolston III, Science and Religion: A Critical Survey, pp. 22-23.

[2]. Owen Gingrich, “God’s Universe.” p. 12.

[3]. Holmes Rolston III, Science and Religion: A Critical Survey, p. 23

[4]. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, p. 20.

[5]. Ibid., p. 20.

[6]. Ibid., p. 21.

[7]. Ibid., p. 21.

[8]. Ibid., p. 22.

[9]. Ibid., p. 22.

[10]. Ibid., p. 23.

[11]. Ibid., p. 23.

[12]. Ibid., p. 38.

[13]. Holmes Rolston III, Science and Religion: A Critical Survey, p. 163.

[14]. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture I. p. 4.

[15]. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture III. p. 1.

[16]. Ibid., p. 3.

[17]. Ibid., p. 13.

[18]. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture XX. p. 11.

[19]. Ibid., p. 20.

[20]. Ibid., p. 22.

Altruism vs. Self-Interest: What is the Proper Balance?

Camden Civil Rights Project

by L. Christopher Skufca

Where should self-interest yield to self-sacrifice in promoting mutual cooperation and common dignity in a civil society? Is there an implied social contract which produces a civic or moral responsibility to provide a safety net for society’s most vulnerable citizens or does this place an unfair economic burden upon self sufficient individuals? I will attempt to navigate this minefield with the help of the Dalai Lama and Ayn Rand.


download (19)Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.

From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.

Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another.

Inter-dependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness.

It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

– Dalai Lama



The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal.

It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others—a doctrine which is extremely offensive to both parties, leaving men no choice but the roles of sacrificial victim or moral cannibal.

Even though altruism declares that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” it does not work that way in practice. The givers are never blessed; the more they give, the more is demanded of them; complaints, reproaches and insults are the only response they get for practicing altruism’s virtues (or for their actual virtues). Altruism cannot permit a recognition of virtue; it cannot permit self-esteem or moral innocence. Guilt is altruism’s stock in trade, and the inducing of guilt is its only means of self-perpetuation. If the giver is not kept under a torrent of degrading, demeaning accusations, he might take a look around and put an end to the self-sacrificing. Altruists are concerned only with those who suffer—not with those who provide relief from suffering, not even enough to care whether they are able to survive. When no actual suffering can be found, the altruists are compelled to invent or manufacture it.

Such is the secret core of your creed, the other half of your double standard: it is immoral to live by your own effort, but moral to live by the effort of others—it is immoral to consume your own product, but moral to consume the products of others—it is immoral to earn, but moral to mooch—it is the parasites who are the moral justification for the existence of the producers, but the existence of the parasites is an end in itself—it is evil to profit by achievement, but good to profit by sacrifice—it is evil to create your own happiness, but good to enjoy it at the price of the blood of others.

– Ayn Rand



admin-ajax-ConvertImageI tend to embrace the Dalai Lama’s message of mutual cooperation over the Objectivist appeal to uninhibited self-interest. My personal moral imperative would be that, so much as it is within our personal control, our primary purpose in life should be to seek mutually beneficial social and economic arrangements.

The Dalai Lama’s assertion that our own human existence is dependent on the help of others is undeniable. Most intellectually honest individuals recognize that any assertion of sole-sufficiency is over-exaggerated and that success, or failure, is highly dependent on the cooperation of others. I believe It takes a tremendous amount of self-deception for anyone to believe that no one else deserves credit for the cultivation of their virtue and talent or the potential success of their ventures. No person has ever reached the age of self-sufficiency without a caretaker or become educated in how to navigate the waters of society without a mentor. And no-one has ever engaged in a successful enterprise without the cooperation of those whom have either granted them an opportunity, or tirelessly labored for their cause.

As for altruism, I believe that if there is a legitimate need, and you have the ability to alleviate another’s pain and suffering, then you should provide what charity you can afford. Charity is a mercy shown to another premised on the mutual experience and understanding, that at one point in our lives, our own well-being was dependent on the kindness or goodwill of another. On a societal level, it is simply sowing the seeds of compassion with the hope, but not the expectation, that if you or a loved one ever fall on misfortune, someone will return the kindness. It should be a voluntary act of compassion without judgment.

As Rand contends, this does not mean that individual acts of charity should be involuntarily imposed. If you feel put out or taken advantage of, you should not give a cruel gift. It would be a kinder act not to give at all than to berate or dehumanize another human being for having a need. If given the choice, I do not believe that the vast majority of humanity would ever voluntarily choose the subjugated status of dependence over the independence and self dignity that self-sufficiency provides.


In terms of societal well-being, Rand’s portrayal of altruism as a social harm stands on less solid ground. The moral impetus behind altruism is the ethic of reciprocity: you should treat others as you wish to be treated. To make her appeal to self interest more palatable, Rand prefers to attack the lesser maxim that it is better to give than receive, on the grounds that it promotes “self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction.”  By framing the argument in this way, Rand avoids the more repugnant task of having to question the moral sufficiency of the precept that each member of a society is required to provide the same level of respect and common dignity which they presume for themselves.

My main criticism of Objectivism is that, more often than not, it is employed as an oversimplified moral justification for rationalizing away the negative externalities caused by a dominant class’s social and economic interactions with the more vulnerable class. On the macro level, the self sacrifice demanded by Altruism is more aptly characterized as political compromise. It represents the voluntary submission of an individual’s claim to uninhibited wealth and privilege in exchange for a benefit or security which the existing social arrangement provides.

The moral deficiency of an egocentric society is in the claim that the individual duty to ensure the equitable treatment of its less fortunate members only extends so far as the transaction does not personally inconvenience an individual’s life. This is a very debilitating policy, insofar as it undermines the very existence of any express or implied social agreement amongst members of society to engage in mutual cooperation or to cultivate a common respect for one another. What develops is a highly militaristic attitude against individuals who seek a more equitable distribution of material resources. Reforms are challenged as a threat to one’s social status and competition is perceived as an adversary to be overcome, rather than a mutual entitlement to seek financial independence.

Moreover, the rationale that individual acts of charity should be voluntary does not easily translate into the moral proposition that society has no collective duty to provide an economic safety net for its most vulnerable citizens. In any civilized nation, there should sensibly be a preferential option for assisting the poor and disenfranchised. Subsidizing existing wealth at the expense of society’s less fortunate individuals tends to promote instability and crisis. A society which cruelly neglects its most vulnerable members invites violence upon its own head, whether it manifests itself in the form of rising crime rates or seditious revolution. Thus, a society which shows deliberate indifference towards a persecuted segment of its own population has no reasonable expectation of domestic tranquility.

The less a society strives for Egalitarian ideals, the more turbulent the political climate becomes. A segment of the population which is economically exploited by the existing social arrangements is not morally bound to suffer in silence. To do so would be an irrational act of preserving one’s own undignified state of existence. The calculated choice to peacefully redress one’s grievances is a magnanimous act designed to bring attention to an injustice in the hope of invoking Society’s notions of equity and fair play. However, once an affected population’s faith in peaceful reform is extinguished by the dominant society’s refusal to redress their social grievances, violence is embraced as a justifiable and necessary act to ensure one’s own self-determination. As former president John F. Kennedy warned, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” This model of economic tyranny being met with violent insurrection has unfailingly repeated itself throughout the course of human history. As such, no society should ever rationally encourage domestic insurgency through deliberate indifference or institutionalized cruelty.

The preservation of a civil society ultimately rests upon its maintaining an acceptable level of altruism. The competing claims made by interdependence and individuality can only be reconciled through a self-imposed moral restraint which permits members of society the freedom to determine the course of their own lives, while ensuring they do not violate the personal autonomy or self-dignity of others in the process. Objectivism undermines this civic ethic with its abolition of a moral duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society. As a result, it inflicts a greater social injustice than it initially sets out to correct

Lawrence Christopher Skufca (2015)

An Equal Protection Challenge to Heien v. North Carolina

In Heien v. North Carolina135 S.Ct. 530 (2014), the U.S. Supreme Court has issued forth its new edict asserting the Fourth Amendment is not disturbed if a constitutional deprivation occurs because of a police officer’s reasonable mistake of the law. This creates a scheme whereby divergent interpretations of the same statute may produce unequal outcomes, which may ultimately prove to be untenable under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Continue reading An Equal Protection Challenge to Heien v. North Carolina

Thomas Jefferson: The Progressive Libertarian

Thomas Jefferson’s last testament to his political, religious, and educational ideology is encapsulated by his self-ascribed epitaph: “Here lies Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.” [1]. Fittingly, these three accomplishments are the culmination of Thomas Jefferson’s lifework, and reflect the progress he made in affecting American attitudes in each of these areas. Continue reading Thomas Jefferson: The Progressive Libertarian

Terrorists Are the Threat, Not Muslims

Islam is the world’s second largest religion. A 2012 Pew Research Center study estimates Islam has 1.6 billion adherents, making up over 23% of the world population. Conversely, there are less than 2.4 million suspected Muslim terrorists in the World. Less than one third of these militants have declared Jihad on the West.

The Hezbollah Party in Lebanon is generally agreed by Western intelligence agencies to have the largest terrorist capabilities in the World. Surprisingly, there are no membership estimates. However, based on the common knowledge that Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization, and the estimates that the Shi’ites represent approximately 27% of the Lebanese population, if every Shia in Lebanon was a member of Hezbollah, at most, the party would have an estimated 1,588,292 members. Nevertheless, Hezbollah activities are known to be limited to the Palestinian struggle with Israel and unlike the extremist groups seeking to impose Sharia Law, Hezbollah does not promote an Anti-Western, Anti-Christian Agenda.

The rest of the known Muslim terrorist organizations in the Middle East which advocate strict Sharia government, total less than 764,500 members. The Muslim Brotherhood (which surprisingly the U.S. does not designate as a terrorist organization) claims 500,000 adherents; Jaish al-Islam (Syria) ranges anywhere between 5,000-50,000 members; the Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistan) has less than 35,000 members; The Taliban (Afghanistan) has an estimated 25,000-36,000 fighters; ISIS (Syria) can ‘muster’ between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters; Ahrar al-Sham has an estimated 10,000-20,000 members; Boko Haram (Yobe State) has an estimated 10,000-15,000 members; The Haqquani Network (Afghanistan) has an estimated 10,000 members; Lashkar-e-Zill (Afghanistan) has an estimated 10,000 members; Liwa al-Tawhid (Syria) has an estimated 8,000-10,000 members; Suqour al-Sham (Syria) has an estimated 9,000-10,000 members; the military wing of Hamas (Palestine) has an estimated 10,000 operatives; Jabhat al-Nusra (Syria) has an estimated 5,000-7,000 operatives; Al Shabab (Somalia) has an estimated 3,000-5,000 members; Lashkar-e-Taiba is estimated to have “several thousand” members; Ansar al-Sham (Syria) has approximately 2,500 fighters; the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (Bangladesh), at it’s peak, had approximately 2,000 members; Hizbul-Mujahideen (Kashmir) has an estimated 1500 operatives; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Pakistan) has less than 1000 members; Jemaah Islamiyah (Indonesia) has less than 1000 members; Al-Qaeda has an estimated 500-1000 operatives; Ansar al-Islam (Iraq) has 500-1000 members; Harkat-ul-Jihadi al-Islami (Pakistan has 500-700 members; Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) has 200-500 members; Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (Pakistan) has an estimated 300 members; Jaish-e-Muhammad (Pakistan) has “several hundred” armed volunteers; and Al-Badr (Kashmir) has an estimated 200 operatives.

These numbers reflect that less than .0015% of Muslims would qualify as members of suspected terrorist organizations. Less than .0005% would be of the Anti-Western Jihadist persuasion. Put another way, 99.9995% of Muslims are not Anti-Western militant extremists.

The United States has a population of approximately 320 million people. Approximately 6/10 of one percent of the population is Muslim, for a total of two million Muslims in the U.S. If the numbers above hold up, out of 2 million Muslims, there would potentially be as many as 1000 militant Muslims in the U.S., with as few as 40 of them being a member of ISIS. This means 1 out of every 1999 Muslims you meet in America might harbor anti-Western extremist views. More importantly, this means 1998 out of 1999 do not. If we limit the conversation to members of ISIS, these numbers would skyrocket. Statistically speaking, the odds of a U.S. Muslim being a member of ISIS would increase to 1 in 50,000.

To place these numbers in the proper perspective, if the average American met one new Muslim per day, on the average, you would only meet one militant Muslim every 5 1/2 years. You would average one member of ISIS every 138 years.

So as we are bombarded with all the rhetoric and sensationalist claims designed to persuade us that these 40 statistical anomalies are the biggest threat the U.S. has ever faced, let us please remember that it is the terrorists who are the threat and not the Muslims.

By Lawrence Christopher Skufca (2015)

The Gadfly Syndrome: The Tension Between the Good Individual and the Good Citizen

In the Apology, Socrates describes himself as a “gadfly” cast upon the city of Athens to awaken it from its slumber.[1] Herein lies the tension between the individual and the social aspect of the philosopher – the act of existing as both a good human being and a good citizen. For Socrates, the “unexamined life is not worth living,” [2] therefore it is the duty of every individual to engage in the search for the truths about society and one’s self. However, the individual’s duty to self-discovery is reliant upon his interaction with the city. Unfortunately, it is precisely this activity which makes the philosopher a nuisance to the public good. His inquiries subject the city to repeated offense, as the philosopher continuously questions the moral foundations upon which the city gains its legitimacy. The contradictions that are presented serve as a constant reminder of the city’s own self-deficiency. Thus, the gadfly eventually gets swatted.

This is the paradox presented by the lifestyle advocated by Socrates. The human being and the citizen have a mutual claim on the philosopher’s life. Like a bad marriage, they can’t seem to live with each other, nor can they seem to live without one other, but are simply forced to coexist in a conflicting state of mutual necessity. The two are perpetually at odds with one other due to their separate allegiances; the one to philosophy and the other to the city. This is the dilemma I hope to resolve. In doing so I will look to several texts to examine (1) the solitary life of the philosopher and its claim on the human being, (2) the social life of the citizen and his responsibility towards the city, and (3) the conflict between the philosopher’s two natures.


One aspect of the philosophical life is its radical call to forsake the material comforts of home, family, and wealth in pursuit of the truth. In the Symposium, Socrates describes the life of the philosopher through his portrayal of Eros: “First of all, he is always poor; and he is far from being tender and beautiful, as the many believe, but is tough, squalid, shoeless, and homeless … always dwelling with neediness … Eros is — necessarily — a philosopher.”[3] Much like Eros, Socrates has chosen to be “careless” for his own things by accepting a life of poverty.”[4] Although the Socratic depiction of Eros seems to contain an element of self-reflection, it also serves as a metaphor for the self-discipline required to live a truly philosophic existence.

Socrates’ Myth of the Soul in Phaedrus, gives us an ample word picture of the soul, and how the philosopher directs it. The soul is likened to a “natural union of a team of winged horses and their charioteer.”[7] The charioteer is in charge of two horses; a white one of good stock (the spirited part of the soul), and a black one of bad stock (the desirous part of the soul). The driver, or ruling part of the soul,[8] is responsible for steering the chariot (soul) clearly, although the two horses pull the chariot in different directions. On Socrates’ account, this makes “chariot driving … a painfully difficult business.”[9] The success of the chariot driver rests on his ability to guide the two horses to catch a glimpse of the transcendent forms of the truths, “visible only to intelligence.”[10]

The ruling part of the soul must gain control over the spirited and desirous part of the soul if it is to keep from being prejudiced by their competing passions. As Socrates notes, it is the desirous part of the soul which is the most difficult to conquer: “The heaviness of the bad horse drags its charioteer towards the earth [away from the truth] and weighs him down if he has failed to train it well, and this causes the most extreme toil and trouble the soul will face.”[11] Thus, the more control the philosopher has over his passions, the more truth he is permitted to see.

The philosopher must become a “skilled hunter” [5] in recognizing the truth for the correct governance of his soul.[6] The soul can never be led to true understanding if the ruling part lacks authority over the soul; the discovery of true knowledge is ultimately found by recollecting those eternal, permanent truths that are only perceivable through disciplined thought. Therefore, Socrates contends the individual who is unable to subdue his passions can never truly achieve the status of a good human being:

A soul that never saw the truth cannot take a human shape, since a human being must understand speech in terms of general forms, proceeding to bring many perceptions together into a reasoned unity. That process is a recollection of the things our soul saw … when it disregarded the things we now call real and lifted up its head to what is truly real instead.[12]



The philosopher exists on the continuum between “being wise and being without understanding,” thus, he can never use himself as the sole standard for truth. No matter how skillful the chariot driver the soul needs dialogue with the city; for “all the great arts require endless talk and ethereal speculation about nature.” [13].

Dialogue is a way of conditioning the receptivity of the soul towards learning: “the rhetorical art, taken as a whole, [being] a way of directing the soul by means of speech.”[18] It is the virtue of speaking the truth,[19] for the person who speaks “well and nobly” must understand the reality of what he speaks of.[20] This form of artful speaking forces the orator to engage in the activity of philosophy by carefully examining the nature of the things he speaks about. It is a systematic art of “divisions and collections”[21] by which to differentiate and categorize things as to gain a fuller understanding into their nature.

After the Oracle at Delphi prophesies there is no one wiser than Socrates, the philosopher’s first impulse is to measure his knowledge by speaking to those in the city who are “reputed to be wise.”[14] Socrates discovers that “those with the best reputations” seem to be the “most deficient,” while those with lesser reputations seem “to be men more fit in being prudent.”[15] He accredits this to the fact that because each “performed his art nobly, each one deemed himself wisest also in the other things, the greatest things.”[16] Therefore Socrates recognizes his wisdom to be the realization of his own ignorance: “for probably neither of us knows anything noble and good, but he supposes he knows something when he does not know, while I … do not even suppose that I do.”[17]


Thus, Socratic dialogue becomes a method for transmitting knowledge,[22] enabling the philosopher to lead himself, and others to knowledge by directing souls[23] through the process of recollection. The Meno slave narrative provides a vivid example of how the process of recollection operates. The conversation with Meno’s slave takes on the form of a cross-examination by which he is skillfully led to distinguish a recognizable form of truth. Without any prior knowledge of geometry, Socrates directs the slave to acknowledge a simple geometrical reality through a series of leading questions. Socrates goes on to explain that “the truth about the beings is always present for us in the soul.”[24]

Simple truths, such as mathematical proofs, serve as a springboard in the dialectical education for grasping the recognizable form of the truth through the mind’s eye: “whoever has been educated up to this point in erotics, beholding successively and correctly the beautiful things, in now going to the perfect end of erotics shall suddenly glimpse something beautiful in its nature.”[25] The dialectician can only lead the student towards the answer to these truths; he can never directly provide the solution. This serves a twofold purpose, 1.) for the student to fully recognize the truth, he must take the final dialectical leap himself, and 2.) it provides confirmation to the philosopher of the existence of the truth.


The citizen is dependent on the city for his physical and intellectual well-being. The city nurtures, educates and protects its citizens from birth through death via its laws and social institutions. [26] This is the duty of the city; its legitimacy depends on the good that it claims to provide its citizens, that of justice executed through the law. In exchange for the city’s protection, the citizen enters into a willing covenant to preserve the laws of the city through his obedience. This is the duty of the good citizen. In Crito, Athens makes a claim on Socrates’ life; his obedience to its laws in exchange for the good it provides. So long as Socrates chooses to remain in the city, he has willingly consented to this arrangement. [27]. Nevertheless, while the city may own the philosopher’s body, it cannot own his soul.

The allegiance of the good human being is to the protection of the soul through philosophic activity. A tension develops between the human being’s obligation to truth and the citizen’s duty to the law. Philosophical intercourse within the city will ultimately challenge the city’s integrity by inquiring into the basis of its laws. This eventually places both, the philosopher and the city in jeopardy: “For there is no human being who will preserve his life if he genuinely opposes … [the] multitude.” [28]. Anytus reminds Socrates of how “very easy” it is to be harmed for speaking against the city, when he objects to Socrates examination of the esteemed fathers of Athens. [29]. Therefore, the philosopher must protect himself and the city by engaging in private, rather than public dialogue.

The skilled lawgiver must recognize the correct application of the truth. The problem with Athens is that it has fallen asleep, thus lacks the necessary self-awareness to distinguish justice from immorality. Socrates contends that for the law to be viewed as legitimate, it must be universally accepted as noble:

“Noble things, it would seem, are everywhere considered noble, and base things base; not base things noble or noble things base … And thus, as a universal rule, realities, not unrealities are accepted as real, both among us and all other men.” [30].

This forms the basis of the Socratic notion of the law’s responsibility to truth. Only when the good is applied can the law and justice coexist.

What the city fails to realize is that it has a need for the philosopher. In order to maintain its legitimate claim to authority, the City’s laws must provide a benefit to the citizen. For the laws to provide a benefit they must be founded on truth. The ancient standards of law based on prophecy, tradition and the opinion of the many contain contradictions that incessantly leave them open to question, making them detrimental to the city’s continued existence. Once corrupted by bad governance, the City loses its legitimate claim of authority over the citizen.
The skill of lawmaking is to apply the good which benefits the citizen. Socrates duty as a citizen requires him to become the “gadfly” which alerts Athens of the deficiencies which would undermine respect for its laws. His duty as a philosopher requires him to prod lawmakers into gaining control over their passions and correctly assess the Good. By doing so, Socrates’ is able to find consistency between his obligations of being a good citizen and a good human being. He becomes a useful nuisance to the City through his constant diagnosis of the social ills which threaten its health.


By Lawrence Christopher Skufca (2008)

Some Rights Reserved

 (Cover Art: Ezra Pound‘s “Gadfly” Signature)


[1] Plato. Apology of Socrates. “4 Texts on Socrates.” Trans Thomas G. and Starry West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984); 31a.

[2] Ibid.; 38a.

[3] Plato. Symposium. Trans Seth Benardette. (Chicago, Il: Chicago Univ. Press); 203d-204b.

[4] Plato. Apology of Socrates. “4 Texts on Socrates.” Trans Thomas G. and Starry West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984); 31b,31c.

[5] Plato. Symposium. Trans Seth Benardette. (Chicago, Il: Chicago Univ. Press); 203e.

[6] Plato. The Republic. Trans Alan Bloom. (New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc., 1968); 591b.

[7] Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1995); 246b.

[8] see footnote 69, p. 31, Phaedrus.

[9] Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1995); 246b.

[10] Ibid.; 247c,d.

[11] Ibid.; 247b.

[12] Ibid.; 249c.

[13] Ibid.; 270a.

[14] Plato. Apology of Socrates. “4 Texts on Socrates.” Trans Thomas G. and Starry West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984); 20c.

[15] Ibid.; 22a.

[16] Ibid.; 22e.

[17] Ibid.; 21d.

[18] Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1995); 261a.

[19] Plato. Apology of Socrates. “4 Texts on Socrates.” Trans Thomas G. and Starry West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984); 18a.

[20] Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1995); 261a.

[21] Ibid.; 266b.

[22] Ibid.; 270d.

[23] Ibid.; 271d.

[24] Plato. Meno. “Protagoras and Meno.” Trans. Robert C. Bartlett. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2004); 86b.

[25] Plato. Symposium. Trans Seth Benardette. (Chicago, Il: Chicago Univ. Press); 211a.

[26] Plato. Crito. “4 texts on Socrates.” Trans Thomas G. and Starry West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984); 51d.

[27] Ibid.; 51e.

[28] Plato. Apology of Socrates. “4 Texts on Socrates.” Trans Thomas G. and Starry West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984); 32a.

[29] Plato. Meno. “Protagoras and Meno.” Trans. Robert C. Bartlett. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2004); 94e.

[30] Plato. Minos. The Annenberg/CPB Project. (Internet: www.perseus.tufts.edu, 2008); 316b.

Religious Tolerance: John Locke

John Locke’s “The Reasonableness of Christianity,” is the unification of enlightenment era idealism with traditional Christian thought. Locke’s assertion of the freedom of the individual believer and his call for tolerance in doctrinal differences lead to a uniquely modern interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. Deemed by many to be a defense of Christianity, “The Reasonableness of Christianity” comes across to this reader as Locke’s attempt to reconcile his own philosophical views with his personal religious faith.

Locke advocates the individual freedom of the believer in non-essential matters of religious conviction: “The law of faith … is for everyone to believe what God requires him to believe as a condition of the covenant he makes with him.” [1]. To Locke, the Christian faith consisted of the acknowledgement of fundamental precepts that were necessary for the attainment of eternal security, and of supplemental spiritual truths in which we are only regulated by the revelation we are given. This allows for a certain amount of freedom of belief within Christianity.

Locke’s evaluation of the Bible is that only the direct instruction of Christ and the apostles, contained in the Gospels and Acts, are to be trusted as the necessary components of salvation. Locke makes a distinction between the “fundamental articles” of faith revealed in the Gospels and the instructions to the Christian community contained in the epistles to the churches. [2]. For lack of a term provided by Locke, I will label these primary, and secondary teachings. The primary doctrines which Locke deems necessary for salvation are faith in the eternal God of scripture, as evidenced by repentance and a return to morality, and belief in the messiahship and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The secondary teachings are those moral precepts that are espoused by Paul and the other early church fathers through their instructions to the infant churches. Locke values these teachings as useful truths to the observance of the Christian faith, but unnecessary for entering into the covenant of salvation with God. [3].

According to Locke, salvation is a restoration of the immortality and state of bliss that was lost to humanity by the fall of Adam: “as Adam was turned out of paradise, so all his posterity were born out of it, out of the reach of the tree of life; all, like their father Adam in a state of morality, void of the tranquility and bliss of paradise.” [4]. Locke acknowledges that this original act of disobedience tainted humanity, but contends that the penalty enacted upon future generations was not a state of guilt, but a state of mortality. [5]. The idea that God would impose a penalty upon Adam’s posterity for an act they did not commit offends Locke‘s notion of divine justice. This is where I believe that Locke’s theology breaks down. His argument presupposes that eternal damnation is the consequence of a penalty imposed, rather than a state of separation which exists between God and humanity. It can be reasonably argued that humanity is not so much penalized, but rather voluntarily removes itself from God’s providence and protection, returning us to the original state of chaos which existed prior to the act of creation.

Whichever state existed after the fall, Locke conjectures that Jesus Christ was the Messiah promised by scripture, whose purpose was to restore the original condition of humanity. Locke argues that belief in this restoration is a fundamental requirement of “saving faith,” reasoning that this is the only requirement for salvation set forth by “Our Savior and his apostles.” [6]. Locke asserts a “threefold declaration of the Messiah” through the miracles performed by Christ, his fulfillment of the prophecies, and his proclamation of the doctrine of the Messiah. [7]. This provides Locke with sufficient proof of the identity of Jesus, and the validity of his teachings. Locke’s dependence on the use of scripture to validate scripture is an obvious shortcoming in his contention that the truth of Christianity can be attained objectively through human reason.

The innovation of “The Reasonableness of Christianity” is in Locke’s supposition that humanity would be incapable of constructing an equitable system of morality without the aid of divine revelation. Locke reproves previous religions for their failure to instill virtue, maintaining that prior to the advent of Christianity, organized religion did little more than advocate proper observance of rituals. Locke also faults philosophy for its unsuccessful attempts to produce an organization of ethics comparable to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Locke finds Christian morality to be the most substantive and comprehensive system ever proposed to humanity.

Locke’s theological essay serves as a testament to the influence of the Age of Reason upon traditional Christian beliefs. Its success lies not in Locke’s defense of traditional Christian beliefs, but in its call for theological reform. It is a challenge to reassess traditional Christian values to accommodate the enlightened ideals of freedom, individuality and tolerance.

By Lawrence Christopher Skufca (2008)

Some Rights Reserved


[1]. John Locke. 1695. “The Reasonableness of Christianity.” (Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA): 32.

[2]. Ibid., 32, 43-44.

[3]. Ibid., 43.

[4]. Ibid., 27.

[5]. Ibid., 26-27.

[6]. Ibid., 43.

[7]. Ibid., 37.