Hobbes’ Folly: The Creation of Secularism and a new Intolerance

thomas_hobbesThomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679 AD) is renowned in Western history as being the father of modern Western Political Philosophy. His seminal book ‘Leviathan’ established the foundational ideas and concepts for what would later be called Secularism and Liberalism. Hobbes argues that the purpose of government is exclusively material, namely, the prevention of in-fighting and disorder between people. Government was required because, according to Hobbes, ‘the time that men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man’ (‘Leviathan’).

In Hobbes’ time, Christianity was heavily dominant in politics, with wars between kingdoms fought over different interpretations of Christianity – mainly on the question of whether or not the Catholic Church and Pope should have spiritual authority over Christians, and Christian kings. Hobbes sought to find a solution to this by creating a philosophy derived from what he thought was universal observations of human nature, to establish politics upon a non-religious, material basis.

Thomas Hobbes, argued pragmatically that fallible priests can bring a bad reputation to religion, and basing a state on religion (or priests) would cause instability. People, he argued, would over time become disillusioned with Catholicism due to instances of corruption amongst priests, as well people falling into differences of interpretation, heresies and splinter factions. Hobbes argued that religion changes over time, but the state always stays the same, and so for the interest of maintaining the stability of the state, government should not be founded or justified by religion. Hobbes’ argued that since religion causes controversies in society, the the state should be founded on civil authority justified only by the material purpose of preventing fighting between people and disorder (this is called the ‘Argument from controversy’). Therefore, Hobbes’ basis is if a ruler has power, he has authority and the right to obedience from his subjects, whether he is religious, Christian or not.

 The Four Arguments of Thomas Hobbes

To effect his goal of giving Christians a purely material basis for obedience to government, Hobbes invoked the Bible claiming that only the Jews could have a ‘Kingdom of God’ ruled by religion. But since the advent of Jesus, and his ascension to heaven, Christians were to wait for Jesus to return to establish a ‘Kingdom of God’ with him being the ruler of all Christians. In the meantime, before Jesus’ re-appearance, Hobbes argued that Christianity was merely ‘good counsel’ (advice), and should only be limited to persuading people to do good and be saved, not governing them (this is called ‘the Kingdom of God argument’).

Hobbes also argued that belief cannot be forced, and that people have no control over their own opinions, and must be convinced first through argument. Hobbes argued that forcing people to do good, would make many act hypocritically, and therefore be pointless as it still could not ‘save’ their souls. He argued it was better to not rule by religion, and therefore only the sincere of heart would answer the call to faith (this is called ‘The Argument from Hypocrisy’).

For the final main argument for Secularism, Hobbes invoked the fact that early Christians were commanded by St Paul (who was not a companion of Jesus!) to obey their leaders and kings – who at the time of early Christianity would have been the non-Christian Pagan Roman kings (this is called the ‘Give unto Caesar argument’).


Consequently, based upon those four arguments, Hobbes claimed Christianity does not have a special right to government, nor does a government need to be Christian to be justified, but rather the material purpose of government, to prevent in-fighting and disorder, is the only purpose and justification for it.

That being said, Hobbes never prohibited government from implementing Christian laws, but rather he argued that the implementation of Christian law was at the discretion of the ruler and optional. Whether the ruler ruled with Christian law or not, or was himself a Christian or not, did not invalidate his right to rule – which is established his power, and the purpose of preventing in-fighting and chaos between the people.

 Hobbes and the argument from Controversy

Hobbes was clearly a product of his time, and unfortunately based his conclusions on generalising the particular circumstances of his time e.g. English Civil War etc. He argued for  the absolute authority of the ruler to enforce, by use of iron fist if necessary, people to live peacefully with eachother. Unfortunately, this does not take account of all factors which cause conflict.

Hobbes considered only what causes conflict between humans in a state before a society comes into existence (i.e. in a state of anarchy), and how differences in religion may cause wars. Hobbes, however, did not adequately address the other much more common causes of conflict within society. Factors which cause conflict include mostly materialistic-oriented things like pride, competition, greed, lust, desire for power, unjust economic system, corrupt government, oppression, factionalism, racism, fascism etc. Hobbes’ solution did not provide any means to regulate, restrain or replace this problems.

Strangely, Hobbes does not consider any way to prevent inter-state wars between countries. Most of the religious wars that occurred in Hobbes’ time were not civil wars excited by religion, but wars between kingdoms. In essence, Hobbes picked the fly and ignored the elephant.

Hobbes’ argument that religion changes, but the state does not, is not accurate. The state changes too, rulers change, culture changes, power and fortune changes, and people may split off into differing political factions and fight eachother in civil wars for purely non-religious motives. Unfortunately, since Hobbes was surrounded by religious wars, this really affected his thinking. Kind of like if a man has a bad experience in a relationship, he might be foolish to think that all women are bad.


Hobbes’ conclusions really don’t apply outside of Christianity (which he admitted). In Islam, the political leader, the Caliph, is viewed as a fallible human, and no one ever connected a Caliph to a manifestation of Islam, except where the Caliphs actions were in accordance with Islam. In Islam, the Caliph is not an intercessor between man and God, nor is the post divinely guided or sinless.

As such, Islam does not hold any doctrine of their being intercessors to God:

“Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth and everything between them in six days and then established Himself firmly upon the throne. You have no protector or intercessor apart from Him, So will you not pay heed?” (Qur’an 32:4)

The wisdom of Islam, is that it does not give authority to one group of scholars or Imams over another to dictate and enforce doctrine (like Catholicism does). There is no established Church. This means that no one can ‘own’ Islam, for Islam is (to use a computer programming term) ‘open-source’, accessible and interpretable to anyone educated enough to do so.

This meant that the Ummah (Muslim community) always looked towards scholars who were not in the pay of the government, as being the most trusted ones to protect the intellectual continuation of Islam. Scholars who were in the pay of government were never trusted as much as independents.


Islamic thought and jurisprudence is separated from any monopolised control by government, and the government is not under obligation to follow one particular Islamic school of thought over another. This means that Islamic government focuses only on the implementation of Islamic law, not enforcement of a particular doctrine (which leads to religious wars). It is free to adopt any interpretation of Islamic law on only political or social issues, or another, without requiring the Muslim community to believe in it – leaving the Caliphate’s policies open to public debate, constructive criticism and revision.

Of course, there were three Caliphs of the Mutazilah sect which tried to force their doctrines on people – but they were the exception (their sect was heavily influenced by european-Greek thought – enough said).

In conclusion, because Islam does not consider Caliphs, Islamic scholars as infallible, or intercessors between man and God, no one can harm the idea of Islam, but people can only harm their own reputation by failing to live up to Islamic ideals. Thus, Islam demonstrates that Hobbes contentions are not universally true, which therefore render void his conclusions about religion in general.

Historically speaking, the longest running states and civilizations based upon some form of religious tradition, philosophy or belief, whether the Ottoman Caliphate, the Chinese civilization, the Persian civilisation have never faced the kind of schisms and wars, emanating from religion that europe experienced – but rather have always experienced political causes for strife. This fundamental fact, renders Hobbes’ generalisations – based upon his experience of the peculiar circumstances of renaissance Europe’s religious wars, a clear error.

Hobbes and his ‘Argument from Hypocrisy’

Although Hobbes admits that (his interpretation of) Christianity is the most suitable religion for the detachment of religious authority from government, it follows that his conclusions could not apply to other religions. For example, Islam isn’t merely ‘good counsel’ but also a ‘mercy to mankind’ by providing solutions for the causes of conflict within a society as well.

Islam aims to create an environment that appeals to the higher nature in man, and does not leave society free to appeal, encourage and reward man’s lesser natures – i.e. hypocrisy. Islam actively aims to remove public corruption, not by focusing only on hypocrites, but by helping the majority of people who are not hypocrites, who desire to be good, but fail due to human weakness, and inadvertently affecting others.

A society organised to liberate the virtuous, is a society based on virtue. A society organised to liberate hypocrites, is a society based on hypocrisy.

What Hobbes misunderstood in his observations, is that revelation came not to guide hypocrites, but help good and sincere people. Therefore, it does not compel hypocrites to become sincere, nor does it force non-Muslims to become Muslim, instead Islam creates an environment conducive to, and encouraging of virtue, while preventing hypocrites corrupting others in the society [i.e. the public sphere].

‘They [the Hypocrites] wish that you reject (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like them). So, take not Auliya (protectors or friends) from them’ [Quran 4:89]

Islam’s solution, permits hypocrites to do what they like only in the private sphere of their homes (the penal system does not punish sins done in private), but in public, the environment is conditioned to help and encourage the majority who sincerely believe and desire to do good but are weak humans beings, prone to mistakes and temptations.

‘Allah desires that He should make light your burdens, [for] man is created weak[Quran 4:28]


Lastly, Hobbes assumed that sincere people wouldn’t exist in a religious state, as they would in a materialistic-based state. The reality is that sincere people and hypocrites would exist in both states – however, while a religious based state would be more likely to promote excellence in sincere people,  the materialistic-based state would reward people who have the least scruples and the most self-centered ambition (i.e. hypocrites), and force sincere people to compromise some of their virtues in order to compete.

Hobbes’ and his ‘Kingdom of God argument’

Hobbes argues that Jesus did not intend to rule the world during his lifetime, nor urge Christians to do the same. Christians, according to Hobbes, are to wait for the return of Jesus where he will establish his direct rule of the world. In the meantime Christians are merely meant to convert people to the faith and increase their numbers, and preach to fellow Christians, to become righteousness. For this reason, Hobbes argued, Christianity does not have a right to rule, or obligation to attain government.

This argument misrepresents the New Testament, and Catholic doctrine. The term ‘Kingdom of God’ (or ‘Kingdom of Heaven’) has many meanings and uses in the Bible, from an earthly kingdom, to a state of mind, to Jesus himself, or a state of existence for a Christian community. The Catholic Church has always viewed itself as aiming at fully realising the Kingdom of God, which doesn’t need Jesus to actively be present to rule (since the ‘Holy Spirit’ was claimed to be guiding the Church). The Catholic Church’s aim was to prepare the way of his return to ‘active leadership’.

‘When…appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ and eternal Priest, and He poured out on His disciples the Spirit promised by the Father. From this source the [Catholic] Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King’. [Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, article 5]

The Catholic Church based this points quite credibly on a number of verses of the Bible, such as the command for Christians to actively seek the Kingdom of God:

‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you’. [Matthew 6:33]

Other verses of the Bible say the ‘Kingdom of God’ as an era, has already arrived!

‘If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’. [Luke 11:20]

Temple Priest leads the faithful in worship in the Ancient Kingdom of Israel

Temple Priest leads the faithful in worship in the Ancient Kingdom of Israel

Furthermore, Hobbes’ argument that the Kingdom of God is only for when Jesus returns, cannot apply to Islam (or Judaism of which does not consider the right to rule of the laws of Moses, abrogated), since the Islamic concept of Caliphate (Arabic: Khilafah, lit. Vice-regency or Successorship) is a Kingdom of God, where God holds the position of king over the believers, and through his expressed Will (contained in the Quran and hadith), Muslims enact the laws and directly govern on his behalf as his vicegerents (khulafah).

‘Just think when your Lord said to the angels: Lo! I am about to place a vicegerent [i.e. man] on earth…’ [Quran 2:30]

‘The sovereignty of the skies and the earth belongs to Him [God] alone’ [Quran 9:116]

‘Verily, His [God’s] is the Creation and the Command’ [Quran 7:54]

The nature of Islam, Judaism and Catholic Christianity, runs contrary to premises of Hobbes’ arguments, which were based upon his protestant (anti-catholic) opinions. As such, Islam, Judaism and Catholicism (in its original form) believe in a continuing and present need for a kingdom of God, and do not take away God’s sovereign right to govern government, society and individuals for the betterment of man in this life and the next.

Hobbes and his ‘Give unto Caesar argument’

Hobbes argues in his book ‘De Cive’ [‘On the citizen’] Chapter 11, that because Jesus told the Jews who asked him about paying roman taxes, that they should ‘give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s’ – that this means that Christians are subject to non-Christian authorities, as they are subject to Christian ones. Thereby arguing that religion has no justification to the ruler, and by implication no special right to rule.

This is easily refuted by a consideration that God’s owns the heavens and the earth, and the pagan Caesar has no authority over a Christian, that ever can be greater than God’s authority over him. So whatever a Christian owes a pagan leader, then he can give it to him, but only as long as he does not give what is God’s right alone.

Christians have argued that ‘give unto Caesar…’ is merely a clever answer by Jesus to speak the truth while avoiding the Roman occupation force from arresting him for rebellion. Either way, it is not an argument for Secularism – for the Jews at the time of Jesus lived under the revealed Law of Moses. The Romans permitted this, because they were just interested in taxes, not spreading or imposing roman beliefs. And Rome wasn’t a secular state either – their pagan religion was part of their culture and informed their laws.

Hobbes argues that because St Paul commanded Christians in the Christian New Testament to obey their rulers (who were pagan roman emperors), this means that Christianity does not have a special right to govern. Hobbes used this conclusion to argue that all Christians must obey the ruler, no matter what his doctrines, or what law he commands them with.

‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves’. [St Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 13]

However, Hobbes didn’t consider that St Peter, which the New Testament describes as an actual companion of Jesus, disobeyed the Jewish ruling authorities who had prohibited him from preaching, and preached in public against their orders, justifying it by saying:

“We must obey God rather than men” [Acts 5:29]

The mainstream Christian understanding (which is still Catholic) was that Christians are to be obedient to all rulers – unless they command Christians to go against God’s command. However, even then, Christians are never commanded to rise up and depose the leaders, but merely to not obey specific unjust commands.

That Christians can be non-violent under pagan rule, does not negate a ruler who converts to Christianity, having the obligation to rule with the laws, values and principles found in the Bible. This is because, according to the New Testament, everything a Christian does must be for God, and based upon divine guidance. Therefore Hobbes is incorrect to argue that Christianity has no right to government according to Christian teaching.

Suffice to say, due to it being based upon the Christian New Testament, the ‘give unto Caesar argument’ is meaningless outside of Christianity (and especially meaningless to Jews, who repeatedly rebelled against the Romans, to liberate their lands).

Hobbes’ and making religion conform to a new material world order

(or The Origin of Secular Intolerance)


In Hobbes’ detachment of religion’s right to government, he left a problem which still haunts secular government and states till this day.

The problem was that for Hobbes’ secularism to work, religious people had to agree with Hobbes’ new role for religion, that the government derives its authority only from ruling, not implementing divine law. But what if a sizeable population believed that God’s law should continue to be active in government? What if people disagreed with Hobbes’ arguments? How could they be ruled by a materialistic-based political authority who may not find divine law in their interest?

Hobbes answer was simple, the government in the interests of the ‘public good’, could control and restrict the beliefs and doctrines of its people:

ThomasHobbes1‘It is annexed to the sovereignty to be judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse, and what conducing to peace; and consequently, on what occasions, how far, and what men are to be trusted withal in speaking to multitudes of people; and who shall examine the doctrines of all books before they be published’ [Leviathan, Chapter 18]

He continues with a justification:

‘For the actions of men proceed from their opinions, and in the well governing of opinions consists [in] the well governing of men’s actions in order to their peace and concord. And though in matter of doctrine nothing to be regarded but the truth, yet this is not repugnant to regulating of the same [in the interests of] peace…It belonged therefore to him that hath the sovereign power to be judge, or constitute all judges of opinions and doctrines, as a thing necessary to peace; thereby to prevent discord and civil war’ [Leviathan, Chapter 18]

At first glance, Hobbes’ arguments seem sensible – some doctrines can be controversial – however who can really judge that? What peace is being protected? Say if a religious doctrine runs rejects the practices of an unjust ruler, or rejects the policy of invading and attacking other countries for materialistic gain, or what if the ruler believes that ‘religion is poison’ (like Chairman Mao), or that a religious doctrine is a ‘threats’ because it undermines the Secular and Liberal culture? All religions that have doctrines contradicting these positions could be deemed a threat to ‘peace’ – Secular peace that is. Lastly, how is this different to the medieval Catholic Church’s approach to heretics, who by dint of their heresy, were also deemed ‘threats to the peace’ or ‘threats to the public good’, and needed to be controlled?

Catholicism’s heretics have now become Secularism’s ‘extremists’.

In Chapter 18 of Hobbes’ book, he considers that doctrines, even true ones, need to be regulated by the sovereign, if the sovereign deems that these doctrines are not conducive to civil peace. Of course, civil peace is defined by the ruler, and consequently, even if beliefs do not incite war, but merely hold the potential to cause community tensions, or run against the commonly accepted values underpinning a state, they can be viewed as a ‘threat’ by a secular ruler, and suppressed.

Hobbes’ was concerned that religions which may object to the rules and values of materialistic-based government, may disobey rules they deem unjust, which in Hobbes’ viewed, constituted a ‘threat’ to the state. He proposed that rulers are in effect the ultimate spiritual authority for all their citizens, since the citizens must accept the values of the ruler or ruling system – and it is the ruler, according to Hobbes, who authorises which beliefs and which doctrines are acceptable, and which are not [1]. The irony (again) of this is, while Hobbes’ advocates government to be detached from religious authority, he then re-attaches it again, but in the other direction, with religious given to government authority!

Hobbes’ insistence on the ruler controlling doctrines and beliefs, led to the problem that this would mean many religious believers would be forced to profess in public doctrines and beliefs they do not believe in or do things that go against what they believe in, or force them to hide their beliefs and keep them secret. To this Hobbes’ posited that there is no problem with that, as the ruler can’t force people to change the ideas in their heads – and doesn’t have to, as long as they keep those ideas only in their heads [2]. This ends up with the ironic position where Hobbes’ forces (sincere) people to become hypocrites! The very thing he argued that his solution (Secularism) would eliminate! As can be seen from history of Secularism since Hobbes, many religious communities and minorities have had to hide their beliefs in secret, or express their interests hiding the true reasons for them.

It is no wonder, that in the modern day, most Secular governments around the world have various means of controlling the doctrines and beliefs of its citizens. These can include creating a regional Church, like the Catholic Church of China, limiting platforms for religious speakers, restricting religious charities, arrests, fines, to funding religious organisations promoting state-approved interpretations of religion in many european countries, and middle-eastern countries.

People reading Hobbes may wonder if an alternative exists to controlling people’s doctrines and beliefs. The answer is that there have existed alternatives for thousands of years. In the Islamic Caliphate, the Islamic system granted autonomy to non-Muslims, and permitted non-Muslims to live under their own law systems, and be free from having any duty to obedience to the Caliph (whose authority is only over Muslims). The only requirement from non-Muslims was abstaining from violence against Muslims, and for males to pay a tax to fund the border-military for their protection (which could be waived if they volunteered as a reservists).

The problem the Catholic Church faced with heretics, was the issue of the independent challenge to their authority. If someone could differ with established Church doctrines, then they were outside its authority, and therefore outside their political authority. This led the Catholic Church to expunge heresy where it could, in order to preserve their spiritual authority and therefore their political authority.

The Islamic Caliphate is not a spiritual authority for Muslims, but rather more of an obliged institution for the implementation of Islamic law. It cannot enforce opinions or doctrines beyond the commonly-agreed minimum required to be a Muslim (e.g. belief in God, Quran and in Muhammed (saaw) as the final Prophet of God). As such, the Caliphate were not allowed by Islam to interfere with or oppress heretical sects merely for their beliefs – it was left up to Islamic scholars to refute heresies amongst themselves by force of argument.


The problem that the Catholic Church faced was that there were no explicit texts in Christian scripture granting the Church political authority over Christians. This caused power struggles when it was challenged by the Protestants (and some irritated Catholic kings), as Christians could legitimately deny the Catholic Church’s political authority, without need to reject any explicit texts of scripture.

Although the question of which particular candidate could be Caliph had been contested at times throughout history, the institution of Caliphate has not, as it is a fundamental doctrine of Islam, of which all sects and schools of thought acknowledge as having legitimate political authority (only) over the Muslim community. Thus there was no need for the Caliphs to determine what doctrines were taught, and give permission to them, since whatever any Muslim believed, heretic or not, political obedience to the Caliph has always been an uncontested doctrine of Islam, being enunciated clearly in the teachings of the Muhammed (saaw) [3]

The ancient Kingdom of Israel which ruled by Mosaic law, is in Judaism, similar in nature to the institution of a Caliphate, and also held as a fundamental doctrine of Judaism.

In summary while Islam and Judaism permitted citizens to believe and practice without government interference, Hobbes’ secular government does not.

In Summary

As we have seen, Thomas Hobbes is a product of his time, and his idea to found ruling on a purely material basis was borne out his scepticism of religious institutions and an attempted pragmatic solution to religious wars – which didn’t stop wars from continuing.

These formative ideas of Hobbes would later be known as Secularism, and provide the basis for the development of Liberalism.

However as has been shown, the conclusions of Hobbes are based upon a multitude of observational errors and inaccurate prejudices. The errors of Hobbes’ thinking are:

1. Hobbes’ argument assumes a purely material purpose for the state, i.e. material security, and neglects its other purposes. Whereas virtually all religions and Eastern and Greek philosophers argued that the purposes of government were also the protection and encouragement of virtue. Historically, most religions and ancient philosophies do not coerce non-believers to embrace their beliefs. However, amongst a community of fellow believers, religion did successfully create a legal, social and political environment conducive to the attainment of its goals.

2. Hobbes’ belief that material-based authority of the ruler should be the basis for state because it is stable – is false. Consequently he neglects solving the most common cause of wars and strife, which historically have not been religion. The most common causes of wars have been greed, prejudice, access to resources, poverty, tyranny, international relations, political factionalism, political rivalry etc. Hobbes’ argument that states based upon religion, or a religious culture are unstable, belies history, where such states or civilisations have endured for hundreds or even thousands of years.

3. Much of Hobbes’ Biblical interpretation is a kind of Protestantism, and would consequently only be accepted by a section of protestant Christians. This means that Hobbes’ arguments are only applicable to some strands of Protestant Christianity, not Catholics or the other Abrahamic religions like Islam – or most other religions and ancient philosophies for that matter.

4. Hobbes’ use of the bible is a unstable basis to use as an authority for Christians to accept material government. There are so many ways to interpret the New Testament’s approach to political authority, which means Hobbes’ arguments are highly subjective and that it would not a stable enough basis to expect all Christians to agree with Hobbes. Hobbes argues that religion is not a stable basis for a state, because it can be interpreted in different ways and is prone to change, yet he too then uses his interpretation of a religion to justify to its adherents his new political order! The question is, what does Hobbes’ do if people don’t agree with his interpretations?

5. Hobbes’ arguments would (and have) still caused wars and civil wars as religious believers resisting his new world order would face oppression. As a consequence of 3) and 4), civil wars and civil strife would still occur as Hobbes grants permission to the ruler to control doctrines and beliefs he feels are not conducive to the ‘public good’ or that would challenge his authority or interests (even if the challenge was not a political threat). This again leads to oppression of minorities (or majorities) who do not embrace Hobbes’ newly assigned place for religion. This also leads to the wars between states that are religious and ones that are materialist.

6. Hobbes’ makes sincere people into hypocrites and hypocrisy open to influence the people. As mentioned, a state with a religious community that holds beliefs and doctrines which are deemed to challenge the values or authority of the secular state (even if the religious community are non-violent), have to hide their beliefs for fear of persecution, or seek their interests pretending it is for some other reason than their religious morality. All the while those who are not hindered by the same morality, or are moved only to pursue self-centred may freely display their activities and beliefs – as long as they accept the ruler’s rule over them (which they would happily do). This flaw in Hobbes’ thought, actually refutes on the very reasons he put forward for a Secular state – namely the elimination of hypocrisy!


Hobbes’ resentment at the Catholic churches wars and suppression of Christian heretical factions, led to him trying to find a material basis for politics. As a result, he merely replaced religious-based authority with a materialistic-based political authority – which would war against and suppress religious adherents who refuse to accept Hobbes’ new role for religion. In essence, Hobbes’ merely swapped the position of the Catholic Church and elevated in its place, materialist political authorities. And so with great irony, the suppression of non-Catholic Christians was replaced with a broader suppression of virtually all religious communities who reject Hobbes’ materialistic political system (Secularism), and dare to preserve the political aspects of their religions.

Coming after Hobbes’, it is no surprise to find that the founders of the doctrine of ‘Free Speech’ and Secular Liberalism like John Milton [4] and John Locke [5] , and American founding fathers, John Jay [6] , and John Adams [7] who are all famous for their advocacy of tolerance, would only permit toleration of protestant sects, but would outright declare the necessity the intolerance towards Catholics, or some discrimination against them [8].

In the end, Hobbes created a new classification of heretics to be oppressed and warred against. And today, it is no surprise that many Secular states exert some control, regulation and restriction over which beliefs and doctrines are taught within religious communities residing in Secular states. Secular authorities typically label those who hold opinions contrary to Secular Liberal morality as being ‘extremists’, which usually is a prelude for implementing a variety of suppressing measures. It is fair to say, the persecution of Medieval Catholicism’s ‘heretics’ has now moved on to the modern-day persecution of Secularism’s ‘extremists’.

And so Hobbes’ folly would go down in history, as not just the origin of Secularism’s totalitarian monopoly over politics, nor as the full unfettering of hypocrisy in society, but also as the birth of a new intolerance.



[1] ‘And first, we are to remember that the right of judging what doctrines are fit for peace, and to be taught the subjects, is in all Commonwealths [i.e. states] inseparably annexed…to the sovereign power civil, whether it be in one man [Autocracy] or in one assembly of men [Democracy]. For it is evident to the commonest capacity that men’s actions are derived from the opinions they have of the good or evil which from those actions redound unto themselves; and consequently, men that are once possessed of an opinion that their obedience to the sovereign power will be more hurtful to them than their disobedience will disobey the laws, and thereby overthrow the Commonwealth [i.e. state], and introduce confusion and civil war; for the avoiding whereof, all civil government was ordained. And therefore in all Commonwealths of the heathen [pagan/non-Christian], the sovereigns have had the name of pastors [spiritual leaders] of the people, because there was no subject that could lawfully teach the people, but by their permission and authority. This right of the heathen kings cannot be thought taken from them by their conversion to the faith of Christ..or…be deprived of the power necessary for the conservation of peace amongst their subjects and for their defence against foreign enemies. And therefore Christian kings are still the supreme pastors [spiritual leaders] of their people, and have power to ordain what pastors they please, to teach the[ir] Church, that is, to teach the people committed to their charge’. [Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 18]

[2] ‘But what, may some object, if a king, or a senate, or other sovereign person forbid us to believe in Christ? To this I answer that such forbidding is of no effect; because belief and unbelief never follow men’s commands. Faith is a gift of God which man can neither give nor take away by promise of rewards or menaces of torture. And, if it be further asked, what if we be commanded by our lawful prince to say with our tongue we believe not; must we obey such command? Profession with the tongue is but an external thing, and no more than any other gesture whereby we signify our obedience; and wherein a Christian, holding firmly in his heart the faith of Christ, hath the same liberty which the prophet Elisha allowed to Naaman the Syrian. Naaman was converted in his heart to the God of Israel, for he saith, “Thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord. In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon; when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.” [II Kings, 5. 17, 18] This the Prophet approved, and bid him “Go in peace.” Here Naaman believed in his heart; but by bowing before the idol Rimmon, he denied the true God in effect as much as if he had done it with his lips. But then what shall we answer to our Saviour’s saying, “Whosoever denieth me before men, I will deny him before my Father which is in heaven?” [Matthew, 10. 33] This we may say, that whatsoever a subject, as Naaman was, is compelled to in obedience to his sovereign, and doth it not in order to his own mind, but in order to the laws of his country, that action is not his, but his sovereign’s; nor is it he that in this case denieth Christ before men, but his governor, and the law of his country. If any man shall accuse this doctrine as repugnant to true and unfeigned Christianity, I ask him, in case there should be a subject in any Christian Commonwealth that should be inwardly in his heart of the Mahomedan religion, whether if his sovereign command him to be present at the divine service of the Christian church, and that on pain of death, he think that Mahomedan obliged in conscience to suffer death for that cause, rather than to obey that command of his lawful prince. If he say he ought rather to [defy the prince and] suffer death, then he authorizeth all private men to disobey their princes in maintenance of their religion, true or false: if he say he ought to be obedient, then he alloweth to himself that which he denieth to another, contrary to the words of our Saviour, “Whatsoever you would that men should do unto you, that do ye unto them” [Luke, 6. 31] and contrary to the law of nature (which is the indubitable everlasting law of God), “Do not to another that which thou wouldest not he should do unto thee.’ [Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 42]

[3] Narrated Abu Huraira:  The Prophet (saaw) said, ‘The tribe of Israel used to be ruled and guided by prophets: Whenever a prophet died, another would take over his place. There will be no prophet after me, but there will be Caliphs who will increase in number.’ The people asked, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! What do you order us (to do)?’ He said, ‘Obey the one who will be given the pledge of allegiance first. Fulfil their (i.e. the Caliphs) rights, for Allah will ask them about (any shortcoming) in ruling those Allah has put under their guardianship.’  (Sahih Bukhari, Virtues and Merits of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 661)”

It should be noted that the Prophet (saaw) requested that Muslims give a pledge of allegiance, not belief in the Caliph, or that the Caliph is infallible.

[4] ‘Yet if all cannot be of one mind, as who looks they should be? To this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian that many be tolerated rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpates all religions eeeand civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or manners no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw itself’ [John Milton, Areopagitica]

Note, in this work he urges no toleration to Catholicism, but while making no specific comments about Islam, does equate Islam and Catholicism being the same.

‘nay it was first establisht and put in practice by Antichristian malice and mystery [i.e. Catholicism] on set purpose to extinguish, if it were possible, the light of [Protestant] Reformation, and to settle falshood; little differing from that policie wherewith the Turk upholds his Alcoran’ [John Milton, Areopagitica]

He was makes a passing remark about look at ancient Athenian society, which he remarked, had a government which was intolerant to Atheists.

‘But lest I should be condemn’d of introducing licence, while I oppose Licencing, I refuse not the paines to be so much Historicall, as will serve to shew what hath been done by ancient and famous Commonwealths, against this disorder, till the very time that this project of licencing crept out of the Inquisition, was catcht up by our Prelates, and hath caught some of our Presbyters. In Athens where Books and Wits were ever busier then in any other part of Greece, I finde but only two sorts of writings which the Magistrate car’d to take notice of; those either blasphemous and Atheisticall, or Libellous’. [John Milton, Areopagitica]

 [5] ‘That Church [e.g.. Catholicism] can have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate which is constituted upon such a foundation  that all those who enter into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince [e.g. the Pope]. For by this means the magistrate would give way to the settling of a foreign jurisdiction in his own country and suffer his own people to be listed, as it were, for soldiers against his own Government. Nor does the frivolous and fallacious distinction between the Court and the Church afford any remedy to this inconvenience; especially when both the one and the other are equally subject to the absolute authority of the same person, who has not only power to persuade the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists, either as purely religious, or in order thereunto, but can also enjoin it them on pain of eternal fire. It is ridiculous for any one to profess himself to be a Mahometan only in his religion, but in everything else a faithful subject to a Christian magistrate, whilst at the same time he acknowledges himself bound to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople, who himself is entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor and frames the feigned oracles of that religion according to his pleasure. But this Mahometan living amongst Christians would yet more apparently renounce their government if he acknowledged the same person to be head of his Church who is the supreme magistrate in the state.

Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration [John Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration]

[6] ‘Except the professors of the religion of the church of Rome, who ought not to hold lands in, or be admitted to a participation of the civil rights enjoyed by the members of this State, until such a time as the said professors shall appear in the supreme court of this State, and there most solemnly swear, that they verily believe in their consciences, that no pope, priest or foreign authority on earth, hath power to absolve the subjects of this State from their allegiance to the same. And further, that they renounce and believe to be false and wicked, the dangerous and damnable doctrine, that the pope, or any other earthly authority, have power to absolve men from sins, described in, and prohibited by the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ; and particularly, that no pope, priest or foreign authority on earth, hath power to absolve them from the obligation of this oath’. [John Jay, Proposal for amendment of the New York Constitution, 1777]

[7] The famous founding father John Adams, although tolerating Catholics, made the requirement of Catholics to say an oath before taking any government position:

‘no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentiate hath, or ought to have any jurisdiction, superiority, pre-eminence, authority, dispensing, or other power, in any matter civil, ecclesiastical, or spiritual, with this commonwealth: except the authority and power which is, or may be, vested by their constituents in the congress of the United States’ [Constitution of Massachusetts, 1780]

[8] After the fall of many Catholic countries to Secular Liberalism and Secular Fascism, the Catholic Church later reined back their political influence, and grudgingly accepted the Secular world order – eventually allowing Catholics to be fully tolerated in Secular countries.

2 replies »

  1. Having already pointed out your propensity to criticise outdated ideas, I will not go into that too much. However, I would like to point out the flaws in your conclusions (the “in summary section”).
    Its amusing that most of your criticisms about Hobbes, a 16/17th century thinker, can be applied to the idea of the khalifah which is bandied about these days.

    With regards to you first point, you say that religions have not forced their beliefs onto non-believers. How do you square this with your belief in the khilafah system and its principle of all laws being based on “shariah”? Would you simply kick non-believers out if they did not comply?

    The second point is also full of fallacies. Whilst I agree religion is not the only reason for wars, it is invoked every time there is a war. An example is George Bush;s assertion that God told him to invade Iraq. However, we cannot ignore the fact that some of the most destructive wars have been based on religion (e.g. the thirty years war in Europe).

    Your point about Hobbes saying religious states are unstable makes me question whether you actually know anything about Islamic history. Politically, the Khilafah was very unstable, with assassinations, coups, fragmentation etc all in the name of Islam and protecting the religion. Let me take two examples from our history: the murder of Ali and the Abbasid coup against the Umayyads (both done in the name of religion). With regards to the murder of Ali, it is well documented (tarikh Tabari and Tarikh Ibn Qutaybah) that the murderer of Ali, after doing the deed, shouted “Sovereignty is with Allah, not with you Ali”. Sounds alot like something the “Khilafah” supporters of this day and age would say.

    The second example, the Abbasid coup against the Umayyads, was also done in the name of islam with the Abbasids accusing the Umayyads of being un-Islamic. This led to a huge civil war in which the caliph and most of his family were killed…. again. Please read Islamic political history for more murder, bloodshed and un-Islamic practices.

    Your third point is moot. Who cares where Hobbes got the ideas from? As long as they make sense to reason then they should be implemented. This means all humans regardless of religion should implement ideas which rationally make sense.

    With regards to the fourth point, as a supporter of the khilafah system, which has no basis in the Quran, you should not be questioning someone else’s attempts to read into a scripture something which is not there.

    In your fifth point you write, “Hobbes grants permission to the ruler to control doctrines and beliefs he feels are not conducive to the ‘public good’ or that would challenge his authority or interests”. Why are you attacking this when a when a non-muslim does it, whilst at the same time believing in the khilafah system which would lead to the same thing?. Do you not know about the Mihna of Al-Ma’mun?? This “permission… to control doctrines and beliefs” happened in Islamic history as well. How can you support the khilafah system, whilst attacking what the khilafah system lead to?

    Your sixth point shows your understanding of secularism is severely lacking. A secular system does not have any values. It takes it values from what the people consider valuable. therefore if the people consider shariah valuable then so will the secular state. Your point about hypocrisy actually fits as a better criticism of the “Islamic” states of Iran and Saudi which have the highest rates of Muslims moving away and then converting from Islam.

    As always, we can continue this discussion by email if you wish.

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