An atheist reads the Bible: The Lockean covenant

Locke’s First Treatise is a long, complex refutation of this idea, based on his interpretation of history and the Bible. He argues that there is no way to trace man’s dominion over the Earth from Adam to any modern inheritors. In the absence of a rightful claim by any one individual, Locke argues that such a right may be claimed equally by every individual. Any man may rightfully claim dominion over a part of the earth that he himself develops and improves. It is a preview of the argument for property rights that Locke states more fully in the Second Treatise. Locke even develops an intriguing formula for this viewpoint: since God gave the earth to men “for their benefit and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed He meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational (and labor was to be his title to it).”

Call this the Lockean Covenant. No, God did not appear to John Locke in a burning bush. Rather, this was Locke’s interpretation of the Biblical relationship between God and man, as influenced by his Enlightenment philosophy.

You can imagine how this went over very well in the New World. The American was Locke’s “industrious and rational” man par excellence, charging off into the untamed wilderness “with his Bible, ax, and newspaper,” as Tocqueville put it, and claiming his patch of the earth by title of his labor.

This has had a direct influence on the contemporary American right.