Separation of Church and State 3

The great idea of individual freedom is what the Founders of the USA intended the new nation to embody – not Christianity.

We have selected passages on this theme from an article by Rob Boston in Church and State, denying “10 myths” about the First Amendment and its implications:

Myth One: Separation of church and state isn’t found in the U.S. Constitution.

Separation of church and state came about in America because during the colonial period there often was no separation, and this violated fundamental liberties. The system the Religious Right favors – church-state union – was tried in many colonies and found wanting.

Throughout the article, the author ascribes the myths exclusively to the “Religious Right”. In our experience, Christians of both Right and Left repeat these same fallacies.

Virginia led the way. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked together to disestablish the Anglican Church and pass legislation that extended true religious freedom to all. Some years later, it was Jefferson who penned the metaphor of the First Amendment erecting a “wall of separation between church and state”. Jefferson’s metaphor resonated with the public and the courts. Thus, the phrase “separation of church and state” came into being as a short-hand way of describing the First Amendment’s religion clauses. As the eminent church-state scholar Leo Pfeffer once wrote, “[I]t was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so widely held by the American people.”

Key Founders backed the concept. Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” and a primary drafter of the Bill of Rights, used similar language. In Virginia, Madison noted that he and Jefferson had created the “total separation of the church from the state”. As president, Madison was a strict advocate of this principle. He vetoed legislation that would have given a church in Washington, D.C., a symbolic charter to care for the poor, and he vetoed legislation giving a federal land grant to a church. In both cases, Madison issued veto messages citing the First Amendment.

Myth Two: The United States was founded to be a Christian nation.

This claim is easily debunked by referring to the text of the U.S. Constitution. If an officially Christian nation had been the Founders’ intent, the Constitution would say that explicitly. It doesn’t. In fact, it says the opposite.

Religion is referred to twice in the Constitution. The First Amendment bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion” and prohibiting “the free exercise thereof.” The first portion of this statement, which scholars call the Establishment Clause, cuts strongly against the notion of an officially Christian nation.

The second reference is often overlooked but is very important. Article VI contains language stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” What the Founders did here was ban religious qualifications for federal office – that is, they made it illegal to require that a person hold certain religious beliefs as a qualification for public office. Article VI ensures that all people – Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. – can hold office at the federal level. It is impossible to square this language with the “Christian nation” concept.

Many conservative pastors of the post-Revolution era were well aware of the secular nature of the Constitution. They knew that the document did not establish an officially Christian nation. This angered them and led to a round of pulpit attacks on the “godless” Constitution.

Myth Three: Separation of church and state was originally intended to merely bar the creation of a national church.

The text of the First Amendment goes way beyond simply banning a national church. The amendment prohibits all laws “respecting an establishment of religion”. James Madison, one of the chief drafters of the amendment, interpreted it broadly. Madison believed that tax funding of churches was unconstitutional and even concluded, later in his life, that official White House proclamations calling for days of prayer were a violation.

It is true that some colonies had official churches. But it’s worth noting that the religion enshrined in law varied from colony to colony. … This “multiplicity of sects,” as Thomas Jefferson called it, ensured an effective check on an officially established national church.

Myth Four: Most of the Founders were evangelical Christians and supported government promulgation of that mode of faith.

Evangelicalism did take hold in the colonies in the post-Revolutionary era, but it was never embraced by key Founders. Rather, they tended to align with a rival school that sought to merge certain ethical principles of Christianity with the tenets of the Enlightenment, which stressed the primacy of science and reason.

Many Founders are identified as Deists, a theological school of thought that is less popular today. Deists believed in God but didn’t interpret the Bible in a literal fashion. They were skeptical of miraculous claims and sought to find a way to bring religion into alignment with the emerging scientific view of the world.

Yes, many Founders were Deists, but here a correction is needed. As theological terms, Deism means belief that a divine being made the universe but had nothing more to do with it; Theism. in contrast, means belief in a creator who continues to concern himself with human affairs.

Some of the signers of the Constitution did undoubtedly hold traditional Christian beliefs. But this does not mean they supported merging church and state.

Myth Five: Mottos like “In God We Trust” on currency and “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are evidence that separation of church and state was never intended.

Both of these phrases are of much more recent origin than many people believe.

“In God We Trust” is familiar to most Americans because it appears on U.S. currency. But early American money did not carry this phrase. The Fugio cent, a penny authorized by Congress in 1787 and reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin, contained the mottos “Mind Your Business” and “We Are One” – a reference to the 13 colonies.

In God We Trust” didn’t appear on coins until the Civil War, when it was authorized for use on some coins minted in the North. The use of the phrase was sporadic on currency and was not codified until the 1950s. Around the same time, the phrase was adopted as the national motto. (“E Pluribus Unum” had been serving as an unofficial motto until then.) Many scholars believe that the adoption of these religious phrases was a reaction to the fight against “godless communism” during the Cold War.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a minister and a socialist. Bellamy wrote the Pledge to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Bellamy’s Pledge, which did not include the phrase “under God,” appeared in a magazine called Youth’s Companion. After a lobbying campaign by the magazine … it was adopted for use in public schools as part of a daily flag-salute ritual. Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge in 1954, again as a reaction to the fight against communism.

In short, the Founders had nothing to do with these religious mottos or their adoption.

Myth Six: Thanks to separation of church and state, kids can’t pray in public schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 and 1963 banned programs of government-sponsored, compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools. The high court did not invalidate truly voluntary prayer and hasn’t done so since then. …  Young people in public schools today may pray and read religious books in a non-disruptive way – but the choice is now theirs. No students can be compelled to take part in religious worship in a public school or singled out for refusing to do so. …

In addition, the Supreme Court has made it clear that public schools can teach about religion in an objective manner. Religion can be discussed in classes like history, art, literature and others. The Bible and other religious texts can even be read as part of a comparative religion course. As long as the approach has legitimate educational goals, public school officials will not get into trouble for teaching about religion. …

Myth Seven: Separation of church and state fosters secularism, which drains religion of its vitality.

Official government secularism is not the enemy of faith; it is the defender of it. A secular state is one that is neutral on matters of theology. An official policy of government neutrality toward religion is a positive thing for faith communities.

The United States is a perfect example of how an official doctrine of secularism helps religion. In this country, the government long ago adopted a hands-off attitude toward religion. As a result, hundreds (if not thousands) of specific faith groups have sprung up on our shores. Religious groups remain vital, and most Americans claim a religious affiliation.

Other Western nations have either established churches or some form of government aid to religion. Ironically, it is in these nations where religion is withering away. It would seem that the official tie between church and state and the rejection of secularism as a legal principle sap faith of its vitality. In the end, religion becomes a mere creature of the state and a tool for promoting whatever policies government leaders decide are appropriate. This is not what people want, and they turn away from religion.

A thought, perhaps even a fact, that does not seem a happy one to us. If separation of church and state has actually encouraged religiosness and multiplied religions, it is not an unmitigated virtue of the Constituion after all. But it may be that freedom alone is responsible for the hundreds or thousands of churches in the US. And there is no consequence of freedom that can make it regrettable.

Myth Eight: Separation of church and state means that government must be hostile to religion.

In some countries, houses of worship are shuttered by government mandate, and religious people are persecuted. Nothing like that has occurred in the United States, which operates under the separation of church and state.

The separation principle contains two key parts: The government is to refrain from promoting, sponsoring or advocating for any faith. Yet at the same time, the government is required not to meddle in the internal affairs of religious groups or impose undue regulations and oversight on them. Church-state separation protects religion by placing it beyond the reach of government. …

Not quite “beyond the reach of government”. Government’s interfering hand has held out offerings:

Religious groups in America receive many benefits. They are wholly tax exempt and are often free from the regulatory oversight that is imposed on similarly situated secular groups. They are free to lobby and speak out on political issues. They often receive special exemptions and preferential treatment in secular law. Far from experiencing hostility, the place of religion in this nation where we separate church and state is in many ways exalted.

Myth Nine: Most religious leaders don’t support separation of church and state.

Some of the earliest proponents of separation of church and state were religious leaders. Roger Williams, a Puritan clergyman and the founder of Rhode Island, strongly advocated for separation during the colonial era. Years later, clerics like John Leland and Isaac Backus demanded separation as the best vehicle to protect the right of conscience for all.

In colonial Virginia and elsewhere, clergy from Baptist, Presbyterian and other traditions worked alongside Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to secure church-state separation. These religious leaders knew that only separation could protect their faith and enable it to prosper.

In the modern era, many members of the clergy … [and] religious denominations are on record as officially sup­porting the concept.

Myth Ten: Separation of church and state stifles the public voice and presence of religion.

Anyone who believes this hasn’t been paying attention. The United States operates under separation of church and state, yet religious groups have a loud and robust public voice. They speak out – from the left, right and center – on any number of political issues. As tax-exempt entities, houses of worship are not permitted under federal law to endorse or oppose candidates for public office, but there is nothing to stop them from addressing issues. … Nor does separation of church and state result in what one foe of the principle called a “naked public square”. It’s true that government may not post or erect religious symbols, but private religious groups are often able to use public space to display them with their own money and on their own time. All that is required is that the government must treat all religious and secular groups equally; if access to public space is extended to one group, it must be extended to all.

To sum up: the Constitution does require the separation of church and state, even though the phrase itself does not appear in it.

 

(Hat-tip Frank)

Let them read John Locke 4

… and David Hume, and Baruch Spinoza, and the US Constitution …

(We specially mention Hume and Spinoza because they were philosophers of atheism. But all the thinkers of the Age of Reason should be prescribed reading in all schools everywhere.)

THEY – the Muslims – are investing billions in trying to convince us that their ideas are good – though they aren’t. But we are doing nothing at all to persuade them that our ideas are good – which they are.

Ed West puts forward a very good plan. We quote from his Spectator (UK) article:

The persecution of Christians, the greatest story never told in the Western media, is finally building momentum as a story, after a year which has seen villagers massacred in Syria, dozens of churches burned down in Egypt’s worst religious violence for centuries, and the Peshawar atrocity in which the suicide-bombing of a church killed more than 80 people.

Earlier this week several MPs discussed the issue in Parliament, Fiona Bruce saying that ‘We should be crying out with the same abhorrence and horror that we feel about the atrocities towards Jews on Kristallnacht.’ And Baroness Warsi …

… a token Muslim woman on display in the House of Lords …

… will say in a speech in Washington today that: ‘A mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.’

Warsi made the same point on the [BBC’s] Today programme this morning, and I applaud her, but an aspect rather missing from the coverage was the fact that the vast majority of serious anti-Christian violence is carried out in the name of Islam. It would be like discussing anti-Semitic pogroms of the medieval period without mentioning Christianity, its theology, history and practice.

No surprise there.

That is telling, since one of the reasons for the media’s voluntary blackout on this issue is our fear of appearing to be inciting hatred against Muslims. This allows the persecutors to get away with it, which is ironic since most violence carried out against Muslims is also done in the name of Islam. 

The simple fact is that Islamic law as it is applied in Egypt (where apostasy is extremely difficult and dangerous, and family law was based on Sharia even before the revolution), Iraq and the Gulf States is incompatible with religious liberty. There is no way around that. In Iraq, most bizarrely, the US government presided over a constitution that introduced elements of Sharia.

Such are the vicissitudes of world management. When the British illegally gave three-quarters of the land in their Palestine mandate to the Emir of Transjordan, they found themselves in charge of a polity that allowed and practiced slavery. British law forbade this to happen, but it happened, and they didn’t do a thing about it while they had the power to do anything they chose. And now  Britain deliberately allows sharia law to run parallel with British law inside the United Kingdom itself. That too should never have happened, but it has.

The issue therefore is not just that Christians are being punished because of anger at the West. It is the specific application of Islamic law, and most centrally [anger at the West’s] ideas about freedom of religion [which include] freedom of un-religion and the freedom to deviate from the rulers’ particular interpretation.

He mentions also the intolerance by each Muslim sect of all other Muslim sects, in particular “the horror inflicted on the unorthodox Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan”.

Much of the intolerance in Pakistan stems from the influence of the Saudis, who are trying to reshape Islam in their image, and are helped by Westerners because of their vast reserves of money. Shamefully the British Museum put on an exhibition on Mecca funded by the Saudis, even while those iconoclasts were vandalising the city; I can’t think of anything so contrary to the spirit of that fine institution. 

But they’re not the only ones – universities and organisations all over the West take Saudi money, and they should be publicly shamed … Likewise countries that do not allow freedom of religion should be made pariahs …

At the heart of the problem is that we’re too scared of even admitting that the problem is within Islam, perfectly illustrated by the BBC’s coverage of events.

Then he proposes his brilliant idea:

This is perverse, because our belief in equal rights before the law stems from the liberal tradition, yet while the Saudis spend millions promoting their beliefs abroad, we don’t. According to human-rights lawyer and advocate for Christian religious freedom Nina Shea, many of the classical liberal western works, such as John Locke, have no modern Arabic translations. Why isn’t one of the west’s many liberal billionaires paying for translations, to be made available free on Kindle? 

“Many” have not been translated? How many have been? And who reads them? Are they in the university libraries of the Muslim countries? Are there objective lecturers in Western Thought? Why don’t some of the wealthy who endow subversive academies like Harvard, Yale, Princeton wake up and instead endow chairs, or whole faculties, or even entire universities in the Islamic world dedicated to the teaching of Western Philosophy, Politics, History, Ethics, Economics, Literature, Law, and Science? (Not Religion – there’s no sense in opposing one irrationality with another.) They should be taught not as they are seen through Marxist distorting lenses in most American universities, but the way John Locke himself, and Benjamin Franklin would do it.      

Oh, of course. No Islamic country would allow it. Still, we should try every way we can think of to get our ideas into as many Muslim heads as we possibly can.

Ed West concludes:

Time may be running out, for one of the many tragic results of Christian persecution is that a vital bridge between the Middle East and Europe is being wrecked. Of the 60 scholars who translated the ancient Greek classics into Arabic during the [falsely so-called] Islamic Golden Age, according to scholar Dr Suha Rassam, 58 were Syriac Christians (and of the others, one was Jewish and the other a Sabian), since generally only Syriacs could speak both Arabic and Greek.

Not one of them was a Muslim.

Without these 60 men the Renaissance would never have happened, and the very ideas that gave us liberalism would never have emerged.

Classical liberalism that is – the belief in tolerance and individual freedom.

 

A benchmark for atheists 10

This is from the Washington Post:

A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their non-belief in God … to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County [Florida] courthouse.

As a small group of protesters blasted Christian country music and waved “Honk for Jesus” signs, the atheists celebrated what they believe is the first atheist monument allowed on government property in the United States. …

American Atheists sued to try to have the stone slab with the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn in this rural, conservative town in northern Florida. Their demand was not met, but they were told they could erect their own monument in “what is described as a free–speech zone”.

It ‘s not just a monument, however:

“When you look at this monument, the first thing you will notice is that it has a function. . . we selected to place this monument in the form of a bench,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. …

The event – on Saturday June 29, 3013 – made a small stir:

About 200 people attended the unveiling. Most were supportive, although there were protesters, including a group from the Florida League of the South that had signs that said, “Yankees Go Home.” …

After the 1,500-pound granite bench was unveiled, people rushed to have their pictures taken on it. The bench bears quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists. It also has a list of Old Testament punishments for violating the Ten Commandments, including death and stoning.

The event did not pass entirely without drama. A Christian “jumped atop the peak of the monument and shouted his thanks to the atheists for giving him a platform to declare that Jesus is real.” [He isn’t – ed.] But “atheists shouted at him, and he stepped down after about a minute”. …

The atheists said they expected protesters.

“There always are,” said Rick Wingrove, director of a Washington, D.C., area office of American Atheists. “We protest their events, they protests our events. As long as everybody’s cordial and let people speak. This is our day, not theirs. We’re fine with them being here.”

Could we now have a monument to non-belief in socialism in the grounds of the White House?  

The American Enlightenment 6

John Adams said:

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Thomas Paine said:

The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing and admits of no conclusion.

The Bible: a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalise mankind.

The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.

The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.

This is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!

Thomas Jefferson said:

I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.

Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.

George Washington said:

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. I had hoped that liberal and enlightened thought would have reconciled the Christians so that their religious fights would not endanger the peace of Society.

James Madison said:

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

In no instance have the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.

Benjamin Franklin said:

I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absented myself from Christian assemblies.

Theodore Roosevelt said:

To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.

Man said, “let there be light” 0

Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. Historically it proved to be one of the three cruelest creeds ever to afflict poor suffering mankind (the other two being Islam and Socialism in all its ruinous forms.)

The best thing that ever happened to the human race was the Enlightenment.

Joel Mokyr, professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University, has an article in City Journal which reminds us what it did for us all.

Here are parts of it:

The most hardy and irreversible effect of the Enlightenment [is]: it made us rich. It is by now a cliché to note how much better twenty-first-century people live than even the kings of three centuries back. In thousands of large and small things, material life today is immeasurably better than ever before. …  And without sounding too cocky about how progressive history is, or too triumphalist about Western culture as the crowning achievement of human development, I would like to suggest that what generated all this prosperity was the growth of certain ideas in the century after the British Glorious Revolution of 1688. …

The writers and thinkers whose work we call the Enlightenment were a motley crew of philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, and other intellectuals. They differed on many topics, but most of them agreed that improvement of the human condition was both possible and desirable. This sounds trite to us, but it is worth pointing out that in 1700, few people on this planet had much reason to believe that their lives would ever get better. For most, life was not much less short, brutish, and nasty than it had been 1,000 years earlier. The vicious religious wars that Europe had suffered for many decades had not improved things, and though there had been a few advances — the wider availability of books, for instance … — their impact on the overall quality of life remained marginal. An average Briton born in 1700 could expect to live about 35 years, spending his days doing hard physical work and his nights in a cold, crowded, vermin-ridden home.

Against this grim backdrop, Enlightenment philosophers developed a belief in the capability of what they called “useful knowledge” to advance the state of humanity. The most influential proponent of this belief was the earlier English philosopher Francis Bacon, who had emphasized that knowledge of the physical environment was the key to material progress: “We cannot command Nature except by obeying her,” he wrote in 1620 in his New Organon. The agenda of what we would call “research and development” began to expand from the researcher’s interest alone … to include the hope that one day his knowledge could be put to good use. In 1671, one of the most eminent scientists of the age, Robert Boyle, wrote that “there is scarce any considerable physical truth, which is not, as it were, teeming with profitable inventions, and may not by human skill and industry, be made the fruitful mother of divers things useful.” The idea spread to other nations. …

To bring about the progress that they envisioned—to solve pragmatic problems of industry, agriculture, medicine, and navigation—European scientists realized that they needed to accumulate a solid body of knowledge and that this required, above all, reliable communications. They churned out encyclopedias, compendiums, dictionaries, and technical volumes—the search engines of their day—in which useful knowledge was organized, cataloged, classified, and made as available as possible. One of these tomes was Diderot’s Encyclopédie, perhaps the Enlightenment document par excellence. The age of Enlightenment was also the age of the “Republic of Science,” a transnational, informal community in which European scientists relied on an epistolary network to read, critique, translate, and sometimes plagiarize one another’s ideas and work.

The idea of material progress through the expansion of useful knowledge — what historians today call the Baconian program — slowly took root. The Royal Society, founded in London in 1660, was explicitly based on Bacon’s ideas. Its purpose, it claimed, was “to improve the knowledge of naturall things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engines, and Inventions by Experiments.” But the movement experienced a veritable spurt during the eighteenth century, when private organizations were established throughout Britain to build bridges between those who knew things and those who made things. …

More and more manufacturers sought the advice of scientists and mathematicians …

The Baconian program proved unusually successful in Britain, and hence it led the world in industrial innovation. There were many reasons for this, not the least of them England’s union with Scotland in 1707. … The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow were the Scottish Enlightenment’s versions of Harvard and MIT: rivals up to a point, but cooperating in generating the useful knowledge underlying new technology. They employed some of the greatest minds of the time—above all, Adam Smith. The philosopher David Hume, a friend of Smith’s, was twice denied a tenured professorship on account of his heterodox [ie atheist] beliefs. In an earlier age, he might have been in trouble with the law; but in enlightened Scotland, he lived a peaceful life as a librarian and civil servant. Another Scot and friend of Smith’s, Adam Ferguson, introduced the concept of civil society. Scotland did not just produce philosophers, either; it also exported to England many of its most talented engineers and chemists, above all James Watt. …

Optimism continued to abound about the potential of useful knowledge to improve the world. In 1780, one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin, wrote in a letter that “the rapid progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter…”

The age of Enlightenment, of course, was also the age of Newton, whose discoveries made it possible to understand the movement of heavenly bodies. …

Advances in medicine proved similarly sporadic. Enlightened physicians were passionate about progress. How could they not be? Twenty out of every 100 babies perished in their first year; many young and talented women and men died prematurely of dreaded disease; adult life was often a sequence of disfiguring and debilitating sicknesses. “I see no reason to doubt that, by taking advantage of various and continual accessions as they accrue to science, the same power will be acquired over living, as it is at present exercised over some inanimate bodies,” wrote Thomas Beddoes, a learned English medic, in 1793. And there was at least one major success story in his lifetime: Edward Jenner’s discovery of the smallpox vaccine three years later. …

The Enlightenment’s contributions to long-term economic growth were not merely scientific, moreover. Many economists … have begun to see Enlightenment economic and political ideas as central to the process. … The idea that trade normally benefits both sides led to the growth of free trade after 1815 and was central to the establishment of free-trade areas in Europe and elsewhere after 1950. That understanding grew out of the Enlightenment and the thinking of such intellectual giants as Smith and Hume.

Even more important was the Enlightenment notion of freedom of expression. In our age, we think of technological change as natural and obvious; indeed, we consider its absence a source of concern. Not so in the past: inventors were seen as disrespectful, rebelling against the existing order, threatening the stability of the regime and the Church, and jeopardizing employment. In the eighteenth century, this notion slowly began to give way to tolerance, to the belief that those with odd notions should be allowed to subject them to a market test. Many novel ideas were experimented with, especially in medicine, in which new ways to fight disease were constantly being proposed and tried … Words like “heretic” to describe innovators began to disappear.

The Enlightenment, sadly, did not end barbarism and violence. But it did end poverty in much of the world that embraced it. Once the dust settled after the upheavals and violence of the French Revolution, Europe entered a century of economic growth (known as the pax Britannica) punctuated by a few relatively short and local wars. By 1914, countries that had experienced some kind of Enlightenment had become rich and industrialized, while those that had not, or that had resisted it successfully (such as Spain and Russia), remained behind. The “club” of rich countries formed the core of the industrialized world for most of the twentieth century.

As unlikely as it may seem, then, a fairly small community of intellectuals in a small corner of eighteenth-century Europe changed world history. Not only did they agree on the desirability of progress; they wrote a detailed program of how to implement it and then, astoundingly, carried it through. Today, we enjoy material comforts, access to information and entertainment, better health, seeing practically all our children reach adulthood (even if we elect to have fewer of them), and a reasonable expectation of many years in leisurely and economically secure retirement. … Without the Enlightenment, they would not have happened.

As David Hume did, so also Baruch Spinoza (not mentioned by Mokyr, but hugely important to his theme) unlocked the chains of religion – Christianity, Judaism, and belief in the supernatural generally – that bound mankind in superstitious dread, for those who let them.

The ideas of freedom and tolerance that inspired, and are enshrined in, the Constitution of the United States are essentially Enlightenment ideas.

Now, countering the real progress that the Enlightenment launched, socialist “progressivism” is threatening freedom, the gift of the Enlightenment out of which all others proceed.

And even more threatening is the ideology of Islam: a darkness never penetrated by the Enlightenment.

Will we let either or both succeed in bringing back the darkness?