Recent months have brought fearsome reminders of the destructive force of corrupted religion. In the Swat region of Pakistan, a 17-year-old woman was publicly flogged, apparently for leaving her home without a male escort. A video of the beating, which shows the teenager writhing in pain and pleading for relief, has set off a national debate about the influence of radical Islam in the country. In Afghanistan, a group of 300 women defied an angry mob as they marched in the nation's capital to protest a law allowing marital rape. "Death to the enemies of Islam!" chanted their opponents. "We want Islamic law!" In Sudan, the Islamist government expelled humanitarian relief organizations after an international tribunal accused its leader of war crimes and issued a warrant for his arrest. "Here in Sudan, we are a liberation movement against this new colonization," proclaimed Omar al-Bashir, "and we are ready for any battle." The ejection of relief agencies has put the lives of at least a million internal refugees at risk.

Perhaps not since Europe's wars of religion has the public face of piety been so disfigured. These and similar stories feed the liberal view of faith as pathology. We are told that religious beliefs, if allowed to intrude into politics, become the mortal enemy of freedom. This slick narrative suffers, in fact, from its detachment from European history: It was the Christian culture of Europe, during a season of spiritual fervor, which produced an intellectual alliance of religion and human rights. What emerged, and ultimately prevailed, was an unashamedly biblical defense of freedom of thought that shook the political and clerical establishments of its day.

The Supreme Court of Reason

Three hundred years ago, in ...

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