When reason is categorically abandoned, people
can deal with one another only by force. People who accept
reason as their sole means of knowledge can settle differences
by persuasion; the one with facts and logic on his side will
prevail. But if faith—i.e., the embrace of beliefs contrary
to reason—is one’s ruling principle, there is no
peaceful way to resolve conflicts. There can be no appeal to
facts, no logic, no rational arguments. There can be only the
insistence that some non-provable belief be accepted. And what
could back up that insistence other than fists or guns, or
airplanes smashing into buildings?
Politically, if religious faith dominates, freedom will not
be permitted. If the basic political goal is the secular
defending individual rights, then each person has sovereignty
over his life and is left free by the state to think for himself
and to pursue his own values. But if the basic goal is to implement
the will of some unfathomable deity, then the citizen cannot
be allowed to exercise his own judgment and to challenge divine
The religionist believes there is no difference between the
crime of, say, murder, and the uttering of some religious
acts defy God’s commandments and so must be punished. The
demand for blind faith does not acknowledge the inviolability
of man’s rational mind.
This clash between faith and freedom is not confined to Islam.
When medieval Christianity ruled the West, it allowed no dissent
from ecclesiastic doctrine. The Crusades and the Inquisition
were part of the Church’s attempts to quell its infidels.
However, this despotism ended when the Enlightenment—which
did not penetrate the Muslim world—demonstrated the power
and the glory of the human mind, and established reason over
This philosophy led ultimately to the founding of the first
free nation: America. At the time, religion had long been
part of government throughout the world, with monarchs reigning
by divine right. Enlightenment thinkers realized that a nation
based on individual liberty had to also be free of religion’s
power, so they established the principle—the secular principle—of
separation between church and state.
Obviously, there can be secular forms of unreason, which also
lead to tyranny (such as Marxism, with its view that “tools
of production” control the content of one’s mind).
Secularism is not a sufficient condition for freedom but a necessary
one. A proper rational government is limited by the imperative
not to violate individual rights. But the government envisioned
by religionists—the one for which the Bush administration
is laying the groundwork—has unlimited power that will
be exercised whenever officials care to claim to be following
Today’s religionists want government to discourage research
on embryonic stem cells. They want it to promote the Biblical
account of life’s origins. They want it to urge schoolchildren
to pray. Why? Not because these are logically defensible, but
because they supposedly represent God’s will. The religionists
want us to revert to a pre-Enlightenment age, when faith and
force ruled—the twin tools of Osama bin Laden and his fellow
Before the Bush administration, in traditional America, unlike
most of the Muslim world, most religious persons retained some
respect for reason. They generally understood that religion should
be a private matter and that church and state should be separate.
They would oppose, say, making the Bible America’s official
Constitution, as the Koran is officially Saudi Arabia’s;
they would oppose sentencing apostates to death, as Iran’s
criminal code demands. The extent to which reason prevails over
faith is the extent to which freedom prevails over tyranny.
The recent presidential election should be taken as a mandate
for defeating Islamic totalitarianism: destroying its practitioners,
eliminating its state sponsors, and renouncing its ideology
of imposing religion by force. But if the election is taken
mandate to bring faith into politics, America will be cultivating
at home the very evil it is supposed to be fighting abroad.
Peter Schwartz is chairman of the board of directors of the
Ayn Rand Institute. Address comments to firstname.lastname@example.org