Chapter 1. Socrates vs. Euthyphro
We don't know exactly how religion began, but we do know of Pagan religious practices around
the world. Most involved sacrifice, especially of humans. This was as true in places like Israel
and Greece as it was in places thought of as more backward. The greatest challenge to
Pagan orthodoxy was mounted by Socrates; the story of his trial and the issues it raised is still
being debated today.
Chapter 2. Julian vs. Augustine
The forced Christianization of the Roman Empire is not a pretty story. One man, the emperor
Julian "the Apostate," tried to buck the trend by restoring religious tolerance to the empire.
Had he not been killed in battle at age 32, the world might be quite different today. Instead,
the totalitarian ideas of St. Augustine of Hippo came to dominate Europe for the next thousand
Chapter 3. Han Yü vs. Hsien-Tsung
China grew powerful under the guidance of humanist philosophy of Confucius, which did not
reject the idea of God but accorded it little practical importance. By the 5th century AD,
though, Buddhism began to take hold, undermining the family and ruining China's economy.
When a 9th century emperor paid abject reverence to an object purported to be the Buddha's
finger, a government official named Han Yü lashed out, with one of the most powerful
indictments of organized religion ever written.
Chapter 4. Umayyad vs. Hashimite
Most of what Islam today teaches about its origins is fiction. The truth, involving a
centuries-long conflict between an Arab dynasty that cared little about religion and its
opponents who wasted no opportunity to claim that God was on their side, is far more
Chapter 5. Frederick vs. Gregory
Following Augustine's script, the medieval Christian church blanketed Europe with a
meticulous repression. Early in the 13th century, an emperor named Frederick II rebelled. He
survived repeated excommunications to establish freedom for all religions in Palestine, he
promoted science, and he even gave his people a written constitution -- all of which enraged
the Pope. Had Frederick prevailed, the Enlightenment might have arrived 500 years sooner.
Chapter 6. Zhu Di vs. the Mandarins
Over the centuries, the humanist values of Confucius were blended with Buddhism to form a
rigid state religion that sapped the Chinese empire's strength. A new dynasty in the 14th
century gave China a fresh start, with an emperor who was a man of action rather than a man
of religion. Zhu Di's curiosity led to an age of discovery a nearly a century before Columbus,
which may well have included expeditions to the Americas. After his death, the religious
bureaucrats systematically destroyed every record of his accomplishments.
Chapter 7. Erasmus vs. Luther
The decadence of Catholicism ultimately grew unsustainable. Luther's rebellion was largely a
creature of German princes seeking political independence. By contrast, the Dutch humanist
Desiderius Erasmus tried to turn down the volume of religious hatreds by focusing attention on
a few common values and admitting how little man really knew about God. Luther responded
by calling Erasmus "a piece of shit," and 200 years of brutal religious warfare ensued.