The tension between revealed religion and empirical science came to a head over the concept of natural selection, as articulated by Charles Darwin in the 19th century. Churchmen correctly feared that Darwinism would undercut belief in the Bible. An epic confrontation occurred in a Tennessee courtroom in 1925, pitting America's most prominent agnostic, Clarence Darrow, against three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, whom Mecken called "the Fundamentalist Pope." Never has the contrast between blinkered faith and common sense been drawn more starkly.
Manuel Azaña, who rejected Catholicism, led a democratic revolution to bring 1931 Spain into the modern age and end Catholic control of the state. Benito Mussolini, who also initially rejected Catholicism, seized power in Italy by force; he then cynically chose to co-opt the Church rather than fight it. But the Church used Mussolini as much as he used the Church, ultimately leading him to send 100,000 Italian troops to destroy the democracy Azaña was building in Spain.
Chapter 17. Nehru vs. Gandhi
Nehru and Gandhi are thought of as collaborators, not opponents. But they were polar opposites on religion. Gandhi was a HIndu mystic who heard "voices" and followed them; he allowed his wife to die rather than have a shot of penicillin. Nehru was an outspoken atheist, who wanted to bring India into the modern world by downplaying Hinduism and emphasizing science. The wildcard was India's Muslim minority, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Had Nehru not lost control of the independence movement to Gandhi, whom Jinnah despised, Pakistan might never have split off, and a million lives might have been saved.
Chapter 18. Nasser vs. Ben-Gurion
European Jews began agitating for re-establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine in the 19th century, despite the fact that hardly any Jews lived there. The people who did live there responded to the idea of a gang of foreigners moving in and taking over the same way as anyone else would. After the Nazi holocaust swung world sympathy in favor of Europe's displaced Jews, David Ben-Gurion used every trick from terrorism to credible threats of mass extermination to drive Palestine's Arabs from their homes. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was wounded in Ben-Gurion's war, went on to establish a secularist regime in Egypt in the tradition of Atatürk, surviving an assassination attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood in the process.
Chapter 19. Biko vs. Malan
Dutch colonists established themselves in remote southern Africa in the 17th century; the Enlightenment passed them by. When the British took over, they bitterly resisted efforts to abolish slavery and treat black Africans like human beings, basing their resistance on Calvinist doctrine of God's pre-selection of favored individuals and races. In 1948, a former Dutch Reformed minister named Daniel Malan took control, instituting the system of apartheid that the Church insisted was based on the Bible. A generation later a black humanist named Steve Biko helped expose the horror of apartheid; the regime survived only three years after world pressure forced the Dutch Reformed Church to withdraw its support.
Chapter 20. Hirsi Ali vs. Obama
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Barack Obama were born eight years apart, both of Muslim African fathers. Hirsi was raised in a strict Muslim environment; her genitals were mutilated and her skull was crushed by a teacher of the Koran to whom she showed insufficient respect. She fled, rebelled against Islam, and achieved prominence for exposing the evil of Islam to the world. After her colleague was assassinated, she has lived under 24-hour a day security protection. Barack Obama's journey was the opposite; raised without religion, he began using religious rhetoric to advance his political ambitions, inviting comparison with Talleyrand and Mussolini -- while citing William Jennings Bryan as the great model for modern politicians to emulate. Would that he had half the courage of Ayaan HIrsi Ali.