This is an excellent article! While I am not religious, no one can study history without realizing religion's importance in human history. In his book John Wildman Plotter and Postmaster, Maurice Ashley noted, "The great forward impulse to liberal political ideas came from religious minorities." It is no accident that the First part of the First Amendment forbids Congress from making any law with regard to religion or preventing its free exercise. Wildman was a member of the "Leveller Movement" in England during the early seventeenth century, which pushed for religious tolerance in Great Britain. Many of their arguments would be used to justify the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They would also have some influence on French political thought. The Quakers emerged from their ranks.
While I am sure that the Enlightenment had influenced many of the better-educated "founding fathers," I believe the majority of ordinary people, at that time, would be more influenced by arguments they heard within their often very different churches. I suspect there was more of a bottom-up push from religious minorities, as well as an intellectual top-down influence from the Enlightenment. Since we have protected religion from the excesses of government, it is therefore secular. However I believe, in our variety, the US is a very religious country.
I was rather amused by the arguments regarding the cutting off of trade with the Islamic world bringing about development in northern Europe. I ran across a similar event studying Brazilian colonial history in college. I remarked in some paper or exam that it accidentally proved Alexander Hamilton's position on tariffs as being necessary for national development. Free Trade was regarded as idiocy when I was in college. I still agree with that analysis. Again, a very interesting review! Also, I cannot recall any general European or world history books that did not admire Arab culture in southern Spain.
Pervis J. Casey
Mar 6 2008 - 3:58pm