Do you remember how old you were when you learned about the hunk of rock whizzing through outer space that we live on and that it is just one of a group of planets that revolve around a star that we call the sun? I was so young at the time, I simply cannot remember learning it.

I found a news reel from 1999 about a total solar eclipse visible from Isfahan, Iran containing interviews with the locals about it that reminds me an education that I have simply taken for granted when one of them stated that the sun hides in the ocean and the steam will blot out the sky, so he will put his sheep in a cave to protect them.

Not only was I reminded of how blessed I am to live in a society that values education, but it shines a bit a light on the gravity of the political situation in the Middle East. We in the west have been told of the contributions of Middle Eastern societies to math and science, and yet the very nature of our surroundings is hidden from average people there; and I wonder about what chance those people have of making informed choices about what set of principles governs their hearts and minds. Is it any wonder then that a branch of a religion that worships force and brutality can thrive?

Here is a clipping from a gem in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia Ch. 17:

This is a summary view of that religious slavery, under which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished their lives and fortunes for the establishment of their civil freedom. (*) The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws.  But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit.  We are answerable for them to our God.  The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.  If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him.  Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man.  It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation.  They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only.

Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.  What has been the effect of coercion?  To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.  To support roguery and error all over the earth. Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That ours is but one of that thousand.  That if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth.  But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force.  Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments.  To make way for these, free enquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves.  But every state, says an inquisitor, has established some religion.  No two, say I, have established the same.  Is this a proof of the infallibility of establishments?

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