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Garry Wills has written a guest column, “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out” (Nov. 4), for the venerable New York Times.
Garry Wills, a prolific author and Pulitzer prize-winner on America’s political and cultural history, has written a guest column, “The day the Enlightenment Went Out” (Nov. 4), for the venerable New York Times. In his polemic, Wills declares that the reelection of US President George W. Bush was due largely to a big turnout of theologically conservative Christian voters who are not, in his word, “enlightened.” As the primary example of this Christian bloc’s “unenlightenment,” a lamenting Wills cites the creation/evolution issue: “many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.”
In the second paragraph of his bromide against Bible believers, Wills (who is a Roman Catholic and who has also criticized his own church) further develops his “evolution connection” to the presidential election by declaring that the Bush victory “might be called Bryan's revenge for the Scopes trial of 1925, in which William Jennings Bryan's fundamentalist assault on the concept of evolution was discredited. Disillusionment with that decision led many evangelicals to withdraw from direct engagement in politics.”
But that retreat apparently changed this election year, Wills observes, as conservative Christians “came roaring back into the arena out of anger at other court decisions—on prayer in school, abortion, protection of the flag and, now, gay marriage.”
A concerned Wills then poses the question: “Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?” As a historian, he cites the Declaration of Independence and its 1776 signers as products of “Enlightenment values—critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.”
In citing the document, however, Wills (conveniently) neglects to mention that there is a famous phrase found in the second paragraph of the Declaration: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Moreover, the Declaration’s concluding paragraph expresses the signers’ “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” Furthermore, most of these signers were strict creationists who believed in the straightforward history of Genesis (still others were Deists) and knew nothing of Darwinian evolution, which came more than eighty years later.1
In a hackneyed fashion reminiscent of many anti-Christian writers over the past two decades, Wills offers the tired analogy of comparing America’s “fundamentalist zeal” to the “rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity … [that] we find in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists.”
In his final comments, Wills continues his comparison of conservative Christians to the radical fundamentalists of Muslim countries, as he predicts that “moral zealots” (i.e., Bible-believing, anti-evolution Christians) will “give some cause for dismay even to non-fundamentalist Republicans. Jihads [a Muslim word that can be associated with “holy war”] are scary things.” He then pines for the good old days: “It is not too early to start yearning back toward the Enlightenment.”
This supposedly “enlightened” man—one who has preached a general tolerance towards others in his commentaries—has targeted a group of people whose only crime was to reject the words of fallible men and choose, instead, to accept the authority and accuracy of God’s Word, a Book which most of the “enlightened” Founding Fathers also accepted (or, at the very least, respected) from Genesis to Revelation.
Where does true wisdom—real enlightenment—come from? It is by knowing the Lord and His Word, starting with the foundational Book of Genesis: “For the Lord gives wisdom; out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).