The Problem With Monotheism

Why the world's two largest faiths, Christianity and Islam, have a tendency to 'turn evil.'

BY: Interview by Deborah Caldwell


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There were pretty strong statements by Serbian Orthodox and Catholic leaders supporting whatever was being done in the name of Serbian nationalism. The church was endorsing it. They weren't endorsing rape and murder, but they were also denying it was happening. It was a blind nationalism that was linked with religion. It's not quite so easy to say Christian violence just happened during the Crusades.

Look at the


in Lebanon. Who were the people who perpetrated the

slaughter of Sabra and Shatila

? Those were Christians in Lebanon.

I don't want to be saying all this is equal, but I also want to say that there is a clear pattern in


religious communities. People tend to compare the ideal of their own religion with the flawed reality of everyone else's. So Christians tend to say, "That was in the past" or "We don't really believe that." Here's the classic example in recent memory-Jerry Falwell on 60 Minutes last fall said that Jesus taught a gospel of love, but that

Muhammad was a terrorist


I believe Jesus taught a gospel of love. But if you happen to have been Jewish for the last 2,000 years and on the receiving end of that "love," it certainly hasn't felt very good. That's not ancient history. The Holocaust happened in the last century. It wasn't done in the name of Christianity, but it was done against Jews by a predominantly Christian country. And it was the culmination of a long history of assault on Jews by Christians.

You say all religious groups and sects have the potential to turn evil, but that Christian and Muslims have a much longer track record. Why?

It may be linked to monotheism. I think that's worth really thinking about, because there is a sense in which monotheism and the missionary impulse-common to both faiths--are linked to absolutist claims. I readily admit this is a difficult area to talk about because I'm an ordained Baptist minister and a practicing Christian, and I believe there is one God. But I also believe that even if I possess some "absolute truth" in the sense of a connection with God, and we have to be humble in appropriating what we understand to be absolute truth. I think the problem comes when you lose that humility and think you know the mind of God and that you're carrying this forward oblivious to history.

If monotheism is the issue, why hasn't Judaism become as evil, as often, as Christianity and Islam?

The missionary impulse of Christianity and Islam is part of it--Jews haven't been historically evangelical. And power. When you combine religious conviction with a kind of certainty with political or military power, then you have a much more powerful combination. And Jews haven't been in positions of power until fairly recently. And the excesses that you primarily see have been excesses from Jewish settlers and extremists in the context of Israel-people who have power.

How does "evil religion" relate now to Iraq?

I'll start with my hope, which is that within Islam and Christianity you have teachings about loving God and your neighbor, and living cooperatively with your neighbor. There's a long history of Christians and Muslims living together in Iraq through good times and bad. And they have an opportunity to find new ways of living together with a government that isn't Islamic or Christian.

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