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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But when you inject absolutist claims into the mix-people who believe they have all the answers-and we now have an opening for evangelicals to come in and evangelize where before they couldn't do that. Then you have an incendiary dimension.

So you're concerned about evangelical Christian groups doing relief work there?

I'm very concerned about that. This is an extremely dangerous situation. We have groups clearly identified as hostile to Islam coming into a situation where there is already suspicion about the real motives in this war, people who already believe it's between Christianity and Islam.

What incendiary actions might Muslims take?

There are a lot of things. When you have the head of Alazhar University in Cairo

calling for a holy war

, that's pretty incendiary. There are dangers in all the traditions, but there are many Muslim voices being anything but helpful right now.

Is there some concern they could persecute Christians in Iraq?

No question, and we've seen this in the past. In the former Yugoslavia you had Christians and Muslims living together for a long period of time, and then something went terribly wrong and people were raping and murdering one another.

So you would liken the situation in Iraq as potentially like Bosnia?

It has the potential. Although since the numbers aren't close to equal--the Christian population is very small--Christians could be in a very precarious position. We've seen this in Lebanon, where Christians and Muslims, who were roughly divided, started lining up against each other and taking hostages and developing militias along religious lines.

There are extremists in the Muslim world, no question. There are many millions of Muslims who aren't looking to blow up anything, but they're angry and frustrated and living in situations of oppression, human rights violations, and economic exploitation. A good deal of their anger is focused internally but also at the United States. My concern is if you start lighting matches in a room full of dynamite, you run the risk of driving hundreds of thousands of people into the arms of Osama bin Laden.

Many of the events in the world right now--September 11, terrorism, the war with Iraq, even the Catholic clergy sex scandal--have religion as a major component. Is there any way that religion can play a good role?

Actually, religion is our best hope, and what we have to do is look to the heart of religious traditions to find the guidelines we need to cut through all this. In every major religious tradition you find a teaching that parallels Jesus' teaching to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. That has direct implications for the way you relate to the rest of God's creation. You can't say "I love God" and fly an airplane into a building.

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