Religion, Violence Link Debated; 'No Greater Sanction for Human Extremism Than God'

Article excerpt

Byline: Larry Witham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Two commentators on religion disagreed yesterday on whether monotheism, with its idea of one God's will, leads to the violence seen among Muslim followers of Osama bin Laden.

"There is no greater sanction for human extremism than God himself," said Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic and contributing editor to the New York Times magazine. "I'm so tired of this president going around saying, 'Any religion you believe in is better than none.'"

He said Mr. Bush erred in saying the war on terrorism is not a religious war because "it is basically a struggle of modernity against pre-modernity," a past time when religion ruled nations.

In response, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, the Catholic editor of First Things, a policy journal, said religion is neutral.

"Religion itself is not a good thing or a bad thing," he said at the debate, sponsored at D.C.'s Madison Hotel by the Hudson Institute and the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs. "The problem is what a person has a deep religious conviction about."

He agreed that "this is a religious war," referring to a clash of tolerant and intolerant faiths such as extremist Islam. But he hoped that "Islam will find an Islamic way to engage in modernity" and reform itself.

Meanwhile, he said, Mr. Bush is diplomatically wise to portray the conflict as a political one so that Islam "may enter the liberal democratic experiment."

The debate, the first of a five-part series the two organizations will hold on important issues after September 11, reflects a wider discussion on what political scientist Samuel Huntington called in the mid-1990s a "clash of civilizations."

Mr. Huntington briefed the White House on his analysis in November. …