God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions

God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions

God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions

God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions

Excerpt

No issue has marked the turn of the Christian millenium more deeply than the relation of religion to politics. The September 11, 2001, assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon focused attention on a reality that many thought distant, dormant, or at least benign. Dramatically and suddenly, religion has assumed a central place in contemporary global politics. Understanding a religion's political vision is now as essential for managing our immediate world as is using the Internet.

The events of September 11 did not emerge from a vacuum. During the 1990s, the use of religious language and symbolism for political purposes infected the globe like a cultural mad cow disease. The suicide bombers in the Middle East and the ravages of Bosnia are only the most obvious examples. The Taliban destroyed magnificent Buddhist statues in Bamiyan. Hindus demolished centuries-old mosques in India. In a gesture the New York Times called "Welcome man of peace. Let's go hate my enemy," the president of Syria, in the presence of the pope, assailed Jews as the "enemies of all religions," the betrayers of Jesus, and the attempted murderers of Muhammad. The American federal government launched a "faith-based" initiative that seems to blend religion with governmental activity. In the Nation, Katha Pollitt expanded and illuminated the list:

Think of all the ongoing conflicts involving religion: India versus Pakistan, Russia
versus Chechnya, Protestants versus Catholics in Northern Ireland, Muslim guer
rillas in the Philippines, bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims in Indone
sia and Nigeria, civil war in Sudan and Uganda and Sri Lanka. It's enough to make
one nostalgic for the cold war as if the thin film of twentieth-century political ide
ology has been stripped away like the ozone layer to reveal a world reverting to sev
enteenth-century-style religious warfare, fought with twenty-first century
weapons.

All these instances give the topic of religion and politics an urgent freshness and significance.

For Americans, thinking anew about the relation between religion and politics is especially important, primarily because so many of us think our society has solved the problem. The ideology of the separation of church and state and some recent interpretations of the First Amendment to the Constitution have conditioned Americans to regard religion and politics as distinct realms of experience. A norm of American life is that religion should not, and generally does not, express . . .

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