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by William H. Benson

October 24, 2002

     In 1727 the French authorities banished the philosopher, Voltaire, from his native Catholic France, and so he ventured to Protestant England. What he saw there astonished him, for the British Isles were religiously diverse.  There were Quakers, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Puritans, Separatists, Baptists, and Congregationalists, all living side by side in relative peace.

     And because of this tolerant attitude, truly great people with great ideas had sprung up, such as Francis Bacon and John Locke, and especially Isaac Newton, who Voltaire considered the greatest hero in human history.  Others had conquered the world, but Newton had enlightened it.

     Voltaire’s argument that a nation could flourish, not despite religious diversity, but because of it, was a stinging rebuke to the French belief that having only one religion was a necessity for social order and peace.

     Sadly the world today seems increasingly polarized into two religious and political and cultural camps.  On the one hand the United States represents a powerful and democratic and Christian nation, the best that Western Civilization can produce.  On the other hand, Iraq stands for a weak and yet despotic Middle Eastern and Muslim nation, ruled by Saddam Hussein.

     This polarization into two camps gives way to dualism, that doctrine that the universe is under the dominion of two opposing principles, one of which is good and the other evil.  And, of course, where we happen to live is the “good” and the other camp is “evil”. 

     Last week President Bush invited Congressmen to the White House to witness the signing of Congress’s resolution that authorized the President to use military force to oust Saddam Hussein.  Bush also met last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and promised him that the U.S. would protect Israel if the U.S. attacked Iraq.

     In the United Nations last Wednesday speech after speech “called Iraq’s decision last month to allow U.N. inspectors to return an important first step.  Many warned that a new war would add to the suffering of the Iraqi people, possibly engulf the Middle East, and have dire consequences on global stability and the world economy.”

     Meanwhile in Iraq U.S. air forces continue to strike at will at Iraq’s ground defenses, south and north of Baghdad, enforcing the no-fly zones, all preparatory for a full-scale invasion.

     Any political opposition in Congress to stop Bush’s juggernaut for demanding war and Saddam Hussein’s removal rolled over dead a long time ago.

     Only a few brave journalists have dared to defy the President’s demands.  Anna Quindlen in Newsweek wrote that “the march toward battle has never included a detailed explanation by the President of why Iraq must be attacked at this particular moment.  Why did the U.S. manage to live for decades with the dangers of the former Soviet Union and yet cannot practice containment with a far less formidable foe?”

     Charley Reese has gone even further and has declared that the Bush administration has practiced outright deception upon the American people.  “Virtually everything the President and his minions have said about Iraq is distorted to make it appear other than what it is.”

     And then two weeks ago Jerry Falwell appeared on a Sunday night segment of “60 Minutes” and stated that the founder of the Muslim religion, Muhammed, was a terrorist.  That newsclip received a lot of press coverage across the Muslim world and was played and replayed, saying, in effect, “We told you that America hates Islam.”  And where are the religious moderates willing to stand up to America’s religious hateful extremists, like Falwell and Pat Robertson?

     Yes, the world today is deeply divided into two camps–Christian and Muslim, and the bridges spanning the two were dynamited long ago.  No one wants to rebuild them.

     Voltaire said that with one religion you have intolerance and despotism.  Where there are two religions, they will cut each other’s throats.  But where there are a multiple number of religions there is peace and tolerance.  Today in our global community there are two primary world religions, and each side is once again poised and about to begin swinging swords at the other.