Summer fades into autumn, and with it comes the seasonal focus on ancient faith. Muslims fast for Ramadan, seeking mercy and forgiveness, closing the last day of the observance with prayer and celebration on Eid al-Fitr. Jews blow the shofar, with its piercing cry ringing in the New Year, first with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, when we nibble apples dipped in honey, hoping for sweetness in the days ahead, and then the solemn fasting on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Glenn Beck leads an enormous rally on the Mall that resembles a revival meeting without the sawdust, with a political message appealing to religious diversity. He exhorts each man and woman in the crowd to meditate on the message of his or her religious leaders: "If it's Buddha, it's Buddha. If it's Moses, it's Moses. Jesus, he's my guy. Your guy might be different." Indeed.
Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, a good time for reflection and remembrance of those slain in a terrorist assault against America. Terrorists show no regard for others and usually take a perverse pride in acting out of what they call faith. They are not the first, nor will they be the last, to do evil in the name of religious zeal. The Islamists say they draw on Islam as their inspiration for killing, and they spread fear and loathing of Muslims. A Gallup poll finds that 43 percent of Americans say they are prejudiced at least "a little" against Muslims. Sometimes the fear becomes ugly. A Florida congregation of just 50 announces plans to burn copies of the Koran to commemorate Sept. 11 and sets off riots in Islamic lands halfway around the world before the pastor reconsiders.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces trying to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, correctly points out that burning a Koran "could endanger troops, and it would endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan." Christian clerics reminded the Florida pastor that such a stunt is hardly Christ-like and is not likely to lead anyone to the teachings of the man called the Prince of Peace.
Islam has become the religion of one-fifth of the world's population, and, given the high Muslim birthrate,may one day surpass Christianity, now the faith of a third of the world's population, as the dominant global faith. What kind of governments Muslims create is crucial to the stability of the world, particularly as Muslim fanatics, a considerable part of the Islamic faith, have targeted the West as their mortal enemy.
Americans are among the world's most religious people. Our country was forged out of Judeo-Christian teaching, but what holds us together is not only the commonality of religious roots but tolerance for other beliefs, and of no belief. Separation of faith and state, which is anathema to much of the Islamic world, is the first article of our political catechism. The First Amendment, which forbids the government to establish a state religion or interfere with the individual's right to worship as he pleases, guarantees the pursuit of our founding aspirations and protects our most cherished ideals.
"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people," John Adams wrote in 1789. "It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." He was not writing as a sectarian but understood that the rule of law requires the discipline of a moral tradition.
There have been frequent times in our history when prophets of doom cried that modernity and progress and the secularization of society would destroy the religious foundation of America. It never happened. More recently, the mega-churches are decried for their extravagance, yet such congregations reflect the ways religious people update and discipline themselves within a spiritual life. Just as the small churches and synagogues offered a caring network of support and a sense of neighborhood to new immigrants, the mega-churches use contemporary approaches and new media technologies to expand the reach of faith in the big cities.
Secularism as we know it in the West has never fostered opposition to belief, but acknowledges the difference between what should be rendered unto Caesar and what should be rendered unto God. Shariah law makes no such distinction, and in fact loathes the distinctions. Therein lies the problem, which invites the clash of civilizations.
As we celebrate our different religious holidays this month, we ponder the risks and dangers posed by those who neither share nor appreciate the notions of tolerance, individually and collectively. When we break the fast, there's the food for thought.
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.
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