NARRATOR: This week on NOW...
Is America's top law enforcer making the case for a religious crusade?
ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT (FROM TAPE): Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the creator..
NARRATOR: What role should religion play in politics?
Two of the country's most celebrated religious thinkers, Father Richard John Neuhaus and Reverend James Forbes, have very different answers. A Bill Moyers' interview.
And seven difficult years as a nun sent her soul-searching for decades. Karen Armstrong, best-selling author of THE BATTLE FOR GOD, talks about her spiritual struggle.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: There are some forms of religion that must make god weep.
NARRATOR: A Bill Moyers' interview.
And is Afghanistan making plans to introduce a Taliban-like religious law? NPR's Scott Simon reports.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.
Religion, politics, and war are our headlines tonight, all rolled into one.
Attorney General Ashcroft, the country's top law enforcement officer, and himself a religious man, has called on Muslims, Christians, and Jews to join forces in the war against terrorism.
Attorney General John Ashcroft's religious beliefs are a family tradition.
He's the son and grandson of Assemblies of God ministers. A lay preacher, he lives according to the strict tenets of his forebears. On religious grounds, he does not drink, smoke, or dance.
Ashcroft told the annual meeting of religious broadcasters, in Nashville, that he had brought his faith with him into the Justice Department.
ASHCROFT (FROM TAPE): Some of you know that in the mornings, schedule permitting, I conduct a morning devotional for those who wish to begin their day before the workday begins, to begin their day by giving thanks to God and reading in a way that would inspire us to our highest and best.
MOYERS: in 1999, accepting an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, Ashcroft described religion as the animating force behind America:
ASHCROFT (FROM TAPE): "Unique among the nations," he said, "America recognized the source of our character as being Godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. And because we have understood that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have no king but Jesus."
MOYERS: And in his Nashville speech, Ashcroft said the war against terrorism was a fight to defend God and God's creation:
ASHCROFT (FROM TAPE): But the call to defend civilization from terrorism resonates from a deeper source than our legal or even political institutions.
Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the creator. Governments may guard freedom. Governments don't grant freedom.
Our constitution does not call for the establishment of religion in the public square. Just as importantly, it does not call for the abolition of religion in the public square.
MOYERS: Critics said he was urging a modern day crusade, invoking religion as the rationale behind the war on terrorism, and that his remarks violated the boundary established by the constitution between church and state.
But President Bush seemed to head in the same direction, in a policy speech delivered during his trip to China.
PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): America is a nation guided by faith.
Someone once called us "a nation with the soul of a church."
This may interest you 95% of Americans say they believe in God, and I'm one of them.
MOYERS: That was the President in China last week.
Is placing any religion in the service of politics a risk to democracy?
MOYERS: Tonight I've asked two prominent men of faith for their opinions.
Father Richard John Neuhaus is President of the Institute on Religion and Public Life.
Once a Lutheran pastor, now a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of New York, he is editor of the influential journal FIRST THINGS. In a recent survey he himself was named as one of the most influential intellectuals in American life.
The Reverend James Forbes showed up in another survey as one of the "most effective preachers" in the English-speaking world.
He grew up in the Pentecostal movement, and is ordained in the American Baptist churches and the original United Holy Church of America.
For thirteen years now, he has been the Senior Minister of New York's historic Riverside Church, where he leads a large interracial congregation gathered from many Christian sources.
Thank you both for being here.
Let's talk about the Attorney General's speech.
Father Neuhaus, do you find it disturbing when the Attorney General cloaks his mission in religious terms?
FATHER NEUHAUS: It's a risk to democracy and it's also a risk to religion, which is at least as great a concern, I think, or should be.
However, it's a risk that is in many cases unavoidable, and it's a risk that was certainly taken by this founders of this country.
It was a risk that was taken by Dr. Martin Luther King with regard to the politics in the civil rights movement. It's a unavoidable risk.
What I heard and what I've read elsewhere of what he said:
He's pretty much in the mainstream of an American tradition when he says, for example, that our freedoms come not from the state but from God.
Well, that's pretty much the Declaration of Independence, isn't it?
Namely that we have certain rights of which we are endowed by our creator, et cetera, et cetera.
FATHER FORBES: The danger that I see, especially in the post-9/11 era, is that anyone who is in a powerful political position who uses the language of God as if God actually endorses the position, the action, whether it's political or military; if you claim that God put you on this course, you immediately preclude the possibility of self-criticality, because you're simply doing what God told you to do.
NEUHAUS: The difficulty, of course, Ji, as you are aware is that after September 11 there was in some circles immediately this kind of "Oh, what have we done wrong? Why do they hate us, somehow this is our fault?"
And there was, I think, quite understandably just given social dynamics of cohesion and sense of solidarity an enormous reaction against that which led perhaps to an excessive use of God-talk, if you will, in terms of identifying with simply one aspect, one side of the conflict; but one must say that at the same time without in any way compromising the fact that what was done the flying of these planes suicidally into these towers with no other purpose than to murderously take as many human lives as possible if that is not evil, if that is not antithetical to everything that we understand to be the being and purposes of God, we've got a major theological problem.
FORBES: Well, let me ask you this.
In the fact that when we look back on history, we are the only nation that ever dropped the atomic bomb.
Does that mean that at that point we were not with God and that now we in our relationships around the world are more with God than at that dark moment in our history?
NEUHAUS: No, in my judgment, in 1945, august 6, 1945 and I say this not simply as my personal opinion, but I believe it is grounded in the 2,000-year tradition of just war reflection of the Catholic Church and of the Christian tradition is that that was a great and an evil thing to have done.
Now, I know that there are people who argue this on prudential grounds and cost effectiveness, et cetera, but it seems to me that Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no, are to be condemned as evil.
It's a question of how presumptuous one is.
I remember years and years ago, Jim, during the Vietnam War years...
MOYERS: And you were opposed to the war.
I remember that.
When I was in government, you were opposed to the war in Vietnam.
NEUHAUS: That's right.
Sure, very much so.
I was a founder of the Clergy and Laity Concerned for Vietnam with Father Dan Berrigan at that time and Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
The good illustration of this one time I forget, in the mid-Sixties, '66 we took out a full- page ad in THE NEW YORK TIMES.
I think it was when the bombing began in Cambodia.
I'm not... Don't pin me on the dates.
But what I remember vividly is that the ad said, "God says,"
And in big letters, "stop!" Exclamation point.
And Rabbi Heschel and I said, "No, no, I don't think we're going to run that ad."
You know, that would be the height of presumption.
What we can say is, "In the name of God, we say stop."
FORBES: I function out of a sense of Godly commitment, but when I do what I do, I happen to know that I am not able to demonize other religions and think that God says, "Yes, that Jim, that's my boy."
I do the best I can to say, "As I understand the nature of God's calling, this is an unjust act."
And so while I come out of a religious base, in conversations particularly with people of other religious traditions, which is part of the democratic approach to life, I claim, as I understand God's call to our nation, this is the right way for me to go, and I call you to this action.
MOYERS: How does this strike the millions of humanists or atheists or agnostics, the Hindus, the others who were not included when the Attorney General said, "Christians, Muslims and Jews should unite in the war against terrorism"?
Shouldn't they be protected against this kind of talk?
NEUHAUS: Of course.
Should they be protected against this kind of talk?
Should a minority... Does a minority have a right to be protected against the evidence that it is a minority?
The answer, it seems to me, is manifestly no.
The minority does not have a veto power over saying... For example, there are people who are in the minority let us hope in parts of this country with regard to racial segregation, in regard to attitudes toward African Americans.
Let's hope they're in a very, very distinct minority.
They are profoundly offended, outraged, and no doubt in some cases, religiously, self-righteously excited by what they view as a position being imposed upon them.
We say, look, we're not going to kill you.
We're not going to kick you out or whatever, but we as a society deliberate together in the first sense of political deliberation.
Aristotle said, "What is politics? Politics is free persons deliberating the question, 'how ought we to order our life together?'"
And the ought involves what you believe morally and religiously, as well as other things.
FORBES: But I would say in a democratic society, people of power are committed to preserving the right of those who seem to be less powerful to be participants in the dialogue and to exercise their political influence as is appropriate in their vote and public discourse.
And we have to protect...
NEUHAUS: But who is less powerful here, Jim?
FORBES: It changes about.
It changes about.
But right now, in regards to religion, Bill, the key thing is, I do not believe that the issue is there is too much spiritual influence.
There is too much partisan, religious influence.
And what I believe is the best approach right through here is to call the various religious groups together to identify the things they hold in common that relate to the space we share together.
So I want to know from my Muslim brothers and my Jewish brothers and sisters, what does your tradition have to say about hope, about freedom, about justice, about compassion, and about the integrity of creation?
MOYERS: But before we began, Father Neuhaus was saying to me that he is dubious about any ability of Muslims and Christians to talk each other in this present environment, and in no small part I would assume because we criticize Muslims, I criticize Muslims where they do not have a concept of the separation of church and state.
Do you think the kind of dialogue that Reverend Forbes is talking about is possible between Christians, Muslims, and Jews?
NEUHAUS: At this point in history, certainly between Christians and Jews, emphatically, yes.
MOYERS: But I mean with Muslims an equal part.
A very big problem has been raised.
It has been a problem seething there as people like Bernard Lewis and others have been trying to bring our attention to it for the last 25 years, that you have Islam, that, in his marvelous phrase, Mohammed started out being his own Constantine.
It never had a history, as Christianity and Judaism did, of being in the minority, of being persecuted.
It never had the Christian notion of render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.
And that now has created what may be the largest single problem quite arguably for this century: is Islam capable... And Muslims will have to answer this.
It's not interesting that Jim says it or that I say it or that George Bush says that Islam is a wonderful religion and it's very peaceful, et cetera, you know.
I mean, as much as we may respect our President, I don't think he's a Quranic scholar.
And I'm sure Muslims view that with a certain degree...
MOYERS: Do you think Islam is a violent religion?
NEUHUAS: Well, clearly the most forceful public presentations of Islam today in the world, and to some extent domestically in this country, seem to believe that the permanence and violence of jihad...
MOYERS: Holy war.
NEUHAUS ...holy war, is an integral and necessary and permanent part.
We'll have to see.
FORBES: I do not... See, I believe that there are extremists within all of our religious traditions.
There are those people who could explain in our history that Christianity has had its share of acting as if jihad or holy war was the way to go, or crusades, shall we say.
But right today, there are conversations going on between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.
And my belief is that the world we live in requires beginning these conversations with those persons who are ready to have conversations, not about, is Christianity better than Islam, better than Judaism, but what do we hold in common that gives us a path to pursue peace and respect for the various religious traditions?
There are enough people who are ready for that conversation.
MOYERS: Last word.
NEUHAUS: Jim, I want to respect the sincerity of that, but I think that's just between us as friends sentimental hogwash.
And I think it does not do justice to the fact that as Jews, as serious Jews, believing Jews, observant Jews, serious Christians, serious Muslims are making certain kind of truth claims about the nature of reality, the nature of the world, how it's constituted and what is our moral duty to abstract to the absolute, namely to God.
And the truth is that in Islam today, some claims are being made with the overwhelming majority's support, not only of religious authority...
FORBES: Is this happening in Christianity?
NEUHAUS: ...but of states.
No, it's not.
FORBES: It is.
There are claims...
FORBES: ...in Christianity that are opposed to what you and I believe.
NEUHAUS: Oh, are there some...
FORBES: And what I'm talking about...
NEUHAUS: ...are there some Christians.
FORBES: What I am talking about is getting together...
NEUHAUS: No, there are...
FORBES: ...to hear each other more clearly, because I think it's a distortion...
FORBES: ...to characterize Islam or Judaism or Christianity as not capable of being in conversation.
MOYERS: Clearly... Clearly...
NEUHAUS: ...Islam is capable.
NEUHAUS: That's where I started, and we must hope and pray that that's the case.
Today it is very much in doubt.
MOYERS: I have to give you the last word then.
FORBES: The last word is we are going to keep getting together.
And we're going to get together more, because the future of our world depends upon our learning to hear each other across these very serious divides.
MOYERS: A discussion has clearly begun, but is far from over.
Thank you both, Jim Forbes and Father Neuhaus for being with us.
MOYERS: This is pledge week on public television.
For most viewers, we are taking a moment for your public television station to ask for your support.
MOYERS: When we return, we'll hear from NPR host Scott Simon, just back from Afghanistan, where there is a plan to make holy law the law of the land yet again.
And we'll be talking with the writer Karen Armstrong, whose best-selling books include A HISTORY OF GOD and THE BATTLE FOR GOD.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: There were years in my life when I was eaten up with misery and anger. I was sick of religion.
MOYERS: Pollution and the quality of our environment are now a global concern.
Even the farmlands of the midwest are increasingly at risk.
In Kansas, one independent and stubborn farmer has found a way to reduce pollution by protecting the soil.
CHARLIE MELANDER: What I would call a farmer is a person who almost has a religious experience with soil, with the land, and it becomes a personal thing for him.
MOYERS: Charlie Melander is the third generation of his family to farm the prairie soil south of Salina, Kansas.
MELANDER: According to the traditional farming, you are supposed to tear the ground up, make a lot of dust, a lot of smoke.
And the more you tear the soil up, the better a farmer you are.
MOYERS: Every acre of plains farmland is losing 20 tons of top soil every year, washed away by the rain, blown away by the wind.
This is the quiet, unseen crisis of the land here.
MELANDER: The soil in my mind now is a living thing which we have to guard and husband as much as we possibly can.
MOYERS: It took this soil here thousands of years, millions of years....
MELANDER: Yes, absolutely.
And we could destroy it in just a few years.
RADIO VOICE: You are listening to full-time farm radio, 550.
MOYERS: About 20 years ago, Charlie Melander realized he and his neighbors were a big part of the problem.
So he started making small changes that turned out to be revolutionary.
MELANDER: My idea of what a good farmer is has changed dramatically.
I thought you had to have a field tilled deep.
In fact, we don't have to till at all.
We can go into a field that isn't tilled, and this blade actually tills a strip about yay wide.
And then these disks come up behind it, drop the seed into that trench.
So instead of working the whole field, we just work a strip a quarter inch wide; save all that time and money and energy.
MOYERS: By changing the way he tills, Charlie has been able to reduce the damage that farming does to his soil, and more.
He is also bucking the tide against the excessive use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.
MELANDER: I maintain that we could change our environment almost overnight if suddenly we said we'll reward less fuel usage, less herbicide usage, less fertilizer usage.
Plus, it is not only that I'm doing it for the environment, I'm saving dollars.
In this area, the average farm would have spent about $25 an acre on herbicide for this crop.
I spent nothing.
So I'm getting rewarded.
MOYERS: What has happened to your yield since you have been doing this?
MELANDER: Oh, it's... It's stayed about the same.
MELANDER: Originally, I was really pessimistic, but now, from what I'm doing, I can see that there are some simple things we can do to really make a difference, that wouldn't have to cost a penny more than what we're spending.
MOYERS: Are you in the minority of farmers around here?
MELANDER: I would say so, yes.
MOYERS: You say so with a grin.
MELANDER: Well, I know so.
But I'm doing what I think is right.
In the business test, I'm making that work, because if I didn't, I would lose my land.
And I haven't been losing ground.
NARRATOR: Now a look at stories coming up on NPR Radio this weekend.
KORVA COLEMAN: Hi, I'm Korva Coleman of NPR news.
On weekend ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, meet Oscar-nominated filmmaker Edet Belzburg.
Her documentary, CHILDREN UNDERGROUND, plunges viewers into the gritty lives of Romanian street kids.
Rediscover OTHELLO. Join the debate over the influence black actors have had on Shakespeare's tragedy.
What do you think Harry Potter really sounds like?
Listen as audio book artists bring your favorite literary characters to life.
Find your local public radio station on our web site, npr.org.
And tune in.
BILL MOYERS: She was a spark plug in my PBS series on Genesis, her books are best sellers, "The History of God", "The Battle for God", "Jerusalem". She's written a biography of Buddha, and a short history of Islam. Soon we'll have her new memoir of her life after the convent where she spent seven years as a nun. Joining me now is one of the world's foremost students of religion, Karen Armstrong. Thank you.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: Thank you Bill.
BILL MOYERS: If you were God, would you do away with religion?
ARMSTRONG: Well, there are some forms of religion that must make God weep. There are some forms of religion that are bad, just as there's bad cooking or bad art or bad sex, you have bad religion too. Religion that has concentrated on egotism, that's concentrated on belligerence rather than compassion.
MOYERS: And so much of religion has been the experience of atrocity.
ARMSTRONG: But then you have to remember that this is what human beings do. Secularism has shown that it can be just as murderous, just as lethal, uh, as religion. Now I think one of the reasons why religion developed in the way that it did over the centuries was precisely to curb this murderous bent that we have as human beings.
MOYERS: You get September 11th ... you get the Crusades, you get ... do you remember the young Orthodox Jew who assassinated Itzhak Rabin? I can see him right now, looking into the camera, and he says, everything I did, I did for ...
ARMSTRONG: For God.
MOYERS: ... for the glory of God.
ARMSTRONG: Yes. Yes. Well, this is ... this is bad religion. Compassion is not a popular virtue. Very often when I talk to religious people, and mention how important it is that compassion is the key, that it's the sine-qua-non of religion, people look kind of balked, and stubborn sometimes, as much to say, what's the point of having religion if you can't disapprove of other people? And sometimes we use religion just to back up these unworthy hatreds, because we're frightened too.
ARMSTRONG: There's great fear. We fear that if we're not in control, other people will cut us down to size, and so we hit out first. From the beginning, violence was associated with religion, but the advanced religions, and I'm talking about Buddhism, Hinduism, monotheism, the Hebrew prophets, they insisted that you must transcend this violence, you must not give in to this violence, but you must learn to recognize that every single other human being is sacred.
MOYERS: That's what we're taught when ... growing up, you know, Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. But as soon as they grow up, they go for each other's throats.
ARMSTRONG: Yes. And a lot of this talk about love and compassion can be on the rather sloppy level. Or rather easy, facile level, where compassion is hard. It's nothing to do with feeling. It's about feeling with others. Learning to put yourself in the position of another person. There were years in my life when I was eaten up with misery and anger, I was sick of religion but when I got to understand what religion was really about, uh, not about dogmas, not about propping up the church, not about converting other people to your particular wavelength, but about getting rid of ego and approaching others in reverence, I became much happier.
But you have to go a long journey, a journey that takes you away from selfishness, from greed. And that leads you to value the sacredness in all others. I'm thinking of Abraham in Genesis there's a wonderful story, where Abraham is sitting outside his tent and it's the hottest part of a Middle Eastern afternoon, and he sees three strangers on the horizon.
And now most of us would never dream of bringing a total stranger from the streets into our own homes, strangers are potentially lethal people. But that's exactly what Abraham does. He runs out, he bows down before them, as though they were kings, and brings them into his encampment, and makes his wife prepare an elaborate meal. And in the course of the ensuing conversation, it transpires quite naturally that one of those strangers is Abraham's God, that the act of practical compassion led to a divine encounter.
In Hebrew, the word for holy, kadosh, means separate, other. And sometimes it's the very otherness of a stranger, someone who doesn't belong to our ethnic or ideological or religious group, an otherness that can repel us initially, but which can jerk us out of our habitual selfishness, and give us intonations of that sacred otherness, which is God.
MOYERS: What happened in your case? You said that you came to this insight that you weren't a good person.
ARMSTRONG: After I left the convent, for 15 years I was worn out with religion, I wanted nothing whatever to do with it. I felt disgusted with it. If I saw someone reading a religious book on a train, I'd think, how awful.
I had no job at all, and I was asked to do a television series on Saint Paul, and I was working with an Israeli film company ...I went to Jerusalem. And there, very importantly, I encountered Judaism and Islam. And up until that point, my religious life had been very parochial, been very Catholic, and I'd never thought of Judaism as anything but the kind of prelude to Christianity, and I'd never thought about Islam at all. But in Jerusalem, where you see these three religions jostling together, often very uneasily, even violently, you become aware of the profound connections between them and it was the study of these other faiths that led me back to an appreciation of what religion was trying to do.
MOYERS: What appealed to you about Islam? Because in the context of 9/11 ... there's so much talk about Islam as a violent religion. We saw those suicide bombers, heard those suicide bombers invoking the name of Allah, You're saying, there are good things about this religion, that helped you rediscover your own spiritual journey.
ARMSTRONG: Ironically, the first thing that appealed to me about Islam was its pluralism. The fact that the Koran praises all the great prophets of the past. That Mohammed didn't believe he had come to found a new religion to which everybody had to convert, but he was just the prophet sent to the Arabs, who hadn't had a prophet before, and left out of the divine plan. There's a story where Mohammed makes a sacred flight from Mecca to Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount. And there he is greeted by all the great prophets of the past. And he ascends to the divine throne, speaking to the prophets like Jesus and Aaron, Moses, he takes advice from Moses, and finally encounters Abraham at the threshold of the divine sphere. This story of the flight of Mohammed and the ascent to the divine throne is the paradigm, the archetype of Muslim spirituality. It reflects the ascent that every Muslim must make to God and the Sufis, when I started talking ...
MOYERS: The mystical sect.
ARMSTRONG: The mystical branch of Islam, the Sufi movement, insisted that when you had encountered God, you were neither a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim. You were at home equally in a synagogue, a mosque, a temple or a church, because all rightly guided religion comes from God, and a man of God, once he's glimpsed the divine, has left these man-made distinctions behind.
MOYERS: How do you explain the hatred in the world of Islam toward the west, toward America in particular?
ARMSTRONG: Well, uh, all fundamentalist movements, that's whether they're Jewish, Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, all begin as an intra-religious debate, an intra-religious struggle.
Then, at a later stage, fundamentalists sometimes reach out towards a foreign foe and hence the Muslim feeling that American foreign policy is ... is holding them back.
MOYERS: Why do they think American foreign policy is the root of their ills?
ARMSTRONG: This was very much an Arab feeling. They feel that they are fighting a holy war of self defense against America. They feel that America fights Muslims, has killed Muslims, in Iraq, that America is still continuing to bomb Iraq ...
MOYERS: And yet in Bosnia, we went to the defense of Muslims there.
ARMSTRONG: Exactly, exactly. There's a running sore of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has been festering for so long, and has become symbolic of everything that Muslims feel that is wrong with the modern world. Just as here, in the United States, fundamentalists have symbolic issues, abortion, uh, and evolution, which they can't see rationally, but they've become symbolic of ... of the evils of modernity. The state of Israel, which meant that Palestinians lost their home, has become for Muslims a symbol of their impotence in the modern world.
It wasn't always like this. At the beginning of the twentieth century, every single leading Muslim intellectual was in love with the west, and wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France. Some of them even said that the Europeans, they didn't know about America yet, that the Europeans, uh, were better Muslims than they themselves, because their modern society had enabled them to create a fairer and more just distribution of wealth, than was possible in their pre-modern climates, and that accorded more perfectly with the vision of the Quran.
Then there was the experience of colonialism under Britain and France, experiences like Suez, the Iranian revolution, Israel, and some people, not all by any means, uh, some people have allowed this ... these series of disasters to corrode into hatred. Islam is a religion of success. Unlike Christianity, which has as its main image, in the west at least, a man dying in a devastating, disgraceful, helpless death.
MOYERS: On a cross, crucified.
ARMSTRONG: The cross, crucified, and that turned into victory. Mohammed was not an apparent failure. He was a dazzling success, politically as well as spiritually, and Islam went from strength to strength to strength. But against the West, it's been able to make no headway, and this is as disturbing for Muslims as the discoveries of Darwin have been to some Christians. The Quran says that if you live according to the Quranic ideal, implementing justice in your society, then your society will prosper, because this is the way human beings are supposed to live. But whatever they do, they cannot seem to get Muslim history back on track, and this has led some, and only a minority, it must be said, to desperate conclusions.
MOYERS: You said once that you felt the fundamentalists were trying to restore God to the world.
ARMSTRONG: Yes, all fundamentalists feel that in a secular society, God has been relegated to the margin, to the periphery and they are all in different ways seeking to drag him out of that peripheral position, back to center stage.
MOYERS: They drag God back into the political world by denying democratic aspirations.
MOYERS: I mean, do you think democracy and fundamentalism are, uh, can co-exist?
ARMSTRONG:Fundamentalists are not friends of democracy. And that includes your fundamentalists in the United States.
Every fundamentalist movement I've studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is convinced at some gut, visceral level that secular liberal society wants to wipe out religion. Wants to wipe them out. Jewish fundamentalism, for example, came into being ... came really to the fore in a new way after the Nazi Holocaust ...
And some fundamentalists in the Muslim world have experienced secularism, not as we have, as a liberating process, but so rapid and accelerated that it's often been an assault.The Shahs of Iran used to have their soldiers go out with their bayonets out, taking the womens' veils off, and ripping them to pieces in front of them, because they wanted their society to look modern, never mind the fact that the vast majority of the people had not had a western education, and didn't know what was going on. On one occasion in 1935, Shah Reza Pahlevi, gave his soldiers orders to shoot at hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in one of the holiest shrines of Iran, who were peacefully protesting against western dress, uh, obligatory western dress, and hundreds of Iranians died that day. Now, in a climate like this, secularism is not experienced as something benign, it's experienced as a deadly assault.
MOYERS: When fundamentalism experienced its rebirth in this country, a quarter of a century ago, political rebirth, it was because the federal government, the Internal Revenue Service, had, uh, denied their parochial religious schools tax-exempt status ...
MOYERS: ... if they segregated.
ARMSTRONG: That's right.
MOYERS: And the fundamentalists became alarmed at that, and fearing that they were going to be annihilated.
ARMSTRONG: Exactly so. And similarly, in the famous Scopes Trial, which I think tells us a lot about the fundamentalist process in 1925, you'll remember, fundamentalists tried to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and there was a celebrated trial, in which the fundamentalists were really ridiculed in the secular press. After the Scopes Trial, after the ridicule, they swung to the extreme right, and there they've remained.
MOYERS: The inequality gap in this country is larger, I believe, than in any other industrial society.
MOYERS: What does that say about the most religious country in the world? And that's your definition. America's the most religious country in the world, and yet it's the most unequal economically.
ARMSTRONG: It's ... and this should trouble us all. It should trouble us all. Religious people should join hands, and fight for ... for greater equality. Try and see if you can introduce Christian, Jewish or true Muslims values into society. Not trying to force other people, but bringing to bear that respect for the sacred rights of others that all religions, at their best, three very important words, at their best, are trying to promote.
MOYERS: Where are you in your own journey? You're not a practicing Catholic, are you?
ARMSTRONG: No. I usually call myself these days a freelance monotheist. I draw nourishment from all three of the religions of Abraham, uh, I spend my life studying these faiths, in a sense I'm still a nun. I live alone, and I've never married, and I spend my life writing and talking and reading and studying spirituality and God. And I can not see in essence any one of these three faiths as superior to any of the others. I suppose one of my hopes in life is to try to get Jews, Christians and Muslims to realize the profound unanimity, the unanimous vision that they share, and to join hands together to stop the kind of cruelty, violence and obscenity, moral obscenity that we saw on September the 11th.
MOYERS:Thank you, Sister Karen.
ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: Karen Armstrong's hopes for cooperation among Muslims, Jews, and Christians face realities on the ground. NPR's Scott Simon is just back from Afghanistan, where the chief justice of the Supreme Court told him of plans to place the power of the state in the hands of the clergy. Welcome home, Scott. We're glad you're back safely.
SCOTT SIMON: Thank you. Thanks very much.
BILL MOYERS: This placing of a hard line religious leader as chief justice of the Supreme Court, I mean what does this say about their intentions?
SIMON: I'm not sure just yet. It's no doubt reassuring to some people. We're talking about a man named Chief Justice Maulawi who was the head of the religious academy in Peshawar during the time of Taliban. I think we have a picture of him, if I'm not mistaken.
MOYERS: What we can't see is what's right above his head, which you described in your report. What is that?
SIMON: It's a sword. It's a sword that in fact was there under the Taliban. And we began to ask him about that puckishly, but there was no twinkle in his eye.And he explained to us that it's there because under the rule of Islam, as he reads it, you are first invited to join Islam, and then secondly you are induced to join Islam, and thirdly, if you don't, you're beheaded at the point of a sword. And, as I said, there was no twinkle in his eye as he explained it.
You know, in fact, he reminded me a little bit of a sheriff, let's say, in a hypothetical town like Marshall, Texas, where he says, we're going to give you a fair trial and then we're going to hang you.
He said the problem with the Taliban is that they didn't give people fair trials; that they would just pluck people out of their homes and behead them.
MOYERS: Have we spent this much blood and treasure to replace one theocracy with another?
SIMON: Here's the difference, I think, and we'll see over the next few months how large or small a difference it is.
The Chief Justice is no longer operating in a closed system. There are other people in the interim government and there will be people in the new government that's formed after the loya jirga [Grand Council] meets in the spring.
And one of the key differences of a Democratic system is that no one person is supposed to have so much power that they can control the entire train of government. It must be said he's the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and we don't really know I think under this system how much power he's going to have.
But there will be individual prosecutors, there will be individual ministers of justice at the lower courts and the higher courts who may not share his assessment. And after all, on a day-to-day basis for most of the crimes that will be prosecuted, they probably will have more authority than he will have.
MOYERS: I looked at the pictures you brought back with you of the site where they had destroyed the ancient statues of Buddha, and I thought as I looked at that picture, what does this say of their effort to...of religious freedom in this country?
SIMON: This, of course, these are the two statues of Buddha, the enormous statues, there's a larger and a so-called smaller one in the area of Bamiyan, which is inhabited by Hazara people, who, by the way, are the Buddhist, they're Shi'ite Moslems, but Moslems of a different kind of Moslem than the majority of the country.
And I think for a lot of us in the outside world we were first really signaled to the lethal intentions of the Taliban by the destruction of these altogether innocent statues. As happens sometimes unfortunately it takes the destruction of an inanimate object to signal, I think, the truly brutal intentions of people...
MOYERS: Is that the destruction from our military campaign or from the...?
SIMON: No, it must be said at least in the areas we saw in Bamiyan, in Kabul, in Gardez, most of the destruction was from resistance to the Soviet invasion, the Soviet invasion itself and for that matter 23 years of more or less perpetual warfare among different clans and different interests that have just....
There's a neighborhood in Kabul which rolls on endlessly, it's called Kart-I-Seh, and the level of destruction is something that I can only approximate by pictures we saw in August of 1945 from Hiroshima: just relentless, unforgiving destruction.
And then the sobering thing to remember as you take a look at some of those pictures is that people are still living there because even crumbled walls cheat the wind somewhat and afford them some protection from the elements in this brutal cold.
MOYERS: What are the prospects of putting a nation together?
SIMON: You know, every...everything that worked against the Soviets when they tried to subdue Afghanistan is what's in a sense working against putting together a sense of national consciousness now.
The geography is forbidding. You not only have separate clans and ethnic groups but they are separated by more or less impassable mountains. This stimulates a spirit of independence in the national character.
On the other hand, they...you know, people in terms of sharing language, sharing memories, sharing cultural traits, all of that is minimal. It must be said, the national effort that was organized first to resist Soviet invasion and then obviously more recently, the mutual resistance to the rule of the Taliban...
...has obviously allowed some people, a great many people, to be fair about it, to see some sort of sense of national interest.
MOYERS: We have fallen so easily in journalism into use of this romantic term, Lawrence of Arabia's images of the warlord. Are these warlords, and what kind of men are they?
SIMON: You know, we interviewed...we interviewed several warlords, one in particular I remember named Karim Khalili who was the head of the Hazara people, this is the area of Bamiyan.
And I remember him particularly because he's well spoken, also in an area of just imponderable grime and grit and dust and I think he wouldn't mind if we used the term filth.
He has the most beautifully manicured hands I've ever seen outside of John Gotti, when he's ever appeared in the courtroom and I assume that's to send some kind of signal: there might be blood on my hands but it's been washed off.
And he said to us just about this bluntly: look, this is a tough neighborhood. And we had to be tough to resist the Soviets and we had to be tough to resist the rival clans around us. And so we have survived.
He has no interest in joining the national government. I'm reminded of, you know, they used to make the joke about Richard J. Daley in Chicago, that Daley didn't want to be president; he just wanted to send one of his boys down there.
Karim Khalili doesn't want to be the head of the national government, doesn't want to be part of it but he does have an interest. And he feels that after years of resisting the Soviets and years of finally rousing the opposition to resist the Taliban he's entitled to be the funnel for all the aid that's going to come in.
MOYERS: You're not often sitting around in Washington with men who have rockets on their shoulders, but...
SIMON: Not to my knowledge, no. Concealed weapons...maybe.
MOYERS: Were they just putting on a show for you when he put on his weapon?
SIMON: I don't know. Well, I hope he was just putting on a show in the sense he had no intention of using it on us. But on the other hand, look, this is how people...this is how people walk along, this has been a way of life, really, for the past generation.
I mean, this is one of the things you have to consider now when they talk about forming a national police force in Afghanistan. This is by default almost fallen to members of the Northern Alliance because the Northern Alliance have uniforms and they have guns. It must be said the uniforms and the guns in large part, near as we can tell, were given to them by the United States.
So they have more or less appropriated the task of becoming a national police force, even though they don't have badges, they haven't been sworn in. They can just stop people on the street, direct check points, and say if you want to proceed you're going to have to pay us.
Now, mind you, they're not jobs, there's no other source of income at this particular point. So, therefore, the resort to violence to settle disputes or to just kind of make your way in the world is something that comes very naturally after the past generation.
All of that, it must be said at the same time, is that you talk to individual Afghans, they are certainly aware that that's not the kind of society they want to grow up in, and it's not the kind of society that has been kind to them over the past generation and something that many of them are determined to change.
MOYERS: The country is in tatters. There's the constant threat of civil war. Osama bin Laden is still on the run, still on the loose. What has the military campaign achieved so far?
SIMON: You know, I thought about that a lot on my way back in particular. And I think, first and last, the military campaign succeeded in abolishing the Taliban. And that's not a marginal contribution.
MOYERS: Infrastructure is gone?
SIMON: Infrastructure in many ways hasn't existed over the past...
MOYERS: No, I mean the Taliban infrastructure.
SIMON: Oh, the Taliban...Oh, as near as I can tell the Taliban infrastructure is gone. I think undoubtedly there are still sympathizers around that haven't been subdued. The training camps are gone for the most part where people were coming literally from all over the world to train for terrorist acts all around the globe.
I can't dislocate myself from the fact that every Friday afternoon they used to have executions and amputations in the soccer stadium there in Kabul. They would bring people from around the country and string them up from the soccer goal posts and amputate their limbs.
There were mass graves that were created when the Taliban would line people up and shoot people in a particular area to foment a movement of people out of that area.
That's not going on any longer. That's not a small contribution under the circumstances.
MOYERS: This is war number what for you?
SIMON: This is my tenth.
MOYERS: Tenth war?
SIMON: Yeah. The joke I've made for years, of course, is that if you count the Chicago City Council it would be my 11th. But this is the tenth on foreign soil.
MOYERS: How were you affected knowing that right across the border in Pakistan one of your colleagues, Dan Pearl of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, had been kidnaped and was facing possible death and then was killed?
SIMON: I didn't know...I did not know Dan Pearl, but the story broke just as we arrived in Afghanistan, and it crested, if you want to put it that way, with his death just as we were coming home.
Looking back on it, it, I think, was a weight on our every step. I think it caused us to consider each and every day at least every few days the safety of what we were doing, what we wanted to do.
I think we wound up concluding, and I think we can now see this a little bit more clearly, that we have to understand this was not a matter of somebody who got too close to the cannon fire, this was not a matter of one of our colleagues that got caught in the crossfire because we're always aware of that danger.
This was a man who was stalked. He was selected by a group of people, perhaps in part because of his employer, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, almost certainly because of his faith he was Jewish almost certainly because of his nationality, he was an American reporter...
...captured by a band of desperados that wanted to prove ... I will leave to them to say what that lesson was, but insofar as in this business we have to contend with that, but what happened to him us a caution. But I don't think on the whole we honor his memory by being deterred from the job.
MOYERS: Well, once again,I'm very glad you're back safely.
SIMON: Thank you.
MOYERS: Thank you for joining us tonight. I'll be listening to you as I do every Saturday morning. Tomorrow morning on NPR.
And that's it for NOW tonight.
If you want to join in the discussion, and we hope you will, go to pbs.org.
For NOW, I'm Bill Moyers.