Ken Connor

For a long time, the western world has largely accommodated competing religious views with a "whatever floats your boat" mentality. Religious pluralism has been respected, and the right to choose one's own faith, or no faith at all, has been protected. Occasionally, tensions between competing points of view have run high, but differences have been generally resolved peaceably. As long as one's religious views didn't impinge on someone else's rights or unduly infringe on the sovereignty of the secular civil sphere, most any religious viewpoint has been accommodated. Indeed, in an era that has exalted postmodern individualism and religious relativism, robust criticism of religious views have been generally deemed to be in bad form – unless, of course, you happened to be Bill Maher or a pundit for CNN or MSNBC and were targeting Catholics or Christian fundamentalists.

In the last decade, however, the West's lassiez faire attitude towards religion has been challenged. On September 11, 2001, Islamic extremists, animated by their faith, committed mass murder in the name of jihad, and the world was changed forever. In the aftermath, the United States has been faced with a challenging conundrum: How to reconcile freedom of religion and religious pluralism with a deep-seated suspicion of a religion that – at least in some theological circles – mandates the murder and/or forced conversion of non-believing infidels?

According to, religion is defined as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe." Religion, then, deals with ultimate questions, and every religion purports to hold the key to ultimate truth. But, those keys unlock very different doors. Take the three Abrahamic religions for example. All three believe in one holy and almighty God, but this is where doctrinal unity comes to an end. Jews and Christians both recognize as true and canonical the books of the Torah but part ways with regard to the New Testament account of Jesus Christ, on which point Jews share with Muslims the belief that Christ was a great prophet, but certainly not the son of God. Christianity, for its part, is riven by various doctrinal differences too numerous to mention. Glenn Beck (cable news megastar and darling of the Tea Party movement) and Mitt Romney (former Governor of Massachusetts and current aspirant to the White House) subscribe to Mormonism, a religion that parts ways with orthodox Christianity with regard to the nature of God, the person of Christ, the nature of man, and the way to salvation. Indeed, most Christians view Mormonism as a heretical cult.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.