Left to right, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove and Rev. A.R. Bernard Sr. attend Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Host Religious Summit On SiriusXM's The Catholic Channel on March 31, 2015 in New York City. Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Is the US a model of interfaith harmony for a violent world?

Left to right, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove and Rev. A.R. Bernard Sr. attend Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Host Religious Summit On SiriusXM's The Catholic Channel on March 31, 2015 in New York City. Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Left to right, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove and the Rev. A.R. Bernard Sr. join Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Tuesday (March 31) for a discussion during his weekly radio show. Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for SiriusXM

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NEW YORK (RNS) Is religion the cause of so much of the violence racking today’s world? Or is faith just one of many factors? Or collateral damage?

Those are tough questions, the kind that are usually posed to religious leaders, not by religious leaders.

But Cardinal Timothy Dolan wanted to switch things up on his weekly radio show, so he invited a minister, a rabbi and an imam to tackle that issue. What sounds like the opening line of a joke was actually an in-depth discussion of “the rise of religious intolerance.”

“I don’t know if there would be anything more pertinent today, or more timely today, than religious harmony, or the lack thereof,” Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, said Tuesday (March 31) in opening a special edition of his program on the Catholic Channel of the SiriusXM network.

“The elephant in the room is that today, whether we like it or not, religion is often the cause of scandal," he said. "Religion is supposed to be an overwhelmingly positive force that brings people together, that increases love and understanding, human progress and human enlightenment.”

But many people today -- believers and nonbelievers alike -- see religion as the opposite, he said, and “that keeps the four of us up at night.”

Throughout the hourlong discussion, the clerics offered a range of insights into why religion seems to be implicated in violence. Perhaps not surprisingly, they tended to absolve belief itself as the culprit.

Rather, they agreed that what passes for “religious” violence is in fact rooted in economic injustice; ethnic, national and cultural tensions; political and ideological rivalries; and -- especially in the Islamic world -- an underdeveloped concept of the separation of church and state.

“Religion is not the locomotive of conflict,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative and the man whose efforts to build an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan five ago were thwarted after a bitter controversy over what foes labeled the “Ground Zero mosque.”

When it came to discussing possible solutions, the participants agreed that the very existence of such a panel pointed toward one answer -- that the American model has much to teach other cultures.

“What we need to do is to bottle the American experience of pluralism,” said Rauf.

But “how do you export that without it being heavy-handed?” asked Park Avenue Synagogue's Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a leader in Conservative Judaism.

“We Catholics are good at that -- bottling things, if you need our help on that,” the irrepressible Dolan interjected in one of several lighthearted moments.

The panelists also recognized that the U.S. experience poses its own challenges.

For example, they noted that many of the most fervent believers are also often the most recent arrivals to America. But in their desire to assimilate, will their children lose their religious identity in the American melting pot?

Cosgrove said that the better analogy, and goal, would be that of a symphony in which “each and every faith tradition is playing their own instrument,” maintaining their own identities and respecting one another.

Yet even if U.S. believers keep a strong religious identity, the panelists also worried about the temptation of many to put their faith in America itself -- to see “our country as an idol,” as Dolan said, “with its militarism, with its trust in economic progress, with its equation of divine blessing with economic wealth.”

“We understand that we have to have a relationship with the societies in which we live, and American society has allowed us to prosper in our religious belief and participate in ways that we can’t in many other nations,” responded the Rev. A.R. Bernard Sr., head of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn and a past president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York.

But, Bernard continued, “there are times when our paths separate because there’s a disagreement between the direction the culture is going and remaining true to the orthodoxy of our faith.

“We live in this tension between the desire to assimilate and at the same time [to] retain our distinction within that culture.”



  1. The ONLY source of harmony for this violent world is God’s kingdom or heavenly government, the major teaching of Jesus’ ministry while he was on earth (Matthew 4:17).

    That government will soon put an end to all human governments and their corrupt systems, as well as all wicked ones (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 11:1-9).

    Jesus foretold when we would be living in the last days of a wicked era (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), and we are living in those days. The good news of God’s kingdom is being preached worldwide before the end comes (Matthew 24:14).

  2. For better or worse, America is the most religion tolerant nation on earth.

  3. All Christian majority countries in the west should accept “religious pluralism” and become a model unto themselves. That sounds like a great model for the west till the population mix changes in Christian majority countries of the west when Christians are no longer the majority and Islam takes over.
    As far the Mid East goes, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus should accept Islamic rule and remain under the protection of Islam.

  4. And when Islam takes over in the west, the west can enjoy protection under the Islamic rule! Sounds like a good model 😉

  5. Wow the irony is thick here.

    James, you said something intelligent and well meaning. (Don’t screw it up with a follow up comment, you did well here).

    When the topic is American religious freedom and civil society, C.C. and Tristan D came out of the woodwork to prove the author wrong.

    Tristan, if you don’t want to live under Islamic religious rule, all you have to do is defend the Separation of Church and State and secular government that flows from it. If you really wanted a Christian theocracy and just opposed the religion doing it, you are SOL. You are the same thing as the Islamicists.

    C.C, Christianity doesn’t even make sense most of the time. It is far from the only faith. Its just the only one you want to respect. You really ought to play nice with others. Religious freedom means nobody ever has to care under compulsion of law what you think God says.

  6. To come up with a good model, you need not only knowledge but also wisdom.

    There is a good scripture for that, “be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove”.

    You can’t be naïve, study religion and its history to understand if at its core the religion promotes peace.

  7. Your whole argument is illogical..

    ” there is only one faith…” In case you haven’t noticed there are many more.

    ” each belief system says something different… ” essentially they all say the same thing.. One God who Created and loves ALL His creation especially the microcosm that is Man (kind).. Adjoins Good, forbids evil.. Love thy neighbour, speak truth, be kind, just forgiving… Does that sound familiar.. My friend its not something familiar just to you… Or Christians, its true for all religions… Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism….

    Yes they all are different… But only in their outward form or dogma… Which addresses the particular context of the message… According to the time and place and to the people the message was sent to

    At their centre they are all the same! That is because their source is the same and the fundamental principles do not change with time and place…

    ” no true prophet can be revered if they are a liar..” A liar is…

  8. “be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” 😉

    “The elephant in the room is that today, whether we like it or not, religion is often the cause of scandal,” he said. “Religion is supposed to be an overwhelmingly positive force that brings people together, that increases love and understanding, human progress and human enlightenment.”

    Scandal? seems Dolan would know.


  9. At the center they are all the same?

    center of what? Religious dictate?

  10. Yes there is only one God..

    And yes Jesus is the Messiah… And a messenger of God.. Whose message was primarily of Love… And he was a reformer of the Jewish creed… Jews who had become tooo ritualistic…..,… I hope u know the story

  11. Larry and James,

    “America is the most religious tolerant society…” Well except that its not much tolerant of religion as such…

    Truth be told american society is getting more and more polarised.. In fact that is true for most of the world… And also not just religiously… But thats a another debate…

    I’m not a very big fan of separation of church and state… Look where it has got the west… And for most other religions and societies its not even practical or feasible.. That’s another long argument

  12. Eh. There’s a few historically with better track records. The First Persian Empire was very good for freedom of religion.

    Genghis Khagan’s Mongolia was also probably better than the US in religious freedom (though his descendants didn’t follow through with this, such as the anti-Taoist, pro-Buddhist Kublai Khan).

    Some of the post-Crusade Baltic states had a weird de-facto religious freedom as well… the Germans running the nations were Christian and told the pope their nations were thus “Christian” while ignoring the native peasants who openly remained pagan. An interesting case of a de-jure state religion that was de-facto allowing free practice of religion.

    Overall, though Ghengis Khagan’s Mongolia, I think, from what we know about it, is the best model we have. A leader that encouraged religious tolerance among his people, did not force his own religion on his people, and who sought advice and input from all religions equally.

  13. Religious freedom as opposed to religious tolerance keeps sectarian conflict from boiling over into warfare. Separation of Church and State has been essential to it. Look what it has gotten the US. Well motivated immigrants, a singular lack of sectarian bloodshed, and the means to prevent theocracy.

    American society is polarized by nature. Voices being heard means people do not fear expressing themselves.

    Separation of church and state guarantees religious freedom in a way tolerance could never do.

  14. Therein lies the difference between tolerance
    and freedom. Tolerance is always at the mercy of the dominant group. At their permission and sufferance. Freedom is demanded and binds them.

  15. C.C., seems fairly clear that you have fallen in love with and made an idol out of your understanding. Leading you to a kind of judgmentalism that Jesus condemned. He was a man of love, remember? God is SO much more than all of our explanations, including yours and mine, so grow a little humility and start to learn the art of caring for others. Please.

  16. Your story is not quite accurate. That is an old anti-Jewish idea that doesn’t work. Jesus was in the Pharisaic tradition and was more liberal and many issues and more conservative on others. Read Amy Jill Levine’s article in Sojourners, “Quit Picking on the Pharisees.” You don’t understand who the Jews of that time period really were.

  17. This is the precise position of ISIS.

  18. Richard,
    Actually, as these stories (mostly) point out, the support we received from Arcus is dedicated solely to coverage of LGBT communities of coverage, not David’s coverage of the Catholic Church or any other issue.

    Kevin Eckstrom / Editor-in-Chief

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