“Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith–and I don’t care what it is.” Thus spoke the noted theologian Dwight Eisenhower on Flag Day in 1954. And though Ike’s words may seem fatuous, they are in fact so pregnant with meaning that they deserve to be carefully parsed.

§ “Our government makes no sense…”: Quite right. A system based on gridlock, a complicated array of checks and balances prone to breakdown and an unchangeable eighteenth-century Constitution to hold it all in place is indeed an affront to good sense, as even our Golfer in Chief was beginning to realize.

§ “…unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith…”: Right again. The fact that America would not only make do but prosper with such a ramshackle form of government is a puzzle, one that Eisenhower could solve only by positing the existence of some sort of higher authority. To believe in America, in his view, it was necessary to believe in a divine power able to see the United States through all difficulties, to save it from itself, in a sense.

§ “…and I don’t care what it is”: As a good pluralist, Eisenhower was unconcerned with the exact nature of the guiding force in question. His only concern was that Americans continue to believe in something so as to make sense of a senseless system. Just as ancient Rome tolerated all cults as long as they sacrificed to the emperor, the postwar United States, he believed, should welcome all forms of religious expression as long as they bolstered the national cause. Faith in God and faith in America were mutually reinforcing.

Until recently, that pretty much summed up the US attitude toward religion, an attitude that was flexible, ecumenical and utterly self-confident in its conviction that there was no faith that America could not successfully absorb and put to its own use. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Tibetan Buddhism–it didn’t matter. As long as they believed in some–any–form of higher authority, there was no reason that they could not be mobilized in behalf of anti-Communism and the Free World. But now, more than a dozen years into the post-Soviet era, the United States finds itself confronting a major branch of monotheism that not only refuses to believe that God is on America’s side but, according to some of its leading spokespeople, sees Him as positively hostile.

The result is not only a crisis in US political theology but of liberal ideology generally. Formerly, it was an article of faith among liberal ecumenicists that all religions were equal and that all were essentially benign. Whether or not certain holy texts called for the wholesale massacre of nonbelievers was irrelevant. They were all written a long, long time ago and, anyway, such texts had to be understood metaphorically rather than literally. But given all that has happened since 9/11, the old faith has been shaken. How can we be sure that Islam is an ideology of peace–because George W. Bush tells us so? Are Muslim liberals correct in arguing that the Koran can be interpreted so that it accords with the needs of modern society? Or is the rise of militant Islam a sign that there are limits to interpretation and that the text is now reasserting itself in increasingly dangerous ways?

More to the point, how can we even begin to evaluate a religion stretching across some fourteen centuries that, starting just twenty-five years after Mohammed’s death, has suffered violent split after split between Kharijites and Umayyads, Sunnis and Shiites, and so on? Rather than an abstraction known as “Islam,” Edward Said argued, we should only talk about the many local “Islams” that have taken shape from Morocco to Indonesia and the Philippines. If so, what are we to make of such variants as Saudi Wahhabism, which, even though rooted in a specific time and place, reject particularism and insist on Islam as a single, undifferentiated whole? Are they right or wrong–and if we are forbidden to talk about Islam as a whole, how are we to know?

Although Islam’s origins are unclear–scholars increasingly reject the tale of a desert prophet propounding the Koran to a small circle of followers–one thing stands out: Islamic history is different. Unlike the Jews, whose efforts at establishing a theocracy in the tiny province of Judea met with repeated disaster, or the Christians, who spent nearly three centuries as a despised and persecuted sect, Islam is a product of almost dizzying political success. Within a century of Mohammed’s reputed death in AD 632, Muslims had not only unified the Arabian Peninsula but had conquered the Persian Empire, humbled the Byzantines, made short work of the Visigothic kingdom in Spain and were directly threatening the Franks in the heart of the Christian West. Whereas today it is Islam that feels besieged, 1,200 years ago it was the Latin Church.

Thus, where Christianity went from defeat to victory, Islam went from victory to defeat, which multiple schisms have only compounded. The question now is whether this distinctive evolution has left Islam with an irrepressible longing to return to the battles of yesteryear, to right the old wrongs and to resume its march of conquest. As one expert noted, “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force”–which, if true, would make peaceful coexistence an impossibility from the start. As much as one would like to dismiss such sentiments as typical of the bigoted Orientalism that Said denounced so vigorously, the expert in question happens to be the fourteenth-century Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun, whose opinions on this topic, needless to say, are not so easily dismissed. Yet in the years since, Islam has passed through periods of dormancy in which jihad seemed to be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind, which suggests that Ibn Khaldun is as irrelevant to contemporary events as the Book of Joshua is to Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The questions go on and on, as they invariably do when faith, ecumenical or otherwise, is shaken. But now comes Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the Masjid al-Farah mosque in New York and a leading Muslim liberal, to assure us that fears of Islamic expansionism are exaggerated and that Islam’s attitude to political power is more ambiguous than most people realize. One problem, he writes in his new book What’s Right With Islam, is that few Jews and Christians understand how much all three religions have in common. Although non-Muslims see Islam as a comparatively new religion, Muslims see it as an old one, a return to the plain desert faith of the patriarch Abraham and his followers. Where Christianity created a new and complicated theological edifice, Islam’s aim has been to strip away such accretions and “reestablish the Abrahamic ethic” that is, according to Abdul Rauf, at the core of Western monotheism.

Hence Islam is, at bottom, a restorationist ideology, a back-to-basics movement whose attitude to Judaism and Christianity is fundamentally benign. Although Osama bin Laden uses the term “jihad” in the most literal sense, Abdul Rauf writes that the word does not refer to literal warfare so much as “the psychological war we wage within ourselves to establish the kingdom of God…both in our individual life and in our collective communal lives”–a concept of inward, moral struggle with which Jews and Christians are not unfamiliar. Despite fundamentalist calls for an explicitly Muslim society governed by Muslim law, Abdul Rauf argues that Islam is only theocratic to the degree that it urges the state to acknowledge God as “the ultimate ruler,” a notion of divine power as a guiding force that, as we have seen, would not have troubled Eisenhower one bit. As for Shariah, the notorious legal code that Americans associate with forced amputations and the stoning of adulterers, What’s Right With Islam maintains that Shariah should be understood first and foremost as a moral framework for the promotion of five all-important facets of human existence: life, mind (i.e., psychological well-being), religion, property and family. Since many or even most Americans also embrace such goals, Abdul Rauf contends, the United States is a better Muslim society, more “Shariah-compliant” even, than any number of regimes in the Middle East.

Clearly, Abdul Rauf is using the term “Muslim” the same way that Victorians used “Christian,” i.e., not so much to connote a specific bundle of rituals and beliefs but as a euphemism for all that is decent and upright. Even if he’s stretching things a bit, the fact that he is able to make such an argument suggests that there is no reason that Islam, both inside and outside the United States, cannot remodel itself along Western liberal lines. If Islam is what Muslims say it is, then who is to say that the revamped, secularized version advanced by Abdul Rauf is incorrect? But is modernization really so easy? Here and there, he lets slip a few hints that the fit may not be as easy as he would like us to believe.

As Shariah-compliant as America may be, for instance, What’s Right With Islam suggests that it could become even more so if it permitted Muslims to establish their own Shariah courts in such areas as family law, a notion that would no doubt cause feminists and others to blanch with horror. (Do we really want mullahs determining child custody and property division in divorce cases?) While arguing that Islam respects the rights of Christians and Jews, he acknowledges that it makes no allowance for those who reject the idea of a supreme being altogether. Even if mullahs do not go about issuing fatwas against atheists and freethinkers, the implication is that, even at its most liberal, Islam will remain deeply uneasy in a society in which many people regard skepticism and free expression as the highest virtues. Abdul Rauf also defends the veil, on the grounds “that covering up…can actually empower women by allowing them to rise above fashion, appearance and figure,” provided, of course, that such covering up is “purely voluntary.” But such words are extremely problematic in this context. While the hijab has served as a symbol of resistance to Western colonialism in Algeria, Palestine and elsewhere, it is simultaneously a sign of submission to an alternate form of authority in the shape of religion and patriarchy. It is a sign that the wearer has surrendered her free will. Yet volition is the one thing that a free individual cannot voluntarily relinquish.

But the real trouble comes when What’s Right With Islam returns to those glorious days when Mohammed presided in person over the nascent Muslim community and justice supposedly reigned. “For Muslims,” Abdul Rauf writes, “this era of life in the company of the Prophet in Medina remains the finest example and model for the good society on earth. Every revival attempt throughout Islamic history has been an attempt to recreate this ideal.” What this means, in essence, is that whenever Islamic society goes awry, the automatic response among the faithful is to draw it back to some halcyon period in the seventh century, when the word of God was all that mattered. Later, Abdul Rauf argues that Islam is not directly to blame for the dreadful treatment of women in all too many Muslim countries. Rather, responsibility lies with Muslim jurists who “regarded the custom (adah, ‘urf), or common law of a society, as a source of law when the Quran or the sunnah was silent on an issue. Thus, what was custom in a particular time or place found its way into Islamic law.”

Well, that’s all right, then. Rather than mandating such oppression, all Islam has done is to provide a legal framework that has allowed it to continue for centuries on end. In writing about all that’s right with Islam, Abdul Rauf has inadvertently put his finger on something that is deeply, grievously wrong.

The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, by Richard Bulliet, a Middle East specialist at Columbia University, also seeks to bridge the gap between Islam and the West, although his approach is historical rather than theological. He is dismayed by the widening rift between the two camps; his solution is to try to patch things up by emphasizing all that Islam and Christianity have in common. If he can demonstrate that Islam and Christianity constitute not two civilizations but one, then a clash of civilizations between them becomes more and more unlikely.

To this end, Bulliet devotes considerable energy to showing how the two religions proceeded along parallel tracks during much of their formative period. Although Christianity would appear to be the older by some 600 years, he points out, the Western Church did not begin its historic expansion until after the barbarian invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries, which makes it roughly contemporaneous with the Arab expansion in the Middle East. As both faiths began to grow and develop, both gave rise to parallel bodies of religious specialists–monks, on the one hand, and the ulema, “possessors of religious knowledge,” on the other. Not long after centers of Islamic learning known as madrasas appeared in the eleventh century, the first universities began taking shape in cities like Paris and Bologna–another parallel that Bulliet finds intriguing. As religious fervor grew, he notes, the two camps also saw the appearance of popular preaching societies, the Beghards and Beguines among the thirteenth-century French and Flemish, the Sufis among the Arabs and other Muslim nations.

Bulliet’s polemic is well intentioned, but it is more than a bit one-sided. In emphasizing the similarities between Muslim and Christian development, he winds up obscuring differences that are no less crucial. The madrasas and universities that he describes as parallel institutions, for instance, were actually polar opposites. As the historian Toby Huff has shown, madrasas were pillars of orthodoxy that allowed only one type of law to be taught (Islamic, needless to say) and one school of interpretation. Because rivals rarely engaged in face-to-face debate, students were not trained to wrestle with contradictions but to ignore them or, even worse, to regard them as threatening to the unity of Islam. European universities, by contrast, grew out of a guild tradition that allowed for a far greater degree of autonomy and self-governance. Rather than one type of law, they taught two, canon and Roman (or common law in the case of England). Disputations were central to the curriculum, and at the University of Paris, the oldest such institution north of the Alps, discussions were periodically thrown open so that students, teachers and visitors could raise any topic they wished. A series of thirteenth-century popes tried to prohibit the teaching of Aristotle but got nowhere; simultaneously, it was said of a religious leader in Damascus named Ibn al-Salah that he forbade the study of “logic and philosophy” on the grounds that both were sacrilegious and that “kings obeyed him.” As important as it is to know what drew the two religions together, it is equally important to know what drove them apart.

Olivier Roy’s Globalized Islam also tackles the East-West divide, although it chiefly succeeds in demonstrating the poverty of a certain kind of sociological approach in which ultra-fine distinctions are drawn, paradoxes are posed and the language grows increasingly cloudy and obscure. Roy has come a long way from the 1980s, when, as a cheerleader for the Afghan mujahedeen, he was assuring readers that the reimposition of Shariah in the Afghan countryside was nothing to worry about because “cutting off a thief’s hand, or stoning couples caught in adultery, are very rare events.” Still, his attitude in his latest study remains faintly exculpatory. He argues that “the debate on what the Koran says is sterile” and that “the role of Islam in shaping contemporary societies has been overemphasized.” Because Islam is not a problem, therefore, there is no need to put it under the microscope and subject it to a thoroughgoing critique. For similar reasons, he maintains that the danger posed by Al Qaeda has been much exaggerated and that the group will never amount to more than a “security problem” because it “has no strategy in the true sense of the word.”

Roy is dismissive of all forms of ideology, not only the theological variety but political as well (“democratization,” he informs us at one point, “is a process, not a philosophy,” a claim I find almost stunningly obtuse). Gilles Kepel, author of The War for Muslim Minds, is properly respectful and is therefore able to show the long and laborious process by which the Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s ideological mentor, eventually concluded that striking at targets in New York or Madrid would be more profitable than striking at those closer to home. A longstanding figure in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Zawahiri spent years pondering why such actions as the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 or the fundamentalist revolt in Algeria in the 1990s came to naught. The regimes were shaken but kept their feet, while in the end it was the fundamentalists who ran aground. His conclusion was that while such feats caused a big splash locally, they did little to unite the Islamic umma, or community, as a whole. The only way this could be done was to strike outside the umma at Russia, the United States or the other Western powers. The upshot, Kepel writes, was “a world view comparable–but in reverse–to Samuel Huntington’s famous clash of civilizations.” Where Huntington sought to shore up the forces on one side of the divide, Zawahiri was working just as hard to unify those on the other.

Does this show a lack of strategic thinking? Obviously, Zawahiri played his cards wrong in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime, which he was counting on for protection, collapsed under the American onslaught more quickly than many people expected. But the struggle over Chechnya is going along swimmingly from Al Qaeda’s point of view while, with Russia drawing close to the Israelis and postinvasion Iraq turning into a happy hunting ground for jihadists of every shape and description, the “civilizational” dividing line is clearly hardening. Did Zawahiri underestimate the fury of the US response to 9/11, as Olivier Roy suggests? Or has he succeeded in drawing Bush into a war in Iraq that the Administration cannot possibly win? I think it’s the latter, and I suspect Kepel does, too.

The War for Muslim Minds is something of a corrective to Kepel’s previous book, Jihad, published in 2002, which argued that Islamic fundamentalism had peaked and that it would “have much difficulty reversing its trail of decline as it confronts twenty-first-century civilization.” The title of his new book is unfortunate since it is not only Muslim minds that are at stake in the current conflict, but it is otherwise a masterpiece of political explication. Kepel is especially good on the symmetries between the Islamic fundamentalists and their Western equivalents, the neoconservatives. Where the fundamentalists had it easy–all they had to do was figure out a way to unite the umma against the West–Washington has been faced with the far more difficult task of pumping up support for Israel without ruffling the feathers of the Saudis to the point where they cut off the flow of oil. The solution hit upon in the 1980s and ’90s was to divert the Muslim world’s attention by encouraging an anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan while staging a spurious “peace process” in Israel/Palestine to buy time. The strategy worked brilliantly for a while. But when Al Qaeda stepped into the vacuum created by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the United States was slow to respond. “Al Qaeda” literally means “the base,” which suggests an actual military installation that the United States could pound with the usual array of smart bombs and cruise missiles. But Al Qaeda was really more “a database,” Kepel writes, one “that connected jihadists all over the world via the Internet.” It was a postmodern organization married to a premodern worldview. Yet the neocons, firmly in control under Bush II, preferred to do battle with a conventional military force, which is one reason they declared war on Saddam Hussein.

Fanaticism on one side has been met and matched by equally blind fanaticism on the other. Still, whatever the sins of the neocons, the reader by this point is likely thanking his or her lucky stars to be living in a region shaped by a faith in which, in the immortal words of John Ashcroft, “God sends His son to die for you” instead of “requir[ing] you to send your son to die for Him.” Where the Koran instructs the faithful not only to “smite” the enemy “above their necks,” but to cut off their fingers for good measure (Surah 8:12), the New Testament recommends turning the other cheek. Doesn’t this tell us all we need to know about the difference between a warlike Middle East and a peaceful, enlightened West?

Not quite. Pacific as the Gospels may be, the religion they gave rise to has been remarkably violent. According to the historian William McNeill, Western Europe during the so-called Age of Faith was the most warlike civilization on earth, with the exception of Japan. The Arabs were stunned by the brutality of the Crusaders when they invaded Palestine in the eleventh century. The “parfait gentil knights” were bad enough, but the fanatical hordes known as the Tafurs were even worse. Barefoot and ragged, armed only with clubs, sticks, hoes and other crude implements, they charged into battle gnashing their teeth, feasting afterward on the roasted flesh of whatever poor Muslim they managed to get their hands on. Yet the knights were so impressed with these holy cannibals that they gave them the honor of being the first ones over the wall during the climactic assault on Jerusalem in 1099.

How does loving thy neighbor lead to drowning him in blood? This is the question that Shadia Drury considers in her new study Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche. Her attitude is refreshingly direct. The standard line concerning the burning of witches and heretics, the killing of gynecologists, the persecution of gays and the slaughter at the World Trade Center is that such horrors are not the fault of the Bible or the Koran but of crazed individuals who twist their message of love into the opposite. But Drury, a political scientist at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, is having none of it. “It is time to ask if these sacred texts do not lend themselves to the political extremism, violence, and intolerance perpetrated in their name,” she declares. Instead of accusing the suicide bombers and antiabortionists of misinterpreting such texts, her modest proposal is that perhaps their crime is interpreting all too correctly texts that everyone else either extols or ignores.

It is to Drury’s immense credit that she takes aim not at Islam, which has gotten a pretty bad press of late, but at Christianity. Although everyone remembers Christ’s line about the meek inheriting the earth, she points out that the Gospels are in fact studded with apocalyptic warnings of the terrible fate awaiting those whose only sin is to question whether he is the messiah. “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” a decidedly ungentle Jesus tells such doubters at one point (Matthew 23:33); “if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins,” he declares at another (John 8:24). For Drury, such words go to the heart of what is most troubling about Christianity. Telling people how to behave is one thing, but telling them what to believe means invading every intellectual nook and cranny in order to root out contrary ideas. It means robbing the individual of his last shred of privacy. From Christ’s demand for complete psychological surrender, Drury contends that it was only a step to the great heresy hunts, book burnings and religious massacres of the Middle Ages. As late as the early twentieth century, she notes, Pope Pius X required every Catholic diocese to appoint a “vigilance committee…to find out and report on writings and persons tainted with the heresy of Modernism”–to seek out not only those advocating Modernism but those who had allowed it to color their thinking. “The totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century were equally preoccupied with the control of thought,” Drury writes. “But in comparison to their more successful antecedent (i.e., the Church), they were mere amateurs.”

Drury’s argument, like Bulliet’s in The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, is well intentioned but also does not stand up to intellectual scrutiny. Of course, Christianity is about belief–this has been its great strength. Previously, the Palestinian ideological system that we now know as Judaism was all about law, how to interpret it, how to apply it, where it comes from, etc. But Saint Paul, the great innovator of the age, stood things on their head by replacing the old doctrine of obedience with a new doctrine of faith. Instead of requiring Christ’s non-Jewish followers to obey Jewish law, he required them to believe, which in some respects was much more difficult. The result was to open a new front in the ideological war. Not only were members of the new Christian ecumene expected to wrestle with others’ ideas, they were expected to wrestle with their own. Not only did Christianity expand outward, like Islam, but it expanded inward as well. While this led to new forms of tyranny, it also led to new kinds of self-criticism and to a more dynamic concept of the human personality. This is why left-wing thinkers from Engels and Karl Kautsky to Pier Paolo Pasolini have found early Christianity so fascinating–because it engaged and mobilized the individual psyche in a new way in order to transform society.

Drury is not a Marxist, alas, but an unabashed liberal who thinks that “the religion of Jesus is zealous, immoderate, and unwise” and that, as a result, “Jesus cannot be totally absolved of the savage history of the Church.” Rather than mobilizing the individual psyche, she is out to shield it from bishops and left-wing agitators alike–to privatize it, in a sense. But this leads to a curious lapse. Because she thinks that what a person believes is his or her own business, she never gets around to asking the most elementary question concerning the nature of Christian beliefs, which is to say whether they are true. For her, Christianity is a collection of values and effects, some decidedly negative. But it never seems to occur to her that one reason the Church became so oppressive is that it continued to insist on a series of false ideas concerning the existence of God and the nature of Christ long after European society was ready to move on. The problem was not belief per se but belief that was increasingly at war with reality.

Fortunately, these are exactly the sorts of issues that Sam Harris confronts in The End of Faith. Harris is a doctoral student in neuroscience at UCLA, yet the nice thing is that there is still something of the undergraduate about him. Everyone knows the type, the smart aleck in the back of the room who isn’t afraid to raise questions that everyone else is too polite to ask, questions like: If bad ideas lead to bad acts, then why should we allow individuals to entertain ideas that are incorrect? If a friend mistakenly believes he is dying of cancer, shouldn’t we disabuse him of the notion so that he doesn’t do something drastic, like throw himself under a train? If he believes, similarly, that unbelievers are destined for hell, shouldn’t we disabuse him of that so he isn’t tempted to speed the process by shooting or blowing them up? Harris recounts the tale of a thirteenth-century bishop of Toulouse, who, on hearing that an old woman had fallen victim to the heresy of Catharism, had her carried in her sickbed to a nearby field and burned alive. Considering all those souls who would have been robbed of their chance of salvation had the infection been allowed to spread, the good bishop felt he had no choice. On the basis of the fiery prose in The End of Faith, it is evident that Harris believes we should root out heresy–defined from a modern, rationalist, scientific point of view, of course–with no less vigor.

I agree and would happily nominate him for the job of rationalist Grand Inquisitor if The End of Faith did not suffer from some serious intellectual shortcomings.

Harris is proof that Trotsky’s famous “law of combined and uneven development” does not apply only to czarist Russia. Harris is well informed in some areas, but embarrassingly bereft in others. While he knows a fair amount about religion and philosophy, he has little feel for politics and even less for the ironies of historical development. Religion, as he sees it, is a bad idea that has lodged itself under the human skull and must be driven out. “It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions,” he writes. Perhaps. Yet he fails to understand the process by which ancient thinkers, struggling to understand the cosmos, would come up with hypotheses that seem ludicrous in our day but were nonetheless a significant advance in their own. Citing the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, he wisecracks that not only can Jesus be “eaten in the form of a cracker” as a consequence, but that “a few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well.” Yet transubstantiation was an attempt to make sense of Jesus’ death, an event that Christians mistakenly believed had transformed the cosmos but that we now know merely helped to transform Western society. If Harris had any idea of the blood and passion expended over such doctrines, he might hesitate before engaging in low-brow, frat-house humor.

Like the Ayn Randians, The End of Faith is an example of how atheism can as easily propel one to the right as to the left. In his naïveté, Harris approvingly quotes various neocons and neolibs (Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Goldhagen, Fareed Zakaria, Paul Berman and so on) without any sense, so far as the reader can tell, as to why they might be considered controversial. Even worse, he advances a rationalist argument in support of Bush’s jihad. His reasoning is all too simple: Osama bin Laden is the world’s leading example of religion run amok. Whatever its shortcomings, the West is a paragon of reason by comparison. Therefore, whatever America does to rein in Islamic fundamentalism is worthy of support. If bin Laden and his ilk “cannot be captured,” Harris writes, “otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at even greater cost to ourselves and innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world.”

Bin Laden thinks the Koran is the word of God and has killed thousands. Bush thinks the same of the Bible and has so far killed several times more in Iraq. His top aides, according to Ron Suskind’s recent article in The New York Times Magazine, are contemptuous of what they call “the reality-based community.” So who is living in a more dangerous fantasy world? The times are so out of joint that even sound ideas like secularism and science lead people astray.