by OS GUINNESS, D.PHIL.
It would be a safe, sad bet that someone, somewhere in the world, is killing someone else this very moment in the name of religion.
Every day, it seems, our television and computer screens are filled with images of religious violence- a Sunni killing a Shi'a or a Shi'a returning the compliment. In Kashmir, it is Muslims against Hindus, and in Sir Lanka, Hindus against Buddhist. In an earlier day, it would have been Catholics against Protestants in Ulster, and so it goes around the world.
The last century, which finished partly with peace breaking out everywhere, also finished with a humanitarian nightmare- an explosion of sectarian violence. We need only to think of Kosovo, Sudan, Burma, Chechnya and Sierra Leone to see a witches' brew of ancient hatreds. People use the words like " elemental " and " atavistic " and " primordial " to try to capture what the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called " Pandaemonium " - Milton's term for the capital of Hell, Satan's very seat itself.
If 100 million people were killed during the 20th century in war, a further hundred million were killed under political oppression. It has been suggested that yet another 100 million were killed in sectarian violence.
Now, to this latter fact, some of our atheist friends will immediately react by saying, " Aha! The problem is religion: divisive, violent, evil. " But they forget that under atheist regimes led by atheist intellectuals in the name of atheist ideology, at least 100 million human beings were killed- that is more than from all Western persecutions and repressions combined.
In other words, we human beings had a terrible record in the last century of killing each other-sometimes in the name of religion, but all too often in the name of an ideology. As Ambrose Bierce said rather cynically, " The defining feature of humanity is inhumanity. "
But anyone who has looked at the landscape of that appalling evil, carnage and suffering, is surely struck by some of the important issues that came to the surface at the end of the last century. The first is that the challenge of living with our deep differences is now one the world's great problems. Though that may sound abstract compared with HIV/AIDS or nuclear proliferation, the fact is more people die as a result of conflict over deep differences than from the other causes.
The second issue that became very clear at the end of the last century is we are beginning to see the emergence of a global public square.
Ever since the Greeks, we in the west have wrestled with the ideal of " the public square. " It's not a literal place like Lafayette Square of Trafalgar Square or the Place de la Concorde, but a metaphor. The public square is where we as citizens discuss our common concerns and common life- and debate and decide our common affairs. But now the public square is going global through means seemingly as innocent as the Internet. That has become obvious today, as we can plainly see in the response, say, to the Danish cartoons or to the Pope's speech at the University of Reganburg.
But in the global public square, even when we're not speaking to the world, the world- through the Internet and many other avenues- may be listening to what we're saying. As a consequence, we're seeing the emergence of a global public square in which the issue of how we live together with deep differences is more important than ever.
The third thing that was clear at the end of the 20th century was a rather sad irony- at the very moment when the whole world is beginning to see the significance of the American Experiment's ways of handling these things, America herself is not doing so well. Early on, when Americans talked about the melting pot or the solutions the First Amendment afforded, the rest of the world wasn't terribly interested. Many nations had homogeneous societies, in which the issue of living with deep differences wasn't of particular concern. But suddenly, in the past generation, homogeneous counties like Britain, Holland, France, thrust into the maelstrom of an exploding diversity through such factors as immigration, look now to how Americans are doing. Unfortunately, if you look at the culture wars and other indices, it is clear America is not doing as well as she had.