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Christianity and Islam to shape next century, cardinal believes

WASHINGTON -- Christianity and Islam, and what happens between them, will set the shape of the next century more than nations will, says Francis Cardinal George, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago.

Speaking to a Library of Congress conference on "Frontiers of the Mind in the 21st Century," he foresaw a decline in the importance of national governments."'In the next millennium," the cardinal predicted on Wednesday, "as the modern nation state is relativized and national sovereignty is displaced into societal arrangements still to be invented, it will be increasingly evident that the major faiths are carriers of culture."

And he added: "The conversation between Christianity and Islam is not yet far advanced, but its outcome will determine what the globe will look like a century from now."

His view of Islam's importance was endorsed by Algerian-born Mohammed Arkoun, a retired professor of the history of Islamic thought at the Sorbonne in Paris.

"Islam is important by its human dimensions," he said in an interview. 'It covers many societies, from Indonesia and the Philippines to Morocco, from the Caucasus and Tajikistan to South Africa. Islam is everywhere. Islam and Christianity are the only two religions which spread all over the world. Judaism didn't spread. Buddhism spread in Asia . . .

"That's why it's so essential that a special dialogue, a special exchange exist between these two religions without of course neglecting the other religions."

Michael Fishbane, who teaches Jewish studies at the University of Chicago, criticized what he saw as too much emphasis on Catholicism.

"It unfortunately divides up the globe between Islam and Catholicism," he said after the session. "It doesn't take into account Taoism, all forms of Confucianism, all types of Christianity that exist in China and will emerge in the next century."

Cardinal George denounced what he called the "divorce of freedom from truth" in the Western democracies.

"In the millions of abortions annually," he said, "the divorce of human reproduction from the embrace of human love, the increased application of the death penalty, the practice of euthanasia, the conviction that handicapped people are better off dead, the seemingly indiscriminate and sometimes disproportionate use of the military, the gun violence in the streets of our cities and the corridors of our schools -- in all these we see the fruits of what the pope has called 'the culture of death.' "