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NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Guests: Reza Aslan, Author "No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam"; Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J., Professor of Law, Georgetown Law, Former Congressman from Massachusetts (1970-1980); Dr. Richard Land, President of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Junior Senator from Connecticut; Jon Meacham, Managing Editor, of Newsweek; Rev. Jim Wallis, Author "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it"
Moderator/Host: Tim Russert, NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Easter Sunday, a special edition: Faith in America. With us: the author of "No god But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam," Reza Aslan; the author of "Can God & Caesar Coexist?," former congressman, Father Robert Drinan, S.J.; the author of "Real Homeland Security: The America God Will Bless," Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; the first Jewish American to be nominated for vice president of the United States, Democratic senator from Connecticut, Joseph Lieberman; the author of Newsweek's cover story, "How Jesus Became Christ," managing editor Jon Meacham; and the author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It," Reverend Jim Wallis. Then, a special MEET THE PRESS Minute from Easter season 45 years ago: Adlai Stevenson on the role of religion and politics.
Welcome, all, this weekend. NBC News has bn examining the role of faith in America, and that's why we're all gathered this morning. Nice to see everyone.
Obviously, the issue of Terri Schiavo has put politics and religion once again front and center in American political debate. Dr. Land, let me quote something to our viewers that you said on your radio show this week and sort of frame the discussion, if I could. You said, "Terri Schiavo has become the poster girl for whether or not our people are going to force the legal system to give us the society we want. ... We are seeing this in case after case after case with homosexual marriage, with abortion, with the Terri Schiavo case. Are we going to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, or government of the judges, by the judges, and for the judges?"
And it's been interesting watching this case play out. I went back and reviewed some of the key judges involved in this decision. Obviously, at the local level, this gentleman, George Greer of Florida, is a Republican and a Southern Baptist. His best friend said, "George is the religious right." You look at this gentleman here, Judge William Bryan. He was filibustered--excuse me. William Pryor--filibustered by the Democrats in the Senate. President Bush appointed him as a recess appointee. He did not dissent in this case. And then, of course, the Supreme Court, and there are the photos of the distinguished court: Judge Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, all strict constructionists, conservatives, three times said, "We don't want to hear this case." What judges are you talking about?
DR. RICHARD LAND: I'm talking about the judiciary in general. I think the judiciary's out of control, and there are a lot of Americans who think the judiciary's out of control. And, by the way, Judge Greer has resigned his membership in the Southern Baptist Church. He was a member of a Southern Baptist Church in Clearwater, and he--they've come to a mutual agreement that he resign his membership. I think that the Congress acted correctly in asking for the federal courts to review this, and to do a de novo review to see if Terri Schiavo's due process under the 14th Amendment, that the protections under the 14th Amendment, were guaranteed and had been followed.
And I, like many other Americans, feel that the courts decided to give the back of their hand to the Congress of the United States, and decided--they did not decide on those issues; they decided on a very strict process review. And I think I speak for millions of Americans who feel that the legal system in this country is broken when there cannot be a better adjudication of this case, a better hearing of this case, a better review of this case that takes into account the special circumstances of this case. And I think millions of Americans--and I certainly would number myself among them--are shocked that parents have so few rights in this case and have had so little ability to get a hearing.
You know, in this country, sadly, with marriage in the state it's in, we have lots of spouses, generally, in this country. We have two parents, usually. And I think there are lots of parents--and my wife and I would include ourselves among them--that are shocked. And I think there's going to be a lot of discussion in a lot of state legislatures about some laws that are going to be passed that are going to try to give more rights to parents in these cases.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you have the same misgivings about courts and the application of the death penalty?
DR. LAND: I do. I support the death penalty philosophically and morally. But I do not support the way it's been administered in this country. And my belief has been that if you're going to be supportive of the death penalty being applied in cases of premeditated murder, for instance, I think that the convicted sex offender that killed Jessica Lunsford needs to die. But if you're going to be committed to it, you have to be as committed to its fair and just application, and it's not been applied fairly and justly in this society.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, your Republican colleague from Connecticut in the House, Christopher Shays, had this to say. "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. ... There are going to be repercussions from this vote [on Schiavo's constitutional rights]. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them."
You agree with that?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D-CT): I don't. But that's a very credible and respectable opinion for Chris to take. See, I think--and Chris was there on the floor of the House, so maybe he heard in the debate some things that I didn't hear following it from a distance. The fact is that, though I know a lot of people's attitude toward the Schiavo case and other matters is affected by their faith and their sense of what religion tells them about morality, ultimately as members of Congress, as judges, as members of the Florida state Legislature, this is a matter of law. And the law exists to express our values.
I have been saying this in speeches to students about why getting involved in government is so important, I always say the law is where we define the beginning of life and the end of life, and that's exactly what was going on here. And I think as a matter of law, if you go--particularly to the 14th Amendment, can't be denied due process, have your life or liberty taken without due process of law, that though the Congress' involvement here was awkward, unconventional, it was justified to give this woman, more than her parents or husband, the opportunity for one more chance before her life was terminated by an act which was sanctioned by a court, by the state.
These are very difficult decisions, but--of course, if you ask me what I would do if I was the Florida Legislature or any state legislature, I'd say that if somebody doesn't have a living will and the next of kin disagree on whether the person should be kept alive or that is whether food and water should be taken away and her life ended that really the benefit of the doubt ought to be given to life. And the family member who wants to sustain her life ought to have that right because the judge really doesn't know, though he heard the facts, one judge, what Terri Schiavo wanted. He made a best guess based on the evidence before him. That's not enough when you're talking about aggressively removing food and water to end someone's life.
MR. RUSSERT: You would have kept the tube in?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: I would have kept the tube in.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Drinan, do you think it was appropriate for Congress to be involved in this matter?
REV. ROBERT DRINAN: No, I don't. I think it's rather well settled at the state level, and it's rather well settled also in Catholic theology. I would recommend that the viewers look at the Web site of the Catholic Hospital Association. For years, they have been developing a coherent philosophy on this matter and the Holy See in the last year seem to have been a bit more conservative, which is understandable. It's a terrible, terrible, agonizing thing. But I think that all the judges that heard it, 20, 25 judges, we have the most certainty that we can have in this difficult situation.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to read something that you said to The Washington Post in 2003: "Catholics have no right to impose their views on others. Even if they say homosexual conduct is unfitting for a Catholic, they have no right to impose that on the nation."
If you believe that homosexuality is immoral or that abortion is the taking of a life, or that you believe very strongly that Terri Schiavo should remain on a tube, are you not honor-bound as a political figure to try to, in effect, bring about that result, if it's a firmly held motional belief?
REV. DRINAN: Yes and no. Go back to Vatican II. Three thousand bishops agonized over this, and at the end of the day, they said that the church should never seek to impose its views. They should not have any shadow of coercion, renouncing 20 centuries of the church dominating the scene. So I think that it's a different world, and we respect everybody else and there's lots of things that are immoral that should not be illegal.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Reza Aslan and read a couple of things that you've said and bring you into the discussion here. "One need only regard language with which political issues like abortion rights and gay marriage are debated in Congress to recognize that religion is to this day an integral part of the American national identity and patently the moral foundation for its Constitution, its laws and its national customs."
And this, and my guess is this will raise some eyebrows across our country. "Iranians"--and you are an Iranian-American--"as a people are not exceptionally religious, certainly no more than Americans--indeed, I would argue even less so. There is no politician in Iran's parliament who can be considered more of a religious fundamentalist than, for instance, Senator Rick Santorum"--of Pennsylvania, or former attorney general--"John Ashcroft. ...I would even bet there are more churches per capita in the United States than mosques in Iran. And few if any countries could beat the United States when it comes to using religious rhetoric in political arguments."
Ayatollahs, mullahs, in Iran, not more fundamentalist than members of the United States Congress?
PROF. REZA ASLAN: Well, look, no religion that aspires to anything more than metaphysical contemplation can remain indifferent to the realities of the secular world. It's perfectly natural for religion to have an influence in politics. I mean, I think that the difference between a democracy and a theocracy is not secularism but pluralism. The problem with Iran is a lack of pluralism, a lack of religious freedoms. But I would argue that religion plays a dominant role in American politics, as it does in a number of modern democracies. Religion, as the senator was saying, is, whether we like it or not, the moral foundation of our country. It's in this case it's a Protestant foundation, but Israel is built upon a Jewish moral foundation and Iran is built upon an Islamic moral foundation. So I don't in any way say, you know, that the U.S. and Iran share the same freedoms and the same liberties, of course that's not true. Iran is a clerical oligarchy. But nonetheless, I think that the people who, that in the United States who talk about bringing out the moral values upon which this country was founded tend to have a different view when those moral values are Islamic.
MR. RUSSERT: There are now more Muslims than Jews in America. Is there an Islamic view of the Schiavo case? Is there a monolithic view?
PROF. ASLAN: No, just as there isn't a monolithic view amongst Christians and amongst Jews or amongst any religious faith. I think that most Muslims agree that life is a precious commodity, that we must endure life and we must respect it and value it. But I also think that the important thing about this Schiavo case is that it is bringing up, not just a legal issue, but as Father said, it's bringing up this--an important debate about what life truly is. Is it just simply a heartbeat or is it a matter of quality of life? Is it a matter of vitalism?
MR. RUSSERT: Reverend Jim Wallis, how do you see the Democrats, the Republicans, both of which you have written about, in terms of faith and spirituality and religion, approaching the Schiavo case?
REV. JIM WALLIS: Well, first of all, our hearts go out this morning to Terri Schiavo and the family. It appears she's near the end of her life, and so deep compassion for the family, and all of us care so much about this. In principle we should always err on the side of life to be--that's the safer moral course, but we also should worry about the politicizing of any case, and I'm alarmed by memos that talk about firing up the base or defeating the Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. That's way out of bounds for a case like this.
I think the conversation about life is a good conversation. But then let's talk, as the Catholics do, about a consistent ethic of life. Today a silent tsunami will take the lives of 30,000 children because of hunger. Lives are lost in Iraq. On death row innocent people are executed. The bishops this week launched a new campaign against the death penalty. I think a consistent ethic of life is a good moral guide for politics and it cuts both ways, cuts Republican and Democratic. Religion should be able to critique left and right, not be ideologically predictable or loyally partisan.
MR. RUSSERT: The whole role of religion in politics--I want to--bring Jon Meacham into the conversation as well. I'm going to bring everyone back to December of 1999, a debate in Iowa and the question was: "What political philosopher or thinker do you most identify with and why?" And this is how Governor Bush of then Texas responded.
(Videotape, December 13, 1999):
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (Republican, Texas): Christ, because he changed my heart.
Unidentified Man: I think that the viewer would like to know more on how he has changed your heart.
GOV. BUSH: Well, if they don't know, it's going to be hard to explain. When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me.
MR. RUSSERT: Can you imagine a Democrat responding in the same way?
REV. WALLIS: Well, there's no reason why they shouldn't. The part of that that I don't like was when he said, "And if people don't understand that, I'm sorry." I think I--as you know, I believe in bringing religious values into the public square. Where would we be if the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. kept his faith to himself? But, you know, religion must be disciplined by democracy. We have to argue on the basis of the common good, not say, "I'm religious, you won't understand, but I'm going to be talking Jesus." Jesus talked about blessed are the peacemakers. Love your enemy. He talked about the poor over and over and over again. So I want to see the words of Jesus be part of our discourse. But we're a pluralist society now, as Reza talked about. And so how do you argue on the basis of what's best for the common good to convince a very pluralistic nation that what we think is good for all of us, not just the Christians?
MR. RUSSERT: George W. Bush also said as recently as this year, "I don't see how you can be president...without a relationship with the Lord."
Jon Meacham, how does one govern the United States of America, 260 million of us now, if not more, be religious and true to one's faith and still be understanding and tolerant of the faiths that are different or people who don't believe period?
MR. JON MEACHAM: Reading the New Testament, as St. Paul said, "For now, we see through glass darkly but then face to face." A central Christian virtue, particularly in the public sphere, seems to me, has to be humility about anyone having a monopoly on truth. None of us do. And, in fact, very early on in the Christian tradition, that idea was embedded in the texts and in the preaching of the church, that "the peace of God passeth all understanding," as the blessing of the ancient church said.
So I think the president, who clearly is quite deeply genuine about his faith, like Dante and many others, he had a midlife conversion in a way. It put him on a path that led him out of a certain dark place. He's very eloquent about that on many occasions, and many, many, many, many Americans and people around the world are. But when it comes to the public sphere, humility, not hubris, is the way that I think we will be able to talk about religion in a way that does not make people fearful. For that would be the ultimate tragedy, is if one had a religious sensibility, wanted to make the world--make gentle the life of this world, and yet the means of that corrupted the end by scaring people.
MR. RUSSERT: You are the managing editor of Newsweek. There are constant suggestions that the media is not mindful of religion, mindful and understanding of faith, sometimes too secular in its view. How do you believe the media has covered this case of Terri Schiavo?
MR. MEACHAM: I think--well, certainly thoroughly. I think one of the tragic elements of this, frankly--one of the many, many tragic elements--is that this case has become an episode in the ongoing culture war. I think that people who do not understand the details, people who do not have the knowledge to discuss it with great authority, are, in fact, discussing it with the appearance of great authority. But I think that, by and large, the issues that we've been discussing about this conversation raising fundamental questions about the definition of life, what one should do in one's own personal life and family situations, has ultimately been productive.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Land, you were quoted in September of '04 as saying that George Bush said to you, "I believe God wants me to be president." Is that accurate?
DR. LAND: It is, but it's incomplete. And the media keeps insisting on making it incomplete, which changes the entire context. He said, and it was right after he had been to a worship service the morning he was inaugurated for his second term as governor, and the Methodist minister had made a very stirring sermon about "God has a purpose for your life and a plan for your life," and his mother reached over and said, "George, he's talking to you." And he came back to the governor's mansion and he met with several of us and he said, "I believe God wants me to be president, but if that doesn't happen, that's OK. I'm loved at home, and that's more important. I've seen the presidency up close and personal, and I know it's a sacrifice and not a reward, and I don't need it for personal validation."
I remember it so completely because I thought, you know, that's about as healthy emotionally as you're going to find in someone who's willing to do all that you have to do and all the personal sacrifices you have to make to run for the presidency in this society. And I think it shows the president's heart. I've known the president since 1988. I find him to be a man of spiritual humility who is going to do what he believes is right, as God gives him the light to see the right. But, you know, he understood that the fact--I would just ask this question: How many people do you think have run for the presidency in the last 20 years who didn't think that God wanted them to be president? You think Jimmy Carter didn't think that? You think Bill Clinton didn't think that? You think Al Gore didn't think that? But they were open to the possibility they might be wrong, as was George Bush.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, in fact, let me go back to January of 1960, when a Democratic president stood on the steps of the Capitol. We all remember, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." But in January of '61, the actual inaugural speech, this is how John Kennedy concluded his address. Let's watch.
(Videotape, January 20, 1961, inaugural address):
PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY: Let us go forth to lead the land that we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own.
MR. RUSSERT: "Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own," Father. That's politics and religion together in a very clearly stated way.
REV. DRINAN: And I think that it--we all agree with that. The problem is when some religions say that you have to impose in the law our particular beliefs. Certain fundamentalists think that gays should be discriminated against, and that's not in the common tradition. There's a common core of moral and religious beliefs, and frankly, we are in total violation of that. We are supposed to be good to the poor; we have more poor children in America than in any other industrialized nation. We're supposed to love prisoners and help them; we have 2.1 million people in prison, the largest of any country of the Earth. We also allow eleven children to be killed by guns every day. All of the religions are opposed to that. That's violence. Why don't we organize on that?
MR. RUSSERT: What's the answer?
REV. DRINAN: The answer is that there is a core, as President Kennedy said, and that we had that core when we finally abolished abolition and segregation. We had that core when finally we entered the war in Vietnam. We had that core when we passed the Americans With Disabilities Act, the best law for the disabled in the whole world. That core is there, and you have to look back and say that President Roosevelt orchestrated it and LBJ was fantastic getting through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. That's the type of religious unity that exists if we can pull it together.
MR. RUSSERT: You are a Catholic priest, a Jesuit. You are also a member of Congress, and then the pope told you, "Get out of politics." What was it like when you received that order?
REV. DRINAN: Well, it's a little more complicated than that. They changed canon law. I had the permission of Cardinal Cushing to run for Congress, and he was enthusiastic about it. There were three or four Catholic priests in politics in Latin America, and they were contentious, and they were now revising canon law. So all that the pope did was to centralize the decision. A bishop can't do it anymore, the Holy See has to do it. And if you want to see some up-side to it, after I left Congress, I was in Brazil, talking to some priests over there, and one priest said to me, "We wept for you," but that if priests were allowed to enter the Congress all over the world, we would have people who were very conservative, fascists, the brothers of generals becoming elected in Latin America.
MR. RUSSERT: You don't miss it?
REV. DRINAN: Democrats say they're not happy up there these days.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: The Congress misses the Father Drinan.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, I was very much intrigued by a comment you made this week in the debate about drilling for oil in the arctic national wildlife region. You invoked two names that I remember very well from my Bible. Let me read it for you. "For me, this all began at the beginning with the Bible and with the instruction that God gave to Adam and Eve that they should both work and guard the Garden of Eden, which is to say that they should not only develop and cultivate it, but also protect it."
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Correct.
MR. RUSSERT: Adam and Eve in the terms of oil in the arctic wildlife.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Explain that.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Later in the speech, I spoke from Corinthians and said that God calls on us to be guardians--we are called on to be guardians of the mysteries of God. And one of the great mysteries, obviously, is God's creation. Look, I want to say generally, very briefly, that the mix of God and government, of religion and politics, is quintessentially American, and it was there at the beginning. The fact is that in the first American document, the Declaration of Independence, the founders of our country said that they were forming the new government to secure the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they saw as the endowment of our creator. So this government, this country was not neutral about God right at the outset. One, accepting that there is a creator, so our existence here is not accidental. And secondly, that as a result of the creation, we have an inherent unity. We are all equal. We have equal opportunity for those rights. We are a country based on a vision, a belief in creationism. And part of that is not only the humans, who were created on the sixth day, but the but the natural Earth.
You know, look, I believe based on what I just said, that America itself is a faith-based initiative. But I also believe that protecting creation should be a faith-inspired action. And I'm really pleased--I made those comments at a discussion with the National Association of Evangelicals, identified in the public mind most visibly with abortion and gay rights, against, but the evangelical community has also been very active, for instance, in fighting to have us do something about the tragedy in Darfur. And now we're getting involved in environmentalism, including fighting global warming.
MR. RUSSERT: But is there a risk where politicians will say, "We must ban gay marriage because God wills it? We must ban abortion because God wills it. We must not drill in the arctic wildlife because Adam and Eve say no"? Is there a risk in that?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, I think that people have--this is another part of the First Amendment, everybody has a right to petition their government and to petition it in terms that are relevant to themselves. And some of that will be faith-based, some of it will be totally secularly based sense of justice or morality. I mean, the answer to the question that you posed to Father Drinan in the end is the democratic process will decide, Congress will decide, the courts will decide. But I think that the public square is greatly strengthened and enriched when people are prepared to speak, not just about secular notions of justice, but about the moral sense that our faith gives us. And again, I want to say that to me that is not un-American, that is very American. We are--our Constitution says we don't establish a religion, but it also says everybody has freedom of religion, and everybody has the right to speak their mind. And if your mind is faith-based, God bless you. Speak your mind.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break. A lot more of our discussion, Faith in America, right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: More of our discussion, Faith in America, religion and politics after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Let me pick up on what Senator Lieberman was talking about, how faith and religion are at the center of our government from the very beginning of time. Alexis De Tocqueville, who came here in the mid-1800s and wrote a book about democracy in America, found just that and this is what he wrote. "Freedom sees in religion the companion of its struggles and its triumphs...the divine source of its rights. It considers religion as the safeguard of mores, and mores as the guarantee of laws. ... Americans so completely confuse Christianity and freedom in their minds that is is almost impossible to have them conceive of the one without the other."
MR. MEACHAM: It was true for a long time, in the ancient world as well, the idea that there would be a moral law governing our--the laws of nations and the laws of people, I think is exactly right. Tocqueville came here in about 1830, which is the age of Andrew Jackson. My favorite detail about that is that two songs were immensely popular in those very years--"My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "Amazing Grace," and those two things, absolutely to my mind, encapsulate America.
And I think the senator was exactly right. We did not--Americans did not come here to escape religion. Americans came here to escape an established religion. They did not want to take an oath, they did not want their civil liberties tied to their religious beliefs but that does not mean that they didn't want absolute freedom to practice those beliefs.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Aslan, when you hear "Christianity and freedom"--let me allude to something you wrote and said. "As a Muslim American, you belong to two communities. ...Your first allegiance is as an American citizen. You belong to the community of the United States. However, Muslims also belong to a second community as well, the community of worldwide Muslims."
Are they ever in conflict?
PROF. ASLAN: Sure. Of course they are. I mean, think what de Tocqueville was saying is not only absolutely true, but it also is the foundation of some of the conflicts that are taking place right now between the Western world and the Muslim world. We do absolutely equate Christianity and freedom so completely that the two become almost identical. And so when the president talks about bringing democracy and freedom and liberty to the Muslim world, especially to the atocracies in the Middle East, too often that comes off as bringing Christianity to the Muslim world. And this is something that I think Muslims are very sensitive to, particularly because of the colonialistic experience. And this was an era only 100 years ago in which some 90 percent of the world's Muslim population was living under colonial oppression, which was very clearly expressed, not just as a quote-unquote, "civilizing mission," but also as a Christianizing mission. That sensitivity is still there, and so I think it's very important.
Nobody doubts the quality of freedom. Nobody doubts that democracy is a good thing and that it should be spread through the world. But I think that it's important to understand that there are more than one way to do so.
MR. RUSSERT: When Americans hear reports coming from the Muslim world about infidels and "We will destroy the infidels," do you believe that the Islam has been hijacked by radicals? Or, the thesis of your book, that there truly are reforms coming in place which are going to show the world that Islam is a much more peaceful religion than people have heretofore thought about it, at least in recent years?
PROF. ASLAN: Yeah, absolutely. I think from the American perspective, we can look at the events of September 11 and the aftermath as perhaps initiating some sort of clash of civilizations, to use Samuel Huntington's ubiquitous term. But from the Muslim perspective, what is taking place in the Muslim world is an internal battle between Muslims, a battle between those Muslims who, for the past century, have been struggling to reconcile their faith with the realities of the modern world and those Muslims who have been reacting to those realities by reverting to a "fundamentalist" version of their faith. And by the way, we see this across the board in all religions, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism. It's a natural reaction to secularization and modernization.
We are now living in the twilight of the Islamic reformation, and it's a reformation that is inevitable. Reform cannot be stopped. It can be slowed down. There can be obstacles placed in the way, and I think since September 11, there have been some obstacles and there has been a galvanizing of these fundamentalist forces, but the tide of reform is inevitable.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, when you hear political leaders, religion leaders say, "America is a Christian nation," as a Jewish American, how do you feel?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: I hear it this way, and this may be a companion piece to what Reza has just said. This is a country founded by Christians, a majority of whose citizens are Christians. But going back to the premise I spoke to before, those rights to life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness, which we have as the endowment of our creator, have been given to everybody. So though this is a nation that--the majority of which is Christian, I will say to you as a Jewish American that I believe in the 5,765 years of Jewish history, there has never been a country, other than Israel during certain times of its history, which has given Jews more freedom. The same can now be said of Islam and Buddhism and Hindus, etc., etc., etc. That's the glory of this country and, frankly, the grace and gift of the Christians who founded the country and who continue to be the majority within it.
And incidentally, I think this is an important message for us to convey to the rest of the world, because when--those rights that were in the Declaration of Independent, we didn't say that only Americans got this endowment from our creator. That's a universal declaration of human rights. And the best encouragement to people in the Islamic world outside of America, that we're not about Christianizing the rest of the world, is what's happened here in the United States of America. Everybody's got a right to choose. This is about freedom. And I'm very heartened by what Reza has said, and I do want to say that this war on terrorism, our enemy, which is not Islam--It is extremist Islamic terrorists--we are facing the first theologically based enemy in a long time. This is a theological war by a small group of Muslims, but they are inviting a reaction from the majority of Muslims, who Reza speaks for, and I think in the end, there is great hope in that for all of us.
MR. RUSSERT: Jim Wallis, you said this: "God is personal but never private." Explain.
REV. WALLIS: This God wants a relationship. Jesus said the very hairs on our head are numbered. This God wants a relationship, knows everything about us and wants a relationship anyway. That's an amazing thing. But why? To enlist us in God's purposes in the world. I'm a 19th-century evangelical, born in the wrong century. When Charles Finney was an evangelist in the 19th century, he invented the altar call. Why? To get the names and addresses of his converts, to sign them up for the anti-slavery crusade. So all the major social-reform movements in our history--abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, child labor-law reform and, of course, civil rights--were fueled by religion.
There is theocracy. There is fundamentalism in all of our religions. The answer to bad religion is not secularism, it's better religion. So prophetic faith always is the corrective. I see it now around the country. A whole generation of faith-inspired activists, a new generation, are really starting a new civil rights movement on poverty, on the environment. They want a progressive faith. They want to put their faith--they have personal faith, but not private faith. God--in the Bible, it's a public God; cares about justice and peace and equity and fairness. And this prophetic faith drives movements, and that's the best way for religion to shape a democracy, not by competing religiosities in the public square, but a moral discourse on politics. All Americans want our politics to have a moral compass. I see it all the time going on around the country. We're have a wide, diverse conversation with lots of young people who want their faith to shape public discourse.
MR. RUSSERT: I daresay that this Easter weekend, because of the Schiavo case, several things have happened. One, probably more living wills drawn up this weekend than any time in history. But secondly, there is this discussion of just who are we and what life is about and what role should God have in our life and what role should religion play in American politics. I want to go back to the situation in Atlanta last week, when the--Brian Nichols allegedly shot down people in the courthouse and then went to the apartment of Ashley Smith, and what transpired there as this young woman tried to talk some sense into this man on the run. This is how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked about it.
"Ashley Smith said that she read part of `The Purpose Driven Life'"--a book by Rick Warren which is now out--"to her captor, [alleged courthouse shooter], Brian Nichols. ...Chapter 33: `We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. ... Acting like a servant is not a popular concept." And then it went on. "`You're an angel sent from God to me,' [Brian Nichols] tells her"--Ashley Smith. "`I want to talk to you again. Will you come see me?'... `I believe God brought him to my door so he couldn't hurt anyone else,' [Ashley Smith] said."
Father Drinan and then Dr. Land and everyone, what are people to make of this? This young woman, this man, saying in the end, "I believe that God intervened and brought about, in effect, my surrender." And she quoted from "The Purpose-Driven Life." And how do we juxtapose that with this killing only hours and days before? Who was responsible for that? Who brought him to those kind of dastardly deeds?
REV. DRINAN: Well, she probably is a good theologian. God does guide our lives all the time, and St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, put that in all the constitutions, that God is present. We have God present in our very souls by the Holy Spirit. Remember at the Last Supper, Christ said to the apostles, "I will send the Holy Spirit to you and he will remind you of all of the things that I have taught you." God is reminding us all of the time. But in this complicated situation the simple answer is: Why don't we ban guns? Canada doesn't have this. They don't allow guns. And we have this aberration. Some people blame it on the Second Amendment, and that's not so.
And this would be a Judeo-Christian civilization that would say, "We can't have guns like that." Now, unfortunately, we have all types of people who are very disturbed. Why wasn't this caught earlier in his family or in a school? We don't have the answers. And at Eastertime we know that we're going to be saved. We know resurrection; that's why the whole world is rejoicing today. But aberrations like this have no explanation.
DR. LAND: Well, first of all, Rick Warren's book is a phenomenon. I know Rick. He's a Southern Baptist pastor in California. Twenty-one million copies, it's everywhere. I've read it. My wife's read it. Our church has read it together. I think that, you know, Ashley Smith showed Christian compassion to this man. And I suspect it may be one of the few times in his unfortunate life that someone really cared about him and tried to serve him.
Chuck Colson has told me in his prison ministry he's still shocked at the number of prisoners that they minister to, and it's the first time in their lives that someone has really cared about them and really valued them and sought to help them. And it seems to me that that is one of the central themes of the Christian faith, and of many faiths, that we are to help others. And I think that Rick has touched a nerve in this country. And the nerve is, we've sort of plunged the depths of self-worship in this country and self-fulfillment. And I think Rick has touched a core that Americans don't find the purpose and the meaning that they want in their own lives in that search for self-fulfillment, and they're finding that in serving others and in caring for others and in helping others, they're finding a purpose that they didn't find when they were looking at self-fulfillment.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Reverend Wallis, I can hear people watching, saying, "If God was there with Ashley Smith and with Brian Nichols at the end, if that was the angel being sent from God, then why did the bad things happen to the good people at the courthouse? Who was watching over them then?"
REV. WALLIS: We're all fortunate that our God is a God of second chances, third chances and more. It doesn't take responsibility away from what he did. He should be held accountable for that in his life. But God is a God of giving us a second chance over again. But the lesson isn't just personal and private again. It's public. We celebrate a movement today, not the growth of a church, the institution, but the growth of a movement. Jesus was a leader of a new order, the kingdom of God it was called, and he founded a new community. And as you point out in the Newsweek story, in this period the poor were welcomed and taken care of, women were made equal, racial barriers were broken down, the followers of Jesus wouldn't fight and kill for three centuries. This was a new movement with a new lifestyle, very attractive to a whole lot of people. It grew so quickly because it wasn't just personal and private, it was a social movement that gave us a purpose, not just for our lives, but for our societies. It changed everything about our lives and our nations. That's the power of this day, a movement, not a church or an institution.
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham?
MR. MEACHAM: I think that Job is a good reference point here because when that judge was killed in Atlanta and those other people, it's a perfectly reasonable question. You know, why didn't the angel-- was the angel busy and it took the rest of the afternoon to come to Miss Smith's apartment? Why wasn't he at the courthouse? And I think that is absolutely right. What God for the whirlwind says in Job is "You simply won't understand this. And just--you're going to have to endure, and perhaps one day prevail." And...
MR. RUSSERT: Is that why they call it faith?
MR. MEACHAM: That's why they call it faith is that we should endure so that one day we will prevail. I think the reason the Christian story is so strong and has resonated and has taken--become the world's largest faith is it is actually a case narratively where God kills his own child and the idea of sacrifice and atonement that he would be willing to finish the job that he tested Abraham on with Isaac. And so that at least in our imaginations we can imagine that God the father suffered pain and anguish through God the son, and that perhaps that human tragedy redeems ours.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, lots of discussion post-2004 presidential election that the Democrats want to embrace the values issues and show the American people they, too, are a party of values and morals. How do they do that?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope that we do it sincerely, and not take it on as another political issue. I mean, the fact--or a political strategy. The fact is that Democrats that I know and love, the majority are very religious, they believe in God. It's their--but there came a point in the history of our party where too many Democrats for various reasons began to be shy about speaking of their faith and America's faith as a source of values and good works.
And, look, faith-based movements across our history have created some of the greatest progress in our history. The abolitionists in the 19th century; early 20th century, the great fights for social welfare, child labor laws, all led by faith-based groups. And of course the civil rights movement did the same. So, you know, I say to the--you can't separate God from America. You go right back to the Declaration of Independence. We have to always remember that the Constitution, in my opinion, promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Washington reminded us in his farewell address that religion in a democracy is one of the sources of values we need, because in a democracy the state won't tell everybody what to do every moment. And I think Democrats have to give broader witness to that across the board, in dealing with poverty, in dealing with justice, in dealing with protecting the environment. And you know, this is the old Lincoln line, not to claim that we're on God's side, but to try very hard--I'm sorry, not to claim that God is on our side, but to work very hard to prove that we're on God's side. That's what it's all about.
MR. RUSSERT: I wish we had two more hours but we have to go. Thank you all.
We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Easter season 45 years ago, the role of religion in politics takes center stage as the nation considers electing its first Catholic president. During the final months of the 1960 presidential primary season, Democratic Party leader and former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson appears on MEET THE PRESS to weigh in on that debate.
(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, April 24, 1960):
MR. JOHN STEELE (Time and Life Magazine): Governor, there is one other issue. It's a rather dark and ominous one that seems to hang over the whole business of selecting a president this year. It's the issue of religion. Has this really got any place in the business of politics?
GOV. ADLAI STEVENSON: No. I suppose you--someone would ask me that question. I can only say about that, if I may take a moment, that I personally am deeply distressed, Mr. Steele and gentlemen, that there's been so much talk about religion in this campaign, in this primary period. One stops to think it was 300 years ago that the issue of religious toleration was settled in Protestant Rhode Island and in Catholic Maryland.
And there's another point I'd like to make about this that I think that perhaps we've sometimes overlooked in the discussion of the religious issue, and that it isn't relevant, it isn't even relevant to any of the great issues of our time, the issues of peace, the issues of disarmament, of arresting the progression towards lethal destruction in the world, of aid to the underdeveloped countries, of expanding our social services at home, of education, all of these things. There's not one of these issues which divides on the basis of religion.
And on the greatest issue of all, which is the greatness and the security of the United States, Catholics and Protestants are as one on this issue. There is no division on this score. I could say one other word and I thought about this on Easter day, that instead of talking about religion in this campaign, it would be a mighty good thing if candidates and people alike were to recall a prayer which is common to both Catholics and Protestants so far as I know. You know the one I mean, that may the words of our mouth, the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.
MR. RUSSERT: Forty-five years ago, and I daresay the same debate we'll be having 45 years from now.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS. Happy Easter.
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