There are three main streams in religious thought developing in the globalized world: Atheism, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam. Each is differentiated from the others by a fundamental principle of philosophy.
Atheism asserts that while human existence may be of greater dimensionality than that which we directly perceive, there is no basis for a belief in an extra-dimensional organizing being. Whatever organization appears to the human is the result of chance being propagated in an immensely complex universe. As such our lives are only meaningful to the extent that we believe they are meaningful. There is no objective reference to infer a purpose of existence.
The moral code of public Atheism is utilitarianism. The private moral code of the Atheist is a path calculation for the satisfaction of want. Thus, when the Atheist finds himself unable to convince others to act according to his wants, it is seen as a fault in not being more clever in his manipulations. The information campaign that accompanies the path planning of the Atheist is necessarily deceptive since otherwise, the achievement of the most good for the most people would at some point act against the private interests of the Atheist.
If, however, we assert the existence of an organizing being beyond our direct human perception it seems natural to conclude that our existence is given context and meaning in respect to this unitary being and that within that context our own human activity can be organized. The primary differentiation between Theism and Atheism among most people is decided by their need to rationalize the observed discrepancy between their intelligent existence and the inability of man to give meaning to that existence within the space of their perceived world. While the Atheist may accept the concept of human will, the Theist is able to accept that will can be free. It is therefore rational for the Theist to believe in moral responsibility as a coherent public and private code whereas this coherence would make no sense to the Atheist.
Between the two major Theist religions, there is a choice in moral code regarding causality. Should thought follow action or action follow thought? This choice defines the present distinction between the main lines of Islamic and Judeo-Christian thought.
For the Muslim, the moral code is distilled to a number of actions that are directed by the organizing entity. The objective of the individual is to comply with those directives and to compel others to comply. Proper action leads to proper thought. In this paradigm, the human thought is noncausal. It exists in order to perceive the actions that must be accomplished. Free will is only free to the degree that a choice exists between subservience and insubordination to the organizing being. Thus, awareness of the moral code is transmitted by revelation without the ability to judge the validity of that revelation. In all practicality, the revelation is a product of the coincident will of the most forceful elements of the adherents to enforce a doctrine.
For the Judeo-Christian, thought precedes action. The validity of the revelation is judged by human experience and reason. Hence it is a greater heresy for the Judeo-Christian to believe incorrectly than to act incorrectly. Free will also carries with it the freedom to believe inconsistencies. For the Judeo-Christian, the moral code emanates from thought and is transmitted through reason and mutual inspiration.
Our clash or civilizations between these three fundamental lines of thought will determine the future of our world and will be felt thoughout this next century in ripples of action-thought-reaction. Our success in managing the damage of these tidal waves of human thought will depend on our willingness and ability to understand and respect the nature of the differences.