Some thoughts on 9/11

The purpose of a good essay is to express some thought that might be original, or to restate another’s opinion in a more relevant fashion. That will be difficult today because of the sheer volume of commentary generated by this landmark happening. Much has been said and most of it has some value.

The recurring question is this, “Have we learned anything over the past decade?” The answer is “yes,” although what we have learned will be a bit unsettling if one considers it all in one big lump of misunderstanding. Today, we know no more about Islam than when the towers fell. That is a shame, first, because the nations that seem to most ardently dislike America appear to practice the Muslim faith and, second, because we Christians are charged with spreading the teaching of Jesus to every nation. That includes even difficult people such as those who follow Islam.

We have used superior military power against smaller  nations, and have, in one instance, done so preemptively and on the most flimsy pretext. This is not necessarily a case of being hijacked by George W. Bush and a bunch of Texas rednecks. Democrats would have probably done little better. Absent real leadership, the easiest course of action is always armed conflict.

Throughout all of this, we somehow cling to the transparent falsehood that the United States is a Christian nation. In fact, we worship at the altar of personal convenience, cheap energy, materialism, selfishness gone wild, and a superior attitude that is unworthy of a truly exceptional nation.

Christianity Today has a wonderful page devoted to “How Evangelical Leaders have changed since 9/11.” There is an essay from Will Willimon, presiding bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. I wholeheartedly commend it to your attention.

The silence of most Christians and the giddy enthusiasm of a few, as well as the ubiquity of flags and patriotic extravaganzas in allegedly evangelical churches, says to me that American Christians may look back upon our response to 9/11 as our greatest Christological defeat. It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross.

The particular brand of fanatics who did so much harm ten years ago today are notable because of their all-consuming bitterness and blood-thirsty desire for vengeance. In the terms of formal theology, they have a defective Eschatology. That is a doctrine that deals with the final things. For Christians it is summed up as the four last things; death judgment, heaven and hell. The obsession to get even tends to direct one away from the final outcomes of one’s beliefs. Settling scores takes the place of the good works which Christians believe we are created to perform.

It certainly goes without saying that a good many American Christians have been sucked into the very same kind of spiral of human retribution that is a prominent mark of some radical Muslims. Both sides have wrongly entered into the divine province of dishing out justice. Those who really profess a faith in Jesus should be consumed in being his people, his body in the world, and doing his works.

The United States certainly should have gone after bin-Laden and the other violent extremists, but we should also know that there are limits to national military reactions. How can Christians be salt and light when they are preoccupied with flag waving, cheat beating, and cheerleading that leads us far from the humility of The Man who brought us salvation by his death on a cross.

We refuse to think things through, or even admit we have not thought seriously about our national reaction to this terrible deed. We fail to consider that many Arabs have sincerely felt grievances with a world system that has left them impoverished and hopeless. Even the mention of dialogue is suspect in some circles.

Ten years after, there is too much emphasis placed on safety and not enough on freedom. We are manipulated by crafty power-grabbers who know how to fool around with human hearts and minds to make them do foolish things. Our enemies are a relatively small band of resentful and violent religious extremists. There is a real danger that too many Americans have given up on the future and have become a lot like those who wish our destruction.

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About patlynch
I am a broadcaster in Arkansas, a former freelance writer and political columnist in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Writing Coach. Speaker. Director of the Christian Foundations for Ministry program, and presently enrolled in the Anglican School of Ministry Master of Ministry program.

One Response to Some thoughts on 9/11

  1. Pingback: Patriotism and the ‘God gap’ | WCMA Blog

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