Did 9/11 really change us?

As we all know,this past weekend was a big one. I watched with much interest as the commemorations and memorials passed. My senses were especially heightened today due to five things:

  1. We put our the interview with Graham E. Fuller this past Friday.
  2. I heard an interview and read an article with a New York author who was asking a tough a question. “Did 9/11 really change us all that much?”
  3. Tony Jones wrote a blog that pointed out the danger of ‘memorials’ for history and our collective memory .
  4. The Republican Presidential Debates.
  5. Getting ready to start a new weekly radio show for Claremont School of Theology where this will be one of our first  questions.

I lived in New York state when the attacks happened. I drove home from the conference I was at to be with my congregation. That weekend I preached to the fullest auditorium I have ever seen and I preached the most prophetic message I have ever attempted. The following week I lost some of my congregants and that next weekend preached to a half-full auditorium.

As a student in religion at a University that is partnering with an Islamic and a Jewish center for study, the events of ten years ago are continuously on my mind. As a friend and brother to people who take seriously the critiques of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett … I am confronted daily by the effects of bad religion on our world.

 SO  I wanted to throw out some questions and get some feedback. Here are my questions:

  • As a country, are we less combative than we were before 9/11? Because we see the effects of violence?
  • Are our politics less contentious? Has it brought more unity?
  • Are we less Imperialistic? Making fewer enemies and giving less fuel to the terrorists?
  • Are we less consumeristic? Now that we see what really matters?
  • Do we have a deeper appreciation for people of other faiths? we have read their scriptures and visited their gatherings because we no longer want to alienated from the ‘other’? 
  • Do we know more about other faith traditions?
  • For those who believe that this is a ‘Christian Nation’, are we more sincere about following the way of Jesus? Those who proclaim the name of Christ have revisited and thus radically altered their previous posture? 

It seems to me that the answer to every one of these questions – however broad they may be – is overwhelming ‘no’. We have not changed. We are not a different country. We have not gone a different way. I am left to wonder if 9/11 changed us at all. One could make the case the we have continued of the same trajectory of Argument Culture politics, militaristic foreign policy, consumeristic capitalism, overspending both personally and in government, contentious religion and combative media coverage. I am not sure that much has changed at all since September 10, 2001.

My question in preparation for the radio conversation is twofold:

Am I wrong? Is there something I am not seeing?

Am I asking the right questions? If not, what are better questions?



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Tripp Fuller
Tripp Fuller

Thanks for checking it out Lee. Glad to hear you resonate with the forgiveness plan, Maybe it will become 'trendy'! A non-violent shock and awe campaign of grace.

Lee PB
Lee PB

I just recently found your podcast and I've only listened to part of a couple. Today I made it through about 20 min of the Sept 15 TNT on my commute. I have seldom encountered anyone, even Christians, in the last 10 years who believe that forgiveness and mercy would have been the correct Christian response to 9-11. Talk about change! If our national response to 9-11 had been, "we forgive you," it would have been the greatest possible blow to the efforts of terrorists and those who hate the U.S. Imagine if the "great, imperialistic dogs" had responded with love rather than conquest. How would Al Queda use that as a recruiting tool? "So, the great satan has, through its mercy and love, shown that it wants to live with us in peace and harmony. Arise brothers and let us attack this horrible and wretched nation that seeks to share life and joy with us!!!" If our nation had actually lived out the Gospel (or just the golden rule for that matter) after 9-11, that would have changed the world. It feels good to have found people of similar mind. Keep on keepin' on, gents! Peace and all good


A key question that most Americans don't know how to answer, or that we answer in a very naive way, remains, "why did this happen in the first place?" it's interesting that you mention the Republican debate. Having watched it now, I recommend zeroing in on the exchange between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Here's a summary from a Washington Post article: Presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) wrote a blogpost on Sunday entitled, “Ask the right questions and face the truth.” In it, the congressman said that the motivation for the attacks of 9/11 came not from a Muslim dislike of a Western way of life, but rather because the United States forcibly occupies foreign countries. “If you were to imagine for a moment how you would feel if another country forcibly occupied the United States, had military bases and armed soldiers present in our hometowns, you might begin to understand why foreign occupation upsets people so much,” Paul wrote. At Monday night’s GOP debate, Rick Santorum questioned Paul’s post and calling it irresponsible. “We were not attacked because of our actions,” Santorum said. “They want to kill us for who we are and what we stand for.” Paul disagreed, saying that the so long as we believed that, we would remain in danger. While some in the audience applauded, others booed. My Response: The rest of his platform aside, Ron Paul spoke the truth that the majority of American people still don't want to hear. This is the most important topic from a political standpoint surrounding the memorial of the attacks. Have lamented our imperial and militaristic tendencies, as well as tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths as a result of our invasion?

Gil George
Gil George

Let's be honest here the country did change. Instead of taking the opportunity to reflect the US has eliminated moderation from its public life. there is no socially acceptable middle-ground and the entire political system made a shift to the right. As someone who is pretty fed up with the corporatist right and left, I am saddened that no one asked honest questions of self-critique. Instead we went straight into blame, retrenchment and then instead of moderating ourselves we reacted by becoming a caricature of what we had been. The questions you ask are great ones, but I think may not take into account the changes for the worse that have occurred in terms of the degradation of civil rights, the increase of corporate power and the deepened committment to the idolatry of nationalism. Have we changed? Yes Is the change an entrenchment reaction to trauma? Yes Is the change positive? To quote a favorite professor h-e-double hockey sticks no! Gil

Da stand das Meer
Da stand das Meer

Bo, Of course you're asking the right questions. No doubt about that; these are discussions which simply have to be had. In this respect it's great to see Homebrewed offering the Joerg Rieger and Graham Fuller podcasts. I can't speak to the US issues, although you can read my thoughts on the commemorations from a multi-faith perspective (which I suspect has quite a lot in common with the exciting initiatives at Claremont) over at www.sdgmusic.org/bannister ('September 12th - on orthodoxy, mysticism and practical encounter'). But the question of how to enter into genuine dialogue with other faiths is a universal one, and it seems obvious that here there is a huge dividing-line between those who know experientially that God speaks to us as Other through the human other, and those of whatever religious stripe who believe that they are carrying God around in their pocket. Here it seems obvious that the fault lines don't run between religions but within them; in this context the content of doctrine seems far less crucial than the way in which doctrines are held (as permeable to dialogue or not). It's also clear that the resurgence of the New Atheism is connected to what you rightly identify as 'bad religion' and the fact that fundamentalist Christianity and its Muslim counterpart have emerged as the mirror image of one another, as Graham Fuller emphasized on his podcast. The fratricidal nature of their conflict is what makes their conflict so dangerous. Perhaps Michael Dowd over at Evolutionary Christianity exaggerates a little in regarding the New Atheists as God's prophets despite themselves, but he has a point; their polemical excesses shouldn't blind us to whatever is legitimate in their critiques. Consumerism isn't exclusive to America, nor imperialism (speaking as a Brit living in France!), and both die hard. Of course it is extremely hard to face up to the evils of these two because Western society still reaps the benefits of them big-time. Moltmann makes the point that the economic rise of the West is indissociable from the investment capital freed up by centuries of slave labour (and prolonged by Empire and the 'wrong' kind of globalization that Rieger pinpoints). Deconstructing something so foundational to the basic way in which everything runs is extremely difficult, although it has to happen eventually. The 'system of domination' which people like Walters Wink and Brueggemann, or René Girard have so rightly been trying to connect with New Testament notions of the 'powers', is self-perpetuating and has most of us in its thrall. 9/11 - or any other cataclysm/Global crisis, for that matter - should have been a wake-up call. But that involves repentance, and that we don't like, even if we know that ultimately it is liberating. Far easier to cling to the 'myth of redemptive violence', not realizing that IT is the genuine axis of evil... All the best for the radio show - will it be available outside Claremont?