In three days it will be the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, and we can expect the press and television to be flooded with pieces about “what it all meant.”
In her column The Spirited Atheist at the Washington Post’s “Faith” section, “The sacrilized myth of 9/11“, Susan Jacoby objects to the “sacralization” of this event:
By sacralization, I do not mean the phantasms of those who see a crucifix in a surviving piece of metal among the ruins but an ongoing attempt, usually in religious but also in secular rhetoric, to elevate this event from one more chapter in the history of human evil to “the day that changed everything.”
This mass murder did not change everything; it changed only some things. And what it did change, it generally changed for the worse. . . . Memorialization rightly recalls the names and lives of the individuals who died so senselessly on that day, not because they were all heroes but because they were all human beings worthy of remembrance. Sacralization and mythicization, by contrast, look for some sort of sense and transcendent meaning where there is none.
Her objections range from George Bush’s odious pronouncement that “God’s purposes are not our own,” to President Obama’s speeh from the National Cathedral in Washington this Sunday.
They [Presidents] ought not to be addressing the nation from the altar of any church or assuring us that God is still here. That is the job of the clergy, for those who cling to belief in a benevolent deity.
It stinks that Obama has to give his speech from an Episcopal church rather than from the White House or another secular venue. There should be no privileging of religion in this issue, especially since Obama, in his inaugural address, gave a shout-out to atheists: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”
While she also decries the use of 9/11 to restrict immigration, she also mentions that it restricts dissent:
Sacralization mistakes honest discourse for sacrilege. On the one hand (let us call it the hand of left-wing political correctness), it is now considered at worst hateful, at best bad taste, to refer to radical Islam as one important actor in this event. We all know, don’t we, that “true” religion is always good.
Well said! It’s one of the salient characteristics of theologians, like those that infest BioLogos, that all faiths other than theirs are “improper” or “untrue.”
She goes on to channel Wendy Kaminer’s plaint, in I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, that Americans are almost revelling in their status as traumatized “victims:”
Another element in the process of mythicization is a bloviated exaggeration of the traumatic effects of 9/11 on those who experienced the event only vicariously. The farther you get from New York, which bore the brunt of the attacks and where most lives were lost, the more Americans seem to insist on their ownership of the insult to the national psyche. It is as if I were to claim that I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because, like millions in November 1963, I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on television.
Finally, what change really occurred on “the day that changed everything”? Only this:
“. . . we are an angrier, more politically polarized people than we were the day before 9/11? Our economic crisis is certainly a big part of the country’s sullen mood, but the two costly wars that can be directly traced to the emotions generated by 9/11 have exacerbated our financial problems. . .
. . . I do know that before we Americans do any more lying to ourselves about external attacks having changed everything, we need to ask ourselves honest questions about why the initial sense of unity after 9/l1 disappeared so quickly. That is not the terrorists’ fault and cannot be remedied by sanctimonious meditations about American suffering that was, for most Americans, second-hand suffering. But then, perhaps the psychobabblers are right, and stress from watching television has become as bad as being killed or breathing in poison yourself. That is certainly a subject for a sermon.
Let us by all means mourn the nearly 3,000 lives lost on that day, each a human being embedded in a network of love and caring, but let us also remember that it was faith—blind, obedient faith in Allah—that was behind it all. If you have any doubts about this, and share the fashionable view that the tragedy reflected only the dispossession of the oppressed, or the presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East, read Lawrence Wright’s absorbing but distressing book, The Looming Tower. That work, which won a Pulitzer, shows with palpable clarity that what happened on 9/11 had its roots embedded deep in radical Islam and its idea of jihad.
We watched the second plane hit, and the towers collapse, on a television in our lab.
h/t: Diane G