Faith in the Post 9/11 World

I came of age in the multicultural movement of the 1990s. We read Cornel West essays and watched Spike Lee … Continued

I came of age in the multicultural movement of the 1990s. We read Cornel West essays and watched Spike Lee films; admired organizations like City Year and Teach for America that brought diversity together around service; cheered Bill Clinton when he spoke of forming a cabinet that looked like America.

But there was a missing dimension in our discussion: religion. I can count maybe five times in the thousands of diversity discussions I had in college that the term even came up. What a failure to pay attention.

Looking back, the headlines of the 1990s read like a narrative of rising religious violence. Every time you turned on the news, it seemed like there was someone shooting a gun or setting off a bomb to the soundtrack of prayer. Here’s a brief, incomplete list:

The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, which signaled the rise of Al-Qaeda as a global force.

The assassination of Yitzak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, in 1995 by a Jewish extremist and

The bombing of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 by a Christian extremist.

The Balkans wars, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan (called, respectively, “the Hindu bomb” and “the Muslim bomb”).

Important academics emphasized the importance of this rising tide of religious extremism. In The Clash of Civilizations, the late Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington prophesied that conflicts between different religions would be the central theme of the post-Cold War era.

Still, many people failed to pay attention, believing that religion was spent as a social force. I remember telling an old high school friend in the late 1990s that I was starting an organization that brought people from different faiths together to build understanding and cooperation. He asked me why I had run off and joined the “flat earth society”.

September 11 was a horrific wake up call. Faith could kill in mass quantities, on live TV, in the center of the world’s most powerful city. Suddenly, no one was saying religion was done for. My friends who once laughed at the seeming irrelevance of the Interfaith Youth Core were suddenly asking me how I planned to grow the organization.

No doubt the last eight years has brought the social relevance of religion back to the center. But it’s not always a useful conversation.

I think public discourse about religion increasingly falls into three categories:

1) Religion can only be destructive. This is the discourse advanced by the so-called new atheists — people like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.

2) Religious communities are fated to fight. This is the simple version of the clash of civilizations theory.

3) Muslims are evil. If you look at the best selling books about Islam on Amazon.com, a scary number have titles or subtitles like: “Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom”.

Even more dangerous than ignoring the role of faith in the contemporary world is viewing it simply as an agent of violence, more fuel for conflict, or easy cover for racism. The truth is religion enriches the lives of the majority of the world’s population, and has been a central motivator in social justice movements ranging from the liberation of India to the civil rights movement in America to the struggle in South Africa. How come those dimensions of faith are not more prominently displayed in our public conversation?

The reason is sad and simple and all too common: the majority of us, whether faith is a part of our lives or simply something we respect in our family and friends, have forfeited the terrain to a minority of shrill, sharp, often hateful, occasionally dangerous, voices.

That religion is a powerful force is a fact.

That it can be a positive force is a belief — one that can only be made real by the voices and actions of people of good will, an ethos that can either be rooted in religious faith or a belief in human possibility.

About

  • screwjob

    Whether religion is beneficial for many or not is a fact offset by its degenerative results on a few. Peaceful believers should take responsibility for their violent brethren, for they come from the same seed.The underlying tools of religion – blind faith and dogma always have, and always will, bring out the irrational zealot in the species. Only by respecting rationality over faith will we escape this quagmire.

  • awatts1

    You have to understand the difference between religion and faith. Religion is a man made tradition that uses your works to please your “god” with what you do “for” him. Faith is believing what God said and trusting in it for salvation. The God of the Bible does not make you kill and does not reward you for killing. God came to earth as fully man to pay the payment of sin once and for all. All He asks is for you to trust the work of the cross for you salvation then read His word and let IT live THROUGH you. Not Israel’s religion or Mohammad’s.

  • Sentient1

    While nearly all religions of the world are based upon positive tenents, those of goodwill and kindness towards others, it’s the less preached dictates that are often used to enforce segregation and create division, often resulting in violence. Any time you have one group who’s told they’re the correct or “chosen” people, you enforce an us vs. them mentality. It are these negative and harmful statements (which exist to one extent or another in all of the contemporary religious texts) that will continue to act as theocracie’s Sisyphean rock.

  • justillthen

    Hello Wmarkw,I think that ‘strength in diversity’ depends on the environment in which it is in play. Clearly this planet is viable, in the way that it does support life, BECAUSE of it’s diversity. A basketball or football team is stronger because of the diversity of skills and abilities of teammates and staff. A single species or eco-system that is in the process of transformation, ( new and foreign species introduced and competing for resources, for instance), may not be in a state of strength, indeed could fail.Japan, like many other insulated and isolated, (so pure?) societies, went through several crisis points as it confronted unknowns. True for many cultures through history. Strength is not assured, in any way, by racial or cultural “purity”. Effective integration of the new is the key to effective change.

  • schaeffz

    Screwjob…you have it backwards. There are a certain percentage of humans who are genetically predisposed to be criminal. The most intellegent ones become dictators. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. found their way thru atheistic paths, while the various popes, mullahs, kings, and queens found their way thru religion. The existence of religion has nothing to do with this. I am “religious” and do not subsribe to blind faith and dogma. It is smart criminals who create dogma and impose blind faith who then commit their crimes, whether it is called Roman Catholic dogma or Soviet Socialist dogma. Evil is perpetrated by people, not religions.

  • Alex511

    fr chatard:>…It is why Obama put Patel on his ‘interfaith’ panel. to plead the Muslim case, because Obama likes Muslims more than Christians and Jews. In fact, Obama likes Black Muslims most of all. Louis Farrakhan is one of his favorites.<Prove it, with RELIABLE sources, not your brother-in-law's best friend's brother.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    Mr Patel has been on the “On Faith” long before Mr Obama became president, or even announced his candidacy (maybe). Proof:

  • Mary_Cunningham

    PS..But if just if Obama announced his candidacy before EP started contributing to WaPo “On Faith” for sure his thought process was: “Yes! I can do it! I shall win the presidency for the sole and express purpose of putting Mr Patel on “On Faith”. Of course he’s due to go on soon but why not take the credit. Some will believe I did it. Stupid types who don’t use the brains God gave them. “

  • Sentient1

    Funny, but I can’t think of one non believer, atheist, what have you, that’s blown themselves up a terrorist attack of any kind. Can any of you? I wonder why that is?

  • ccnl1

    “The Tamil Tigers have have been influenced by a Marxist/Leninist ideology which is largely atheistic and disavow any connection with the Hinduism practiced by many of the people the the region of Sri Lanka where they operate. The Tamil Tigers are engaged in a struggle for independence from the central Sri Lankan government.” “Guerrilla and terrorist group in Sri Lanka fighting since 1983 for a separate Tamil state against the majority Sinhalese community.”"Tamil Tiger Terrorists attack merchant ships carrying essential supplies including food, medical suppliers etc to civilians in Jaffna – LTTE terrorists have carried out a suicide attack targeting Merchant Ship Ruhuna and Nimalawa, in the north sea of Sri Lanka at 5.10, this morning (Oct 22), defence sources said. The attack is viewed as another cowardly attempt by the terrorists to deny essential supplies to the civilians living in war affected areas, the sources added.”

  • Navin1

    There is quite a rational wing of religious discussion, vizpersonal spirituality is a strong and important force in the motivations of people. Certain religions promote hatred through mono-ideological socio-political constructs that they are the chosen ones.Certain religions promote diversity through placing the personal spiritual above the social constructs.Though all men and women may be fundamentally the same, the historical record of ideology causing harm places Aztec, Nazis (as an extreme but not far out of line sample of christian politic), Turkish and Bangladeshi Muslims, and Communists into a singular and separate group to be studied with intensity as to what in their ideology is just so bad for humanity over and over again. – Each us may make a mistake, but it takes skill to make the same mistake over and over again.Another way to discuss religion is by euphemisms about faith and the beauty that faith brings to all of the world (unless you disagree with me, that is). Yet another:I And look, you can fill in the blanks differently than me and we can still get along because as Krishna says, believe in whatever ishtadevata (personal construct of god) you want, if you have faith in your heart, I will accept that as faith in me (the supreme being). This is no jealous god with an itch to destroy the pagan and the infidel, it is a mature God of Love. hariaum

  • WmarkW

    The other possibility is that the belief that diversity is a strength is a bunch of hogwash. Is Japan diverse? Was Sweden before the influx of Muslim immigrants? Iceland has the world’s highest Human Development Index and is about the least diverse place on earth.

  • coloradodog

    Religion caused 9/11 and continues to cause hatred, exclusion and intolerance resulting in anger and hatred in the world.Jews, Muslims nor Christians will not denounce their murderous terrorists be it Bin Ladin, genocide in Palestine or the murder of abortion doctors in the US. Abraham was the original Satan is and dancing a jig in delight over all the suffering and pain his divisive wedge issues of religious differences has caused. Karl Rove is his disciple who learned the lessons well and applied these principles to politics.

  • coloradodog

    PS: JJ, I used to hate you but now you annoy CCNL1 so much, I actually find you entertaining. Rock on, dude.

  • Spiritof761

    Authentic religion is always a positive social force; just the opposite is the case for hijacked forms such as Zionism instead of Judaism; Al-Qaeda instead of Islam; Rightwing Christian fanatics instead of Christianity; Hindu nationalism instead of Hinduism, ad nauseaum. Every authentic religion promotes peace,justice and truth. Hijacked forms do just the opposite. High time to end the hijacking and restore authenticity.

  • abhab1

    Eboo says:”That religion is a powerful force is a fact.That might be true of a spiritual religion. It does not apply for a primitive totalitarian supremacist ideology masquerading as a religion and whose ultimate goal is to dominate and subjugate the whole world.

  • trambusto

    I enjoyed your article and the optimism. Thank you!

  • TexLex

    “primitive totalitarian supremacist ideology masquerading as a religion and whose ultimate goal is to dominate and subjugate the whole world”Oh, come now. Not all evangelicals are like that.

  • chatard

    Putting in here that a Jew killed a Jew is gratuitous, has nothing to do with religious violence. It is meant to take the heat off Muslim extremists, who kill by the thousands. It is why Obama put Patel on his ‘interfaith’ panel. to plead the Muslim case, because Obama likes Muslims more than Christians and Jews. In fact, Obama likes Black Muslims most of all. Louis Farrakhan is one of his favorites.

  • TarheelChief

    The poor religious leaders do not know what hit them.Their tenuous hold on their congregations remains a serious problem for finding the positions of their faith.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    As is so often the case, Patel omits, distorts, evades.Notably missing from his list are Danny Perl, among other Jews, slaughtered like cattle by Muslim extremist because they were Jews.Notably missing are Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29 and his pregnant wife Rivka Holtzberg, 28, along with 38-year-old Leibish Teitelbaum, 50-year-old Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, Yocheved Orpaz, 60, and Bentzion Chroman, 28, all torturted to death at Mumbai, specifically targeted by Muslim racist terrorists who carried directions to their home with them.Thes murderers slaughtered the eight-month pregnant Rivka, along with all the others, in front of her four-year old son, who was carried out covered in his father and mother’s blood by his nanny.Notably missing are they from Eboo’s list.Notably missing from Eboo’s pontificating are the threats to New York Jews from lunatic, racist Muslim extremists for four decades, and the failure of the US government to stop them.Patel should go to John Mark Reynolds’ thread, and read his comments on this.

  • ainnbeen

    A healthy discussion. Diverse point of views. There are some point seem worth to describe here:

  • Kingofkings1

    For the record,

  • JUSTACOMMENT

    SPIRITOF761,You wrote: “Authentic religion is always a positive social force; just the opposite is the case for hijacked forms such as Zionism instead of Judaism; Al-Qaeda instead of Islam; Rightwing Christian fanatics instead of Christianity; Hindu nationalism instead of Hinduism, ad nauseaum. Every authentic religion promotes peace,justice and truth. Hijacked forms do just the opposite. High time to end the hijacking and restore authenticity.”Zionism, Al-Qaeda, Rightwing Christian and Hindu Nationalism got life and credence from the original brands. They are not unequivocally and consistently condemned by the franchise owners because sometimes they execute the dirty work that the owners need done but they don’t want to dirty their hands directly. Historically most religions have not been always a positive social force, don’t fool yourself. Did you watch Islam celebrating Al-Qaeda eight years ago? Have you seen a formal declaration by Christianity that Rightwing Christian fanatics are a cult and do not deserve a tax exempt status.

  • Kingofkings1

    Strength through diversity has been the way for the great powers in the past and present.

  • ThomasBaum

    Sentient1 You wrote, ” Any time you have one group who’s told they’re the correct or “chosen” people,”"Chosen” does not mean correct or better or anything of the sort, it means chosen and the Jews were not only chosen but were also formed by God.The Jews being the “Chosen People” is just part of God’s unfolding Plan which God has had since before creation and God’s Plan will come to Fruition.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    coloradodogYou wrote, “Religion caused 9/11 and continues to cause hatred, exclusion and intolerance resulting in anger and hatred in the world.”Actually, people “caused” 9/11, people thru the ages have used many reasons to “justify” their actions, religion being just one of them.Even tho the god of islam is satan, there are many Muslims that would never use their beliefs to justify actions such as these.Even tho islam is for world domination thru a “theocracy” even tho the god of islam is not god, not all Muslims want to force their “religion” on others.Jesus did not come here to set up a “theocracy” and yet there have been quite a few that have tried to do this, supposedly in His Name, and yet Jesus did not speak of this but did speak of the “Good News”.The “Good News” is for ALL, that is why it is “Good News”.As I have said: God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof and It is important what one does and why one does it and what one knows.There will be many of all persuations, so to speak, that are in for quite a shock.You also wrote, “Jews, Muslims nor Christians will not denounce their murderous terrorists be it Bin Ladin, genocide in Palestine or the murder of abortion doctors in the US.”I would hope that you do not believe that this “blanket statement” is true, because it is not.You also wrote, “Abraham was the original Satan”This also is not true, satan is not a human being and has never been a human being but satan is real and satan is a loser, a sore loser at that.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • rednova

    Hey FarnazMansouri (A Jew with a sub-cover of a Muslim sounding name):Its clear you only care about your own little clan which make up less than 1% of the worlds pop. to the detriment of 20% of the worlds population, i.e. Muslims, which you attempt vainly and venomously to paint as evil and terror-loving with caricature examples ignoring the vast majority of decent people.If you had an ounce of fairness in your biased, my-tribe-is-best attitude you’d come to the realization of any sane person that: In every tribe, religion, and group there are good people and bad people. Period!

  • maq1

    Thank you, Eboo, for another great piece. I appreciate the work you do to remind us all the power of religion as a peace-making force. I’m skeptical that we can stop the appropriation of religion by political forces bent on conflict. But neither can we stop the spread of sickness and disease, and still we have doctors. We can make progress through interfaith initiatives that acknowledge our differences but celebrate our similarities. As an Muslim, i’m particularly appreciative. Keep up the great work.

  • macnietspingal1

    I’m determined to get access to Dr.Uri Rubin’s HAQURAN published in 2005 which is kept from us poor people. Why isn’t that available at Amazon in paperback. This truly Interfaith Intelligence can then be Mechanized so all Hebrew knowledgeable/Semitic language folks and all Doctors of Divinity, rich and poor alike, can have the most 21st century information available in matters of the politics of Interfaith. Until then, there is no such thing as Tikkun Olam. That is the only way it can be done for me as a US taxpayer. Jeff Benner’s Mechanical Translation of Genesis and Exodus has already helped me and my kids to fastforward our communications with each other. Jeff is so busy taking care of Chumash for all of the Olam that he just doesn’t have time for HAQURAN. Do you think David Rohl and New Chronology can help me? How about Bible Archeology Review? Would be just like a Rosetta

  • ccnl1

    And again Farnaz forgets to mention those who were one of the first groups to practice killing/slaughtering their enemies. i.e. the followers of Judaism as graphically depicted in the OT. Said activities no doubt give/gave credence to the followers of Mohammed and Jesus to do the same. But then Farnaz is a Jewish atheist and thereby renounces Judaism as being a sometimes brutal religion as noted in some of her original commentaries on these pages.

  • BlueDogma

    I have two issues with your article. One is that you make declarative statements without providing a proof source; for example, “The truth is religion enriches the lives of the majority of the world’s population.” The second is that you itemize three categories of public discourse but missed a fourth – those who attempt to find common ground such as Francis Collins biologos.org. The underlying problem in any such religious considerations is that all religion is clearly a form of story-telling rather than a factual accounting. So while to suggest that religion serves some form of enrichment is true on the same level as reading Harry Potter, it isn’t clear that it does any better job than secular outreach which is not motivated by religious belief. Why not move the discussion from unprovable religious dogma that can cause violent conflict to common secular themes that many may be able to adopt without fear of some otherworldly retribution or reward?

  • coloradodog

    Here’s how Islam “enriches” some people’s lives:AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) — A 12-year-old Yemeni girl, who was forced into marriage, died during a painful childbirth that also killed her baby, a children’s rights group said Monday.Abrahamic religions have caused more pain, war, torture, exclusion, hatred, misogyny, and exclusion than they have “enrichment”

  • coloradodog

    Religion can only be destructive. This is the discourse advanced by the so-called new atheists — people like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.One does not have to be an “atheist” to know this. “People of faith” use the tag “atheist” for anyone who disagrees with them like Huckabee Republicans can only call anything and everything they don’t like as “socialist”

  • Nosmanic

    I’m sorry but religion is for the fanatics. I was talking to my school advisor, that I have started to talk to, about a religist thoughts I had rare now-a-days for me and she asked “what about joining a bible study?” And I told her that “a hear that’s a big mistake” I went on to say that probably some leader there will tell me that all liberals are baby killers. The last thing I need is finally sever the last, of my, tolance to religion. I don’t want to get to the point where I can’t willingly walk into a church. And this is the way the religist like it.

  • tamanah1

    More examples of why Amazon.com has many top selling books that may be anti-Muslim: Pakistan army involved in numerous extra-judicial killings (and they have the nukes), NY cops raid 3 homes to prevent another Muslim terrorist attack/s, Muslims killing innocent civilians on a daily basis in different parts of the world…

  • Navin1

    It think muslims and christians that want open mindedness from others should first expunge all references to infidels and pagans from their scriptures. You know the ones that says those people are evil and deserve to be tormented.Then they can talk about others who are always talking about the evil muslims. After all I am one of those evil infidels, pagans, heathens, idolator, etc. If they stop calling me evil because their ideology tells them to, I might just stop pointing out their history. hariaum

  • edbyronadams

    Religion can be a force for good. Without internal controls, human societies devolve into legalistic messes. Substituting the imposition of state control through laws for internal controls of right and wrong is an inefficient expensive nightmare.That said, there are criteria for judging religions. Does it make believers life better here on earth? Does it divide people into believers and non believers and prescribe different treatment for each?Using these simple judgments, Islam does not fare too well.

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