Blaming religion for Sept. 11

A dual challenge many adults face this week is how they remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001 privately, and … Continued

A dual challenge many adults face this week is how they remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001 privately, and how they will explain what happened that day to children.

We discussed this issue (and others) in Tuesday’s video Q&A on ethical and moral issues in the news, which is embedded below. But I was unable to to address one great question due to a technical blunder on my part, so I have posted it below. It’s worth reading and responding to.

The question was based on a comment posted on the On Parenting blog. The blog post discussed how we should teach Sept. 11 to children, and the commenter wrote:

“Tell them the WHOLE truth. Throughout history, various religions have committed atrocities in the name of protecting their society. … The 9/11 attacks were simply the latest in a long history of religious terrorism by many religions.”

I was asked how I reacted to this impulse to blame religion.

My reply: Yes, we need the “whole truth,” though I am not sure the questioner will like my understanding of what that is.

Read on after the jump …


My short answer: religion drove those planes into the building. It’s painful to say, especially for a person of faith, but it is we who need to say it most. And, at the risk of being even more provocative, it is Muslims who need to say it the most among those who are religious.

There is a long history of hate and violence being done in the name of God, and failing to admit it means failing to fix it. It is not about one particular faith; it is about fanatical faith which sees its way as the only way. Any time that happens, we all suffer. But that is only part of the story.

As much as we must admit that fanatical faith has spilled the blood of millions over the centuries, it must also be admitted that as many were killed in the name of faithless ideologies in the 20th century, as all those killed in the name of God during the previous 18 centuries put together. Think I am wrong? Just repeat these three names: Hitler, Mao and Stalin.

So it’s not as simple as either those who defend faith or those who attack it would like to believe. Ultimately it’s about whatever fires up people’s absolutism, and the presumption that if we just get rid of some other group – racial, ethnic or religious – all of our problems will be solved. It has never been so, and it never will be.

And finally, it would be helpful if people — especially those who are most adept at pointing out the bloody history of religion — were equally adept at pointing out that no force has been as good at inspiring the most selfless, compassionate and healing acts as religion has. It’s really not about the faiths, it’s about the faithful.

Religion is like a fire – it can warm our homes and cook our food, or it can burn those same houses down and take a great many of us with it. It’s up to us. That’s what I’ll be thinking about and teaching about this Sunday, and every other opportunity I have.

The rest of the Q&A

Our live discussion also addressed the issue of financially strapped states such as Rhode Island considering sharp reductions in benefits for retirees, as well as for current workers. Is that legal? Is that ethical? Is balancing the budget at the expense of already-retired workers an ethical course of action for governments?

The answer to the first question seems to be yes, and so does the answer to the second two – if addressed very carefully. We as a society cannot expect to address our current financial woes on the backs of public sector retirees, but neither can they simply insist on collecting benefits based on facts which no longer exist.

Both sides need to come together, not to debate what it absolutely right or legally defensible, but what is practical and good. That is the ethical response – the one which will require give on both sides and keep state’s an local municipalities for simply hiding behind newly enacted bankruptcy laws.

The discussion moved on to Washington Post-ABC News polling which indicates that more than 60 percent of Americans disapprove of President’s handling of the economy and his overall approval ratings stand at new lows. But approval and success are not necessarily the same thing, unless the only measure of success is securing a second term.

People want to blame someone, and it’s easiest to blame the guy at the top. While President Obama certainly bears some large measure of responsibility, the issues which affect our economy are bigger than any one man or office. The President gets no free pass, but neither should anyone imagine that fixing things will be as easy as changing who sits in the Oval Office.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • mystupidlife

    Faith is not always the catalyst for right action, regardless of faith’s name. It is were, we’d stop repeating the same mistakes that set hate as a precedent for the next generation.

    A Muslim boy who was 7 on 9/11, is seventeen now. He, too, has suffered from the aftershocks of that day. He lived through a decade of stories filled with grief, war and death; and all were displayed in an undiluted manner.

    Changes did not only take place in his body, but in his mind. He entered into manhood innocent and unprepared, but Islam marked him, at least to himself, as singular, selected, and strange.

    His religion became more visible and an entire way of life became hard to conceal. Later feeling rejection by the others- for being the other- the young man feels he needs to come to terms with his Islamic and American roots. In his emotional extremities, he wonders if he must embrace his religion or discard it, unconvinced that he can have one, without compromising his commitment to the other.

    There has been considerable pressure to understand his world as a dangerous, dishonorable place. A lot of the blame is placed on who he is. He feels blamed for what he believes.

    The average American Christian never really has to considered his own group membership. For him, this identity is simply the unexamined norm. He can easily reach adulthood without thinking much about his religious group at all. Not so with this Muslim boy. When viewing himself as a group member his self-definition feels threatened, making the paradigm shift from an individual to a group member continues to be painful. As he’s growing up, the daily challenges of living in a society that rejects Islam is increasing. Even when his few American friends are willing and able to listen and bear witness to his struggles, they cannot really share his experience.

    The wounds of that day found its place in all sorts of unexpected places, even in a young Muslim’s personal history. These wounds have left scars that he carries around

  • mystupidlife

    We must advance advocacy as more than a theoretical concept in order that young Muslims voices be directed toward constructive activities by way of political advocacy and civic activism.

    Basic to this issue is that most community programs have dealt with the end results of delinquency-not the sources. We must broaden our attack and focus constructive energy on prevention, by admitting our lack of control and apathy in the past.
    The prevailing current of mass indoctrination have gone relatively uninterrupted, while overseas “in-house” Muslim thinkers have taken upon themselves to define how American Muslims should structure their lives here at home, and relate to their fellow countrymen.
    The words they use and actions they advise, goes directly to loaded matters like revolutionary suicide and maximum destruction of enemy elements.

    Though, no one can attest that this point has not been discussed, it is a point that has not been taken up by the majority. This omission is not likely to go unnoticed as long as there are threats to the safety of innocent human beings.

    The national Muslim debate has not addressed, with any proficiency, the makers of the madness. We are more than a day late in recognizing our own enslavement to passivity during the past decade of morbid indoctrination. It would appear these words of indoctrination, have been regarded by a large part of the “mainstream” Islamic leadership as so trivial that it hasn’t warranted their consideration and immediate intervention, or else so obvious that no one clever and enlightened needs to speak of it. At minimum, this is one continuous blunder.
    Radical indoctrination, depends on the demolition of a person’s spiritual and moral perceptions just as much as his mental destruction. The person who perceives his own existence as the primary purpose for carnage restraint, has been brainwashed with to adapt a thought process of ideas which cannot fail, but to lead to his own destruction, as well as others, unless there

  • SODDI

    Then Islam is kind of a gang, like the Bloods and the Crips?

  • Rongoklunk

    The boys of 9/11 were very devout religionists. Only religionists believe in an afterlife – and only religionists would fall for something as ridiculous as 72 celestial virgins waiting in Paradise as a reward for martyrs.

    For many of us religion is about as absurd as it gets, and ideally we would be laughing at religious maniacs. But as most Americans are just as irrational as the 9/11 terrorists, believing as they do that there’s a heaven somewhere up above the clouds – with a god in it, we can hardly laugh at these irrational martyrs who gave their lives for a religious belief which made mo sense at all.

    The martyrs were no crazier than most Americans, just believers in religious twaddle, like most Americans. Religion is based wholly on lies and ignorance, and makes people do crazy things. As far as we know there are no gods and never were.

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