I’ve been thinking about what to say about 9/11 for most of a month. Most of what has come to mind is a list of things I don’t want to talk about. Yes, the attacks were awful. Yes, I feel very bad for the people who died and those who lived through it. Yes, I think the police and fire department were heroes. Yes to all of that.
But that’s not what I want to reflect upon. Neither do I want to reflect upon the religious leanings of the hijackers. Instead, I want to think aloud about the effects American religion has had on Americans since 9/11.
- I feel sorry for the Catholic families of 9/11 victims who chose to jump out of the buildings rather than burn to death. How awful must it be for them to grapple with the Catholic doctrine that suicide is an automatic sentence to hell! Not only do they have to deal with the grief of losing a loved one, but they now have a lifetime of believing that their brothers, fathers, mothers and sisters are suffering the eternal punishment of a God who loved them so much that he sent them to hell for choosing the way they would die.
- I feel a sinking feeling every time I watch a baseball or football game and have to listen to “God Bless America.” I reflect on the history of religion insinuating itself into public life in such a dramatic way: In 1864, in the depths of the Civil War, “In God We Trust” was first added to our currency. In 1954, “Under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance, as a response to our collective fear of the red menace. I despair at the exploitation of suffering to blur the lines between state and religion.
- I feel sorry for those who were brave enough to question the motives of our leaders, and to publicly doubt the veracity of claims about WMD’s. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Michael Moore, who was right about the Bush administration’s deceptions, but had to live for years with nine Navy Seals as bodyguards everywhere he went. I wonder how much of our blind support for Bush the Younger came from his frequent invocations of God’s will.
- I am saddened that 9/11 has polarized our country to the degree that American Atheists’ attempt to remove blatant religious artifacts from the Memorial Museum elicited hundreds of death threats and thousands of the most hateful comments imaginable.
- I am appalled that Dominionists — with the exact same political agenda as Islamic extremists in countries like Pakistan — are the leading candidates for the Republican Nomination for the presidency.
If anything, America has been very lucky with regard to terrorist attacks. The September 11 attacks were dramatic and deeply symbolic, and yes, there was great loss of life. Nevertheless, in the last 35 years, the total death toll from Islamic terrorists in America is around 3,000. The odds of being struck by lightning in your life are about 1 in 10,000. Given the current U.S. population, your odds of being the victim of an Islamic terrorist are 1 in 104,000.
When I think back to 9/11, I realize that the terrorists have won. That is… if we acknowledge the true identity of those who have successfully terrorized Americans for the past decade. Paul Wolfowitz, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Republican Conservatives who have terrorized us to the point of allowing ourselves to be strip searched anytime we travel by plane — these are the terrorists. And they have won. The fact that we still have “Terror Alerts,” and that we are always made aware of the color of our current threat indicator means that the terrorists have won.
We have lived every day since 9/11 in a world where we fear the worst possible thing that could happen, and are willing to give up any freedom to ensure that it is prevented. Religious leaders have blamed the attacks on gays, on atheists, on liberals. They have told us that God will protect us if only we turn away from our sin and allow the same kind of theocracy in America that spawned the Islamic extremism in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. We have somehow come to believe the lie that if we genuflect before the correct religious icon, have sex with only our heterosexual married spouses, have every baby we conceive, and say grace before meals, that our economy will magically recover, the terrorists will never attack us again, and America will be the greatest nation on earth.
In short, we have almost completely separated our political agendas from the realities of economics. Ask an average American how to fix the country, and you’re just as likely to hear about morality as job creation. We have substituted religious ideology for science, empirical data, and the crazy notion of emulating other countries with the kind of employment and income figures we’d like to achieve. We believe that teaching children about Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden will save us. And all the while, four hundred people grow richer and more powerful by exploiting our collective lunacy.
So today, I am remembering 9/11, but in place of sympathy for several thousand people who suffered greatly a decade ago, I feel utter despair for the 300 million Americans whose lives today are demonstrably less prosperous, less healthy, and more fearful than they were a decade ago. I fear that we have passed the point of no return, and that the fear mongers — the true terrorists — have convinced us of the lie that the Islamic terrorists were ever the true enemy.