Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, Part Two

    A cartoon in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly shows a couple watching news reports about sectarian violence in places like Northern Ireland and the Middle East. These are followed by a report about ministers visiting the White House and the president saying that religion holds the key to world peace. The cartoon ends with the couple, frustrated by the perceived inconsistency, desperately pouring themselves drinks. The belief that religion is the source of strife is not limited to editorial cartoons. It figures prominently in discussions about the events of September 11 -- discussions that often fail to make a vital distinction. One such discussion took place on the PBS program "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." As part of its effort to explore the spiritual lessons Americans took away from September 11, producers examined what they called "the potential for darkness within religion itself." One rabbi recounted his reaction to the attacks. He said he turned to someone and said, "This is what religion is really about . . . This is what religion really does." He wasn't alone, even among clergy, in this assessment. A Catholic priest and professor of theology spoke of the passion generated by religious belief. He said that this passion, which "motivates religious people to do great things is the same one that that day brought all that destruction." As he put it, "there [is] no greater and more destructive force on the surface of this earth than the religious passion." But it's unfair to talk about "religion" in general because nobody practices "religion." People practice Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, or another faith. Referring to "the darkness within religion itself" obscures the real differences between religions and obscures the facts of what actually happened on September 11, 2001. Now, I'll agree that people have done terrible things in the name of Christianity. Yet nowadays about the darkest thing American Christians do out of religious zeal is to say hateful things about homosexuals and others whose actions we disapprove of. While this is wrong, it cannot be compared to the terrorism of September 11. Even the most often cited example of "Christian" violence, Northern Ireland, has relatively little to do with Christianity. As Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times, among others, has written, the conflict in Ireland has much more to do with politics, power, and greed than with faith. Moreover, Christianity continues to provide a vital, humanizing influence all over the world in hospitals, public health works, schools, economic development, and relief, as even Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times. By contrast, radical Muslims started most of the wars being fought in the world today. The effect of talking about generic "religion" is to absolve Islam of its peculiar responsibility in the events of September 11. Ironically, it was a Muslim scholar on the PBS show who pointed out that it wasn't just any "religion" behind the attacks, but "Islam in particular." While it would be unfair to hold all Muslims responsible for the action of a small group, it's even more unfair to malign people of other faiths and treat their beliefs as equally dangerous. But that is what is happening, which makes the lessons that people are learning this week wrong, not only about Christianity, but about the real source of the threat to peace. For further reading and information: BreakPoint's "9/11 Worldview Resource Kit" answers questions many Americans are asking. It includes Timothy George's book Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, Chuck Colson's When Night Fell on a Different World: How Now Shall We Live?, and a "BreakPoint Weekend Special" CD including two interviews with Chuck Colson recorded after September 11 and a year later. Read more about the PBS program "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." Jim Tonkowich, "Speaking Out: Ten Things We Should Have Learned Since September 11, 2001," Christianity Today, 10 September 2002. Peggy Noonan, "Time to Put the Emotions Aside," Wall Street Journal, 11 September 2002. Patti Davis, "Renewal: Sept. 11 and how it left us," National Review Online, 11 September 2002. Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett, Christianity on Trial: Arguments against Anti-Religious Bigotry(Encounter Books, 2001). Daniel Pipes, "More Americans have been killed by militant Islamics than any other enemy since the Vietnam War," Jewish World Review, 9 September 2002. Nicholas Kristof, "Following God Abroad," New York Times, 21 May 2002. (Registration required.)


Chuck Colson


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