Ten years ago today, a small group of men armed with box-cutters believed they were serving their god by hijacking planes and crashing them into a couple of buildings in New York.
I was at Bible college, just getting to my first class when I heard. I hate to admit it, but the class was Men’s Chorus. I was a music major and so that was a fairly common elective.
I remember how all through that day and the weeks that followed we prayed. For our country, for those who lost loved ones, for the police and firemen who served and were lost. And for our leaders. We talked about it in many of our classes and got updates in every other chapel service.
It never once occurred to me that most everyone on those planes were also praying. Including the terrorists.
They each prayed to their different gods, and in response so did most of us, and to be honest, the only solace I get is when I realize none of those gods were honored that day. None of them failed.
Gods had nothing to do with this tragedy. Men did. Men with box-cutters and a fiercely held (clearly irrational) belief system.
Sam Harris wrote in his Letter to a Christian Nation;
“I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.”
So with all the special 9/11 messages in church this morning, in America and all around the world, and all the special 9/11 prayers and memorials, and all the people saying “God Bless America” to each other as if their idea of god is compelled to act whenever we enunciate such a colloquialism, do you really think more religion and prayer and belief is what we need?
Or is it time to finally value evidence?
I’m writing this on September 11, 2011, as a post-Christian, as an ex-minister. And while the events in New York ten years ago played little role in my de-conversion, the catalyst of my movement away from organized religion now gives me a clarity of focus with which to view the terrorist attacks. That catalyst is Reason.
I’ve seen dozens of people arguing about how we should conduct ourselves on this occasion, and many others coming to near-blows regarding whether or not a cross should be erected at the memorial. I’ve watched friends stop speaking to each other over differing opinions on the role religion has played in terrorism, and all the media hype leading up to this weekend has only brought all those emotions to a head once again.
And I have to wonder, do any of this nation’s devout believers understand that those terrorists were devout believers as well? Does anyone who is praying for our country to be made whole or for our army to stamp out the foreign threat — do any of those people also realize that just a few hours more than exactly ten years ago, those men more than likely prayed for success and favor before producing their box cutters and taking over those planes?
Can we not look back into the history of Christianity and find not a mere tenfold, a hundredfold, but tens of thousands more casualties at the hands of Crusaders, Inquisitors and Conquistadors?
Are we not yet convinced that more prayer, more devotion and belief are avenues we have been down time and time again with predictably similar results?
In a thousand years, will this become a story where Muslims look back and say that Allah showed his might on that fateful day? Or will we, as a human race, have finally moved past the idea that bloodshed ever coincides with morality?
Reason tells me that death doesn’t make up for death. Evidence tells me that not all Muslims celebrate terrorism, in fact, most do not. But the number of religious supporters of our so-called War on Terror in the face of the many thousands of non-combatant casualties we have caused, frankly staggers me. The facts suggest that this whole War on Terror is an unbelievably expensive lark, a decade long campaign bombing the wrong countries more often than not, and costing more soldier’s lives than those lost in the initial offense.
Here’s another startling fact I learned just the other day: Eight non-combatant Americans died last year as a result of terrorism. Compare that to the twenty-nine that were killed by lightning. Reason tells me that maybe we should re-evaluate our world-view with respect to these matters.
John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who writes prolifically about fiscal policy regarding the War on Terror, has been quoted as saying, “The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bath tub each year.”
The threat has been overstated. The root of the problem has been conflated and generalized. The effects both on personal lives and to our military have been astronomically exaggerated to the point that many Americans feel at any moment, somehow, the terrorists could ‘win’ and take over our country and force all of our women to wear burkas and make us all pray five times a day facing Mecca.
In the very least, Reason tells me that more religion is not the answer we need. Einstein is often quoted as saying that doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
Honestly, let’s try Reason for a change. Let’s include some non-religious points of view in this discussion. Because if you think that the end of the world or the death of infidels or the torment of sinners for all of eternity is the happy ending that your religion is leading towards because it says so in your holy book, then maybe you don’t belong at that table.
Maybe the people we should turn to for a way forward should be those whose interest is improving relations between cultures because we believe this world, this life, is all we have, and that makes it precious. Maybe it’s time to stop doing the same thing year after year, war after war, century after century, era after era, and expecting different results.
Maybe it’s time we take the good religion has to offer but firmly stand our ground when our leaders suggest we simply pray for peace and hope for the best. Maybe it’s time we elected men of action and conviction whose way forward involves not hopefully kneeling to whisper to some invisible agent to help accomplish the job they were elected to perform, but men who at least have a plan laid out for consideration with real steps and reasonable promise of success.
Closing our eyes and wishing for the best has gotten us exactly where we are. For Reason’s sake, why don’t we get off our knees, open our eyes and do something to make the world a better place right here and now. This is the world that blind faith in our leadership has lead us to. Do we really think blind faith is prepared to lead us out again?
Ten years ago today, a handful of men proved their faith in the ultimate way and that cannot be undone. It’s time we put our faith in Reason for a change.