Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Lessons of 9/11:What have we learned?

We are coming upon the 10th Anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  How one responds to tragedy say much about the individual.  For example, I have buried young men and women whose deaths were caused by drinking and driving.  Some of their friends learn from the tragedy and refuse to drink and drive; some, believe it or not, will mourn the death of the individual or celebrate the life of the individual by engaging in the same exact destructive behavior that killed their friend!  Tragedy is a part of life.  It is what we take from that tragedy and the lessons learned that are important; tragedy can change us for the better or can leave us reeling.

So what do I think are the lessons of 9/11?  First, radicalized forms of Islam despise us.  We can theorize why for years to come.  But the fact of the matter is that militant radicalized Islam hates us.  We did not need 9/11 to drive home that point; the World Trade Center was attacked before, there were the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, the bombing of the USS Cole, and about a million US flags regularly burned across the Islamic world that would have told us that the resentment and hatred run deep. 10 years later and 2 ongoing wars, we are still hated, maybe even more.  Hate runs deep and doesn't need to be reasonable.  It is not easily cured nor can be as long as those that hate wish to keep hating.  We cannot control another person's hate, but we can control ours.  But human nature is that we want to control another person's reaction and give free reign to ours. Initially we controlled out hate.  We didn't go out and mow down every Muslim in this country we could find; we didn't burn their homes or businesses; we didn't demonstrate in their neighborhoods.  We have not yet.  This speaks well for us.  However, as a society, we are more divided than ever amongst ourselves.  The infernal bickering and infighting that left us weakened before exists even more strongly today.  We need to remember that our strength comes from our unity; not a forced unity, but a willingness to look beyond the plethora of divisions we soothe day in and day out.  A divided country makes for an easy target.  The lesson to be learned in this is that if we expect to effectively ward off the attacks of those who hate us, then we will have to pull together, despite our differences of opinion, and see ourselves as fellow countrymen before we see ourselves as liberals or conservatives, or whatever other divisions we exploit amongst our own in this country.  We were able to do that immediately after 9/11, perhaps we need to make that a more permanent fixture in American life.

We also learned on 9/11 that all our power and wealth could not save us.  The terrorist were intentional on their targets: the World Trade Center, a towering glory to our financial wealth and power, the Pentagon, a testament and symbol of our unmatched military power, and presumably the White House (the presumed target of flight 93), the symbol of our government.  The message was simple, "Your power, wealth, and might cannot and will not save you."  Recently, the head of an atheist association, remarking on his objection of the Ground Zero cross's presence in the 9/11 memorial, said that how could we want a symbol of a mythical god who obviously didn't exist because if he had, then 9/11 would not have happened.  The problem with that is that we switched gods many decades ago, driving God out of the public square in the name of cultural diversity and political correctness, replacing him with the god we worshiped and power.  It was that idol that let us down.  It continues to do so.  We cannot push God's hand away and still expect His protection.  God is not some servant that we beckon when we need something and then dismiss from the conversation when guests come over.  Unfortunately, as a country, that is what God has become for us.  It is prevalent in our society.  We blame God when things go wrong and otherwise ignore Him.  God has let us make our choice, if we choose money and power, then that is what He will let us have until it shoots out of our collective noses.  Even though these idols have an extremely poor track record, worship them we will anyways.  This lesson has not been learned by most.  After 9/11, many people went to Church for awhile, but it dissipated rather quickly as they discovered why they quit going to begin with: they went for themselves, to be entertained, to be inspired, etc.  They didn't go to worship THE God, they went expecting the God to worship them...He didn't and they left again. Change was short lived and back to our over consumption we went.  I remember President Bush telling us to go out and consume after 9/11 to prove that the terrorist couldn't collapse us and our economy.  I remember thinking that certainly we proved our resilience when our brave cops, firefighters, EMTs and their chaplains rushed towards the collapsing towers to save who they could even if it meant they gave their lives.  I thought we did that when we withheld taking revenge in our own streets against our own Muslim population.  I thought we did that when , for a moment, we put apart all our petty differences aside as acted as a people. Bravery, mercy, and unity should be what defines us...and oddly enough each of these are supposed to be defining qualities of Christianity. These traits are seen in every young man and woman who signs up into the military knowing full well they will be putting themselves in harm's way.  Our nobility as a people comes not from our wealth or power, but in our courage, self-control, selflessness, and the actual living of our faith.  Our nation cannot continue its reckless pursuit of empty idols and expect any different result.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  There is debate as to whether Benjamin Franklin said this or not, but the words still ring true. We have learned that, complain though we might, in the end we are willing to surrender a great deal of privacy and liberty in the name of security.  Security lines at the airport have all the modesty of a peep show anymore; we remove items of clothing, allowed ourselves to zapped with radiation so that images of our naked torsos could be seen, limited what we could bring on a plane, and suffered other indignities at the hands of those who say they are protecting us. Big brother now has the ability to literally look in every nook and cranny of whomever they please.  Historically this has never ended well.  It will not this time either.

The sad fact is that America looks very much the same after 9/11 as it did before, except with a undercurrent of paranoia.  This Sunday we will remember the events of 9/11.  We will commemorate those who died...and we should.  We will remember the selfless sacrifice of the first responders...and we should.  We will hopefully pray for healing...and we should.  The best way though, I believe, to commemorate 9/11 is learning the lesson of 9/11 and becoming better people because of it. If we can pull together as a people, remember who is the God that actually does save, and become a people united in our bravery, strength, generosity, self-control, wisdom and virtue, then, and only then, can we rightly repay the bravery shown on 9/11.  Tragedy can either show our strengths or expose our weaknesses; it is our choice. For future generations, we would do well to chose wisely.

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