9-11— Ten Years After
I was reading the latest issue of CT (Christianity Today) which naturally enough had quotes from various Christian leaders about the impact of 9-11. The one that hit me the hardest and was most revealing was the one by my friend the good bishop Will Willimon. Here is what he said:
On 9/11 I thought, For the most powerful, militarized nation in the world also to think of itself as an innocent victim is deadly. It was a rare prophetic moment for me, considering Presidents Bush and Obama have spent billions asking the military to rectify the crime of a small band of lawless individuals, destroying a couple of nations who had little to do with it, in the costliest, longest series of wars in the history of the United States. The silence of most Christians and the giddy enthusiasm of a few, as well as the ubiquity of flags and patriotic extravaganzas in allegedly evangelical churches, says to me that American Christians may look back on our response to 9/11 as our greatest Christological defeat. It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the non-violent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross. September 11 has changed me. I’m going to preach as never before about Christ crucified as the answer to the question of what’s wrong with the world. I have also resolved to relentlessly reiterate from the pulpit that the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on their own terms by crucifying the Son of God.”
There is an old Swedish proverb that says ‘we are too soon old, and too late smart’. How true. The question for us today, is are we any smarter, or for that matter wiser, ten years down the road from the disaster of 9-11-01. On the one hand, it does not appear we are. We are still poking sticks in hornet’s nests in Muslim countries both those who have not really been our allies (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan) and those who have (e.g. Pakistan). And then of course we act surprised when we are not thanked for our unilateral interventions (by which I mean we went without an invitation) in those places.
It remains to be seen whether we have learned anything from ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ with its experiences in Afghanistan. When will we realize that if you spend billions on bombs, but next to nothing on desperately needed aid to countries we have blown up, we may have won the war, but we have lost the peace? I never thought I’d be saying this, but Ron Paul is sounding more and more sensible when it comes to our involvement in these places. Why should we view ourselves as the self-appointed policemen of the world? It’s a question we should definitely ask ourselves ten years on from the Trade towers burning to the ground.
Let’s think for a moment what we could have done domestically with the trillions we have spent in the last decade on these wars. For one thing, we could have completely rebuilt the infra-structure of this country— roads, bridges, major highways, the works. About now, half of New England needs such rebuilding. For another thing, we could have had full employment through various sorts of incentives and co-operative initiatives between business and governmental aide. Perhaps you older readers also remember the G I bill? We could have sent all our children to college or technical school— all of them, with the money we have wasted on those wars. Oddly, the smartest move we’ve made recently on the military front was just assisting with the Libya situation and not throwing a bunch of our boys in harm’s way on the ground.
But 9-11 was the beginning of something else as well. It sounded the alarm to those on Wall Street to ‘carpe diem’, and so in due course we had a financial meltdown as well with ridiculous profit taking, and shark like bond sales, not to mention completely unethical house loans being offered to people we knew couldn’t pay. So what 9-11 did to our economy is only increase the urgency of the most acquisitive and selfish (namely the uber-rich) to ‘seize the moment’ and make as much money as possible, knowing a crash and a rainy day was coming.
I think they must have been reading Ayn Rand’s manifesto entitled ‘the Virtues of Selfishness’. This word just in, there is no virtue in selfishness. It’s a good way to ruin our country. The scary thing is, the very nonsense of Ayn Rand we all rejected after reading all her novels and manifestos in high school, has resurfaced in the offices of politicians like Paul Ryan. Frightening. BTW, did you know Ayn Rand was virulently anti-Christian? Yep. My point is, she is no solution at all to our current economic woes.
A famous man once said those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. I agree with that, and we are trying hard to do a déjà vu without any good deja to view. It is no wonder acts of desperation like the Tea Party movement have arisen. Those folks know the house is burning down. Unfortunately, what they are proposing as solutions will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and in fact will just hasten the house burning to the ground, if by house we mean the country as a collective entity, as ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice and opportunity for all’. Frankly, one of the few things between us and the country deteriorating into a bunch of radically independent individuals and separated states is oddly enough the U.S. government and its regulations and their enforcement.
The problem in America is not too many taxes on the middle class or the rich. It is not ‘too many darn government regulations. It is that the ‘center cannot hold’. With the gradual abandonment of our Judaeo-Christian roots we have no spiritual or religious glue to hold us together, and a fuzzy commitment to tolerance, freedom, and free market capitalism is no substitute for some sort of credo that could actually bind us together. Shopping until we drop and malls are not the source of our salvation— ‘yea verily’.
What can we actually do to chart a better course that learns the lessons of 9-11 and our subsequent decline? Firstly, you will not be surprised to hear me say that the root of the problem is spiritual not economic or military or more generally political. This country needs a massive revival of its Judaeo-Christian heritage. Without it, we are only left with the vague notion of faith in faith or faith in ourselves, rather than faith in the one true God. And frankly neither of those two former ‘faithful’ dogs will hunt, because both are examples of narcissism and self-centered behavior. That’s not just the dog chasing its tail, it’s the snake eating its own tail and calling it tasty!
We have all seen the alternative to real faith-based thinking of the Biblical sort in the last ten years. It’s not generic faith-based thinking but rather fear-based thinking. Our country has been running on fear-based thinking for the last decade. Take for example the point of terrorism. Terrorism is the action of a minority that cannot win an open battle with a much bigger foe. So instead, its ploy is to strike fear into the heart of the enemy so they will colossally over-react and waste zillions trying to protect ourselves from what might happen. And guess what? They succeeded.
If you don’t think we have wasted trillions in the last decade colossally over-reacting, you haven’t been going through security at the Chittlin Switch airport recently. Even in Chittlin Switch we are spending millions ‘to keep us safe’. Shoot, we need more protection from our gun totting selves than from terrorists in Chittlin Switch. You catch my drift. Word Up! We have wasted trillions on so-called security, and in the process given up a ton of our precious freedoms. This is what fear-based decision-making does to a country—- how does that snake’s tail taste? Would you like a little more barbecue sauce with that ya’ll?
Oh yes, there are other things we could do to pull ourselves out of this malaise besides pray for revival. For a start we could stop buying things on credit. Yes, you heard me, stop shopping until we drop. Buy things when you have money to buy things. You want to get out of debt—live a simpler life. Stop living the life of conspicuous consumption. Stop thinking you are entitled to the life of Riley! You are not. You have to work hard for it. No one owes it to you.
Take a few moments to read my book Jesus and Money. It’s short, and direct and to the point. The nation will not get out of debt, until each of its citizens figure out how to get themselves personally out of debt. This problem is not primarily a problem with what is happening in Washington, it’s a problem with what is happening in our selfish little ole acquisitive hearts. And we for sure can do something about the latter. Washington is not the primary cause of our demise. We need to look in the mirror. As Pogo once said— ‘I’ve seen the enemy, and the enemy is me.’
There is an old 60s band named Ten Years After. They had lots of good songs which are apropos to our situation ‘ten years after’. One of them is entitled ‘I’d Love to Change the World’. In essence it says, ‘I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. So I will start by changing myself, rather than trying to change you.’ It’s still good advice. Get your own house in order, before you go marching on the House and the Senate and blaming high taxes for your problems when you live in the country with the lowest tax rate in any large Western democratic nation. Otherwise 9-11 will be the beginning of the end of a great democracy and no 911 call will rescue us.