9/11: A Loss of Innocence?

Reflecting on the events of 9/11, one veteran journalist called the events of that day “a loss of innocence.”  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the primary connotations of the word innocence (from the Latin, innocentia) are:

1. Freedom from sin, guilt, or moral wrong in general; the state of being untainted with, or unacquainted with, evil; moral purity.

2. Freedom from specific guilt; the fact of not being guilty of that with which one is charged; guiltlessness.

3. Freedom from cunning or artifice; guilelessness, artlessness, simplicity; hence, want of knowledge or sense, ignorance, silliness.

4. Of things: Harmlessness, innocuousness.

I assume she had in mind the second half of item one: “the state of being untainted with, or unacquainted with, evil.”  If that is so, then experience as a “veteran” journalist cannot count for much these days, because reporting, if nothing else, should acquaint us with evil.  And just a bit of sober self-exploration should vanquish the rest of whatever lack of acquaintance with evil we might claim.

What she meant, but probably would not have said (if she had thought about it) was that 9/11 signaled the end of naïveté — a state of denial that consists of a number of unnamed, indefensible assumptions:

  • There is no such thing as evil.
  • It can be reasoned away or “niced” away.
  • It cannot happen here.  It will not touch me.
  • I don’t need to be attentive to its presence.
  • I do not need to sacrifice my comfort (never mind my life) in opposing it.
  • And I cannot find it within.

Of course, these are not just indefensible assumptions.  They are dangerous and self-indulgent.  And it did not (or should not) have required a national tragedy to come to grips with the realization that they cannot possibly be true.  We owe it our parents and our children to be spiritually wiser and stronger than that.  And we owe it to those who died on that day to foreswear feeling sorry for ourselves — and to practice vigilance, both within and without.

The world did not change on 9/11.  It has always been this way.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.