The Real Spiritual Impact of 9/11
Americans don't go to church more often now, but 9/11 was still one of the most important spiritual moments in recent history.
BY: Steven Waldman and the Staff of Beliefnet
At first, it looked like 9/11 was having an enormous spiritual impact. Atheists, "seekers," lapsed Catholics, secular Jews and seemingly everyone else poured into churches and synagogues. Evangelist Franklin Graham predicted that Americans were committing themselves to God in an "enduring" way and Pat Robertson predicted "one of the greatest spiritual revivals in the history of America."
Then the flood of new worshipers receded. Church attendance went back to normal, and polls began to indicate that people were no more likely to pray, read the Bible or attend worship services than before. Nine out of ten Americans reported that 9/11 had "no lasting impact on their faith," according to a study released this week by Barna Research.
But both those who predicted a religious renaissance and those arguing that 9/11 was a spiritual non-event are missing some of the dramatic effects 9/11 had on the spiritual landscape.
In fact, if you look at other signs, it appears that 9/11 was, spiritually-speaking, one of the most important moments in recent history.
9/11 Starkly Revealed the Limits of Organized Religion
The place to start is with what didn't happen. The fact that people initially went to houses of worship -- and then stopped -- should be viewed as a huge story, not a non-event.
For decades, clergy have sought ways of luring back the "spiritual seekers," people who have a strong interest in matters of the soul but weren't satiated by worship services. 9/11 gave houses of worship an extraordinary opportunity.
But church attendance and other religious behaviors went quickly back to normal. What's more, according to Barna Associates, the percentage of people who said "moral truth is absolute" actually dropped from 38% in January 2000 to 22% in the fall of 2001. This was surprising since President Bush and others have talked of the attacks as a war between good and evil, a clash of absolute moral principles.
There were other signs that come 2002, Americans didn't view organized religion as much help. Only 11.2% of Americans sought advice from a minister, priest or religious leader, according to a study by the University of Chicago. Indeed, while the pews were emptying out, psychologists' offices were filling up. Drinking and pill use increased, Beliefnet found, at the same time formal worship declined.