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.

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Another study, by University of Chicago scholars, indicated that Americans after 9/11 were more likely to consider their fellow citizens fair, helpful and trustworthy--an optimism that has persisted. "Rather than thinking about the acts of the terrorists," they concluded, "people reflected upon the acts of those involved in the rescue and relief efforts in New York, acts of charity, and acts of patriotism both within the country and abroad." Nationally, volunteerism increased 4.1%, they reported.

In other words, there was a spiritual impact, driven by the inspirational behavior of ordinary Americans. In effect, the book of the moment was not the bible but "Chicken Soup for the Soul".

These kinds of changes of behavior are subtle and very hard to measure, but it is clearly a common theme of posts from Beliefnet members. "It brought home clearly how tenuous life is, and how important it is to be mindfully grateful for all its gifts," wrote a Beliefnet member called freewind8383. "Because all we ever really are sure of having is this minute...and this minute...and this minute. And this minute's gifts." Many have said they have retained a sense of gratitude, a finding substantiated by the University of Chicago study.

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Of course, many of those reaching out--as heroes, patriots or altruists--would say that these behaviors are religious, that this is the way of creating God's kingdom here on earth.

Americans Have Begun Turning Against Islam

One might have expected that after 9/11, rage-filled Americans would have lashed out against Islam, and then gradually adopt a more modulated view as they learned more about the religion. Instead, the opposite has occurred.

Americans started out with a remarkably tolerant view of Islam (considering that a war had just been declared against the country in the name of Allah). An October 2001 ABCNews/Beliefnet poll found that 47% viewed Islam favorably, compared to 39% who viewed it unfavorably.

But that "favorability rating" slipped to 41% in a December 2001 ABCNews/Beliefnet poll and to 38% according to an April poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

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