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
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.
Why? The tempered attitude toward Islam in the early months was likely influenced by President Bush, who declared in his first major speech to the nation, "Islam is a peaceful religion." He made a point of being photographed reading the Qur'an and inviting Muslim leaders to the White House.
Even religious conservatives who disagreed with Bush kept quiet initially, in deference to the president. But starting in the beginning of 2002, their irritation become evident. "We don't believe Islam needs validating at the highest level of American government," David Crowe, director of Restore America, a grassroots conservative Christian political organization in Oregon told Beliefnet in December. "A lot of people think Bush has bent way too far over backward to say nice things about Muslims."
Then Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, described Islam as a "wicked, violent" religion--and the floodgates broke open. A steady parade of conservative Christians followed. Criticizing Islam itself - as opposed to "Islamic fundamentalists" or terrorists - went from being taboo to acceptable to downright popular in conservative circles, including influential secular figures like William Bennett, Gary Bauer, and Anne Coulter. Significantly, President Bush has apparently decided not to counter this overwhelming criticism against Islam.
At the same time, it should be said, the defenders of Islam probably way overstated their case by repeatedly asserting that Islam is a "religion of peace." Clearly, the Qur'an, like the Bible, includes passages that can be used to justify violence. Many Islam defenders, failing to acknowledge that initially, may have lost credibility.
Evangelicals Got a Dramatic New Cause
One sector of Americans--conservative evangelical Christians--views the attack in starkly different terms than the rest of the country. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were mocked when they blamed the attack son America's misdeeds but they were expressing a sentiment with some broad appeal.
Evangelicals are also more likely to view this as a sign of the apocalypse or end times. As Beliefnet member Dicks77 put it: "I admit, as I saw Manhatten in flames from across the river in NJ, the scripture came immediately to mind: Revelation 18:9 - 'When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: 'Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!'' Makes you think, at least."