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


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Just as important, evangelicals increasingly view the battle against Islam as the defining article of their faith--on the same level of importance as fighting abortion or communism was during the Cold War.

Fighting Islam--or, more to the point, converting Muslims--had been a major Christian cause even prior to 9/11. The Southern Baptist Convention four years ago reorganized its International Missions Board to focus on the part of the world where Muslims live. That year, the Convention published a guide for use when praying for the conversion of Muslims. This year, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary even created a master's degree program to help students minister to Muslims. Some called this the "10/40 Movement", a reference to the latitude and longitude of the Middle Eastern and Asian parts of the world with biggest Muslim population.

The 9/11 attacks gave great new energy to the cause and provided a focal point for millions of evangelicals. A new video, "Radical Obedience: Beyond 9/11," shows Southern Baptists around the world responding to the Sept. 11 attacks -- and reminds them that God's work is not yet finished. "Scripture has called us to be radically obedient, to go beyond language and cultural walls so that all peoples may know Him," said International Mission Board spokesman Mark Snowden. "Many Southern Baptists have already committed to become radically obedient by praying for the Muslim people of the world. Others have displayed their radical obedience by going, in peace, to make disciples in Jesus' name."

And though we are taught to believe that anger can only eat holes in our innards, a study conducted at Bowling Green State University found that those people who viewed the 9/11 attacks as part of a theological war--and that the attacks were Satanically-driven - actually experienced greater "spiritual growth," becoming closer to God and Church.

Anti-Semitism Got New Life

Jews, ironically, may have been less shaken initially because so much of current Jewish theology attempts to deal with the horrors of the Holocaust. "The idea that people are capable of evil things is not news," says Rabbi Mark Margolies of Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley, Pa. What really upset Jews more was seeing the proliferation of ant-Semitic rhetoric.

But the apparent rise in anti-Semitism and constant turmoil in Israel have left Jews reeling. Many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, were quick to link the terrorist attacks to U.S. support for Israel. Though initially focusing his wrath on American troups in Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden soon began saying his attacks were punishment against Israeli treatment of Palestinians. In Arab countries, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the classic anti-Semitic treatise, gained new life and credibility. Rumors that the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, had actually planned the attack gained alarmingly widespread credence.

In October, Salam Al-Marayati, a respected American Muslim leader prominent in national efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, said in an interview on a Los Angeles radio talk show that Israel should be on the "suspect list" of those who carried out the attacks. A few days later, another scandal emerged: Imam Mohammed Gemeaha of New York's prominent Islamic Cultural Center had fled to Cairo, where he gave an interview in Arabic stating that "Jews planned those terrorist attacks."

A report from the American Jewish Committee claimed anti-Semitic speech in the Arab world was measurably on the rise. "The stream of vitriolic and verbal imagery extends from Morocco to the Gulf states and Iran," the report said. "It is as strong in supposedly 'moderate' Egypt as it is in openly hostile Arab nations such as Iraq, Libya and Syria." They cited cases in which reputable Arab newspapers printed reports that Jews use the blood of Christian or Muslim children in their holiday celebrations.

For many Jews, the rise in anti-Semitism in the Muslim world was most horrifically symbolized by the brutal kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Islamic terrorists in Pakistan slit Pearl's throat after forcing him to announce the fact that he was a Jew. "My mother [or father] is a Jew, and I am a Jew," were Pearl's last words. For Jews who had doubted the prevalence of anti-Semitism before, Pearl's murder brought new feelings of insecurity.

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