The World Revealed
Reflections on the apocalyptic events of September 11.
This essay appears in Beliefnet's new book, "From the Ashes: A Spiritual Response to America's Tragedy." For more information, click here
The word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek for "uncovering' or "revealing." It is a stripping away of the masks and illusions that normally help us function in the world. The apocalypse of September 11, 2001, has revealed to us that, contrary to what our consumer culture has complacently asserted as our birthright--"the good life at a great price," according to one department store chain--life is not ours to own, or control. It is a precious gift, and a precarious one.
The fact that we take our lives into our hands whenever we get into a car or airplane, enter the elevator of an office building, or walk along a city street, is something we customarily set aside, in the interest of conducting our daily business. We need some sense of security to live at all, and in mustering hope and confidence after any calamity, we generally find that it is helpful to return as soon as possible to our ordinary routines. But now, having had our sense of security so cruelly stripped away, I think we will be better off if we do not ignore the lessons of this particular apocalypse. What can we say about the world that has been revealed to us, and our place in it?
We can't undo the unspeakable death that has been placed before our eyes, or will away the gruesome television images that are indelibly burned into our minds. But as we move beyond the shock and horror, we can examine ourselves and our culture in a new light.
American culture glories in celebrity. People can be famous, it seems, simply for being famous, and the antics and opinions of celebrities have come to be considered legitimate news. But the events of September 11 exposed the shallowness of our preoccupation with fame. In a real crisis, people didn't want to hear from movie stars. They were more likely to turn to the neighborhood clergy. Suddenly it was more important to have reporters give us information about the internal affairs of Pakistan than to fawn over the director and cast of the latest special effects extravaganza scheduled for next Friday's opening. This is a perspective we need to retain, if we are to have any hope of understanding the world we live in.