9/11: Why We Still Have to Talk About It

Two years later, the 9/11 attacks provoke Americans to reflect on some big questions about faith and the human spirit.

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So we have worked very hard to get back to "normal." We squabble among ourselves about homeland security and international conflicts. We flock to the malls, doing our part to restore the economy. We let our basement supply of water and batteries get low. Normal is feeling safe.

The truth is, such a "normal" is a mirage. It's death that is real and certain. Most us of experienced the fear on 9/11, but avoided naming its root cause. I didn't either, until the threat came very close, into my own body.

"So Death ere long disrobes us all," the hymn "Amazing Grace" tells us. Reminders of our mortality are both horror and gift. On 9/11, we saw the horror, but ignored the gift. And so we are essentially unchanged.

'Maybe the most amazing story is that church attendance didn't decline after Sept. 11'
Dr. Will Willimon, Dean of Duke Chapel, Duke University

A Gallup poll noted that there was a 20 percent increase in church attendance after 9/11 and 3 months later, it was back down. There was also a huge amount of church activity during World War Two and afterward, when people were getting back to normal. The churches in England, too, were filled during the war. But we should have learned from those historical precedents that it doesn't continue after people get through the basic crisis.

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I wonder whether people came seeking consolation, but found that many times the consolation that Jesus gives is not the consolation we thought we needed. Someone told me at that time, "I just didn't find what I was looking for." Maybe what Americans were looking for, Christianity doesn't always deliver.

C.S. Lewis said that the Christian faith is a thing of marvelous comfort, but it usually doesn't begin in comfort. It often begins in the pain of asking hard questions and telling the truth. So maybe the most amazing story is that church attendance didn't decline after 9/11.

We had prayer here at noon every day after 9/11, with different campus ministers leading the prayer. We'd have 20 or 30 people each day. Then on Friday, the president called a national day of prayer, and we walked out to see about 500 people gathered. We had no microphone, no music. The leader that day was an evangelical Christian. He said, "Let us pray," and then led the people in a 15-minute prayer of confession. He confessed our promiscuity, our adultery, our militarism, our pride, our sin. Man, was the congregation mad. But that's what our faith asks from us, and it's an amazing moral achievement.

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