One result of this questioning may be, for some, a fundamentally different view of God--one not often spoken of from the pulpit. Bishop John Shelby Spong, the liberal former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, wrote shortly after the attacks, "The image of hijacked planes crashing into buildings killing thousands of people gives us no hiding place for theological pretending. The skies are empty of a protective deity ready to come to our aid. God defined theistically has died." This does not mean atheism, Spong argued, but that "God is rather the power of love, which flows through each of us, calling us to life, inviting us to step beyond whatever binds our humanity."
For many closest to the tragedy, there is still clearly some anger at God, enough so that they might not be inclined to visit church.
The Attacks Affected Character and Soul
Though worship patterns seemed unaffected, that doesn't mean individuals weren't changed.
A group of psychology researchers had begun in January 2001 measuring the presence of certain positive personality and character traits in the population. They found that after 9/11 seven traits showed noticeable increases: love, gratitude, hope, kindness, leadership, teamwork, and spirituality. These scores have started to slip but remain much higher than pre-9/11 levels. The researchers speculate that these effects have persisted because they are self-sustaining. "Love is reciprocated; hope opens doors previously unseen; kindness begets kindness," says Christopher Peterson of University of Michigan, one of the leader researchers.
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.
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.
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.