Remembrance Day

September 11, 2001 is on America’s collective consciousness. A decade ago thousands lost their lives in a religiously motivated and misguided attack on what some see as a wicked culture. Those who hate America have never come to know it. What a sad commentary it is that religious belief lends its strength of conviction to those whom it has convinced that evil is righteousness and that terror is divine. It is somber to experience this tenth anniversary so close to New York City. When I ride in to work now every day I see the new World Trade Center rising, literally, from the ashes. It is a monument to what America tries to embody.

Twin towers, 13 years old.

Our nation is not perfect. None is. Too easily we accept the casual relegation of various minority groups to poverty. Too easily we allow the obscenely wealthy to escape all sense of social obligation. Too easily we focus on our selves rather than our community. No, we cannot claim to be perfect. Nevertheless, we strive for an ideal that will not die.

Some have boldly claimed twentieth century notables as “the greatest generation.” I believe that praise, although deserved in a sense, to be misplaced. The greatest generation was that rag-tag group of colonial citizens who’d fled from cesspools of oppression to find freedom in a new world. They were not perfect. They oppressed and displaced Native Americans who still suffer under repressive policies that ensure the great embarrassment of their treatment will remain out of sight. The greatest generation I envision is those who, at the risk of their own lives, decreed that the world should, must contain a haven for those who cannot live without a free conscience. A place where religion, or even the very words you say or write, cannot be dictated by the government. A place where people could go on to become the putative “greatest generation”s of the future.

When I first heard about the attacks on 9/11 I was at Nashotah House. Those first moments of confusion were terrifying—our daughter had just started school and was not close enough to hold. My wife and I watched the television in sheer unbelief, tears on our faces, our lives being forever wrenched and twisted in new directions. In was a day that sobered up an entire country.

(Please read the remainder at Full Essays.)

Quran 451?

One of the saddest books I remember is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Any society that burns books has whip-lashed far beyond Fascism into the enemyhood of humanity. Much of ancient culture has been lost through the natural or premeditated destruction of misunderstood “inflammatory” writings and we are much the poorer for it today.

According to an Associated Press story, the ironically named Rev. Terry Jones of the even more ironically named Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, is agitating for a “burn the Quran” day on September 11. Other than momentary, self-righteous catharsis, nothing is to be gained by burning books. The contradictory impulses here lie thick and deep: a Christian clergyman feels insulted by an extremist attack that killed indiscriminately (Muslims and well as Christians, Jews, and Atheists died in the September 11 attacks), bearing the symbol of peace he wishes to declare his personal war, and the follower of the willing victim of Nazareth wears a gun.

Burning books does not solve any problems. Surely Rev. Jones knows that plenty of copies of the Quran abound throughout the world. His action is calculated as a poignant symbol. Is such a symbol anything more than a base expression of outright hatred? When, apart from medieval Christendom, has Christianity insisted that violence is the way forward? All you need is hate? For although the burning of books may not physically harm anyone, the violence in this hatefully symbolic act is the very antithesis of tolerance and understanding that the religious world so desperately needs. Islam has given much to world culture, and we reap the benefits of Muslim scholars and thinkers each day, without any conscious consideration. Rev. Jones needs to read more than just Fahrenheit 451. He must learn truly to read and, like Montag, weep.

Jones' theological comrades