I’m glad the 9/11 anniversary has come and gone. We all remember it like it was yesterday and, for me, far too many mixed and unresolvable feelings are awakened. For both the haters amongst us and the excessively maudlin it was Christmas morning–an opportune moment for a great emotional catharsis. Maturity and decades of semi-sobriety have pretty much extinguished my maudlin instincts but it doesn’t take much provocation to stir up the hater in me. A part of me is repelled by all the faux patriotism the 9/11 anniversary provokes but I must admit that another part of me is stirred by the incessant beat of the war drums over the past decade.
I came to loathe Muslims and Arabs. The drumbeat on talk radio made it seem like they were the enemy in some great inevitable cataclysm of cultural and religious ideologies. However, the few Muslims that I met on a mission trip to Barcelona were just like people here (and everywhere). They had emigrated, both legally and illegally, from North Africa to the EU to find a better life for themselves and their families. It was easy to feel compassion for them and to want to help them integrate into European society (which was the focus of our mission). Islam may be an implacable foe to the gradual unveiling of Christ, but in some of my gentler and perhaps more lucid moments I’m not yet ready to fully embrace that notion and its terrifying consequences.
I also came to hate George W. Bush. Now hate is a thought and an emotion a Christian doesn’t want to entertain for long. And it is a sin for which I repent. However, at the time, I felt that bin Laden had given us a gift of sorts, and that Bush and his thuggish band of neo-cons took it away via a brutal, expensive and unnecessary war in Iraq. For a short while we were a united country again and the long overdue recipient of the world’s good will. That lasted for about a year until it became clear that Bush had Iraq in his crosshairs and that he was willing to trump up evidence of non-existent WMDs as an excuse to pull the trigger.
Yes, we pulled Al Qaida’s fangs, but at an enormous cost. The increased security measures plus the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 2.5 trillion to date and what’s worse has been “paid” for entirely by “borrowed” money. Much of the malaise our nation’s economy is in today has to do with our skyrocketing national debt–directly attributable to our vastly out of proportion response to 9/11. The decade after Pearl Harbor was that of U.S. ascendancy. Though WWII cost our nation plenty in lives it was an unavoidable war, and it spurred our economy and led to tremendous scientific and technological progress. The decade after Pearl Harbor was truly more than any other America’s golden age. We were the only power left standing. Not only did we win the war but we rebuilt both our allies and enemies thru the Marshall Plan. The decade after 9/11 has been one of steady decline for the U.S.
The media’s response to 9/11 turned us into a nation of security freaks. It didn’t help that Bush created a whole new bureaucracy called the Dept. of Homeland Security. Yes, we likely needed a few new prudent measures that already existing agencies could implement, but we didn’t need a whole new dept populated by slugs and replete with politically correct directives. We needed the airlines to do their own profiling ala Israel’s El Al. We didn’t need TSA agents frisking grannies and kids just because they were the 10th passenger on the list. We didn’t need a moronic color-coded security meter.
The changes in our national ethos were and are sweeping. I noted in my last book Jesus v. satan: the Message of the Wilderness Temptations that soccer-mom morphed into security-mom. We’ve become a nation obsessed with our own safety. The popular media is complicit in this. Something bad happens and the TV news channels play it over and over in a seemingly endless loop. A few deaths from salmonella becomes the plague. Every other hurricane threatens to become Andrew or Katrina. A nut with plastic explosives in his underwear or a non-functioning bomb found in a car near Times Square begets a new terrorist moment in the media. In the first few months after 9/11 we really didn’t know the extent of terrorism’s threat, but as time passed it became more and more apparent that Al Qaida was on the run and not really capable of pulling off another attack as spectacular and bloody as 9/11–yet our “security” measures have continued to mushroom. Over a half-century ago the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr stated that “to the end of history, social orders will probably destroy themselves in the effort to prove they are indestructible.” That has proven to be sadly prescient.
My book Jesus v. satan examines the three temptations Satan presents to Jesus during his 40-day fast in the wilderness as being metaphorical for whole areas in our lives. The first temptation, that of bread, represents all materialism. The second temptation, as found in Luke 4’s sequence, is that of power and control. The third temptation is that of trust and thus ultimately about one’s sense of feeling secure. And that is the temptation Christians have fallen for as readily as the next person in our society. The craving for security is as real as a craving for any drug–or any idol for that matter. The craving for security and safety is abetted by the spirits of fear and helplessness–the spirits that say in our thoughts that maybe God will let us down this time. Listen to the products advertised on talk-radio. We have traded in our trust in God for guns, gold and stockpiles of non-perishable food. In Ruthless Trust Brennan Manning says that Jesus gave his life for us, and that our trust is really the only gift we have to give back.