September 11 Has Caused Many
to Revisit Questions of Faith
By Brent C. Evans
Faith has always been central to America's public life, and September 11 has not changed this, according to a political columnist for the Washington Post. But the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have stirred old questions about the role of religion in public life.
E.J. Dione, who is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, made his remarks during a talk on "Faith and Public Life After September 11th" at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on April 11.
The nation was uncertain about how to respond after September 11, Dione said: "We really had a peculiar and bifurcated response: is religion the source of these events, or is religion the solution to these events?"
Many suspected almost immediately that the terrorism was the work of religious zealots. Still, part of the nation's response was to turn to religion: many people flocked into churches, for example.
Dione stressed that religion is not the midwife of violence, even though some invoke God's name as a justification for violence. If some use a particular religion to justify acts such as those of September 11, this does not invalidate the faith, he said. "It's wrong to assume that someone devoted to Islam is devoted to terrorism. The use of Islam by some should not discredit the faith of all believers."
Rather, we should be suspicious of those who invoke God's name for their own ends, he said: "Faith is suspect when God is harnessed to immediate political ends. Faith is more credible when it insists on aspirations beyond our own political goals, our own particular nations."
The public misuse of religion by terrorists should not form our nation's ideas on religion, Dione said: "If faith is reduced to its uses and misuses, this gives rise to a profound pessimism." Instead, he said, the nation needs a fuller view of the role of faith.
American attitudes toward faith have always been changing, Dione noted, pointing to John F. Kennedy and Joe Lieberman as examples.
Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, ran for president at a time when the nation was suspicious of politicians who were not Protestant, he said. Kennedy vowed that his religion would not be important to his role as president, and that he would resign as president if his faith presented a conflict of interests with his role as president.
Lieberman, on the other hand, who is Jewish, spoke at length about the importance of his faith during his campaign to become vice president, even though Jews are a minority in America.
"In John Kennedy's time, the fear to be avoided was that a politician was not Protestant," Dione said. "In Joe Lieberman's time, the fear to be avoided was that a politician was not religious."
Although we cannot be certain of how American attitudes toward religion will change after September 11, we can be sure the old questions it has stirred will remain, Dione said: "God, and questions about God, will always be central to the American experiment."