Our phone rang on the morning of September 11. My daughter-in-law was calling to see if we were watching TV. When I answered, “No,” she said we should turn it on. She did not say why but I could tell by her voice that something terrible was happening.
We turned on our TV and saw one of the twin tower buildings of the World Trade Center in flames. Almost immediately we saw an airliner crash into the other tower setting it on fire. Soon one of the tower buildings, 110 stories high, crumbled to the ground; then the other tower did the same. About 3,000 men, women and children from over 60 nations died in the ruins of these two buildings. Terrorists had deliberately flown commercial airliners into the twin towers on suicide missions.
Then we heard about terrorists crashing an airliner into the Pentagon, and another airliner crashing in a Pennsylvania field after its suicide mission was foiled by some brave passengers. All on board those planes and many Pentagon workers died.
We watched the horrifying events of September 11 unfold in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. We were stunned with disbelief that anyone could commit these terrible crimes. Then we heard that these murders of innocent civilians –men, women, and children–were done in “the name of Allah”(God) by Muslim Fundamentalists waging a jihad (war) against “evil” which they believed the United States represents.
I felt sick at my stomach. Once again, in the history of the world, innocent men, women and children had been killed “in the name of God” by persons who had been misled to believe that only they were true followers of God, and all other persons were “infidels” to be conquered, converted, or annihilated.
This is a very old and very bad idea. It was found among the Spanish Catholics who conquered much of north, central and south America, and annihilated many of the indigenous nations and peoples while trying to convert them to so-called “true” religion. It was found among the Israelites who conquered one nation after another, and killed the people, in the Israelites’ march to the “promised land” of Caanan over 3,000 years ago.
Moses told the Israelites, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; THEN YOU MUST UTTERLY DESTROY THEM; you shall make no covenant with them, and SHOW NO MERCY TO THEM. . . . . For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the people that are on the face of the earth.” (Hebrew Bible, Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 7, verses 1, 2, and 6.)
Then in the seventh (Christian) century , the Muslims from Arabia conquered “in the name of Allah” the same land which eventually became known as “Palestine.” In the Muslim Fundamentalist view, there is essentially no distinction between government and religion. The religion of Islam provides the “law” for both. The Muslims conquered and ruled many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. They lost control of Palestine after World War I because Turkey, which ruled Palestine, was on the losing side of the war. Then the British (who were on the winning side of the war) were given a “mandate” to rule Palestine. This “mandate” ended in 1948, at which time the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs began their fight to control the land — a fight that continues to this day.
I recite this bit of history to illustrate the danger of using religion for political purposes. I also use this history to show the danger in anyone claiming that their cultural religion is the only “true” religion and that those who disagree are “unbelievers” and “infidels” who are to be either “converted,” subjugated, or eliminated. I refer to “cultural” religions as those religions that originated in particular countries or areas of the world. For examples, Zoroastrianism (Persia), Judaism (Israel), Islam (Arabia), Shintoism (Japan), Buddhism (China), Hinduism (India) and Christianity (Israel and Roman Empire) are “cultural” religions. Some of these religions, through missionary efforts, have spread outside of their countries of origin (such as the spread of Christianity to north, central and south America, and the spread of Islam in non-Arab countries).
The rapid development of communication through radio, television and telephone, and the rapid development of transportation through ships, trains, automobiles and airplanes have brought many of the “cultural” religions in contact and conflict with each other.
At the same time, the rise of nationalism (the formation of independent nations that were previously ruled by various “empires,” e.g., the British Empire or the Soviet Union) and the economic pressures from overpopulation in some countries (too many people, not enough life-sustaining resources) have led to wars for survival (to gain the resources required for human survival). Such wars for survival include the wars started by Japan before and including their part of World War II, and the wars between the Israelis and Palestinians during the past 50 years and now.
In addition, the industrially advanced countries, such as the United States of America, England, and European countries, have become accustomed to using natural resources from other countries to maintain industries and assure the survival of a higher standard of living than many other countries enjoy. The struggles to control natural resources, such as oil and metals, have brought nations into conflict with each other.
The struggle for human survival is complicated by overpopulation, inefficient use of natural resources, and unequal possession of industrial and technological power. The resulting problems of poverty, ignorance, and disease are overwhelming many countries today. The history of the world shows that it is common to use cultural “religions” to inflame human emotions–including hatred–to start wars that are really intended to gain control over land and its natural resources.
When I see “cultural” religions misused to promote violence “in the name of God/Allah/Jehovah” against innocent human beings, I feel a responsibility to speak up as a Christian Deist and say that such violence is against the will of God. Christian Deists believe that causing human suffering, or being indifferent to human suffering, is sin — a violation of the natural laws of God that are inherent in human nature.
The hatred that leads a person to cause human suffering, or to be indifferent to human suffering, is destructive to that person’s “soul,” the personal being or “self” that each person perceives within his or her own physical body. As a person diminishes his or her inner self, the person’s capacity for joy or happiness diminishes in this world. And why would God, our Creator, give a future life to anyone who refuses to live as God intends for us to live in this world? No reasonable person would expect God to do this.
What I am saying is: Causing human suffering is a serious problem, not only for the victims but for the perpetrators. There is no excuse for the human suffering perpetrated on September 11, 2001. It seems that the perpetrators of this human suffering may have been misled to believe that they were doing something for “Allah” and they would be rewarded with happiness in “paradise.” This is a delusion. It fails to meet the test of human reason and violates the laws of God inherent in human nature. The only hope for happiness in this life and any future life rests in “loving your neighbor (everyone) as yourself.” Causing human suffering does not come out of love. Whatever the terrorists hoped to gain for their countries, for their religion, or for themselves, they failed to consider the question asked by Jesus, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Those who perpetrated the acts that caused immeasurable human suffering in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania clearly sinned against God and humanity. Christian deism clearly recognizes that “causing human suffering” is sin.
But Christian deism ALSO clearly recognizes that “being indifferent to human suffering” is sin. As we look around the world and in our own country, and we see many forms of human suffering, we must ask ourselves, “Have we been indifferent to human suffering?”
Individually, have we done anything to try to relieve human suffering? Have we given some of our personal resources to help relieve the suffering that comes from poverty, ignorance, and disease in our own town and country?
Collectively, have we insisted that our government leaders and legislative representatives devote enough resources to helping struggling nations to develop the economic, educational, and medical means to prevent or treat the problems of poverty, ignorance, and disease?
Have we insisted that our government recognize that overpopulation is at the root of most wars, and efforts must be made to educate people in other countries, and in our own country, to reduce pregnancy rates through contraceptives and thereby prevent overpopulation and also reduce abortions?
Have we recognized the connection between our gluttonous appetite for and wasteful use of consumer goods (e.g., big gas-guzzling automobiles) that require too much of the world’s natural resources, and lead business corporations to exploit cheap labor and natural resources in underdeveloped countries to meet our demands for material goods.
Have we insisted that our government and business leaders in our country develop alternative sources of energy such as solar and wind-generated electricity instead of draining oil from underdeveloped countries?
Have we insisted that our government and business leaders protect the water, land and air from pollution that causes health problems in other countries and in our own?
We must not be indifferent to human suffering that may be caused by us, and we should make efforts to help relieve human suffering wherever it exists. Maybe this is the best way to help prevent Godless terrorism like that of September 11, 2001.
In closing, let me remind the readers of this essay that the gospel (or “good news”) according to the human Jesus is, “The kingdom of God is at hand; Repent, and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Very simply put, the kingdom of God on earth becomes a reality as we repent of (turn away from) sin (our failures to love others), and do whatever we can to make the earth a place that everyone can enjoy fully in peace and happiness. This kingdom is “at hand,” that is, it is within reach now. Let each of us repent of (turn away from) any loveless thought or action. Let us seek forgiveness from God and from those we have failed to love. And let us always be ready to forgive those who repent of their failures to love us. It is through repentance and forgiveness that we, as individuals, find cleansing for our soul, and the opening of our mind to new hope in life.
Let us pray that love will overcome hate in our world, and in our hearts. Love for God and love for each other are two sides of the same coin. We cannot love God without loving each other.
September 23, 2001