Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. How has America changed since then? How did 9/11 change faith in America? What impact did 9/11 have on the soul of America?
The decade since the 9/11 attacks reveals a continuing erosion in our lives of compassion, justice, and faith in God and a continuing development of a national security or police state, social division, and faith in the violence of war. The violence that was done on 9/11 has resulted in the “Patriot Act” that greatly expanded police powers, led to the creation of a “Department of Homeland Security” that has militarized U.S. borders and trampled on the rights of citizens, and was the pretext for two wars that have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 225,000 people and cost at least $3.7 trillion.
Our opportunity as a people to redemptively and restoratively respond to the horrific attacks of 9/11 has by and large been squandered. If America has a soul it has been stained by mortal sin; sin that deadens our relationship with God and each other. Demagoguery marks much of our political discourse. Hatred of the poor both here and abroad marks much of our public policy. A dangerous combination of nationalist militarism and denigration of democratic governance marks political movements such as the Tea Party and those who pander to them.
There has been a disconnect between the courageous and compassionate responses from ordinary citizens that followed 9/11 and the actions of the nation-state, meaning Congress along with the administrations of both Presidents Bush and President Obama. The generosity of spirit demonstrated by citizens who reached out to help, who sought to engage in dialogue about Islam and the role of the United States in world politics, and who gave aid after natural disasters both here and abroad, has not been matched by equally creative and compelling actions by our government.
Perhaps we are a house divided between two visions of life. On the one hand, there is a vision of life that responds to 9/11 by urging violent retaliation. Such a vision of violent retaliation simplistically divides the world into “good guys” and “bad guys” with the U.S. always being the good guys. This vision has given birth to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the suppression of human rights both here and abroad. On the other hand, there is a vision of life that responds to 9/11 by urging a restorative justice. Such a vision of restorative justice sees how we are all in this together, and how “none are righteous no not one” and thus we all need to seek ways to create a more just world in which all persons are respected as created in the image of God.
Imagine if the vision of restorative justice had guided this nation in its response to 9/11. Instead of two wars there would have been a focus on apprehending and bringing to justice those who had planned and supported the horrendous attacks of that day. Instead of a “Homeland Security” that reflects corporate interests and a police state mentality there would have been a renewed focus on creating conditions of economic and political vitality both within and outside of the United States.
It is easy to see which vision more faithfully reflects the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as it is easy to see that the vision of violent retaliation has not worked. As Americans we ought to demand better from ourselves and our government. As Christians we should be aware that if we continue to live by the sword, as Jesus warned, we will die by the sword. And right now that sword is largely self-inflicted.