Sunday, September 25, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Anniversary of 9/11

Listening to NPR on Sunday, September 11, 2005, a commentator called it, “The day that changed the world forever.” I found myself dissenting again. He was wrong. 9/11 changed nothing. Yes, I’ve heard and read all those government pronouncements ever since about how 9/11 changed the world. I don’t believe it for a minute. Not even one, and I am surely tired of hearing it – and especially of hearing the sick way our government chants that mantra as an excuse for violence, serious attacks on civil liberties, failure to support any education worthy of the name (as opposed to the training and testing skills they want our children to have), turning our backs on health care, the environment, the arts, the elderly, the poor… I think of those who support the war, and those who call themselves Christian and apparently believe that all that matters is faith: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” I just don’t think it works that way, not in politics, not in faith -- regardless of what kind it is.

For those who assume their standards are Christian, what changed, really? For Christians, did the words of Jesus suddenly become, “Don’t turn the other cheek?” “Don’t set the prisoner free?” “Punish those who despitefully use you?” “Give your children a stone instead of a loaf when they are hungry?”

I don’t remember Jesus saying, “Believe on me on Sunday, put your mind and heart in the freezer Sunday night -- and ignore anyone in need or do as you please on Monday.” I don’t remember him saying there is no need to end hunger, or that it is perfectly all right to torture prisoners, oh, yes, go right ahead, or to shade the truth to fit a particular end that serves our advantage. Is it suddenly all right to hate your neighbor? Or hate Islam’s Mohammed, whose Koran extols the figures of Jesus and of Abraham? I think not.

So what has changed? Now we’re more afraid than we were before? That certainly seems to be the case. But afraid of what? Being as vulnerable as the rest of the world? Afraid that we might be disliked, even hated, by others around the world? Because we got hurt does that mean we have to cringe? Or that we are free to punish before the crime is committed?

Or are we just afraid to face the truth about ourselves? Are we afraid that since others know that we have not been a benign influence in the world lately, they might actually ask us to live out our own better values? The ones we trumpet all the time in the world press and our public speeches, and still refuse to act on? -- Like our insisting that the poorest nations in the world do away with their barriers to our trade, the very barriers we ourselves erect to protect our corporations, and will not relinquish to allow “free trade” for poorer nations?

Does the world no longer need honorable dealings in business? Does the world no longer hunger for the authentic rather than the synthetic, virtual or hyped? Does the world not need our nation to keep its word? Does the world need education that leads only to uncritical participation in a global economy, or does it still need education that leads to a kind of wisdom that will help us find our way through this messy alienation, violence, and ignorance that plagues us on every hand? Does the world no longer need to end poverty? Or provide clean water to its children?

For those of us who are Christian I have to wonder, What does the Lord require of us today that was not asked of us yesterday, or on September 10, 2001, or in 1890, or 1200 or 400 anno domini? Or 200 years B.C.? Does God now ask that we protect our wealth at the expense of everyone else? That we be free to do as we please? That it is OK to pillage the earth for profit? That whoever smacks us on the left cheek is going to get blown to pieces?

I have not heard any change in the things that are asked of us. We are still called upon to love others as we love ourselves. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, set the prisoner free. To walk humbly. Or did September 11 somehow make it OK to strut, kill, turn our backs on the hunger and suffering of others? Of course not.

We still believe (or insist we do) that God created the world, and that we are called upon to love God’s creation. All of it, not just parts. Unless we have come to believe in a partial creator God, who left the creation of some things to someone else and therefore we don’t have to love those other parts (like ethnic groups other than our own, or people of a different color or different faith or different sexual orientation) that were created -- by whom or what? By other gods? How many of those do we want to admit that we believe in?

So what has changed? Not one thing that’s the least bit important, that’s what. There is, of course, the exception that proves the rule: Nothing important has changed except this: Our own government’s behavior toward the world and our own citizens has grown more execrable by the passing week.