Archive for Saturday, September 10, 2011

Faith Forum: In your opinion, how has the world’s views on religion changed since 2001?

September 10, 2011


Robert Minor, professor emeritus in Kansas University’s religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave:

Some responded to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, by deciding it was time to know more about the religious divisions in the world around them. Others reacted by clinging to stereotypes that over-simplified vast and critical diversities within peoples, beliefs and institutions that call themselves Islam, Christianity or one of the other isms.

Though those we now call terrorists have been active under the name of this or that religion for millennia and our country and the world around it have experienced acts of religiously justified terrorism throughout their histories, for the United States this became the supreme reminder that religions can support violence.

Reactions were diverse. Many struggled to delve into the ways religion has been used by politicians, nationalists, colonialists and others to further their not so religious goals. On all sides they saw religious language, symbols and claims sanctifying such ends.

They found it significant that those Muslims who executed 9/11 were not just any Muslims but Saudi Arabians disenfranchised by their own rulers who were buoyed up by the economic and military power of a United States that often claimed it was a Christian nation with a Divine destiny over the world. One couldn’t, they concluded, blame a religion for the historic geo-political and economic causes that motivated terrorist acts.

Others blamed religion. Some blamed all religion. It fueled atheism’s emergence from the closet on the offensive and the rise in the number of people who were willing to admit to pollsters that they were non-believers, agnostics or at least skeptical of the whole religious enterprise.

Others only blamed someone else’s religion for terrorism. Politicians exploited “Islamic terrorism” as a useful fear tactic to enhance their careers. Followers who agreed, including clergy, embraced more definitively their negative attitudes toward the religions of others.

— Send e-mail to Robert Minor at

The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:

On Sept. 12, 2001, I visited the Claremont Islamic Center in the Southern California community where I was then living. I went to offer my support to the leaders of the Mosque and to invite their participation in a communitywide service that was being planned. The next evening, 1,000 people gathered — Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Protestants — for a service of lamentation for our nation and our world, mourning together the tremendous sense of loss each of us felt.

Similar services were held in hundred’s of communities across our nation. At the same time, there were churches that called for God’s judgment against what they perceived to be the “false” religion of Islam. Sadly, in shadow of the September tragedy, religion continues to be a force that divides as much as it unites. For each step forward, there has been a step (and sometimes two) backward. While there are a multitude of voices calling for understanding, unity and cooperation, there are others who threaten to burn holy books, picket and harass worshipers within their respective traditions and block construction of places of worship.

On the whole, I believe, there has been positive momentum in recognizing the role religion can play in building understanding and cooperation between peoples. One such voice helping us build bridges and not barriers has been A Common Word (, a dialogue between moderate Islamic scholars, clergy and supporters, with Christian leaders around the world, exploring the values and practices we hold in common. As the leaders of this project suggest, without peace between the Islamic and Christian communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. One can hope that through efforts in dialogue between our religions, we may find again the unity of our shared compassion and sorrow in the days immediately following 9/11, and the way forward for the people of this planet.

— Send e-mail to Kent Winters-Hazelton at


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

1) It's my opinion that one of the effects of the event on 9/11/2001 is that many people began to confuse religion with political views and actions even more than they already did.

Here in the United States, I think that most people think of 9/11 as an act of terrorism. But I don't think that's actually correct, it was instead a political act, although it was certainly a very violent one.

One man's terrorism is another man's war, and the United States now has a reputation as being at war with Islam in many of the Muslim nations, even though our constitution and the statements of the leaders which we have elected have made emphatic claims that is not the case.

"Shock and awe," was President Bush's statement when Iraq was attacked. Is there any real difference between "Shock and awe" and 9/11?

I think that from the point of view of someone from another planet there would be a very big difference. That difference would be that "Shock and awe" was far more violent. In fact, so much more so that you can hardly compare the two. Other than that, I think that any difference between those two events would be totally lost on him, and he would certainly think of all of us as being very stupid.

One of the reasons that I think of 9/11 as an active political act is because of a very brief conversation I had with a man from the Middle East about five years ago. He is a physician, so he is obviously very well educated.

But sometimes the most educated are the most ignorant, and no one should ever make the mistake of forgetting that basic fact. I have read the claim that if you keep on studying just one subject you can reach the point of knowing everything about nothing.

When we had our conversation, there was a great deal of terroristic bombings taking place between Shiites and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. It was obvious to me that he was from the Middle East, so the first question I asked him was if he was Arabic.

He acted as though he was a bit offended, and the answer was, "No, I'm Persian." His very slight body movement informed me that he was quite proud to be a Persian.

I thought it was rather telling that he refused to utter the word: "Iran".

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 8 months ago

Huh? You asked if he was Arabic and he said he was Persian. What has that got to do with not using the word "Iran"? After all, you asked his ethnicity, not his country.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

I think that he meant that he was not particularly proud of the actions of or of the government of Iran at the time and did not want to associate himself with that.

"Persia" is the old formal name for Iran, it isn't really totally an ethnicity.

Of course I don't "know", but I certainly cannot think of any other reason why he identified himself as Persian rather than Iranian.

A clip:

"Both "Persia" and "Iran" are used interchangeably in cultural contexts"

Another clip:

"Persia may refer to the following:

Iran, a country formerly under the name of Persia until 1935. Quajari Persia Fars Province, a province in Iran, Fars being Persian, for Persia Persis or Pārs, a historic region in southwest Persia and the original power base of Achaemenids Persian Empire Persia, California SS Persia (1900), British ocean liner sunk by U-boat in 1915 Persia (EP), 1984 extended-play record by Australian rock band The Church Persia, the Magic Fairy, a 1984 magical girl anime series by Studio Pierrot Persia, Iowa Persia is also a fictional empire from the Middle-Eastern folk tale, Aladdin."

And also, at the time I already had the background of working with a lot of people from and friendships with a few people from Iran, and that was the very first time I had ever heard someone identify himself as "Persian", rather than "Iranian". And that was the only time, actually. But that's not surprising, because I haven't met any people from Iran for years now.

What I did was quote what he actually said at the time, and then I stated that: "I thought it was rather telling that he refused to utter the word: "Iran"."

When I stated "I thought" I meant that at that point I was interjecting my own opinion as to what he actually meant by identifying himself as Persian rather than Iranian.

If you really want to know why he considers himself Persian rather than Iranian, you would have to ask him for a definitive answer.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

In 1979 I started a job at DatagraphiX (a subsidiary of General Dynamics) in el Cajon, California as an electronic technician.

At that time, the day shift of the test department was nicknamed "Little Iran" and the night shift was nicknamed "Little Vietnam" because so many refugees were working there on those shifts.

Looking back now, it seems interesting to me that there were no Vietnamese people working day shift, and no Iranians working night shift. Not in the test department, anyway.

The very first day I started work there a refugee from the 1979 revolution in Iran was assigned the task of training me to do my job.

He spread out the schematic diagram of the device that we were to test and said, "The first thing you do is you look at the schematical diagram."

And I never forgot that!

He had a bit of a language problem with English adjectives, but he didn't have much of an accent.

Later, I worked the night shift with the Vietnamese refugees.

I sure did learn a lot at that job, and it certainly was not all about electronics.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

2) My next question was, why was there so much strife between the Shiites and Sunni Muslims? There was no need to point out that I was talking about Iraq because at the time, it was in the news every day. I'm sure it still happens a lot, but in the fog of so many other conflicts that particular one has faded into the background in the media of the United States.

His answer was emphatic. "It's all politics!"

Then, he added "All political!"

He gestured upwards with his hands, and that showed me that his view on the matter was that the methods being used were totally unacceptable, but there was nothing that he personally could do about it.

Then he went on, "It's just like in Ireland between the Catholics and the Protestants. They get along fine here, but over there," then he stopped and shook his head.

After reading and thinking about the situation in the world for a few years, I began to realize something. The physician I had talked to was mistaken in his view that the problems in Ireland are due to the religious differences between Catholics and Protestants. They are not and never were.

It is instead a tribal conflict between the descendants of the Celts and the Romans.

If anyone claims that I'm wrong on that statement, I will get very defensive and point out that it's quite an historical coincidence that the conflict just happens to be right at the edge of the Roman Empire when it collapsed something like 1,500 years ago. Plus, that statement is certainly not my original idea.

1,500 years ago, the official religion of the Roman Empire was Roman Catholic Christianity, and of course they represented it because Vatican City and the Pope were literally inside Rome, and still are today.

Therefore, the Romans were the righteous rulers of the world, and by using the method of war they were attempting to impose that view on everybody else.

The Roman Empire faded into the sunset a long time ago, and the descendants of the Celts and the Romans in Northern Ireland still don't get along. The two groups don't intermingle much, they rarely intermarry, and religious conversion from one to the other is just about unheard of. However, in our secular age conversion probably doesn't matter much, but that does not change the basic fact that the two groups in conflict still differ in tribal grouping.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

3) One could make a good analogy between that and the situation between the government of the United States and the Native Tribes. Fortunately, the problems here in the United States and in Northern Ireland have largely abated. At least, the methods employed today are rarely violent.

So by extension, it seems to me that most of the conflicts in the world today is no more than tribal strife. Case in point, anywhere in the Middle East.

When two countries have both a democratic government and a population that is well educated on secular matters, they rarely have wars. Wars between democracies are very rare. In fact, some claim that there has never been a war between two countries that both had a truly democratic government.

The event of 9/11 certainly was a polarizing issue, and its lasting legacy seems to be only more division between different tribes. At least, that would be the view of someone from another planet.

When more of the citizens of the Middle East are well educated on secular matters, the nations there all have democratic governments, and the population there starts to think of tribal groupings as being no more than a social thing, I think that the wars there will shift from the tactics of terrorism to arguments on forums such as this one.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

Mistake: "is" should have been "are". I have such a problem with that!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

The truth: All terrorists are human beings.

If they would all be eliminated from the face of the earth, there would be no more terrorism.

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