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 email@example.com.
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 (www.acommonword.com), 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.