It’s a civil ceremony. There are plenty of opportunities for people to have their religious ceremonies. Some people don’t want to go to a religious ceremony with another religion. And the number of different religions in this city are really quite amazing. … It isn’t that you can’t pick and choose, you shouldn’t pick and choose. If you want to have a service for your religion, you can have it in your church or in a field, or whatever.Simple enough. The point of the ceremony was to remind the families of the victims that America still cares about them and mourns their loss, not to provide a government-sponsored platform for experts to inform us about God’s will. Nothing on the agenda was anti-religion; the program was designed in coordination with victims’ families and included readings that were “spiritual and personal in nature,” along with six different moments of silence to allow personal reflection and prayer. The only thing that was missing was the showcasing of a publicity-hungry preacher. From the reaction Bloomberg generated, though, you’d think he was Caligula, feeding Christians to the lions.
“Offensive to the families of victims.” That’s how a petition circulated by the Family Research Council described the family-designed ceremony. FRC’s president Tony Perkins also called it “A deliberate defiance and insult to people of faith across America.”
Pastor Joel C. Hunter, an Obama favorite who spoke at the 2008 Democratic convention and serves on the official White House religion advisory board, whined that “The bottom line is, this is not how we were founded. This is not who we are.” The American Family Association called it an insult to “God himself.” If God himself complained, that wasn’t reported in the press.
So what did we miss? As the mayor noted, it was perfectly ok for churches to put on their own programs, and plenty of them did. Pastor Bill Hybels of Chicago’s Willow Creek megachurch laid the blame for September 11 squarely on Satan:
Some of us ... are naïve to the reality of evil. We have never come to terms with what the Bible teaches about Satan and his power and how he organizes his accomplices to wreak havoc in this world and to wreak havoc in your life.So the reality wasn’t humans deciding to use despicable means of making a political point; it was Satan, organizing his accomplices. Since the problem is in the supernatural sphere, the solution lies there as well. “I would think of our God who the Scripture says loves people even if they’re missing from His family and I would think of God kind of wandering around again figuratively with pictures of people who are still missing and just going ‘I wish this person would come home,’ ‘I wish this person would repent,’ ‘I wish this person were in the fellowship.’” So if more people would just “come home,” join the megachurch, and put money in the basket, Satan and his accomplices would be thwarted.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan was in full agreement on the Satan angle. “It’s a war where evil is against good, where death is versus life, lies versus truth, pride against humility, selfishness against selflessness, revenge versus mercy, hate versus love, Satan versus Almighty God.” Dolan claimed, though, that “The side of the angels, not of the demons, conquered. Good Friday became Easter Sunday. And once again God has the last word.” As evidence, he noted that a child of one of September 11 victims had gone on to become a priest. I admit to being a selfish Godless pig, but if I had lost a family member on September 11, I would not appreciate an archbishop telling me that it was ok, because my tragedy had inspired someone else to join his ranks.
Lotz, the unordained evangelist daughter of Rev. Billy Graham, decided to cash in by writing and promoting a whole book about God and September 11. “I’ve been convinced that 9/11 was our wakeup call. If that wouldn’t wake up the church, what would it take?” Lotz isn’t buying the Satan theory. She lays the blame squarely on humanists. “Foundations of godliness have crumbled; things sacred have come unraveled. We have also embraced pagan teachings while rejecting the Bible in our schools, courthouses, and government institutions.”
An interesting theory, but hardly new. Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, famously characterized September 11 as “chickens coming home to roost” because of America’s lack of his brand of godliness. More to the point, just two days after the attack, Rev. Pat Robertson invited Rev. Jerry Falwell onto his television show, to announce that:
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say “You helped this happen.”“Well,” Robertson replied, “I totally concur.”
The New World Order, which hit the stores in September, 1991. There he made the same point as Lotz and Falwell: “There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world. How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?” The main thrust of The New World Order was that a centuries-old secret cabal called the “Illuminati,” backed by Jewish Rothschild money, was behind a Satan/secular humanist plot to dominate the world.
The New World Order was written in opposition to the international coalition against the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait in 1990 – Robertson saw the coalition as a scheme hatched by the Illuminati. He emphasized the story of the Tower of Babel, conveniently located in Iraq, which God viewed with animosity: “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” Indeed, humans working together, using acquired scientific knowledge, can accomplish tremendous things. According to Robertson, “The danger of such a plan to future generations and the threat of this man-made order to the people of faith was so great that God determined to stop it at its inception.” So down the Tower came.
Robertson, of course, was in the front ranks of last week’s offended. “I am frankly shocked that Mayor Bloomberg thinks that he is doing the city of New York a favor by eliminating the spiritual element at an event commemorating tragedy, grief, and heroic sacrifice.”
The truth of the matter is that it was religion that brought down the Twin Towers, as surely as the Bible tells us it brought down the Tower of Babel. It was the God expert Osama bin Laden who brainwashed 19 young men into sacrificing themselves and thousands of others for the sake of his own supernatural musings, guaranteeing them a place in heaven for their efforts. Who was it who called on Americans in 2002 to “reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and usury” – Robertson, or bin Laden? It was bin Laden; but it wouldn’t be hard to find a Christian preacher making the same point at the same time, in nearly the same words.
It would have been grotesquely inappropriate for any speaker to use the 9/11 memorial as a platform for denouncing religion in general. Or for promoting it. Mayor Bloomberg got this one right.