"A Humanist's Perspective"
"To make a memory truly permanent, it helps if you can add repetition to shock. When I logged onto my computer the morning of September 11 of 2001 I read a short blurb about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center and assumed a small plane had accidentally flown too low and clipped the building. I was wrong. What I later saw on my television screen looked like out-takes from a terrifying action movie. I suspect that the words that kept going through my mind, over and over, were echoed in the minds of all of us: oh those poor people. Those poor, poor people. And we watched it all happen, again and again, as the film kept repeating. We were trying to take in the fact that this was real life, and the real world.
"I believe that what occurred that day demonstrated several hard truths to us. The first is that we are vulnerable -- even in our own office buildings and planes we are not safe. Even our mighty military buildings are not safe. There is no special protection for the innocent and the strong, and never has been. It was and is illusory.
"The second hard truth is that America is only one part of the world, and events that take place overseas, resentments that build and explode in other areas, will have consequences in ours. We cannot insulate or isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity. We belong to a global community. What took place in New York was an attack not only on us but on every other nation that sides with us -- and in a way it was an attack even on the ones that don't. We are all in this together, whether we realize it or not.
"The third hard truth is that what happened that day was not the result of insufficient Faith; it was stimulated by the terrible certainty that comes from theological conviction. It was inspired not only by a hatred of America but by a love of God and by the unshakable resolve to make oneself the obedient instrument of a Power and Cause greater and more important than individual human beings and their earthly lives. Over 200 years ago Voltaire wrote "it is a dangerous thing to burn a man alive on the strength of a conjecture." On September 11, over 6,000 Americans were burned alive on the strength of a conjecture.
"The terrorists entered the airports armed not only with box cutters and knives, but with the Word of God and the desire to do His Will. They stepped onto those planes with not one shred of doubt that their faith could have been misplaced. They flew into the buildings with words of praise and prayer to God on their lips and holy scripture in their pockets, convinced that death was not the end for them. They did not question that the pain and suffering of this earth are all part of a great Plan for ultimate goodness and justice. Nor did they challenge their obligation as submissive servants of the Divine to put this plan into action.
"And their prayers were answered, and the frantic and heartfelt prayers of the passengers and office workers were not. The gods always side themselves with the laws of physics. Faith will not move mountains, but it will move men to fly jets loaded with fuel into them and the mountains will come crashing down.
"I think that what America and the world needs now is not more faith and trust in God, not more religious assurance and conviction, but the courage and the humility to doubt. Human beings should not claim to know what they do not know, they should not declare themselves certain in a way nobody can or should be certain. When we believe things with no test in reality there is no way for others to check us, and no way for us to check ourselves, to pause and reconsider in the light of common reason and common experience and common humanity. The terrorists would not -- and could not -- have gotten on those planes if they had not been so comfortably filled with the certitude that the world is divided into People of God and People of Satan, and thus there is no crime in eliminating the enemies of God. Crying out that one must hold fast to a faith in God and His eventual Goodness and Love would only have encouraged them onward. What they needed was a whisper of doubt.
"Tolerance does not come out of the capacity for certainty but out of this ability to doubt -- out of the quiet voice of Reason that tells us "you might be wrong." When people no longer make a distinction between their belief in a God and the God in which they believe they become gods -- infallible, immovable, and capable of great acts of cruelty in the name of a higher, mysterious love. It has been written that "men seldom do evil so cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." We have seen the truth of this confirmed many times in the history of our civilizations. I think we saw this confirmed once more on September 11.
"As America attempts to draw itself together in sympathy and sorrow I am afraid this lesson will be lost. Religion does not unite people: it divides them. It has even divided One Nation Indivisible. It works to separate the Godly from the Ungodly -- Muslim from Christian, Protestant from Catholic, Buddhist from Hindu, Baptist from Wiccan, and finally Theist from Atheist. Enough. We are all Americans of equal standing. We are each protected by a constitution that does not give a preference to any belief over any other because it wisely recognizes that religious speculation should not rest in the public domain of government policy, but in the private domain of individual conscience.
"As a Secular Humanist and proud citizen of the United States, I do not pray. I can only hope and try to act on behalf of these hopes, urging us to solve our problems through our own best efforts. I hope that our nation will continue to reach out with the charity and heroism displayed by our rescue workers in New York. I hope that our country seeks justice with caution and patience, and with due consideration for the lives of innocent peoples overseas. Finally, I hope that America remains true to the rational principles of the Enlightenment on which it was founded and the civil rights and mutual respect embedded in our Constitution. There is an unbridgeable diversity in our unverifiable conjectures about other worlds and realities. The one certainty we all rest on together is this all too real world we create for ourselves. May we not forget we are and have always been united as individual Americans, as citizens of the World, and as portions of Humanity."
"E Pluribus Unum" -- From Many, One.
Sue A. Strandberg
16 October, 2001