By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) - David O'Brien couldn't help himself. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, he became obsessed.
O'Brien read the stories of 9/11 victims over and over, stunned by what he was discovering.
He read about the firefighters who marched up the smoke-choked stairwells of the World Trade Center, though many knew they could die; the beloved priest killed while giving last rites as the twin towers collapsed; the passengers on hijacked planes who called their families one last time to say, "I love you."
"I was obsessed with these stories," says O'Brien, a Catholic historian at the University of Dayton in Ohio. "There were so many stories of self-sacrifice, not just by the first responders, but by people fleeing the building. There was this revelation of goodness."
O'Brien saw an Easter message in 9/11 - good rising out of the ashes of evil. Yet there were other religious messages sent that day, and afterward, that are more troubling, religious leaders and scholars say.
September 11 didn't just change America, they say. It changed the nation's attitude toward religion. Here are four ways:
1: A chosen nation becomes a humbled one.
One man died because he arrived early to work. A woman died because she decided to take a later flight. The arbitrary nature of some of the deaths on 9/11 still sticks with many Americans today.
Yet this is what life is like for billions of people on the planet today, some religious leaders say. A random event - a car bomb, a stray bullet - can end their lives at any minute.
Most Americans had not lived with this vulnerability until 9/11, says Mathew Schmalz, a religion professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, who once lived in Karachi, Pakistan.
"We had this sense of specialness and invulnerability that 9/11 shattered," he says. "Given that a large section of the world's population deals with random violence every day, one of the outcomes of 9/11 should be a greater feeling of solidarity with people who live in cities like Karachi in which violence is a part of everyday life."
Recognizing that vulnerability, though, is difficult for some Americans because of how they see their country, Schmalz and others say.
They say Americans have long had a triumphalist view of their place in history. Certain beliefs have been engrained: Tomorrow will always be better; we're number one. The term "American" even reflects a certain arrogance. It casually discounts millions of people living in Central and Latin America.
The 9/11 attacks, though, forced many Americans to confront their limitations, says Rev. Thomas Long, a nationally known pastor who has been active in post 9/11 interfaith efforts.
"We're losing the power of the American empire and becoming more a nation among nations," says Long, a religion professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "The world is a much more dangerous and fragile place economically."
How Americans cope with their loss of power is ultimately a theological question, Long says. It's the same question the ancient Hebrews confronted in the Old and New Testaments when they faced national calamities.
The chosen people had to learn how to be humble people, Long says. Americans face the same test today.
"The challenge for every faith tradition is going to be helping people grieve the loss of an image of America that they once had," he says, "and acquire a modern understanding of ourselves on the world's stage."
2: The re-emergence of "Christo-Americanism."
Before 9/11, if you asked the average American about Ramadan or sharia law, they probably would have given you a blank look.
Not anymore. The 9/11 attacks prompted more Americans to learn about Islam. Books on the subject became best-sellers. Colleges started offering more courses on Islam. Every cable news show suddenly had their stable of "Muslim experts."
More Americans know about Islam than ever before, but that hasn't stopped the post-9/11 Muslim backlash. The outrage over plans to build an Islamic prayer and community center near ground zero; the pastor who threatened to burn the Quran; conservative Christian leaders who called Islam evil - all occurred as knowledge of Islam spread throughout America, scholars says.
"One of the sobering lessons of the decade since 9/11 is that religious prejudice is not always rooted in raw ignorance," says Thomas Kidd, author of "American Christians and Islam."
"Some of America's most vociferous anti-Muslim critics know quite a lot about Muslim beliefs, but they often use their knowledge to construe Islam in the worst possible light."
Many of these public attacks against Islam were encouraged by conservative Christian leaders such as Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, who called Islam "wicked," and Pat Robertson, the Christian broadcaster who declared that "Islam is not a religion," says Charles Kammer, a religion professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio.
Kammer says Graham and Robertson helped fuel the rise of "Christo-Americanism," a distorted form of Christianity that blends nationalism, conservative paranoia and Christian rhetoric.
"A segment of the religious community in the United States has been at the forefront of an anti-Islamic crusade that has helped to generate a climate of hatred and distrust toward all Muslims," says Kammer.
Other strains of Christo-Americanism have swept through America before.
After 9/11, some political leaders said terrorists hated the U.S. because of "our freedoms." But America's record on granting those freedoms to its citizens is mixed, says Lynn Neal, co-editor of the book, "Religious Intolerance in America."
In the 19th century, the U.S government passed numerous laws preventing Native American tribes from practicing their religion. Mormons were persecuted. Roman Catholics were once described as disloyal, sexual deviants, Neal says.
"Religious intolerance is not a new feature of the American landscape. Despite being the most religiously diverse nation on earth, despite having a first amendment that protects religious rights...we as a nation and as citizens have often failed to live up to those ideas."
3: Interfaith becomes cool.
Interfaith dialogue - it's not the type of term that makes the heart beat faster.
Before 9/11, interfaith efforts were dismissed as feel-good affairs that rarely got media coverage. The 9/11 attacks changed that.
Interfaith events spread across the country. Mosques and temples held joint worship services. Every college campus seemed to have an interfaith dialogue. The Obama White House launched a college interfaith program.
Becoming an interfaith leader is now hip, some say.
"A generation of students is saying that they want to be interfaith leaders, just like previous generations said they wanted to be human rights activists or environmentalists," says Eboo Patel, who founded the Interfaith Youth Core in 2002.
Patel says at least 250 colleges have signed up for the White House interfaith program, which he helped design. The program encourages students of different faiths to work together on service projects.
"These young leaders will make interfaith cooperation a social norm in America, similar to multiculturalism and volunteerism," Patel says.
These new leaders include people like Sarrah Shahawy, a Muslim-American medical student at Harvard University and the daughter of Egyptian immigrants.
After 9/11, Shahawy says she felt the responsibility to educate people about Islam. She became an interfaith leader at the University of Southern California, where she noticed a steady increase in student participation in the years after the attacks.
Shahawy says her generation is drawn to interfaith efforts because 9/11 showed the destructive potential of any exclusive claims to religious truth. The 9/11 hijackers carried out their attacks in the name of Islam, but Muslim religious leaders and scholars said that the terrorists' actions did not reflect Islamic teachings.
"For one religious group to claim a monopoly on truth should be obsolete," she says. The interfaith movement doesn't teach people that all religions are the same, she says.
Shahawy calls herself a proud Muslim. "But for me, there's beauty and truth to be found in many different religions."
4: Atheists come out of the closet.
There's one group, however, that sees little beauty in any religion.
Before 9/11, many atheists kept a low profile. Something changed, though, after 9/11. They got loud.
Atheist leaders such as Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," and Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith," wrote best-selling books. Atheist groups launched national media campaigns with bold billboard messages such as "Christmas is a myth."
The pugnacious journalist Christopher Hitchens became the public face of a more combative form of atheism as he went on talk shows and lectures to defend not believing in God.
Criticism of all religion, not just fanatical cults, was no longer taboo after 9/11, says Daniel Dennett, a philosophy professor with Tufts University in Massachusetts.
"Atheist-bashing is now, like gay-bashing, no longer an activity that can be indulged in with impunity by politicians or commentators," Dennett says.
Atheists were driven to become more vocal because of the 9/11 attacks and America's reaction, says David Silverman, president of American Atheists. He says many atheists were disgusted when President George W. Bush and leaders in the religious right reacted to the attack by invoking "God is on our side" rhetoric while launching a "war on terror."
They adopted one form of religious extremism while condemning another, he says.
"It really showed atheists why religion should not be in power. Religion is dangerous, even our own religion," Silverman says.
Atheists are still the most disparaged group in America, but there's less stigma attached to being one, he says.
"The more noise that we make, the easier it us to accept us," Silverman says. "Most people know atheists now. They knew them before, but didn't know they were atheists."
Many Americans knew the people who perished on 9/11 as well, but they didn't know they were heroes until later, says David O'Brien, the Catholic historian who compulsively read the 9/11 obituaries.
O'Brien was so moved by the stories he read that he decided to write an essay for America magazine, a national Catholic weekly, entitled, "9/11 Then and Now."
He wrote: On 9/11, "Our people, my people, were tested and, for a shining moment ... they were found worthy."
He said many 9/11 victims didn't panic as their end drew near. They "thought not of themselves, but others ... when the chips were down." They saw themselves not as individuals, but as members of a "single human family."
So should we, he says, as we face new challenges 10 years later. The 9/11 victims aren't just heroes; they're our guides for the future, he says.
"The story is not over, not by a long shot," O'Brien wrote. "Look at all the love that day. Love can still write another chapter and keep hope alive for a better future. The meaning of 9/11 lies ahead, and it's in our hands, and maybe in our hearts.'
It sure changed my views about religion. Before 9/11 I couldn't care less about any religion but I tolerated it. After 9/11 I've learned to hate every religion because I've seen what religion has cause throughout the world. Killing in the name of religion is the dumbest friggin thing I've ever seen. The religious freaks of the world is the problem. If there was no religion the world would be a much peaceful and safer place.
But how would we have morals and values?
Jesus never created religions. Christians did. Jesus spread the word of God, peace, love, compassion, forgiveness, sharing.
christ templar, So your saying that Jesus did not want followers?
I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
ifn she be as smart as y all been lately 2 bits would be pretty steep
Anti-Christian Propaganda!!!!! John Blake and CNN may try to sneak phrases and words into this article such as; "...post 911 Muslim backlash...," "Anti-Islamic crusade...," "Christo-Americanism..." And, of course, there is a substantial slew of affected drones posted at the top of this blog, attempting to reinforce this article by denouncing religion (particularly Christianity), although many of them could not begin to understand the fundamental difference between Christ, who promoted LOVE above all else, and Mohammed, who promoted violence and SUBMISSION above all else. We know from history that love will always triumph in the end. The response of Americans immediately following 911 was proof positive. A "true" religion, based upon LOVE will endure even the 'shallow media's' futile attempt at diminishing it!!
jesus was just a man you fool.
He was trying to stop his mum from getting stoned to death.
Anyone would do the same.
Religion is man made absurdity, ALL of them
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
y all brought it up y all do it taint rocket science
i thought the taint was that place between your.... well just look it up.
This is a tired and simply refuted argument. You need to learn to distinguish between life in a theocratic society thousands of years ago and life in the non-theocratic US. God's revelation to man has been little by little. What was proper in the formative years of the Jewish nation as God's vehicle to bring us the Messiah may be, and is, decidedly different in many ways from what is proper today.
i have distinguished the difference. it's the fact that allegorical means literal to most christians. so should i off him or what?
@Sciguy.... Your right, its called EVOLVING
Islam has been a big mistake for Europe. The life example of Mohammed is one of militarism and conquest and dying in this pursuit is the only sure way to get to "paradise". If Chirstians actually do like their savior they end up being nice and docile, self sacrificing types. If Jews do like, say Moses, they'll be a bunch of Jewish guys wandering in the desert with GPS's haggling over the real location of Mt. Sinai. If all Muslims do like Mohammed, nothing and no one will be safe, not even muslims, and the whole planet will be up in flames. Take your pick, folks. I'd feel a lot better about "peacful" Islam if Muslims deeply and authentically reformed Islam in a manner that completely rejects, militarism, hatred of other faiths, the whole death obsession, slavery, and cult of revenge. Of course, then there wouldn't be much left.
“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant … then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them” Sir Karl Popper
What i find funny is the simple fact that people throw the word "religion' out freely. Lets not forget that atheism is a religion. Don't believe me, just look up the definition... You're on the internet
You could even argue that myself as a agnostic is also a form of religion...
This is what religious people WANt atheism to be. if you call atheism a religion, you elevate true religions to the same logical level, and give them all undeserved respect. Than they are ready to start the argument. A-theism means no-theism, no religion, no system of beliefs. You know some facts, and you don't know the undiscovered – simple as that
your wrong for the simple fact that a group of people have the same beliefs. IE. a religion. If i wanted to start a group that only eats pizza on wednesday and wears togas on monday and people agree with me and start to follow my beliefs. BANG, a religion has formed. Of course, Main stream religion would call it a cult. Christianity and Islam and the thousand of other religions started the same way.
I don't believe in a god, but I'm not an atheist. I can only be referred to as an "atheist" by someone who is a "theist." So, to everyone who believes in human-manufactured concept of a god, I am an atheist. Otherwise I am simply part of everything else. Kind of cool to know I'm the product of stars.
No, Yaright, your example will be called a club with traditions. Like a sorority, a BMW fan club, or vegetarians. You are not required to suspend logic, accept some beliefs and certainly aren't prohibited from doubts or questions.
Oh yea, a minor point – a club would have to pay taxes, unlike religion scams that sell invisible products and must be taxed like gambling
The only thing — repeat, the ONLY thing — that we atheists reliably have in common is the absence of a belief in any gods. That's it. End of the line. There are no consequences of that raw fact, no creeds, no devotions, no rituals, no questions about what KIND of god do you not believe in, what's your definition of a miracle, is man saved by grace or works — none of that is necessary, because ALL of those questions flow from answering "yes" to the question "Do you believe in God?", and our answer is "no". We don't have a pope or miracles or a holy book that we can turn to for answers to life's perplexing questions. We have to think for ourselves.
Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
God choose who the peoples that He want them saved.
Jesus love you.
Religion is for the feckless. The pastors are feckless. Conversation must exist in two directions. Religion is feckless. It is not conversation. Boycott Church Boycott Religion.
"Feckless?????" Defined, feckless means "unthinking and irresponsible." So, you're saying that cultural development during the past 2000 years was either devoid of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or any other religions???? There were not enough Atheists to establish anything to their credit. Religion has given the world civility and order over the centuries. The only exception to this, is the aggression of Islam, which causes upheaval wherever it spreads.
Flying planes into building, killing hundreds of people and dying for that cause was a 100% faith-based initiative,
In the history of mankind religions of all kinds (from christianity to state communism) were the by far leading cause for wars and mass killings.
The main problem with religion is that it gives crasy zealots a legitimate platform for insanity
9/11 also spurred people to question their own religious beliefs. The 2008 Religious Identification Survey shows there are about 34 million Americans who believe in God but do not belong to any "revealed" religion. The bulk of these people hold Deistic beliefs. That is, they apply their reason to the laws and designs in Nature and believe the designs point us to our Designer. At the same time they reject the unreasonable "holy" books of the various "revealed" religions such as the Torah, the Bible and the Koran. Unfortunately, not many of these people are aware that their is a name for their beliefs which is Deism.
Progress! Bob Johnson
The author begins his 4th observation as, "There's one group, however..." Atheists are not a group; they are simply everybody else.
Is it possible to believe that the Creator of the universe would personally impregnate a Palestinian virgin in order to facilitate getting his Son into the world as a man?
God makes himself look kind of skeevy here. He didn't marry this girl before he knocked her up, then he abandoned her and let another guy raise his kid. Talk about your deadbeat dads. If this were just an average guy we were talking about, I'd call him a creep.
This god, according to the christians, is very odd... he allegedly "needs" a woman? This "omnipotent" god is really weak and needy...
The Americans run the risk of becoming pathetic with their mourning over the 9/11 victims. They fought two wars that cost hem a fortune, had those billions been spent on health-care, more lives would have been saved than perished in the disasters. And what to think about the war deaths, the refugees, millions had to flee their homes because of the American interventions.
Those war money have peen spent to feed the blood-thirsty lobby of the military contractors who could loot the budget almost uncontrollably.
9/11 made me an atheist.
welcome to reality, my friend.
I became an Atheist shortly after 9/11
**Started to become an Atheist after 9/11. It took me a few years to get over the guilt religion instilled in me.
I'm very impressed.
I hope you have also checked out the lengthy youtube videos on religion absurdities too.
Its very very very obvious religion is man made hate and fear, around death.
Its best we help as many children as possible to see how pathetic religion is and always has been.
It should come from a brave president one day (soon)
I think that the biggest impact on religion was that Islam was flushed out into the open for what it is and more importantly what it isn't .................wasn't the whole 9/11 thing about religion anyway? seems that the bad guys had a slight religious influence in their lives why not call it like it is on religion is the false opiate for the people
Protestants. The Protestants were originally Roman Catholice, but in the 1500 s, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, led a sort of rvelot against the Catholic Church, and nailed 95 theses in the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenburg, Germany. These were to protest the wickednesses in the Catholic Church. Those who followed him came to be called Lutherans. Martin Luther's break from the Catholic Church was not his idea, it was the church who excommunicated him. His reformation' changed the entire world, as his teachings spread like wildfire. Prior to the Reformation, the world was in the dark ages'. People could not read or write. Martin translated the Bible into German, and he opened schools to teach people to read and write. The world came out of the dark ages. This would be a very interesting topic for you. If you Google Reformation' you will find much interesting, additional information. Best wishes.
Support my god, or I'll kill you !
Moderation in everything is not always a good idea
You might have to fight to preserve a better idea, God-based or not
Religion is cancer of the intellectual brain
You cannot argue with a religious person, but they are sure good to laugh at.
Ha Ha Ha
A religious person walked into a bar, and everyone laughed.
Religious people are funny
@kimsland – You're smoking hash again kimsland. You and tanner should get a room...maybe your kids can watch.
pdou enough with your silly comments
We have ALL agreed, Religion is wrong.
You go now, and spread the word.
pdou was wrong, and so is religion.
Mark & Lori, Just wanted to tell you Thanks again for all your hard work. You guys were cetrnialy drained at the end of the night I could tell. But when I seen the results of our photos you took I could see why. Tonya started crying after looking through just the first few. They were amazing!!!! I never thought we were going to be so delighted as we were. Words can not express our thanks to the both of you. I promise you that if we need anything more I will let you know and we would cetrnialy pass your name along to anyone who mat be looking for a professional photographer(s). Absolutly amazing!!! Thanks again! Hope to stay in contact with you over the years to come. I may need your help when it comes to photos for my websites as well.
Very well described and I think you are right on track. I would cmmoent, however, that where you are now may not be the place you are in 5-10 years from now. So consider transitions all along the way. Settle what the kids will be and never say we will let them choose. Doesn't work. My personal journey re Judaism was parent directed religion; confusion and questioning; children and what I wanted for them (more personal participation for me.); Social and organizational Jewish activity; intellectual exploration and commonality of views and ideas with others. These are not sequential, but overlap with each other. Of course, this was over many years (decades)..and who knows maybe there will be even more!
Religious people are only good for having se x with young children..
how sad that you have overlooked the sacredness and the spiritual in the paGod has blessed us with. has this path spots of wickedness? yes –many. the potential for good is always balanced with the potential for evil. we always have the choice.
Thank God I am an atheist :). Just kidding. When people stop using God, Yahweh, and Allah to justify murder on a mass scale, then I will believe in religion. Until then, I will believe in a supreme being on Gods and my own terms who help me in my daily life. Organized religion is the biggest scam in human history, almost as big as the man made global warming scam; give me your money and I will fix (minus my 90% commission) everything problem in the world.
Excellent call !!
Any faith can be twisted to suit a political goal (even Atheism). Many (not all) of the wars that people cite as religious conflicts can also be traced to a certain group's political (territorial, economic, etc...) goals. These groups can then co-opt the nearest convenient religion into something that can be used to motivate the populace. This is generally done through "selective" quoting and deliberate misinterpretation. Does the fact that this can be done make that base religion evil? I personally don't think so, but many people tend to disagree.
I agree. There are always people willing to take advantage of others.
Atheism is not a faith. Stop trying to bring us down to your level.
I contend that is it still a faith, with faith being defined as a system of beliefs relating to an all- or close to all-powerful being (or beings) or a specific set of teachings. With atheism that belief is that the all-powerful being doesn't exist or has not been proven to exist. Organization does not define religion.
This seems pretty hard to misinturpet
Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who teaches my hands to wage war, and my fingers to do battle.–The Bible, Psalms 144:1
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.