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Four ways 9/11 changed America's attitude toward religion
Construction workers move steel beam pulled from ground zero rubble into its permanent home at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
September 3rd, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Four ways 9/11 changed America's attitude toward religion

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.'

- CNN Writer

Filed under: 9/11 • Atheism • Christianity • Faith • Interfaith issues

soundoff (2,180 Responses)
  1. Stupid non-believer

    End religion, end war.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Matt Damon

      Except for the war of the worlds, the war on conflicting scientific theories, the war of the roses, being married, the planet of the apes battle, the war on drugs, political battles, the nazis, the entire existince of all animals, walking through Oakland CA, .....

      September 4, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  2. likewhoa

    if jesus were martyred twenty years ago the christians would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  3. Matt Damon

    Sand Ni&&ers vs Regular Ni&&ers. Discuss.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  4. kimsland

    Imagine there's no Heaven
    It's easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    Religion maybe has about one more year tops, before it is fully annulled from society.
    Normal people are not putting up with religious fools any longer, they should be informed of the truth then if they still feel that jesus and allah (and the many many more) are lords, they should be removed far away from all our children.
    Even my own kids know that all religion is just pathetic. I personally find religious people very funny, they make me laugh.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Matt Damon

      I can't believe you would put any faith in the words of a man who thought that Yoko Ono was hot.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • kimsland

      Matt, John Lennon LOVED Yoko
      Religious people say not to love your family but to love their make believe lords first.

      Be very clear here, religion is nasty and funny, I laugh out loud at them often
      Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha
      Now please, burn the bible.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Matt, just to be clear, atheists are not inclined to put FAITH in anything at all, because faith totally sucks as a method of arriving at conclusions or atti-tudes.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Matt Damon

      That woman is just disgusting. So so disgusting.

      September 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • JF

      Religion maybe has about one more year tops, before it is fully annulled from society.

      Do you live in China?

      September 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • kimsland

      No JF

      I live in the REAL world

      September 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • harmonynoyes

      Are you saying I shouldn't believe everything I read
      Because that would certainly apply to what you write also,
      And when you quote a song writer, I believe you owe them a credit
      And just for the "record" he wasn't necessarily right about everything either
      When one "imagines" , it can be better and more also like maybe there is God and inspiration
      No one can know that for sure, and to say you do is laughable

      September 4, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  5. Craig

    Athiests make up 5% of the U.S. prison population and 95% of the national academy of sciences. If you had to live in a country entirely populated by one of these two groups, which would you choose?

    September 4, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Actually, you are overstating both percentages. A 1997 study by the Federal Bureau of Prisons found 0.207% of the prison population to be atheists. In reality, it's probably higher, because there are benefits to be gained within prison by claiming that you've "found Jesus" or some such other nonsense, but it's unlikely to be as high as 5%. (Source: http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm)
       
      A 1998 survey of NAS members found only 72% to be atheists, with an additional 21% still keeping an open mind on the subject. (Source: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm)

      September 4, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Matt Damon

      I would choose the group that would back you into the corner of the shower room.

      September 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  6. Al

    The cross is actually a blessing because that's the evidence of use of an incendiary explosive in the demolition of the buildings in front of you. The beams melted in midsection and they fused. Kerosene cannot do that.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Are you saying that this "cross" was created when the towers fell, that it is not just two beams that were joined during construction and survived intact?

      September 5, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  7. Al

    I don't base my decisions in life on religion. I base my decisions on facts and science. For example the published evidence that the WTC complex was demolished and the family wanting a new investigation.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EUpKmZ_W7E&w=640&h=390]
    These are the kind of things that change lives.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      Replied with proof on other story, here is a fact ,you been kissing a liars butt.
      How does that taste?Is it life changing?

      September 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • GAW

      Maybe David Icke is right. Shapeshifiting reptilian aliens from under the earths core were responsible for9/11

      September 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      You clearly do not base your decisions on facts and science. Crack heads will believe anything.

      September 4, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  8. mabear87

    There is nothing wron with Muslims,other than the nutcase 1%. We have our own nutcase !% here. People who pretend to be Christians, but use the Old Testament and not the New to put fotrth their views. People like Michelle Bachman who like a former member of my Lutheran Church, Bob Hanson, have no clue about Christianity. Unfortunately, people believe everything their pastors tell them and are unable to think for themselves. They are sheep being led to the slaughter.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Matt Damon

    RELIGIOUS People are wonderful people who are completely ignorant.
    SCIENTIFIC People are condescending lame asses who are 100 percent correct. (Facts are typically correct 100% of the time)
    ATHIESTS are from Berkeley and live with their parents.

    September 4, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      Translation: " I'm right and you're wrong. Why? Because I said so. So there. "

      September 4, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Craig Finlay

      I'm an athiest, I'm from a farming community in western Illinois, and I live with my wife.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Redneck louie

      Craig ya got any corn squeezins

      September 4, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Matt Damon

      I will be putting you into the 3rd category if that's allright with you. Your mom just left my house and should be home in time to make you dinner.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Matt Damon

      You might live with your wife but I am f$%king the athiest right out of her. She is soooo tight.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Craig

      trolls are gonna troll....

      September 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  10. kimsland

    Just quoting a previous comment by Erik12874. I think its exactly true, and if religion wasn't so damn ridiculous I'd say re-write the bible (again!) to show this on the first page for all to see.

    "Man made God, God did not make man. Religion is the direct result of ignorance and mental weakness and fear. It has been the cause of over 90% of all of the wars and conflicts in history. It was devised to control people that were poor and weak minded that had no where to turn. All of the ridiculous comments above proves that. Religion breeds hate and hypocrisy. If you are a good person and strive to help others and not yourself than that is all that matters. Anyone that believes in religions of any kind are a danger to me and our society."

    Thanks Erik12874, we should drop off theses words on pamphlets in everyone's mailbox.
    I'd personally wear it with dignity, printed on my shirt, maybe walmart could introduce this range.

    September 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Robert

      We know for a fact the universe is not eternal. That means atheism is a delusional and false religion.

      It is not possible that the universe created itself out of a steady state of absolute nothing. The first cause had to be self-existant, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, powerful, intelligent, and wise. The being theists call God.

      Feel free to cling to your religion of atheism in spite of science however.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • kimsland

      The universe wasn't 'created' !

      But I have no time in presenting any facts to weak minded religious people. ie The FACTS are very clear and already out there.
      Generally all religious people are WEAK minded, I feel sorry for them, but they do give me a good laugh in return with their idiotic bible stories.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Atheism is not a religion at all, it is the ABSENCE of belief in any gods.
       
      Furthermore, since atheism is a state of mind, not an insti-tution, there are no tenets, creeds, dogmas, principles, etc. of atheism that anyone has to subscribe to (let alone pay money to).
       
      Thus it is simply false (not to mention fatuous) to contend that atheism has anything whatsoever to say about the origin of the Universe, or life on Earth, or anything else. Now, it's certainly true that individual atheISTs have something to say on those subjects, but what they have to say generally comes from the findings of science, not from their atheism. I know it's hard for religious people to grasp this, since so much of their understanding of the world comes from their religion, so they assume it must be something like that for everyone else, but it's not.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Chad

      Why are atheists so angry? Serious question by the way..

      September 4, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • farmerjulia

      Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Chad, serious response to your question. (1) Why do you assume that atheists are angry? (2) Since you didn't qualify the noun "atheists" in any way (such as "SOME atheists" or "the atheists on this forum"), is it safe to conclude that you think ALL atheists are angry? (3) Do you think we're all angry all the time?

      September 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      It gets frustrating trying to reason with lunatics. It's always good to take a break once in a while and do a bit of mocking and laughing for entertainment purposes.

      September 4, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Chad

      Richard: ok, fair enough. Why are most of the atheists posting on this blog so angry (calling people names, ridiculing, disparaging, being generally disrespectful)?

      September 5, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  11. Reality

    Bottom line on the major religions in short form:

    • There probably was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There probably was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas/Buddhists everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    September 4, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Robert

      Merely the delusional ramblings of the follower of the delusional religion of atheism. You have no evidence for you claims at all. You have made statements of faith based on the dogma of your religion.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • peick

      Reality, you are faced with the same questions every human being has to face: Where did you come from, where are you going, what happens after you die, is there ultimate justice, etc. So you can toss out religion, and you have a right to do so. But what do you have in its place? If you say something like "I make my own meaning," that is self-defeating because it is clearly subjective meaning, and meaning has to be outside yourself for it to count as real meaning.

      I would challenge you to go figure out what happened to the body of Jesus. Enough people back then believed that he really was resurrected that we have martyrs dying for that very belief. Is there any chance you are wrong? Did you check all angles?

      September 4, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Peick writes that meaning MUST be "outside of yourself" to be real meaning. Why is that, exactly? If I have a picture of my wife and kids that I treasure, but everyone else thinks of as just colored ink on paper, are you saying that my sense of meaning is false or delusional? And that it only has REAL meaning if someone like YOU says so?
       
      And YOU challenge ATHEISTS on Easter? Man, you guys have 4 different stories about what happened on Easter, and NONE OF THEM AGREE WITH EACH OTHER! Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (made-up names) simply copied down folk tales about events that had supposedly occurred 50-100 years earlier. And those are the ONLY stories that exist anywhere that any such thing ever happened. That part about the tombs opening up and the undead (IE, zombies) walking all around Jerusalem? That part about the earthquake? Don't you think SOMEBODY else would have noticed those events and remarked on them somewhere if they had actually happened? (Here insert parable about log in eye.)

      September 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving Christians from the infamous Resurrection Con:

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
      http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

      p.4

      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      p.168. by Ted Peters:

      Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

      So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      September 4, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Reality

      from: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      September 4, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Reality

      Then there are the Infamous Angelic Cons:

      Joe Smith had his Moroni.

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
      Some added references to "tink-erbells".

      "Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Apparently hallu-cinations did not stop with Joe Smith.

      newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

      "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."

      Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

      "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

      And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

      "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

      "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

      "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

      September 4, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  12. Leo

    Maybe if everyone stopped arguing and looked at the facts,,,that might realize it was the goverment which was responsible for 9/11

    September 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • total nonsense

      Sure... Islam and bloodthirsty muslims have nothing to do with it.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      I talked to Elvis. He says you're FOS on this one.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • FifthApe

      Leo

      Pull that tin foil down a little more.....

      September 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • GAW

      Ok Ok Now! Who let the 9/11 truther in through the back door?

      September 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • dick

      nero burned rome blamed it on the christians, hitler burned the reichstag blamed it on terrorists, both then decried time to protect the homeland and who is against this is hurting the homeland. exact same thing bush did and people still believe his lies today. 911 was an inside job. CIA + Mossad + MI5 = AlQueada

      September 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      Go back to working on your conspiracy theory. You're wasting precious time when you could be doing important research and following up on leads!

      September 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Jeff

    "Religion is the most effective form of mind control EVER invented" Governments have used it to control populations and will continue to do so until people wake up worldwide. Sadly, Muslims have become the latest scapegoats of "bad people" over the last 10 years worldwide as the US government has put a POLICE STATE in place. Don't buy this?- go to an American airport. It's the start of a 1930's Nazi Germany style police state. But, Americans are too busy watching "American Idol" on television, so they don't get it yet. They will when the US Dollar collapses as the world currency in the near future- I guarantee it big time.

    September 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      This was true before 9/11:
       
      "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." —Lucius Annaeus Seneca (5 BCE – 65 CE), Roman statesman
       
      It was still true AFTER 9/11:
       
      "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." —Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff under Pres. Obama, 2008 Nov. 21

      September 4, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • eric

      When the U.S. collapses you're thinking that Christian Fundies will be like "WE WERE WRONG THE WHOLE TIME!".............Nope. They will just say that it's all atheists fault and that the rapture is coming.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • z

      amen

      September 4, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • peick

      No, Jeff. I think you left out "intimidation" and "the threat of looking foolish to others" as the strongest forms of mind control, or at least mouth control. And what are you using to silence what you hate but verbal intimidation and the threat of ridicule?

      You have to define terms to have productive philosophical conversations. What is "religion?" Is it only formal methods of trying to please an angry deity? Is it any world view that goes beyond what is observed to state what is really out there past our knowledge? I think it's an important distinction.

      Anyway, if God is really real, it makes no difference whether you believe in him. He's still there. And if he's not really there, then you can't make him exist by believing hard enough. However, I don't think enough of the people on this forum or in this country truly care to know what is really real. We tend to stop at what supports our position and desired lifestyle. Seldom do we want to know the truth even it if works against us and compels us to change.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Abe

      peick, that be one damn fine post.

      September 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • weallgotone

      Patriotism controls more minds than religion.

      September 4, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  14. RedWyv3

    The way I see it, there are no countries with any sort of meaningful economy, any sort of meaningful power, that uses a strict form of Islam. Would such societies prosper under Christianity? I cannot be certain, but definitely they would be better suited to deal with other countries and therefore build a better relationship to strengthen their economies. In that line of thinking, Islam isn't working, and while as a Christian I desire conversion, as a thinking man who values freedom, I merely wish that those government officials look at what does and does not work without involving faith as a primary decision maker. Still, extremism – be it Islamic, Christian or otherwise is counter productive – and should not be practiced regardless of faith. As for Atheists – it is their right not to choose a religion, and I respect that. I don't believe they are right, and I fear for their immortal souls – but it is their choice. With their extremist leanings as of late, one has to wonder where the anger actually comes from, as it's obviously misdirected towards this subject.

    September 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  15. alma1313

    real deal: yes they cry out of instinct and since an atheist is not likely they choose a higher power!

    September 4, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      All the help I've EVER gotten in this life has been from my fellow human beings. None whatsoever has come from your imaginary friend.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      And, Alma, just to test which of us is more sincere in our respective beliefs, I here and now pledge to you that, if MY house catches fire, I'm going to dial 911. Will YOU here and now pledge that you will forego the aid of your fellow human beings and simply pray to your God for succor in your time of need?

      September 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • alma1313

      Out of context boys! I was replying to someone who said crying out was instinct God was a learned response!

      September 4, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • alma1313

      I wasn't thinking about a situation where 911 could respond. I was thinking about the people that had to jump off the burning world trade centers.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Real Deal

      alma,

      Since your reply made no sense at all, I'm not surprised that Richard took a little different tack on it.

      It's no excuse for you to weasel out of his challenge, however.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • alma1313

      God is not playing with the earth or mankind like paper dolls and a dollhouse. Man alone is responsible for his deeds no matter what cloak he wears. Man did not invent religion to controll the masses (we are still working on when man first walked the earth much less what he was thinking). There is no proof of that. There is no proof that there isn't a another dimension where a spirit could reside. There is proof that a message has been spreading for millenniums and their are believers and non believers. The believers are in the majority right now. That may change. Several thousand years ago I think that the ratio was reversed. I believe that would be a very sad day for the world.

      September 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      So, Alma, you're NOT willing to pledge that you would rely solely on prayer if your house were on fire. Sort of shoots your theory about the helpfulness of your imaginary god full of holes, doesn't it, if you wouldn't turn to him even in your moment of greatest need?

      September 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  16. Yaright

    To all the religious folk... Is god forgiving? Does he/she believe that any of his children can be forgiving? I ask again because i haven't had an answer n twenty minutes. As fast as this post is posting, you would think a religious person would of answered by now????

    September 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • dougaussie

      God forgives those who ask for forgiveness, BUT, if you don't forgive others what makes you think He should forgive you.
      God doesn't give blanket forgiveness to all mankind, including you. HE utterley destroyed mankind because of violence but saved Noah.

      September 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Fred1

      It’s a great deal. Lie, steel, drink, smoke, cheat on your wife, bugger little boys then ask for forgiveness and presto all your sins are gone and you are a pure and unspotted lamb of god fit for heaven and an eternal blessing.

      Doesn’t matter what you do as long as you say your prayers each night.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      @dougaussie: Have you forgiven the 19 hijackers? If you haven't, why not? It would certainly please your god.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  17. dougaussie

    Really america needs to fundamentally examine islam. What will happen if the number of islamic migrants gains a voting block, will it alter the laws of the usa? of course it will. Will a future islamic USA overturn the rights of women? will it compel non-moslems to adopt islamic laws? will a civil war result? This has nothing to do with christianity, this has to do with the freedom to express opinion. to even poke fun at a religion without being killed for it, or even to practice a religon other than islam without being persecuted. Islam is a tribal primitive desert religon that sought to adopt christian jewish ideals and enforce it on society, funny how the clear thinking moslems want to get out of islamic coutries.

    September 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • dougaussie

      of course it can be argued that the USA is a lawless society that needs islam to become law abiding. That christian jewish religions are just tribal sects that started in the desert as well. That islam is only what you imagine it to be and that westerners have no phycocultural mental appreciation of such religion. As far as i'm concerned Jesus is the son of God and no Moslem shall enter heaven unless they accept him as Lord and Savior.

      September 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Yaright

      thank you. I have often wondered that with multiply religions, mostly catholic as they are the only other major christian religion in America other than protestants. Which, OMG consisted of a lot of different religions, Puritans, Quakers, Evangelicals, etc...... Some died off like the Quakers "you can only breed with your mom so many times". Catholics were not even allowed in America until the 1800's when mass migration of Irish and Italian came to America. Took awhile for the protestants to become okay with the would be killer of their religion. But, as we had freedom of religion you couldn't really keep them out. But boy ol" boy were they persecuted. Gangs of New York the movie actually depicts this very well.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  18. alma1313

    Canadian you have limited yourself. You can't go further than the confines of your beliefs. You have wrapped yourself up in a small package and you are small.

    September 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  19. Michael

    9/11 shouldn't have changed anything. But it did....that's why they scare us and say "9/11 has changed everything." ....you don't get any rights anymore....we must be afraid of everything.

    September 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  20. Joop Kaashoek

    It is sad that the dying act of one religion causes a re-emergence of religion onto the world stage. That is the problem with mystical unfullfillable promises that religions have been making. Too many people will do whatever they can to make them real.

    September 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Deedubya

      It does seem rather sick that some people's response to this disgusting act it to embrace the very thing that caused it in the first place.

      September 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • alma1313

      Religion didn't cause 9/11. Evil, arrogant, selfish greedy men casued 9/11

      September 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • harmonynoyes

      It's not like "all religions are the same", so maybe we're better off without them. A lot of good can come from ideas and
      acts which are heroic and good - as in heroic firefighters, heroic priests, heroic survivors; heroic family members who are left behind. I don't believe they we're "just doing a jobfor a paycheck".
      I don't believe that Muslims who want to build their mosque at ground zero are as "good or innocent "as they claim. Please!
      They are asserting themselves because they believe we have been made vulverable. Let's not make them as important as they wish the they were.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You can attach a lot of adjectives to the religious fanatics who flew the airliners into the buildings on 9/11, but I don't believe you can accurately claim that they were either "selfish" or "cowardly". After all, they knew they were going to die as well as kill. You only do something like that if you think it's for some good and noble purpose greater than yourself. Such is the bill of goods that ALL religions peddle.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
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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.