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. MossadandUSblackop

    Can you believe the main stream media has the gall to continue with their 9/11 lies? They don't ask questions, they are not objective and excel at covering up the truth. They all know the US government carried out the 9/11 attacks, yet they continue with bogus stories about religion. Sometimes you get the feeling that Operation Mockingbird never ended.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • mei'mthere

      Alex Jones called, he wants his money and his five minutes of fame back. But you have to give him kudos for suckering in you conspiracy morons.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • weh 0fn0p0

      You conspiracy theorists refuse to accept that there is alarming evidence that the US Government indeed did NOT carry out such attacks. If that had been the case all you 9/11 "truthers" would have been hunted down and killed like animals. Seeing as you have not been, and also that 9/11 liar organizations even have nonprofit status, you should stop your copypasta rant.

      Look here for more info on your stupidity:


      And @Corse, the person who hates religion, it is people like you who are an impediment to the world, not ordinary religious people. They are, above all, humans, not weak-minded trolls. If religion had been made illegal, much of the world's cultural richness would go away. It would be like Nazi Germany, but according to you that would be fine for religious people, who all somehow share in the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.

      Extremism in any form leads to disaster. Even atheist extremism. Instead of voicing your views to more rational people, please join Christopher Hitchens in his stupid and hopeless crusade.

      September 4, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Corse

      Nazi Germany was a very Christian nation. They all went to church with militant fervor. You are incorrect in your assumptions.
      Religion should be banned, but it is extremely unlikely to ever happen in the next few hundred years. My wishful thinking is not a serious proposal, but only an angry complaint / rant.
      Too bad you cannot see what is happening to everyone you know. You'd be angry, too.

      September 4, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Awkward Situations

      Conspiracy theorists are a terrorists best friend. It's not so hard to win someone over when they think we're killing our own people like that. Fool. You don't have any special knowledge I as_sure you. The only purpose you're serving right now is your paranoia and lining the wallets of conspiracy theory websites. Snap out of it, it's been 10 years.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Julie

      God Bless America, even idiots like you get to speak, even if only other idiots may consider your words! The rest of us...well, God Bless America.

      September 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  2. Brian

    What makes America great... we had the capability to wipe out all Muslim nations but we didn't. We could have nuked the entire Middle East, taken over the oil fields but we didn't. Outlandish, yes. But what if Nazi Germany had our capability? Europe, and the world would be completely different. Ideals of compassion, and democracy makes America great. We have always been a nation among nations, but we ROSE to become a leader of nations. America is GREAT. We are the Pinnacle of Western culture. If we fail... so does the world. Be proud of America... and let us lead again!

    September 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Joe

      Are you for real? You honestly believe we are great simply because we don't destroy other people? I can pretty much guarantee your exposure to other cultures/nations is very limited and hopefully it will remain that way

      September 3, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Brian

      You missed the point entirely... it's our ideal of compassion that makes us great.

      September 4, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Brian

      We lose that compassion.. we fall.

      September 4, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Sober

      Anyone remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

      September 4, 2011 at 2:24 am |
    • harmonynoyes

      America-Land of the Free, Home of the Brave
      About a week before the towers came down, I was walking to work in lower manhattan, I was wearing my cross around my neck, as was my habit. A very large dark man dresses in muslim looking garb got over me and in my face.He made some threatening remarks which referred to me and my cross. His size alone was very intimidating, I wanted to ignore him and as I tried to walk by he kept getting in my way. I was getting very angry. I found this to be an unusual experience for manhattan. I talked to a therapist about it, and he said, oh, just typical ny. I didn't think so though. About a week later the towers came down. I thought about that experience I had on the street with the muslim guy. I thought, you won't make me afraid to wear my cross, and as an American, I would fight to the death to defend my right, that's how deeply angry I became. God Bless America, and God Bless Me.

      September 4, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • johnP

      Brian: I was about to leave a note indicating my disgust with all that is being said here, but then read your note, and fell that you are one of the few here that has the insight to see the truth. I am happy to see there are still some straight thinkers out there. j

      September 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  3. Abraxas

    The attack on the WTC caused me to google "fudamentalist," as I was not completely certain that I fully understood the term. The dictionary defines it as "The part of the body upon which one sits; the buttocks; specifically, the anus." It was then that I began to understand the mentality of these "fundamentalists."

    September 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  4. Jason

    "4: Atheists come out of the closet.
    There's one group, however, that sees little beauty in any religion."

    CNN, why must you misrepresent the atheist point of view? There’s plenty of beauty in religion. There’s art, literature, culture, tradition, music, and history. There’s philosophy – some of it good, some of it not so good. To suggest that atheists as a group don’t see any beauty in religion is unfair and untrue. Atheists are saying that religion can be harmful. 9/11 is a perfect example of the dangers of religious extremism. Atheists are also saying that you shouldn't believe in things without good evidence. We certainly lie to our children and pretend that we know things that we couldn't possibly know. For starters how could anyone actually know that there is god or that his name is Yahweh, Allah, or Krishna?

    September 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Siyajkak

      We can't, and every religion, including mine, states that God is incomprehensible, so there should be no point in claiming someone else's religion is false. Maybe they got some of the truth that you didn't.

      As far as religion being harmful though, I think it's more a matter of ideology. As many people have died as a result of Marxism as religion in the last century, and nationalism has killed even more. If religion is abolished, people will find something to fill the gap. Humans will always be violent. It's not religion that's bad, it's corrupt leaders that use it for bad

      September 4, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Jesus

      Many atheists over this past decade have become ANTI-THEISTS. They've reacted to the strident evangelical Christian political dogma that has grown over these past years. No longer to quietly call themselves "not believers" or "irreligious", they now vocally oppose the irrational, illogical, and downright id–iotic intrusion into our politics and way of life of 1st century myth and ignorance. Religion is a cancer on our social fabric that must be purged before we, as a species, can move forward.

      September 4, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • W

      Athiesm is now a religion of its own. Otherwise the members would not be working so hard to build their membership. I even saw that in one state a group has applied for church status.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  5. nettyy


    September 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  6. The Dude

    First responders of 9/11 were not invited to the upcoming ceremony...that is because 90% of them are 9/11 Truthers.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  7. jamesquall

    pretty darn accurate post

    September 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  8. Jason

    An article written by a true post-modernist.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  9. Edd

    "More Americans know about Islam than ever before, but that hasn't stopped the post-9/11 Muslim backlash."
    Why should it? The more I learn, the more I despise this "peaceful religion."

    September 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • The Dude

      Consider the source of your knowledge. I know Muslims, they are good people. Better human beings than most Christians I encounter.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • ihatefanboys

      you should google christianity and learn more about that "peaceful religion" .....millions and millions of innocents were killed in the name of christianity when they wouldnt convert to it... dont be a hypocrite. i think the real problem with most christians is that theyre ignorant and uneducated about the violent nature of christianity because your priest doesnt talk about it on sunday, doesnt make it any less true.

      September 4, 2011 at 2:47 am |
  10. The Dude

    Science will fly you into the Cosmos – Religion will fly you into Buildings.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Aristocles

      Or science can lead you to a concentration camp. or a gulag. Both religion and science have good and bad about them.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      You shouldn't confuse science with politics or ideology.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • DaDoc540

      "…science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."—Albert Einstein

      September 4, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Enlightenment


      Even God Hates Christians


      September 4, 2011 at 5:29 am |
    • RonFromNM

      "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this." -Albert Einstein

      September 4, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Matthew Damon

      I am a worthless piece of garbage. – Albert Einstein

      September 5, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  11. Robert

    If the Bible is a fake and a fraud, do you realize you're talking about somehow getting thousands of people that were involved in its creation and publication over hundreds of years in on the conspiracy? Not to mention somehow talking hundreds of people into being martyred and burned at the stake rather than deny their testimony of it? It's far, far easier just to believe the book is true rather than to believe such a massive conspiracy occurred just to put it into place.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Colin

      Not so. Look at the Koran, for example. A competing book with a billion who believe it. In the context of the Iron Age Earth, it is not at all surprising that a number of myths arose around figures like Jesus, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Mahavira, Buddah, Lao Tsu, Moses (who likely never existed) etc.

      We, as a species, were just at the point where we were struggling to understand lour existence and fates. Warm stories of caring sky-gods and post-mortem immortality were bound to arise everywhere – as they did.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      So, people in the 21st century are supposed to discard all reason and believe a bronze age story simply because a few billion ignorant people are stuck believing something that should have been discarded centuries ago and that there is not one shred of evidence for?

      September 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • ihatefanboys

      millions and millions of brainwashed idiots.. its a cult like any other cult, just bigger....numbers dont make it true. just as the fact that apple makes so much money selling a subpar phone, its ignorance, its no common sense, its ignoring logic.

      September 4, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Lee

      It hardly takes a planned conspiracy to come up with the bible. It is made up stories based on long chains of made up stories that have been edited, inserted, and deleted over centuries based on POLITICAL motivations. If you had a strong political motivation you would insert or rewrite a part of it to make it appear that your sect of religion is the correct one and justify your tribe/state massacre of another.

      September 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  12. Mr. Pelican Pants

    Atheist-bashing may be no longer acceptable, but bashing by atheists has increased dramatically.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Speaking the truth, as atheists do, is not bashing.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  13. Dan

    It didn't change my dislike for religion.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  14. Ben James, Santa Cruz, CA

    Still an inside job after all these years, we are the terrorists.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • The Dude

      100% an inside job.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • ihatefanboys

      100% inside job.....the holes in the story are so big you can literally fly a plane through

      September 4, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  15. Blake

    America is not losing power. We are gaining power. All cultures around the world are acting more alike to us. The only reason american americans are having difficulty is because we got to compete with people who are slowly becoming our equals. Anyways in an hundred years we will all like under an ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT and nation states will be in the history books. United States of Earth.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Corse

      We ARE losing power. Lots of it. Tons of it. Scads of it.
      It bleeds from us with every bribe that undermines our rights, our govt, our Consti-tution.
      We've lost over half of our power in the last forty years thanks to corruption and skewed thinking, not to mention the demented, frothings of the conservatives. We suck. Badly.
      In just the last decade, we have lost a vast wealth of power thanks to idiots and sleazeballs. We are now at a greater risk than we were ten years ago. Most people have no choice but to ride along as the country slides into the muck.
      The rot is deeeeep.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • harmonynoyes

      I doubt it

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

      I used to think , United Nations

      But now I believe, USA, USA Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

      September 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Matthew Damon

      I will now make love to your face.

      September 5, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  16. Corse

    When religion is finally made illegal, then the world will be able to actually move forward.
    Until then, madness rules this small, vulnerable planet. Maybe we'll become extinct as yet another race of beings who never overcame their cognitive limitations and distortions. I'm sure there have been thousands throughout the universe who are extinct because of religion. It is a statistical certainty.
    Down with all religions! They are madness wrapped in fear and loathing. They should all be obliterated ASAP.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • thinkingriddles

      Your post is self-refuting. You call for the obliteration of all religions. Just like the worst killers of the 20th century. The militant atheists are much more dangerous.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Real Deal


      I don't think that making religion illegal is the way to go. Ban their religions and people get real cranky and cause revolutions and stuff. When they can finally be rationally convinced that their beliefs are based on fantasy and superst.ition, they will leave them behind naturally, as has happened repeatedly with other primitive religions. It won't be quick, and it won't be easy, but I sure hope that it happens.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Colin

      Course, we should not make religion illegal. That is like making "stupidity" illegal or declaring a " war on drugs". We have to educate and disseminate science and knowledge, and let it die a natural death.

      You can no more force people to be smart than you can force them to exercise.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Corse

      To oppose madness is a very sane thing to do. Insanity is everywhere. Oppose madness and maybe we'll see some sanity emerge as policy. At this time, however, there are more people willing to support madness and insanity.
      Humanity is, on average, insane to a degree. You oppose my call for sanity? Then you must be insane and your opinion likewise.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Real Deal

      How does your plan for making religion illegal work, then? Do you kill all the offenders?... send them all to prison? Oppose all you wish; just do it by vocally educating and enlightening.

      September 4, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Corse

      Of what use would be any plan, when the insanity is so widespread? My rant is not a plan, but a call for sanity, a call to reason. That little "rah-rah" bit at the end is not a realistic policy proposal. Education without lies would be a good start.
      Perhaps if we could just educate everyone with true facts instead of boogey-man tales there would be some sort of hope in eradicating these lie campaigns called "religions".
      No death camps needed at this time, thanks all the same.

      September 4, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Enlightenment


      God hates christians and jews


      September 4, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • Lee

      Making religion illegal probably would never happen except in some kind of totalitarian state. It will gradually die out. I notice many high school children these days self proclaim atheist, even the ones who are sent to the local catholic schools by their religious parents. We have far more facts that we used to just a few decades ago. Kids can read on the web and see for themselves how ludicrous it all is. Religion also dies in subtle ways. Far fewer people today believe in the literal biblical stories (I realize many still do!). The reason is, to justify their belief as not completely arbitrary, people keep changing their beliefs. Now there are parts of the bible considered "figurative". How they determine which parts those are is any part that is absurd is some kind of "figurative" story with a lesson we should ponder. So deep down, they know it doesn't make any sense. The believers are actively forcing the square peg into a round hole and eventually they will find there is nothing left.

      September 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  17. Colin

    As an atheist, one looks at an event such as this, which was 100% motivated by religion, and wonders why thinking people still subscribe to the supernatural nonsense of religion in the 21st Century. I have earlier posted the following as a response to a theist who put together a list of 10 criticisms of atheism. Apologies to those who have read my post before.

    10 signs you are an atheist.

    1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.

    2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.

    3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles, his somehow surviveing his own death and other magic powers we attribute to him, soon started to look pretty unlikely and indistinguishable from other religious myths.

    4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.

    5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.

    6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump of a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.

    7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar”.

    8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.

    9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.

    10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. More fundamentally, however, it is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born and appreciate how totally nonsensical it is to fear a complete lack of perception. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some childish quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Yes...!!! Another to 10 list from Colin !! 😀

      Good one, mate !



      September 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Colin

      Hey Peace, how u been dude? I swear, one day, I'll get you your fundamentalist list!

      September 3, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Corse

      Not bad. Needs a teensy bit of tweaking, imo, but it does well enough for all that. thx.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • thinkingriddles

      11. You are geared toward self-importance, disrespect for authority and grandstanding.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • jamesquall

      haha, christians believe they are the apple of god's eye and that the entire universe was created for them. and we're the ones geared towards self-importance.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • The Dude

      I would not say it was 100% motivated by religion. Religion was the recruitment tool. Destroying the Bill of rights was the motivation.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • jft

      You might consider your point about the "Historical Jesus". Such a person did not exist – there is no record, other than in the gospels, of such a person. Most of the sayings and parables attributed to Jesus were actually the words of Rabbi Hillel, who lived 100 years prior to the time Jesus supposedly existed. Considering the gospels were written a very long time after the so-called time of Christ, when the Church was trying to warm and fuzzy their rather ascetic belief with nice stories about little babies in mangers and beautiful young men sacrificing themselves for the whole world – well, it just didn't happen.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • nkrempa

      What an eloquent, well-stated explanation of atheism. I don't truly consider myself an atheist, in the sense that I still believe that SOME power outside of the known created our universe to begin with, but I can identify with all 10 of your statements. Most especially your second and seventh points – I have long told my children that those who most loudly proclaim themselves "Christian" (or Jewish, or Moslem, or what-have-you) are anything but. People who most loudly proclaim their religious affiliation are often those who are most likely to ignore any of the gentler aspects and/or admonitions of their "faith." In short, the "mean-spirited."

      Thank you for your post – it's most encouraging to see that there ARE others who espouse mostly the same views as myself. For the longest time, I thought I was an anomaly. 😀

      September 4, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Awkward Situations

      Darwin-u akbar!!! Darwin-u akbar!!!

      September 4, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • Julie

      Wayyy to long to read! Maybe I agree and maybe not BUT you are just not that important.

      September 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Real Deal


      In the time it took you to type that inane comment you could have read one or two of Colin's points and perhaps learned something.

      September 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Matthew Damon

      You seem to have a lot of time on your hands considering your dick is in one of them.

      September 5, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  18. Joe

    Marx got a lot wrong but he was right on the money when he said Religion is the opium of the masses

    September 3, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Free

      The full quote is really rather poetic:

      Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man—state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Corse

      That is poetic, yes. Marx's error was elsewhere. He was unrealistic in judging the average human reactions to his unrealistic solutions. That's why communism doesn't work. But he explains religion very well.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Maani

      Yup, and then Lenin and Stalin went and murdered or created policies that killed over 50 million people! And Mao murdered or created policies that killed over 50 million MORE. So over 100 million killed or died as a result of the policies of comfirmed atheists – in just 75 years! Great work, atheists!

      September 4, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  19. Sardukar

    we have seen many atrocities committed by delusional people in the name of the invisible friend.
    The next one is putting a cross at WTC in the name of..the god who wasn't there.

    September 3, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  20. Colin

    "Atheist-bashing is now, like gay-bashing, no longer an activity that can be indulged in with impunity by politicians or commentators," Dennett says.

    I don't think we're quite there yet. The difference between an atheist and, say, a gay person or a black person, is that we atheists actually challange pretty core beliefs of the theist. In a sense, we are on the offensive, whether we like it or not. It is a lot easier for a Christian to live and let live with gays or minorities, because their requirement is simply live and let live. Our mantra is " you are wrong and need to change".

    A tougher load to bear, but nobody said being an atheist in a world of theists would be easy.

    September 3, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • George Washington Carver

      Might I suggest, my atheist brethrens, that your energies for this noble endeavor would be well nourished by the humble yet astoundingly nutritive peanut?

      September 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Sardukar

      It is hard for them...just to run behind my back with their little bibles, or to open a bible in the sub and to see me move one seat down...it is hard for them to knock on my door and explain why their god and havens are better than another just have the door slammed in their face.
      It is good to be an Atheist..rAmen.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Siyajkak

      you don't have to be on the offensive. It could just be: I think you're wrong. Oh well.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Free

      Yes, many blacks and gays can, and even want, to be Christians, whereas we... you know.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Corse

      Peanut butter makes me fart. If farting could provide a solution, I would be eating PB sandwiches all day long.

      September 4, 2011 at 12:00 am |
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About this blog

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.