When the 9/11 attacks happened, ten years ago, we knew that we didn’t like it. But we in the Western World were forced to think about the delicate question of, if we were against this, what were we for? Were we defending the older Western Christendom? Or were we defending a new order that entailed sexual freedom and the elimination of distinctions between genders to the extent of same-sex marriage? Would we now have same-sex marriage in New York State and other states and countries if it had not been for 9/11? [When the attacks happened, only one nation in the world had ‘marriage equality,’ the Netherlands, and that was relatively recent.]
Would we have the New Atheists? The last Cold War had been against a world order that claimed to be atheist, so we put “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on our coins without necessarily referring to any particular faith. But our new enemies claimed to be acting in the name of God; furthermore, they claimed that this was the God of the Bible, who had now [actually 1400 years ago] issued a new revelation that superseded it.
Interestingly enough, the cabbies of New York City have just won the right to veto advertising signs for ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and other salacious ads on their cabs. This battle was not won by the Christian Right, though the Christian Right should be pretty happy about it! No, a large number of New York cabbies are Muslim, and they won the right to veto. At the same time, the cabbies of New York are regarded as the worst drivers in the city – perhaps this is because, as I discuss below, traffic accidents are caused by Allah and not by the secondary cause and effect of how we drive.
As Stephen Prothero explained, our first response was to try to reach out to Muslims to recognize and honor the fact that they were not all covenantally guilty of 9/11. As most of them were in fact not. Most of them were horrified. But over time it was no longer enough, in politics, to talk about ‘God:’ all three leading candidates for the Presidency have affirmed publicly their belief in ‘Jesus,’ and I am quite willing to let Jesus sort out the authenticity of these statements.
Drawing the line, however, is tricky. If we were only drawing the line between Christianity and Islam, we could point to such doctrines as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the Resurrection. However, most conservatives have wanted to draw a line that puts Judaism on our side of the line and Islam on the other – the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ thing. So we stress the difference in character between the God of the Old Testament and Allah. The God of the Old Testament is consistent in His behavior; He decrees what is right, but His character is such that He could not have decreed the opposite. And He works miracles [in fact C.S. Lewis has declared that Christianity is the one religion that absolutely depends on the miraculous to be valid] but miracles are not normative; they are by their very nature exceptional. [Some hyper-charismatic forms of Christianity, unfortunately common in Africa, also fail to meet this test.] And so we were able to develop science in the West.
There was, as Robert Reilly declares, a school of Islamic thought in the early days called the Mu’tazili, which holds to the reality of secondary cause and effect, but it was declared heretical in the eleventh century in the time of Al-ghazali. There are a few of them around today, holding among other things that the Koran was created in time, and they fear for their lives. [If we draw a line separating the ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition from Islam, it is possible that the Mu’tazilis might end up on the ‘Judeo-Christian’ side of the line.]
And there is also the historical fact that Islam achieved political power at the very start, while Christianity had to endure 300 years of persecution before it got to control entire societies. And while, yes, Christians have played the political power game and persecuted Jews and Muslims from time-to-time, we have a historical memory in our DNA of a time when that was not so – and when we did succeed to power, many Christians took to the desert and became monks in order to opt out of the power trip. Yes, later on we did spread the faith by the sword, but St. Patrick and St. Boniface led no armies and they brought whole realms into the faith without the sword – an occasional chopping down of sacred trees, maybe, but no sword.
I recommend the work From Plato to NATO by the Danish-American writer David Gress – he wrote his book in 1998, but if 9/11 did anything, it forced us to confront the whole idea and definition of the ‘West’– is it Christian? Greek? Germanic? All of the above? Is there an Old West and a New West? Who exactly are we? There’s a shorter essay by Gress that I located that touches on some of these issue. In any case, the real significance of 9/11 was that it forced us to confront what the ‘West’ is, and what its values are to be.
Related: “Islam at the Crossroads: Understanding Its Beliefs, History, and Conflicts” at Amazon.com