Friday, September 16, 2011

Why 9/11 Brought Such Grief and Response – The Broken Covenant

As I listened to friends and church members and the many comments on the media following 9/11, I heard people trying to frame very deep questions.  Behind or under the grief, and occasionally out loud, people were asking “How did God let this happen to us?”  The mainland US had not been attacked since Pearl Harbor in ‘41.  It didn’t matter that this was not a “military” attack by another nation.

 I think there had grown in the American mind the idea that God protected us. It didn’t matter that we were the biggest kid on the block.  God watched out for us because we were good and right and successful and powerful.  We were the chosen people.  How could anyone complain about us?  We do no wrong.  We are with God and God was with us.
All of this was blown apart by the events of 9/11.  God had not protected America.  Jerry Falwell and friends concluded that it must be punishment from God because of our growing acceptance of gays and abortion.  I think that a lot of people concluded something else: God doesn’t protect anyone.  We are all vulnerable to the most terrible fates.  Actually, many people believe in God as “fate,” as an unavoidable destiny that is predetermined by some distant force.  (No one is familiar with the Greek Fates: Clotho spun the thread of life. Lachesis measured the thread of life allotted to each person. Atropos cut that thread..)

It was easy enough to conclude something far more basic: There is no God who cares for us.  There is no Providence.  This is magical thinking.  No one is entitled to claim God’s blessing or that God saved them if they survived.  If we did, we would be claiming that God did not choose to save those who perished, or that those who die were targeted by God.

At the time a colleague of mine was much impressed with Carolyn Myss, whom we politely will call “a new age spirit person.”  She had a concept about “sacred contracts” that God makes with each person before we are born. (Sounds like a Fate.) I just liked the image of “sacred contract.”

I connected it with Robert Bellah’s Broken Covenant.  (See also the more recent Habits of the Heart, The Good Society, and a new one I want to read, Religion in Human Evolution.) A more serious scholar, Bellah described how America has a “myth of origin” that made us a “chosen people.”  We have all heard certain politicians make much of this “American exceptionalism.”  However, slavery and our treatment of Native Americans had broken the original covenant we had with God and with each other. And Bellah’s big concern was with how American had traded a sense of common purpose for individual greed and self-interest.  Something about all of this made me think that these ideas had crashed for many Americans after 9/11.

Not to worry.  Bush and the media saved us with something we call the myth of redemptive violence.  (Walter Wink helps us with this.) This is the theory that salvation can be achieved by waging war and sacrificing lives in pursuit of the right.  I don’t have to explain this.  Our super heroes make it quite clear.
Christians will note that this is in direct opposition to the traditional teachings of the Churches. But it is the true Gospel of the USA. But it isn’t true.  More about the uncaring cosmos, later. As Douglas Adams taught us, "Don't Panic."

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