Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 10, 2002
Sept. 11 aftermath must transform us
In the Aftermath:What September 11th Is Teaching Us About Our World, Our Faith & Ourselves, edited by James Taylor. Northstone Publishing: Kelowna, BC. 2002. 154 pages
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
"For Christians, September 11th, 2001, is not the day that changed our world. The world, the cosmos, what we call history, was changed in 33 AD," writes Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theological ethics at Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina.
Hauerwas, a widely respected interpreter of our times does not believe that the people who died on that tragic day "deserved" their deaths for the sins of greedy, capitalistic America.
He does not even think that we should see in that horrible event the direct hand of God. He believes, rather, that as Christians we have been lazy in our thinking and teaching.
We have not helped each other to name how our lives are caught in modes of living St. Augustine identified with the City of Man at the time of the fall of Rome.
"We have allowed God to be relegated to the realm of the 'personal,' " he says. "As a result, we have no way to narrate America in the way Augustine narrated Rome."
In other words, we are not yet ready to develop an adequate theological understanding of what happened in New York on that fateful morning less than a year ago.
Hauerwas is right.
But the appearance of the ten essays comprising In the Aftermath represents a helpful beginning to come to terms with what really happened on that pivotal day.
Editor James Taylor of Kelowna BC creatively marshals the insights of Canadians Lois Wilson (senator), Derek Evans (former Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International), Bill Phipps (former United Church of Canada moderator) and Nancy Reeves, psychologist at the University of Victoria.
Besides Hauerwas, Taylor includes the contributions of Americans William Willimon, also of Duke University, Walter Wink of Auburn Theological Seminary, New York, Jim Wallis, co-founder of the Washington-based Sojourners Community, and Keith Wright, pastor and author of Austin, Texas.
Each writer speaks out of her or his perspective, but there are certain shared insights.
Coming through frequently is the message that this is not so much a time for scapegoating or handwringing, as it is an occasion for "Lincolnesque self examination" in the spirit of the famous American president who called his nation to a deeper understanding of the causes of the crises of his day.
"I am coming to believe that this tragedy could either become a doorway to transformation - or could set us back for years," says Wallis, echoing others.
"Who gets to name what is going on, to say what is real," asks Willimon.
"Through what lens do we look at the world?"
Wilson does not believe that September 11th really changed much.
Many know that the world has always been subject to betrayal, despair, terrorism, suffering, violence, and death.
"What has changed," she says, "is the increased polarization between north and south, and between Christians and Muslims."
"We need pastors, theologians, and informed lay people who are willing to challenge the exclusivity that has dominated (the Christian) faith for centuries," says Wright who agrees with Muslim journalist, Mona Ettahawy, that this is a time for across-the-board introspection, not vengefulness, on the part of adherents of all the great religions.
This book, one of the first to appear on the subject, establishes a worthy standard and serves as a harbinger of thoughtful reflection to come on the deeper meanings behind September 11th.
It could have been an even better book if editor Taylor (who presents a chapter on the meaning of evil) had written a focused introduction and an integrative summary.
Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.