Where was God on September 11, 2001? The answers of the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are on record; God let it happen to punish America for it sins: These sins being abortion, homosexuality and pornography—the current laundry list of real or imagined societal ills perturbing the American Right. But who was killed at the WTC, at the Pentagon, and on the airplane that crashed in Western Pennsylvania on that dreadful day? Were the victims disproportionally gay? Were there abortion providers among them on their way to a convention perhaps? What about pornographers? Gay couples? Secular Humanists?
From what the New York Times has reported, the victims were mainly responsible, middle class, conventionally religious, productive people with jobs and families. Many of them—the New York City Firefighters and the airline passengers over Pennsylvania in particular—can rightly be called heroes. And so God punished them for their righteousness? Or were they simply unlucky to be on one of those planes or to be working that shift on that day?
Assuming God exists, it seems doubtful that He, She, It (or They) intends some message for us in what happened on September 11th. The peculiar agenda of the American Right was not fulfilled in the slightest. Falwell and Robertson believe that God removed His protection from America on September 11th. That must mean that He (they see him as a fellow male, of course) had been effectively thwarting suicidal hijackers, and others who would do large scale harm to Americans, prior to that day. The God of Falwell and Robertson allows us to kill each other in fairly large numbers on a daily basis with hand guns and automobiles but events of this mundane nature don’t rise to level of theological speculation. He doesn’t seem to have done much to stop abortions either although those claiming to be his agents have committed murder in futile attempts to do so. One wonders why thunderbolts and tornadoes don’t strike abortion clinics or X-rated movie studios far more often than, say, churches.
But the larger question is this: Is the world a moral order? Or, to be more precise, is it a Divine Order? Do Allah, God, YHWH, Vishnu, Zeus and/or some other Gods or Goddesses intervene in human affairs? Or do they just watch from the sidelines? Or do they simply not exist outside the minds of believers?
According to the media there has been a sharp increase in religiosity since the 9/11 disaster. Religious Americans, we are told, always turn to God in times of distress. God Bless America has replaced Take Me Out To The Ball Game at our baseball stadiums. What sense does this make? Is this turning to God in a crisis a call for help or a search for an explanation? Or is it a way of reassuring God—in the face of such a massive Divine Failure—that His People still believe in Him?
Events like September 11th strongly suggest that Divine Intervention is not in the cards. If there are any Gods, they seem to hang back and let the game of life go on. They receive adulation and prayers but they don’t ever seem to do anything.
Nevertheless, believers continue to assert that God does intervene. Soon after a trailer park is devastated by a tornado, survivors will assert in front of the TV cameras that God spared them and then they thank Him for it. But they never seem to wonder why God didn’t use his Omnipotent Power to divert the tornado away from their town entirely. Perhaps He wasn’t paying sufficient attention.
In recent days there has been much repetition of the old “No atheists in foxholes” slander. Atheists, heretics and unbelievers have fought and died in all of our wars. They are at least 5% of the population, probably more. Whether they waver or not in the face of imminent death is irrelevant. Surely some of them were among the dead on September 11th. Think About It: If no unbelievers died on that terrible day that might suggest Divine Intervention in their favor! Now you might ask: Why would the Gods intervene on behalf of those who don’t believe in them? Quickly, I can think of two possibilities: (1) They might have a sense of humor. (2) They might respect those who live moral lives without fearing them.
Suppose those suicidal terrorists had not believed they had assurances from Allah Himself that they were about to enter Paradise. Would they have gone through with it? Can you imagine a gang of agnostics doing what they did?