My 9/11 Prayer
It is the evening of September 11th, 2007 – the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on American soil by Islamic Jihadists. I am driving home from work, listening to the ceremonies and tributes paid on NPR. I am nearly home. Just as I round the corner to an adjacent street, I see this new message on the church marquee:
You are reading that marquee right. The good folks at Skyline Baptist Church have seen fit to place this threat of eternal fire to the heathen and the promise of eternal paradise to the saint to commemorate this anniversary.
Why does this make me so upset? Perhaps part of the answer is that I believed it myself for most of my 43 years on Earth. I was convinced that even the most devout believer in God was doomed if their belief was ‘misguided’, if their creed was not pointing to the ‘correct’ version of Jesus, or if they had a ‘heretical’ view of the Trinity. But there is more to my anger than this.
Some of you who read this blog regularly know that I am participating in a weekly series called ‘Blogging the Qu’ran‘ with Robert Spencer. Leaving aside Spencer’s politics which are not at issue here (and which I know little about anyway), I am trying to educate myself with weekly readings in the Qu’ran on what Islam really teaches, and what beliefs it holds. I am reading the entire Qu’ran, all in context, and Mr Spencer provides numerous commentaries and online helps to get the whole message across. Mr Spencer has personally answered every one of my questions regarding Islam, no matter how trivial, and I find his analysis to be fair. And so far in my readings, I get the impression that Islam is nothing more then a violent rejoinder to Judaism and Christianity. Over and over again, the Qu’ran commands the faithful Muslim to kill the ‘people of the book’, or at the very least to make their lives so miserable that they have no choice but to convert. And what is the ultimate incentive? Eternal damnation promised by Allah. It seems every third verse of the Qu’ran contains threats of eternal Fire, not only for the infidel, but the wavering Muslim who dares leave the faith.
I know very little about geo-politics. But I do understand religion. And religion is in large part why 9/11 happened. Some people were convinced that they would be rewarded eternal paradise at the expense of the infidel. Nobody can deny the terrible power of religion.
In fairness, I have not read the book. But based on the some reviews and the interviews I have heard, I gather that Spencer argues that Islam is barbaric compared to the more civilized moral stance of Christianity. And I will not argue that. Christianity, a religion that I left after 40 years of devout belief, has many virtues and positive qualities. Islam, as we have seen in the past few years, and not just from the example set by 9/11, is violent in action and in belief. Christianity had its dark and violent days, and thankfully those are mostly days of the past. However, Christianity is in no way a ‘Religion of Peace’, and placing it in such stark contrast to Islam only exacerbates the problem, in my humble view. I maintain that any religion, belief or creed that includes a salvation premise, an elect few who will attain that salvation, and a majority who will be damned, cannot in any way be called a ‘Religion of Peace’. This includes Christianity.
But what incites that violence? What drives people to blow themselves to bits in the name of their god?
Do you see that marquee in that picture above? That is a threat. I am sure it is well intentioned, and I have attended Skyline Baptist several times. Pastor Warmath seems like a good man. Nonetheless, people who really believe that this life is nothing more than a trial by a judgmental god will do anything to ensure their place in eternity. This is what 9/11 is about. But Christians who believe in the same kind of judgment will, I believe, react just as violently when their backs are pressed against the wall. Belief in Heaven and Hell by any religious faith, including that stupid marquee, only perpetuates the wars that we are now fighting.
Don’t believe me? History is rife with examples, including wholesale genocide of the heathen. I believe that faithful people can, when pressured enough, ultimately drive themselves stark raving mad to avoid the tortures of Eternal HellFire and gain Eternal Paradise.
And who can blame them? If Heaven and Hell existed, I would too.
I have an atheist friend who claims that the most Evil contrivance ever invented by Humanity is God. I disagree. I am not an atheist, but avoiding that philosophical argument, I believe the most Evil contrivance ever invented by Humanity is the notion of an Eternal Afterlife. Eternal Reward for the saint and Eternal Damnation for the heathen. Forget Islam and Christianity. I don’t care if you are Protestant or Catholic. I don’t care if you are Shiite or Sunni. I don’t care what your religion is or what you want to believe. I really don’t! I am not anti-religion. But the belief that your own particular way of worshipping God is the only correct way, at the exclusion of everything else, and that God honors one narrow path only to doom everyone else is the bane of our monotheistic religious traditions. It is the one thing that makes our monotheistic traditions so powerful, so dangerous and so potentially deadly.
I don’t care what you believe. I have my own beliefs. But to the people who really think they are going to gain a heavenly reward of any kind, and that I am going to swim in a lake of fire simply because I believe differently than they do, I say the following:
Shame on you! for being so arrogant as to think only you and those who share your beliefs can win God’s favor!
Shame on you! for turning your God of Love into a monster that he is not worthy of becoming!
Shame on you! for perpetuating hate, fear, intolerance, cruelty and exclusion on those who perceive God differently from you.
Shame on you! for assigning me, a truly honest seeker of spiritual truth, into Hell because I don’t believe in your Savior, your Messiah, or your Prophet!
Shame on you! I have great respect for religion, but I have no respect for any belief that includes eternal reward and punishment based only on a system of faith.
Now that I got that off my chest, I offer you my 9/11 prayer. Based on past experience, I have little reason to believe that prayer actually works, but I will pray it anyway, if only as a self-affirmation of my hopes and beliefs. I prayed something very similar to this earlier today:
I don’t have any idea if you exist or not. But people say that you do, and that you are all-powerful and all-loving. And considering this beautiful universe that we have been placed in, I don’t blame people at all for believing in you. God, if you are out there, and you are listening to me, I ask that you consider us down here on Earth. People are killing in your name, because they are fearful of you. I guess they think you will be offended if we don’t have the right perception of you, and that you will throw them in Hell to burn forever if we don’t have that perception correct. Some people think that you will torture us forever if we recite the incorrect creed, or believe the wrong thing about Jesus, or Muhammad, or .. or Joseph Smith for crying out loud! That scares the wits out of people, and they are willing to kill for those beliefs. People have in the past, and I have no reason to think that they will not continue.
So on this anniversary of 9/11, I ask that people understand the diversity of their own humanity. I ask that people understand that we are normally going to hold on to beliefs, traditions and customs that they were raised into, are usually happy with those, and usually have no reason to convert. I ask that people learn from each other rather than issue the command to convert.
God, I believe that you are wholly unknowable. If you are out there, you are outside such petty conceptions that our minds can formulate. I believe that you could give a rip about The Qur’an, the Bible, or any other Holy Book. I believe that those are our feeble attempts at trying to understand you, our grasping for you, our trying to understand who you are and what you want, and how you want us to conduct our lives. I ask that we be allowed, as a human species, to continue that quest with cooperation and peace amongst ourselves.
I do not believe we have been placed here on Earth for your amusement. That we are just acting out some mock trial, and you will judge us based on which creed we recite. I do not believe you can be that cruel, that barbarous, that mad. I ask that humanity realizes that, while you may be awesome and holy, you are not a deity to be feared. I want humanity to not be afraid of their own beliefs, or of discussing their own beliefs among others, or afraid of you.
And above all, God if you are listening, I pray that this world never, ever, ever again has to suffer through the demands of your faithful. That people of all religious and spiritual persuasions never again have to hear the demand to ‘Convert!’ for fear of Death and Hell ever again.
I pray this, on this anniversary day, with all humility and sincerity.