Was 9/11 the Last Sign of “Christian America”?

The Ground Zero Cross: Image From Denver Catholic

The arguments fly back and forth about America as a “Christian nation.”

On the right, it is an imagining of the past: an appeal for return to a once muscular moral order that, in the model of the Bible’s Book of Deuteronomy, brought national prosperity as the reward for obedience to standards revealed by God.

On the left it is an imagining of the future: a fearful appeal for expansion of the central state and national policing against an imagined Christian insurrection, marked by white racism and repression of women.

Neither are based in reality and both are primarily tools to rally political bases.

What used to be was a secular (in the sense of non-creedal and non-theocratic) limited government and a diverse culture heavily influenced by a broadly Christian consensus about morals and manners.

While some studies announce a massive decline in the number of American Christians; others show the “decline” to be among nominal/functionally atheistic “Christians:”

The number of Americans with no religion is not actually increasing. While the percentage of people calling themselves non-religious has increased, the percentage of people practicing religion has not gone down… What has decreased is the percentage of people who call themselves religious even though they never actually attend services.

In short, the rise in non-religious Americans does not indicate a decline in religion, but a change in how people identify themselves.

Source: “The Triumph of Faith” by Rodney Stark (Shared on Facebook by Matthew James Holmes)

Response to the terror attack of September 11, 2001 might have been the last national display of an American Christian ethic. The iconic girder cross at the top of this piece draws eyes as a symbol, but what goes deeper are other sights and sounds:

From WHYY. “Firefighter Mike Kehoe rushes up the stairs of the North Tower as office workers including John Labriola, who took this photo, file down the stairs on Sept. 11, 2001. Both Kehoe and Labriola survived the attacks. (AP Photo/John Labriola)”

In this iconic photo, a Firefighter marches uphill, bearing a heavy load, toward risk of death, in a quest to save others. It is one of most Christlike images ever photographed. Kehoe is a Christ figure but also an icon of so many others who walked into certain self sacrifice to save others regardless of creed, race, gender, moral status or any other demographic. This was an America profoundly infused by that notion of sacrifice as salvific.

Turn on volume with this one. The sound you hear is the clicking of “PASS” – the personal alert safety system worn by first responders so they can be detected in rubble or situations of impaired visibility. Shared by Legal Insurrection.

The video reflects the tomb – a death shared by would-be rescuers and those they came to save. It is central to the Christian understanding of human equality. All die – but there is hope that death can be the gateway to an endless and greater life because the death, burial and resurrection of the Christ is greater than the passing glories and agonies of this world.

After 9/11, the government sought to do its legitimate work in capturing or killing the terrorists. But this morphed into something different – quests to “nation build” by war or regime changes undertaken by both political parties. Tainted with untargeted overkill, big money and pretensions to empire, it lost the Christlikeness that appeared on 9/11.

Now, we find ourselves divided into political factions seeking not the salvation of others but their humiliation and destruction. There is undeniable growth in politics and government as the religion of many, and instead of sacrifice for any and all, victory for “tribe” is paramount.

Christianity will not disappear – but it is likely that we’ll be a counterculture rather than a definition when it comes to America.

2 responses to “Was 9/11 the Last Sign of “Christian America”?”

  1. I don’t know if 9/11 was the end, but things have certainly deteriorated since shortly after then. On the plus side, Americans still respond with generosity to the victims of natural disasters. On the minus side, the political divide is widening, with each side calling the other evil. Gone are the days when we could debate policy ideas on whether they would really benefit the country and its people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good insights. Obviously this piece is impressionistic, not scientific. A starting place. Thanks for discussing it. I think our perception of social deterioration are shared by many.


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