September 12, 2002
9/11: Light and Shadow
-- Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez
Yesterday was a solemn time of remembrance and mourning in our nation, the first anniversary of September 11, 2001. Bells, and silence, tolled from the three disaster sites in Pennsylvania, Washington, and New York, and in ceremonies across the U.S. The world also joined us in marking this massacre as our flag was displayed and lowered alongside those of our neighbors and allies.
In New York, the long year of coping, remembering, and healing found its end. For some New Yorkers the day began with morning prayer services, others skipped work and went to the park to be with their families and friends, most of course went to work, and many stopped by their local fire house to once again say thanks. Later, some would end up at Yankee stadium to see the Yankees beat the Orioles.
Notably, churches throughout the city were active. St. Patrick's in midtown, Christ Church in Brooklyn, the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, everywhere in synagogues, mosques, temples, and storefronts, the doors were open and seats were filled. Much like the days, weeks and months that followed September 11, 2001, churches in the city and throughout the New York metro area, have seen increased attendance.
But many of us are still ambivalent and for many, the last year was a crisis of faith, as we grappled with the nature of God and the nature of religion and religious forces in the world. We are troubled by the violence in the name of religion that caused this tragedy and the forces of escalating violence and war that it has unleashed.
In a recent Frontline special, "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero," Rabbi Brad Hirschfield says, "There is a dark side to [religion] and anyone who loves religious experience, including me, better begin to [admit] that there is a serious shadow side to this thing." Helen Whitney, the show's producer, was surprised by the complexity of responses she uncovered, from the religious and the non-religious alike. She was surprised when some claimed that "it was harder for atheists than for believers because it had shaken their faith in humanity." Equally unexpected was the irony that while the faith of many was shaken, others found that an encounter with evil of this magnitude led them back to the foundations of their faith. To explain this, she quotes sociologist Peter Berger, "There are certain deeds that cry out to heaven. These deeds are not only an outrage to our moral sense, they seem to violate the fundamental awareness of the constitution of our humanity."
For many of us the events of September 11, even in the still quiet of yesterday's memorials, continue to shake and shape us. Thankfully, September 12th begins a new day and a new year to find answers and peace.
More thoughts and interviews from survivors, workers, religious leaders and scholars can be found at: (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/faith).
Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez is the managing editor of Sightings. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School.