A perspective on 9/11 and fear

Posted 9/23/21

A mentor and friend came to my house for supper the other night and shared his story of that infamous day 20 years ago. The Friday before the attack, he had visited New York City for the first time. …

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A perspective on 9/11 and fear

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A mentor and friend came to my house for supper the other night and shared his story of that infamous day 20 years ago. The Friday before the attack, he had visited New York City for the first time. A friend took him to the top of one of the Twin Towers so that he could look over the city.

He has pictures from a viewpoint that no longer exists.

After 9/11, America invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, setting off a chain reaction that killed many of our soldiers and many more civilian citizens of those countries.

But instead of our foreign policy, I write with a perspective on the state of our souls.

Metaphorically speaking, the viewpoint of Americans fundamentally changed after 9/11. Many of us felt unsafe for the first time. Terrorist attacks that we had thought only happened in other countries were now a reality here in our country. We felt vulnerable and exposed.

We responded by hardening our hearts. We have branded groups of people as our enemies. Muslims and other minorities became victims of hate crimes. A North Carolina politician named Walter Jones introduced legislation to rename a certain fried potato “freedom fries” because the country of France did not support our invasion of Iraq. Never mind that french fries actually originate in Belgium and refer to the style of cut!

In the years since, our hearts have continued to harden. Another North Carolina politician, Madison Cawthorn, recently threatened “bloodshed” and promised his willingness “to pick up arms against a fellow American.” And his talk of violence isn’t based on any substantiated evidence of voter fraud.

Such rhetoric from politicians is based not on reason but fear — a fear we attempt to hide with bravado and tough talk. Because of our fear, we elect politicians like Cawthorn and grant such leaders extraordinary powers to, for example, restrict voting rights. This fear is in direct opposition to our American values of liberty, equality and justice.

Fear is also contrary to the religious values many of us claim, including Cawthorn. Writer Marilynne Robinson’s 2015 observation in The New York Review of Books is still relevant: “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” She cited Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” She points to the risen Christ’s promise to be with us “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Yet, instead of placing our trust in a Higher Power, we increasingly attempt to wield power with our hands. The past 20 years offers evidence from abroad and at home that our actions have often resulted in unintended, disastrous consequences. I can’t help but think that Cawthorn’s careless, callous rhetoric will result in the same.

Returning to my friend, his pictures from the top of the twin tower cannot be recreated. That viewpoint is gone.

But we Americans can change our perspective. What is needed is to ground ourselves in humility and compassion for others. Instead of reaching for lofty, violent rhetoric, we need to walk a mile or two in someone else’s shoes. Only love can drive out fear (1 John 4:18).

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”


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