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Fea on 9/11 and Patriotism

Another good post from friend and colleague John Fea, this time from his weekly Patheos column. Fea reflects on 9/11 and its interpretations. Generally, it has been interpreted through the lens of patriotism, while Fea offers that the general human spirit offers as good an explanation for the initial motivation. Here is his conclusions about the patriotism/civic humanism interpretation, especially with the Christians in mind.

As Christians, we should approach this kind of civic humanism with caution. While the idea of sacrificing one’s own interests for some version of the greater good appeals to our better angels, we must remember that the founding fathers understood such sacrifice solely in terms of the United States of America. When they talked about sacrificing for the common good, they meant the common good of the nation. The founders believed that Christianity was good for the republic not because it provided a way for people to go to heaven or draw closer to God and each other, but because it helped to produce the kind of moral, self-sacrificing citizenry needed for the republic to survive. In other words, the founders believed that Christianity was important because it served the state, not the other way around.

Over the course of the last ten years, the events of September 11th have been largely interpreted in such a patriotic and nationalistic way. We have understood the attacks of that day as a threat to an American way of life. The actions taken by the many heroes on that day have been directly connected to their patriotism and willingness to sacrifice for their country.

But what if the events of September 11th had nothing to do with civic humanism, at least as it was defined by the founding fathers? Did a love of country motivate police officers, fire-fighters, and other rescue workers to charge into a collapsing skyscraper to save the lives of their neighbors? Or did their sacrifice stem from a set of ideals and commitments that transcended the values of any particular country? Did the people in Valparaiso pray for the people of New York because they were fellow Americans, or fellow human beings in need of prayer?

On Sunday let’s remember the tragedy of September 11th. Let’s remember the lives that were lost and the suffering that occurred on that day. Let’s celebrate the heroic action of so many men and women who risked their lives to perform actions that were certainly compatible with Jesus’ call to love our neighbor. Let’s not forget about the liberties and freedoms that were threatened on that day. But let’s also be careful to remember that what happened on September 11, 2001 was just as much a human tragedy as it was an American tragedy. The attacks were a consequence of the sinful world in which we live and the heroism was an example of our human spirit that bears the likeness of God.

Check out the background here.

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