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The Lasting Effects of September 11

At the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it is hard not to ask “What is different now?” Other than the obvious changes brought about by increased airport security, daily “alert updates,” and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has anything really changed?

National leaders from the President on down repeatedly warn us to be vigilant, to watch for suspicious activity, while at the same time urging us to live our lives as normal. Otherwise, the terrorists will have won.

All of this is in striking contrast to the changes that took place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II. Americans were called on to join in a massive and sacrificial war effort. Those who were not able to serve in the military were encouraged to serve as they could at home.

But since September 11, apart from the men and women in the military and National Guard, along with their families, America has not been called to any great sacrifice. In fact, we have been called on to do exactly the opposite of sacrifice. We are told to spend our money, to shop, to travel, to eat out, to live life as if nothing has happened.

This living as if nothing has happened seems to have affected our spiritual lives as well. You would think after a tragedy on the scale of the September 11 attacks that an upsurge of spiritual activity would result. And that did in fact happen in the days immediately following the attacks. Sadly, what our leaders encouraged about shopping and traveling has also became true about prayer and fasting.

George Barna’s group, the leading religion pollster in America, has determined that five years after September 11, people in America, in terms of their spirituality, are almost exactly where they were before the attacks. And this return to normal did not take five years to happen. Within one month after the attacks, the initial surge of spiritual activity had already begun to wane.

Here is what David Kinnaman, director of the Barna group wrote about their findings.

“Many Christian leaders predicted that terrorism on U.S. soil would catalyze a spiritual awakening in the country. The first few weeks were promising. But people quickly returned to their standard, faith-as-usual lives: within a month, most of their spiritual fervor was gone. Within 90 days, surprisingly few people were pursuing important questions about faith and spirituality. Now, five years removed from that fateful day, spiritually speaking, it’s as if nothing significant ever happened.”

Unfortunately, with the waning of spiritual fervor we have seen a corresponding rise in fear. In fact, with daily color coded alert announcements, fear has become the main ingredient of our spiritual lives. And that is not a good thing. Fear is a far greater threat to our way of life, to our freedom, than any external danger.

Jesus seemed to believe that a meaningful life of faith was characterized by confidence and courage. “Fear not,” he told his disciples over and over again. Jesus knew that fear undermines our ability to be truly human. He understood that fear feeds hate and violence, and that it is faith that makes love possible. Jesus knew that fear only makes us desperate, but that faith overcomes despair.

Sadly, for now at least, the enduring legacy of September 11 seems to be that we have chosen fear over faith.

James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. He can be contacted through his Web site: www.jimevanscolumn.com.