One year ago around this time I was reading a column by former Minnesotan Tom Friedman. This is what passed for important commentary in the wake of last September 11th in the New York Times:
I think the single most important thing the New York Times could do to stop being stupid is fire this a-hole. After all, they need to get their groove back too.
What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.
It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don't. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.
We can't afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.
For me, the real anniversary for 9/11 was yesterday: the 7th anniversary of Bush's speech at the National Cathedral:
The speech, partially written by Michael Gerson, was hailed as a success and is still viewed as one of the high points of Mr. Bush's term in office. It was his first major formal speech after 9/11 and it was of such importance that it preceded his speech to a joint session of Congress by six days.
The speech itself is short and without fat. Thematically, it is an effective mix of sorrow and anger and its mood mirrored what many Americans were feeling after seeing the towers fall. Unfortunately, the speech's content and location were inappropriate and petty. These qualities have become even more pronounced the further we move away from the day where an American president cited Christian scripture in a Christian church a couple of hours after his country was attacked by Muslim terrorists.
Reading the speech from the distance of years and years of Bush Administration ineptitude, it is simply stunning how unpresidential the speech was. It was a sermon for war.
Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.
War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.
God's signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own. Yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral, are known and heard, and understood.
There are prayers that help us last through the day, or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers, that give us strength for the journey. And there are prayers that yield our will to a will greater than our own.
This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. And the Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn.
Mr. Bush briefly nods his head towards non-Christian faith before ending his speech with a remarkably overt adaptation of a selection from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans:
On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask almighty God to watch over our nation, and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.
As we have been assured, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate us from God's love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.
It is a shame our nation is so religiously illiterate. Had we been a bit more familiar with the book that our war time leader was all too quick to reference in the wake of a religious attack on our capitol and our economic center, we would have recognized his call for what it was: a full throated testimony to Jesus Christ:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall affliction, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) Nay, in all these things we more than conquer, through him who hath loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Not only did Mr. Bush cite St. Paul's call to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a response to Muslim terrorism, he did so on (inter)national television from an honest-to-god pulpit in the country's most prominent church.
(Incidentally, this was one of the few times in my life where a religious studies degree from a Catholic university actually paid itself off.)
Paul is writing about the timeless religious bond to a specific god and savior. Had one of the 9/11 hijackers made a pre-attack video with a similar verse from the Koran, his face and quotation would be plastered over right wing bumper stickers and t-shirts from coast to coast.
Say it to yourself: For thyself we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Again: For thyself we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Better yet, here's the rally call: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
According to an online translation service, here's what that bumper sticker would look like:
الذي سوفت منفصلة نا من الحالة حبّ مسيح ؟بح
Romans also contains a call for Christians to minister to the Gentiles. Throughout the ages, it has been cited as a source of both inspiration and conversion. Somehow, in the wake of Muslim terrorists flying planes into the heart of our secular institutions, our President felt it necessary to spread this particular piece of theology in the name of "healing". He has been just as relevant ever since.
Go read Mr. Bush's speech one final time. Every time you read the word "God" remember that he is referencing Romans and Jesus Christ. What does Romans mean if it is not to be used in its proper context? These aren't just pretty words. This isn't a civil (i.e. common) faith. This wasn't a proper response to the horrible things that happened on 9/11. It was a clear sign of the fealty to electoral image over policy-based substance that would mark his administration's approach to the two wars and three election cycles that have since passed.