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Can Devout People Legitimately Consider and Discuss 9-11 without Referencing Key Events in Their Own Faith Tradition?

Updated on November 12, 2012

Public Discussion and Religious Faith

How to Interpret World Events Raises a Key Issue for Christians and Devout People of any Religious Persuasion

1. The weekly newsletter of a prosperous church in Villa Park, Illinois (in September 2011) opened with a comment and quotation no doubt intended for devotional use, but also inadvertently raising an important issue in contemporary philosophy of religion: Is it legitimate, or even possible, for Christians, or devout people of any religious persuasion, to think critically and objectively about anything of significance to the world at large without relating it first to the most significant aspects of their own particular religious faith tradition?

2. The comment included this comment with a quotation from Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School (from his long interview November 8, 2001 with Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, covering all aspects of appropriate Christian response to violence):

A parting thought regarding last Sunday's 9/11 observance: "When people say, 'the world changed on Sept. 11, 2001,' we [Christians] have to say, 'No, the world changed in 33 A.D.' The question [for Christians] is how to narrate what happened on Sept. 11 in light of what happened in 33 A.D."

3. Prof. Hauerwas, teaching securely in one of the most highly respected American divinity schools, considers it his job, his profession, to urge Christians to say, "No!" to the world-changing significance for anything outside the context provided symbolically and theologically for Christians by the expression "A.D. 33." [The abbreviation A.D. stands for Latin anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord," hence should stand before the number, not after it (Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., 2003, p. 390).]

4. Prof. Hauerwas thus does not want true Christians to consider the world-changing significance of 9-11, or presumably anything else, without giving priority to A.D. 33, and he wants them to narrate their account of any such event only in the context of what happened in A.D. 33.

5. Does not such a requirement discourage any thinking Christian from trying to participate meaningfully in the wider public world of analysis and critical discussion of any event or any subject with possible world-changing significance?

6. It is well known that you can defeat objective discussion of any event, any subject, no matter how important to the world in general, by injecting considerations from one's personal religious beliefs. Public disagreement on religious subjects quickly redirects everyone's attention to the subject of religion itself and thus raises intractable difficulties that no public group can possibly resolve in time to allow full assessment of key events (like 9-11) for purposes of public policy, not to speak of their practical implications for individual lives.

7. The edict of Prof. Hauerwas, in effect, declares inappropriate and illegitimate the whole enterprise of modern critical scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and physical and natural sciences (as in the disciplines of history, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, languages and literature, philosophy, religion, etc.) which cannot possibly refer first to what happened in A.D. 33 before assessing the meaning of each and every event and idea that might have world-changing significance.

8. Such a procedure would not only render invalid 90 percent of all scholarly work published in the journals of Europe and America for the past 200 years, but would make it impossible for Christians to pursue any further the worthy ideals of critical, objective scholarship (which first decisively emerged in Western Judeo-Christian culture, and still primarily resides there today).

9. Unfortunately, this urging Christians not to consider 9-11 outside A.D. 33 resembles the logic of those other clerics who insisted we should see 9-11 as God's judgment on America for tolerating homosexuality, or the view of a candidate for president who claimed a recent hurricane and earthquake proved God's dislike for the current American political culture!

10. This kind of exclusivistic intellectual tribalism, a clever rhetorical way of making everything else in the world seem secondary to one's own theological interpretation of one's own religion, while apparently popular in some political circles, becomes increasingly anachronistic for public policy as the diversity of faiths in our culture increases, and even counter-productive to the church's own goals (including survival!) in the complex new world situation now emerging. Many people may not like the increasing diversity here in America, much less in the world, but that does not change its occurrence as an observable fact.

11. For starters, from a Christian perspective, such exclusivism contradicts many known teachings of Jesus. Along with many other divinely inspired teachers before and after him, Jesus seems to have recognized world-changing possibilities in everyone and everything, irrespective of any interpretative priority the later Christians might give to their belief that he survived his crucifixion in A.D. 33.

12. Matthew's Jesus, for example, taught assembled crowds of peasants such things as, "Ye are the light of the world," and "Ye are the salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13-16), and even John's more theological and self-oriented Jesus ("I am the light of the world!") taught his students that he would leave them soon and that they, the students, would do even greater things than he had done (Jn 14:12, etc.).

13. The New Testament, the church's traditional source book, does contain many exclusivistic statements, and some even put on the lips of Jesus (esp. in John's gospel), but don't forget, they all were selected, edited, and recorded in the second half of the first century when small groups of Christians, a deep minority with a dynamic new faith, were struggling to understand and express that faith so they could survive in a world circumscribed by Emperor worship in the Roman Empire (for they had little or no knowledge of civilizations elsewhere).

14. Please, I have no desire to rattle the uncritical faith of most Christians, or the members of any other religious tradition, because each group, and each person, must work out their beliefs from their own full lifetimes of personal and social experience, and no one outside can do that for them. Many people, if not most, understandably prefer to retain beliefs they had in their childhood or adolescent years, so these traditions do not change rapidly. That also is an observable fact.

15. I also agree that all thinking people entering a serious discussion of a public issue naturally will, and should, take into account all aspects of their background and experience, including their religious and political beliefs. Certainly I do so myself, but not to the point of revisiting every key factor in my life before evaluating or discussing serious current events.

16. As a native-born American, for instance, I have 1492, 1607, 1620, 1776, and 1789 to think about, and 1861-65, 1914, 1941, and so on, but in assessing every new world-changing event (like 9-11), it would rarely be practical or helpful for me to stop first and rethink my deepest ideas about 1492 or 1776 or 1941, much less to inject my particular beliefs about these past events into every discussion focused on something new.

17. In summary, I think we must distinguish between (a) what is legitimate for a particular Christian teacher to believe and do, and (b) what is legitimate for that teacher to require of all others in the same tradition.

18. Thus I consider it fully legitimate for Prof. Hauerwas (or any other Christian teacher) to claim on grounds of his own personal faith that he will not assess anything without first referencing A.D. 33 (i.e., his faith in a particular theology about Jesus), because that procedure is certainly his right, if not his responsibility. But he exceeds that personal legitimacy when he categorically restricts or discourages all other Christans from doing things any differently, as if his way must be the only way that Christians might properly think and act in today's secular world. He leaves no "wiggle room" for diverse understandings, and I think the readers of Sojourners, as well as the readers of local church newsletters, deserve better than that. The future viability of Christianity in a diverse world may depend on it.

19. We must not let ourselves be tempted to abandon the Christian Enlightenment and return again to the medieval habit of letting eminently fallible theologians and priests dictate that Christians may only think along certain specified traditional lines. Otherwise the life-work of hundreds of thousands of brave pioneers of intellectual and spiritual freedom over the last 500 years of western Christian culture will have been diminished to the detriment of all of us and all of humanity.

September 15-18, 2011 (edited Oct. 27 and Nov, 12, 2012)

Copyright (c) 2012 by Max J. Havlick and Fay M. Havlick, The Max Havlick School, a project of New World Community Enterprises, Inc., 16 W. Vermont St., Villa Park, IL 60181-1938, all rights reserved. HubPages enables you to contact by email. Just go to the Profile Page with this link, click on "Fan Mail," then click "Send Max Havlick an email." We hold all such correspondence and contact information in the strictest confidence.

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    • Max Havlick profile imageAUTHOR

      Max Havlick 

      6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Thank you for the comment, mister diggs. I do hope to be doing more writing on this subject in the near future. I agree with you that something of the sort is sorely needed.

    • misterdiggs profile image


      6 years ago from Limbo

      Well said sir and I am aware of the intrinsic evil nature of the human animal. I'm in no way making these two particular peoples out to be innocent. I am saying though that their particular plight however has never been made right; and continually this government seems only to want to build prisons for one group; privatized institutions that pay their owners per head and casinos for the other group. Both of these things are unconscionable and egregiously evil in that they seek to make money from the effected parties. I see a slew of greedy business people; not a small number of them Christians as well as perspective Christian employees who want a job yet forego any moral discernment with regard to the historical implication of their actions.

      Just more of the same "Christian Oppression."

      When the mega churches begin to preach "Christian Enlightenment," that is a message in keeping with the person of Jesus Christ; a message which at its core explicitly commands that you love and respect all human beings; not the just the "racially preferred" group then I will take the current so-called Christian group seriously.

      The dialogue of "Christian Enlightenment" that you espouse is an interesting one. Ideaologically it sounds wonderful.

      I'll keep reading perhaps you are the beginning of the real Christian revival. I think you're on to something...

    • Max Havlick profile imageAUTHOR

      Max Havlick 

      6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Thank you, mister diggs, for your comments. I see you've given much thought to these issues: you make excellent points and show a strong, sensitive moral consciousness in your critique of many awful aspects of historical religion, in this case, Christianity. You have also read the Bible deeply enough to see correctly the huge discontinuity between (a) the downside of much historical Xty, and (b) the picture of the man Jesus portrayed, for the most part, in the NT gospels.

      Critical awareness of that discontinuity, plus knowledge of the genuine service to humanity provided by many historical Xns in spite of their limitations and faults, make it possible for us today, in my view, to have a coherent, non-moronic concept of Enlightenment Christianity able to move the future culture of some if not all Xty onto higher ground.

      Most historians today, as you probably know, do not consider such abuses intrinsically Xn, bec. similar abuses have occurred, and still do occur, in all times, places, and cultures. Even the famously innocent Native Americans in successive waves apparently killed their aboriginal precursors, ate their food, raped their women, and stole their lands. From the long view of history, such morally objectional behavior seems more like an uncivilized, wildly rushing Niagara Falls than a more readily controllable country stream.

      The question always remains, what to do about it? No set of ideas totally satisfies anyone, no set of ideas will work even partially for everyone, and the scene is always changing. In my view, that makes it doubly useful when people like you provide relentless critique to make others less satisfied with the established status quo.

      Few people , however, feel called to forsake the whole enterprise of a civilized humanity and go forth like cynical Diogenes bemoaning the difficulty of finding an honest man. (My favorite Diogenes story, when he saw a boy cup his hand to drink water, he threw away the cup he no longer needed to carry in his knapsack!) Most people live in a practical, everyday world with little time for hopelessly pondering the abuses of the past, or even those of the present unless they are directly involved (and sometimes not even then).

      So I wish you well, mister diggs, as you continue on your own unique life journey to find the best that is within you and persist in making your own creative contribution to the enterprise known as human civilization. It seems entirely possible to me that your contribution will be increasingly worthwhile.

      My work at the Max Havlick School (16 W. Vermont St., Villa Park, Illinois 60181-1938), while teaching awareness of Diogenes and all the historical forms of critical thought, incl. skepticism and cynicism, also teaches the viability of a form of Enlightenment Christianity rooted not just in the sacred scriptures, but in the whole tradition of world civilization that includes the good as well as the bad. We encourage people everywhere, regardless of background or culture, to do the best they can from where they are to contribute creatively to improving life for themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and hopefully, for everyone else in the world at large.

    • misterdiggs profile image


      6 years ago from Limbo

      I don't regard September 11th as a world changing event. I think the subsequent reaction of the United States government to the attack was a world changing event. Especially for some of the people who perpetrated the act. "Christian Enlightenment" is an oxymoron. No such thing has actually ever existed. The Historicity of the Christian church since Vatican I and all other subsequent denominations have been racists at their core. If their is anything enlightening about Christianity it is that in the last two thousand years it has continued to justify its evil or pay lip service to its "supposed indescretions." If you committ evil consistently. Namely; racism,sexism, theft of whole countries, the denigration and genocide of whole nations. When was the last time you saw a family of indigenous people at the mall in the food court enjoying a Quarter Pounder? When you committ such evil on such a great scale for such a long time your repentance of said crimes should include reparations that equal or exceed those damages. There is nothing great or lofty about people who call the evil that they have committed good. Christianity is an amorphous amoebic slime of ideas that have been stretched and bent to accomodate the evil of whoever happened to be in power at the time. Then and now. Christian truth is relative to the people who wield power. Christians slaughtered whole races using drugs, guns, priests and nuns. The funny thing is i've read the bible plenty of times. I keep looking for the parts where Jesus says " kill people and take their land as your own," oh yeah lest I forget. I'm still looking for the part that reads, "enslave the black man, rape his woman, kill him, burn him, hang him." From my perspective Christianity et al, en todo is hypocrisy at its finest. No truth here just more justification and glorification of a Great White Lie.

    • Max Havlick profile imageAUTHOR

      Max Havlick 

      6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Mickey, Sr., thanks for responding. You obviously think deeply about such things, for which I commend you, and I'm happy to respond. Your last 3 1/2 lines seem true to me, so I'm not sure what in my essay made you write them.

      The first 7 1/2 lines, however, could lead some people on a merry wild-goose chase, and that's okay with me too (each to his own!). But as one who lives life as a process of continual learning, I view "truth" somewhat differently, so I'd like to share a comment or two with you and my other readers and students.

      I, Max Havlick, do not consider "truth" some gigantic, immovable stone wall I have to climb over or around every time I learn or experience something new.

      Not only is one day's perceived "truth" subject to the next day's learning, or experience (or revelation, even, if you will), but any "truth," in its essence, IS an interpretation based on my knowledge and experience at the time I so accepted it, but as such, always subject to review and revision.

      What anyone does with their childhood religious culture, perceived truth or otherwise, usually fits well within this framework of how a serious lifetime learner deals with new knowledge and experience.

      Even the slightest bit of firmly supported new knowledge can cause you to adjust or reinterpret how to understand previously firm "truth" that may not have had such good support (overlooked, perhaps, from inexperience) in such a way as to keep key aspects of the old "truth" but now revised in the light of new knowledge or experience.

      Only rarely does a gradual onset of supportable new knowledge or experience cause people to throw overboard everything previous learned and held as "true."

      To summarize the point of my essay, requiring me to put everything I think "true" on controversial subjects (like religion) front and center in every discussion on every other local topic at hand (like 9/11) would make it impossible for other people to talk to me without injecting what they think is true or false about what I think is true or false.

      This exchange here illustrates my point. I would never deny the importance of discussing the "logic of truth," but if every other issue in life required all parties to a come to terms first with "the logic of truth," the world would come to a dead stop. In doing so, it might become more intelligent, but little else would get done.

      Thank you again, Mickey Sr., for your intelligent response that stimulated me to write these ideas.

    • MickeySr profile image


      6 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

      If you don't believe what you believe is the truth, then you shouldn't believe it, and if you do believe what you believe is the truth (and that's why you believe it, because you believe it's the truth) then you're not interpreting the world through a religious persuasion (as in, whatever cultural religious form you happen to have been born into) but are recognizing the reality of the world you live in from the legitimate critical understanding of what you count to be the truth . . . just because others discount or even mock what you believe to be the truth as religious nonsense doesn't come close to suggesting that their notion of what is true and what is untrue has any legitimacy at all.

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 

      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Brilliantly put. Such restricted speech is counter-productive.

      Certainly, what happened AD 33 was vitally important to us all, but when one takes out the garbage, one does not have to refer to the crucifixion. That is non sequitur, in most, if not all cases.

      It struck me as somewhat alarming that such a person with a restricted view of Christianity might become president of the United States as Rick Perry. I sigh in relief that he is out of the current race. That the Texas school board prints a substantial portion of the nation's textbooks remains troubling because it comes from the same "fundamentalist" attitudes that foist their opinions of scripture on others, including but not limited to the pollution of scientific methodology (especially on the topic of evolution).

      Not every interpretation of the Bible is correct. In fact, I dare say that only one or none can be correct on any one point. Realizing this fact can prove to be a good thing, for it elicits humility. And if we have the hunger to learn, then we will work to understand a deeper meaning which most surely lies behind the literal.

      In my own exegetical research, I have discovered a biblical timeline compatible with those of science. Creation "scientists" no longer need to adhere to a literal Genesis timeline. It's okay for science to be right and for the Bible to agree with it all. But creation trumps science, because science merely studies the products of creation.

      Perhaps 9/11 has biblical significance, but we need not include that idea in order to have a meaningful discussion. Your point is well made.

      And yet it seems that the Rockefellers knew about 9/11 months before it happened. In fact, they seemed to be looking forward to it, because it would allow them to take over Iraq and Afghanistan. At least this is the way the late Hollywood producer, Aaron Russo, tells it in a YouTube interview. In that interview, he also revealed that the Rockefellers plan to have us all implanted with a microchip for ID and commerce purposes. The moment I heard this, 9/11 took on new significance for me. I suddenly remembered Revelation 13 wherein it discusses the "mark of the beast" which would be required for all commerce.

      And the fact that Osama bin Laden initially said he had nothing to do with 9/11 now remains compatible with the Rockefellers knowing about it beforehand. The real beast isn't the selfishness behind terrorism, but the selfishness behind rampant greed and the lust for world dominance. The Rothschilds and Rockefellers may well be this beast of Revelation. They've made a fine art out of war, funding both sides, and for creating problems and then offering pre-packaged solutions which are happily accepted to everyone's detriment. If the Rockefellers were behind 9/11, then the "Patriot Act" would certainly fit into any plan for world dominance. The land of the free would no longer be free. The lessons learned from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia could now be applied more liberally.

      Certainly, we should not be required to discuss modern events in a religious context (as you so aptly suggest), but we should not fear doing so, either.

    • Max Havlick profile imageAUTHOR

      Max Havlick 

      7 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Thank you again, Steve, for reading and commenting.

    • Steve Orion profile image

      Steve Orion 

      7 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Interesting points. I agree and would say that it is absurd to have such a filter on events that impact humanity so. Absurd, but unfortunately characteristic.

    • Max Havlick profile imageAUTHOR

      Max Havlick 

      7 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Thank you, FitnezzJim, for your thoughtful comment. Please note that I worked on the article again Sunday to clarify various points, esp. the point that I do not object to anyone's personal beliefs and procedures, but I do distinguish between the important relevance of one's private beliefs and the requirements for timely and productive public discussion of current issues.

    • FitnezzJim profile image


      7 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      While it is good for men of faith or men of principle to always hold those values to heart, it is not so good to so readily reject someone who sees life from a different perspective. That act causes conflict, appears closed-minded, and and oftentimes causes those same honest people to be perceived as hypocrits. Much better to say, in this case for example, 'Based on my beliefs, the bigger change in the world occured in A.D.33'.

      Good Hub, tough topic, but well written.


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