Reflection On 9/11 – 20 Years Later

20 years ago, I was home with a baby and a toddler, watching the live news unfolding from New York. I was gripped with fear, shock and horror. I cried, prayed and tried not to convey sadness to my little boys. It was an otherwise normal morning for them as toys beeped, rattled and rolled across the floor – but for me, it was an event of witnessing instantaneous, unthinkable tragedies from the comfort of our living room. I didn’t want to watch, yet couldn’t look away, either. I prayed fervently and trusted in God’s will to be done in Heaven and on earth, surrendering to the Lord’s Prayer. I watched and read commentaries from conservative perspectives and intentionally avoided “liberal agenda” sources. I needed to feel like I could believe that since God knew this would happen, that He must have had a divine plan in allowing for the calamity and destruction of 9/11. Somehow, it was their “fate” to die such cruel deaths, as I understood fate to be nonnegotiable.

As time went on, I knew my religious beliefs were shifting towards an openness to considering another way to be a person of faith. I was no longer able to think that God was ultimately in control, despite countless sermons I’d heard, worship songs I’d sung and scriptures that were dear to my heart. No loving deity would “allow” for such murderous chaos …

20 years later, I have come to the full realization that God had nothing to do with it; no ability to stop the terrorist pilots from flying the planes that killed almost 3000 people. The hijackers had free will and chose their actions and fate.

Taking bible verses out of context, not understanding how to interpret scripture based on nuances, assuming the “last days” were upon us, etc., I needed to quiet the passionate (what I now realize as) hyperbole and rhetoric from those claiming to be speaking prophetically and with so-called certainty. The tragedy of 9/11 happened because of appallingly bad religious extremism – in this case, it was warped, militant fundamentalist Islam that corrupted the minds of the pilots who were determined to die for their religion. The extreme ideology from their beliefs made them want to kill all those innocent people and sent the pilots to their deaths as “martyrs”.

When I hear things like “part of God’s plan”, “everything happens for a reason”, “meant to be”, “God’s sovereignty”, etc., I now completely disagree with such remarks. The cognitive dissonance of believing God is always in control means that God is orchestrating our lives, because to a good evangelical, it is fundamentally against God’s will to have doubts. For the Christians (and other people of faith) who knew their deaths were imminent on 9/11, if they held fast to this view, they’d be accepting it as God being in control, not the hijackers. What a terrible way to die – thinking the God you worship is in control, as the plane you are flying on crashes into a tower. God help us!… I can no longer tolerate such unacceptable beliefs.

Today, I grieve with fresh tears about the events of 20 years ago. I still find words to help me meditatively express and lament how I feel about cruelty, injustice and life’s sorrows that affect me personally and from a distance. Letting go of religious ideologies has been freeing and therapeutic for me. If the 19 terrorists hadn’t been brainwashed into becoming suicidal pilots, the twin towers would still be in the New York skyline. Bad understanding of religion, bad theology and bad intentions led to the tragedy of 20 years ago. Hopefully hate-filled religious extremists from all over the world (and in the USA) will be humbled and commemorate the events of today and determine to heal, do better and choose to live peacefully.

I just needed to write something this morning… thanks for reading.

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Carolyn Joy Simpson

Carolyn Joy Simpson

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Writer — blog, nonfiction & novel (in progress), audiobook narrator, lifetime student, mother, adapter of challenges, non-credentialed theologian & philosopher.