Author and theologian Miroslav Volf spoke about the U.S. response to 9/11 to a capacity crowd Sept. 10 at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. His topic: “Ten Years Later – What Should Our Conversation Be?”
“What has 9/11 done to our soul as a nation?” asked Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology and founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
Volf said 9/11 is to Americans today what John F. Kennedy’s assassination was in the 1960s. Everyone remembers where they were when it happened.
Volf talked about his own experience of being in New York City that morning when, ironically, he was giving a talk on reconciliation at an international prayer breakfast at the U.N. building.
Attendees were escorted out of the building after the attacks, and by early afternoon New York had become a ghost town.
“Stunned shock turned to fear,” said Volf, “then to determination not to allow anything of that sort to happen to us again.”
The crowd in CBTS’ Baugh-Marshall Chapel in Shawnee, Kan., listened attentively as Volf, a native of Yugoslavia, compared the experience of the people of his native land to that of his adopted country.
“What has this event done to us as individuals and as people?” asked Volf, the author of numerous books, including “Allah: A Christian Response.”
He went on to identify the benefits and liabilities of the U.S. response to 9/11.
Volf cited an increased prejudice toward Islam as a harmful result of 9/11. Prejudice, he said, is a form of untruthfulness, which is a form of injustice – perpetrated in our imaginations.
Volf added that he had not seen America increase in stature as he has traveled the world post-9/11. The U.S. response to the attacks multiplied, rather than reduced, our enemies.
The current sense of American exceptionalism, according to Volf, is another negative outcome.
“The Great Experiment” of having no overarching religion as a uniting factor and having found a way to live together as one people is extraordinary.
This sense of exceptionalism may have gone too far, however. We Americans, said Volf, have come to think of ourselves as exceptional in moral terms, which can become dangerous.
In 2009, Volf reported, 54 percent of those who attended church services believed that torture is allowed and acceptable as a method of truth-finding.
Although never tortured, Volf said he had been held and interrogated for months and considered to be an enemy. To this day he could not think how a follower of Jesus Christ who was crucified – tortured – could approve of torture.
Volf also observed that since 9/11, “many people among those who insist that America is a Christian nation seem to worship America more than they follow the crucified Messiah.” Volf said his observation was not unique to the United States.
In his own country, when war broke out, people on both sides of the conflict came to believe their nation was their God. God, in effect, became the servant of the nation, said Volf.
“God does not serve,” said Volf, quoting theologian Karl Barth. “We shouldn’t have to be told this.”
To make God the servant of our own interests is one of the most nefarious acts in all times and ages, said Volf.
There have been positive results from the tragedy of 9/11, however, according to Volf. He cited not only an increased effort to understand other faiths, but also a strengthened awareness that we need to be civil.
Also, America has come to see itself as a pluralistic nation, albeit with Christian roots. The United States is thus challenged to find ways for its diverse citizens to live under the same roof.
Finally, Volf identified a positive and growing trend among Muslims and Christians – the two groups most at odds – to recognize they share significant common values and can engage one another in moral discourse.
Volf concluded his lecture by comparing 9/11 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Both events, he said, were earth-shattering. He said the possibilities for response were and are the same – conversation or crusade.
In his opinion, no military solution is possible with 2.3 billion Christians and 1.7 billion Muslims in the world.
“The challenge we face is how to respond out of authentic convictions of our faith,” said Volf, “rather than letting the evil perpetrated against us shape us and our response.”
Volf’s lecture was jointly sponsored by the seminary, Country Club Christian Church and the Kansas City Interfaith Clergy Council.