There are plenty of posts going up today commemorating the events of September 11, 2001. I do remember where I was. I was hoping to sleep in for some reason (usually late working or reading), and was awakened by being told there was something I just had to see. On the TV was a picture of smoke coming from the towers.
I did not lose any closer friends or family on that day. There is that sense of national loss, but I would not compare that to the loss of those whose loss was personal and direct.
In the days following I watched as our country pulled together, found a new unity, and came closer to God. I have also watched much of that unity evaporate, along with much of closeness and new spirituality that came out of the event. We saw heroes arise in unlikely (and some likely!) places: First responders of all varieties, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, and thousands of civilians who just happened to be at the right place.
Good things can come out of evil deeds. They never justify the evil deeds. They are part of how we try to build and make a better world, part of how we deal with grief, fear, and the disruption of our lives.
One thing that can result from a threat is unity. People who are under a common threat tend to grow together as they face it, at least as long as the threat is current and real. And unity is a good thing. At least it is some of the time.
I’ve found that many vices are simply virtues that have gotten tainted by something else. For example, there is discernment, a good thing (Heb. 5:14). On the other hand, there is judgment (Matt. 7:1-5), which I think might be discernment mixed with pride or self-righteousness and directed at others.
In the case of unity, there is that unity that comes of our love for one another, and that results in a loving group reaching out to others (1 John 4:7-21). This is the kind of unity we Christians are supposed to seek. You could call this a unity of inclusion.
Then there is that unity in which fear brings us together to hold others at arm’s length or even to attack them and to seek revenge. You could call this a unity of exclusion.
You could also call the first a unity of love, and the second a unity of hate.
Now it happens I am not a pacifist. I am, in fact, a veteran, and proud to be able to say so. But violence, or any kind of force, is a blunt and dangerous activity. It has a tendency to go beyond itself, to breed new and greater dangers, and to fail to accomplish its intended goals. Remember World War I, the war to end all wars?
I don’t believe that a unity of inclusion means an absence of defense. I believe there is evil, and there are evil people. Against such, action may be necessary. But my belief that violent action—by nature dangerous even to those who use it—may be necessary leads me to support a unity of inclusion even more strongly.
I believe that it is only by rejecting revenge that we can successfully apply the necessary actions to evil people. Hate will rot out the good structure of unity and cause us to choose actions that are unnecessary and that only breed more problems. Hate will also change us in ways that are hard to predict, and never good. Hate may see true enemies; in fact, it often does. But it also makes us see enemies where there might be potential friends.
Are there people who will hate us no matter what we do? I suspect so. But there are also people who may be angry at us for good reasons, and if we could look at ourselves closely enough and carefully enough, we might just be able to change that.
I would like to see us reexamine ourselves as a nation and see if the changes we see after 9/11/2001 make us the people we want to be. For a few days right now we’re going to be more unified. We’ll see people like George W. Bush and President Obama on a platform together.
But it won’t be long until we’re sniping at one another again. Peace and unity may only last for hours. So now is the time to ask ourselves this: Do we like what we are becoming?