by the Reverend J. Edwin Bacon
September 11, 2001 was a wake up call for religion.
On that day, religiously motivated people highjacked both a religion and four passenger airplanes, using them as missiles against the United States in the name of Allah.
The President responded to those crimes against humanity not by leveraging the phenomenal international sympathy for us to employ the rule of law, but by declaring a War on Terrorism. Using religious imagery, he called it a “crusade” and divided the world into us versus the “evildoers.” He employed the rule of war, not the rule of law. Across the world, religious people engaged in escalated levels of violence calling it holy even when it was clear to so many that to do so was suicidal.
Suddenly it was clear that to be religious in the 21st century was to be interreligious. As Karl Rahner had earlier put it, “Today everyone is the next-door neighbor and spiritual neighbor of everyone else in the world.”
The 20th century assumption that religion had become irrelevant to everyday life was proved false. At the beginning of this new century, to quote James Carroll, “The centrality of religion to life on earth, for better and for worse, had made itself very clear in a very short time.”
We felt we were in the midst of religious earthquakes. We saw the tectonic plates shifting daily underneath our feet--not only in Christianity, but in Judaism, Islam and other religions as well. Many of us began to see that no longer could we practice religion as usual, as though nothing had happened. Because of our sense of this new interreligious era we had to begin asking very important questions.
What is the impact of certain beliefs on those who do not share them? Hasn’t the time passed for religion to cease and desist from teaching in any way that violence is sacred? The writings of James Carroll became a seminar for many across this country and beyond, myself included, who want the church to be much more about inspiration than institutional preservation, and who want religion to be rational and compassionate rather than the fuel for wildfires of religious extremism, violence, discrimination, and injustice.
Several months ago at All Saints we began critiquing those Christian theologies which claim that God cannot forgive persons without a sacrificial penalty being paid by Jesus on the cross. That became our first tectonic shift. There have been others.
Now James Carroll returns to All Saints as a continuing resource of this project of calling Christianity back to its essence. He is writing a book on the new church that is emerging and will be with us Sunday in the Rector’s Forum for a conversation about this liberating venture. Come to learn; come with questions; come to be both shaken and empowered.
More about James Carroll to come. Here's one of his earlier presentations at All Saints -- Iraq, Faith & Self-Criticism