I hadn't planned on writing much, if anything, on the anniversary of the murderous attacks of September 11, 2001, if only because that event usually leaves me at loss for words. And what more can be said? It is an occasion, first of all, to pray for those who were murdered and for all those innocent—born and unborn, young and old—who are victims of violence and hatred each and every day.
But more can be said, even if with hesitation and some trepidation. For this is also an occasion to reflect and frankly consider our own mortality, the fragility of the flickering light called life that we each possess as a gift from God. What, then, is the point of it all? Why do we, as individuals and families and communities, come into existence and for what End were we created? Alas, those questions, unfortunately, apparently assume too much in this day and age, for it is not a given that those next to us in the workplace or in the schoolroom or on the street also believe in a loving God who "in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life" (CCC, 1).
It's not so much that explicit forms of atheism have become increasingly popular (although they have), but more that we in the West live as practical atheists. When the rubber meets the road, it is on a secular wheel and it is facilitating the rapid movement of a materialist car driving towards a shimmering temporal goal, with little interest in acknowledging the life to come and the Life from which we come. Sure, we might give lip service to God, or some form of vague deity or life form or higher power, but it is often mere lip service, not the service of body, soul, and mind that finds completion in real worship. "Secularism, I submit", wrote the great Orthodox theologian, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "is above all the negation of worship. I stress:—not of God's existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being..." (For the Life of the World, 1965).
What does this have to do with the anniversary of "9/11"? Quite a bit. Actually, nearly everything. And I am quite certain that Pope Benedict XVI, in giving his address at Regensberg on September 12, 2006, was trying to get us to see fundamental connections between how we understand God and how we understand our place in this world—in other words, the relationship between faith and reason, an essential theme of his pontificate. Benedict stated:
Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...". The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature
And, as we know, these remarks were soon followed by threats and acts of violence by those who were anged that they had been unfairly deemed prone to threats and acts of violence. But Benedict, in many ways, was simply elucidating a point made by his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, who took on the question of reason and the nature of God in his encyclical Veritatis splendor, presented almost twenty years ago, in August 1993. Writing about the fall of Adam, John Paul II stated: