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SPECIAL EDITION September 11, 2001
David Barton - 01/2002
Untitled Document

Lessons from the September Terrorist Attacks

In the weeks since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the nation has changed dramatically. While not all changes are yet obvious, already there have emerged specific trends and lessons to which the Bible and America's history clearly speak.

Lesson One: Humility Precedes Justice.
Disasters have occurred on numerous occasions throughout American history. While none have exceeded the death totals of this recent tragedy, there have been instances in which a higher percentage of Americans were killed. For example, in the Great Massacre of 1622, Indians killed over one-fourth of all Americans then in the Colonies. And between 1675 and 1677, in similar attacks, twelve of Massachusetts' ninety towns were completely annihilated and forty others partially destroyed. What should be the response to such disasters?

The Bible gives clear guidance in Joshua 7-8. Israel had become a mighty nation and grown accustomed to victory. Approaching the town of Ai, Joshua dispatched a small unit of three thousand of Israel's nearly one million soldiers to conquer that city. In the ensuing battle, some 36 Israelis were killed - about one percent of that smaller force and a miniscule number from among the larger force. Nevertheless, even that loss caused Joshua and the nation to humble themselves before God and seek His forgiveness for any sins (Joshua 7:6). After that time of prayer, humiliation, and repentance, they rose up and annihilated those who had inflicted the injuries on them.

Nehemiah 1:3-6 offers a similar lesson. Upon hearing that Jerusalem had been destroyed and burned with fire, Nehemiah first "mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven" and then "confessed the sins which we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against God." Following that time of humiliation and prayer, Nehemiah organized a force, pushed back Israel's enemies and rebuilt what had been destroyed.

America followed this pattern in 1622 after the Great Massacre, in 1675-1677 in King Philip's War, and on numerous other occasions, including the American Revolution and the War of 1812. It is also the appropriate thing to do in the wake of the terrorist attacks - for each of us not only to examine ourselves and repent of our own sins but also to pray for the nation and its sins. In fact, President Bush both emphasized prayer as the early and immediate as the ongoing focus for the nation; and Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Tom DeLay have also proposed a day of humiliation and prayer for the nation. Following such a time of humiliation and prayer, it is Biblically precedented to destroy the enemy who caused the loss of innocent life.

Lesson Two: Complete Pluralism is Untenable.
In recent decades schools and public arenas have moved toward a completely inclusive pluralism, teaching that all of the 1700 different religions are equal and therefore deserve equal acceptance and respect. This tragedy shows the fallacy of that teaching. Not all religions are the same; not all have the same value systems; in fact, many directly oppose the value systems of others.

For example, recall the pictures of Palestinians who, upon hearing of the initial report that some 10,000 innocent victims had been killed in the World Trade Center attacks, crowded into the streets celebrating and cheering, "God is great! God is great!" This is a view of God antithetical to that held by Christianity. In fact, the top dozen terrorist organizations in the world all claim an adherence to the same strain of the same religion, and since the initial attacks, (e. g. in Pakistan, Africa, etc.) have risen up against Americans and Christians.

The religion of the Bible is different from other religions. As Founder Zephaniah Swift (the author of America's first legal text) explained:

The Christian doctrines inculcate a purity of heart and holiness of life which constitutes its chief glory. It is superior to all the systems of pagan philosophy promulgated by the wisest men of ancient times.

Signer of the Declaration John Witherspoon similarly declared:

The Christian religion is superior to every other. . . . There is not only an excellence in the Christian morals but a manifest superiority in them to those which are derived from any other source.

Unlike some current strains of religion, Christianity over the six centuries since the Reformation has had a respect for human life - even the lives of its enemies - and does not rejoice in the death of either friend or enemy. (Remember that America helped rebuild and restore Italy, Germany, and Japan after having defeated them during World War II.) Indeed, John Jay (an author of The Federalist Papers and the original Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court) described the Christianity of America as "enlightened"; John Quincy Adams characterized it as "civilized"; and John Adams termed it "rational." Daniel Webster further explained that American Christianity was "Christianity to which the sword and the fagot [burning stake or hot branding iron] are unknown - general tolerant Christianity is the law of the land in America!"

Proverbs 20:11 tells us that "Even a child is known by his actions"; the actions of different religions demonstrate that there are differences and distinctions between them, and that those distinctions are significant. While religious tolerance is the foundation of religious liberty in America, to continue to infuse into the culture the all-inclusive pluralism purporting that all religions are equal makes as much sense as saying that there is no difference between night and day.

Lesson Three: Absolute Tolerance is Irrational.
In addition to a distorted pluralism often advanced in public, there is also a distorted view of tolerance which advocates that everyone should be respected for his or her own individual beliefs, whatever they may be. Yet, if tolerance is our quintessential societal virtue, then shouldn't we be tolerant of those who made this attack? Shouldn't we even respect their beliefs as terrorists? Or - can it be - are there some beliefs and behaviors for which tolerance is unwarranted?!

Perhaps the absurdity of the politically-correct tolerance teaching was recently demonstrated at a Midwestern college where - like most State colleges - "tolerance" was the unofficial motto. The campus was gathered in an assembly when an administration official interrupted to announce that America had been attacked by terrorists. Amazingly, one student stood up and began to applaud and cheer for the terrorist attackers. The reaction of those around him was predictable: students were outraged and police had to intervene to preserve his health.

There is a place for tolerance, but there are points where tolerance must end. Proverbs 8:13 tells us that "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil," not tolerate it; and Proverbs 28:4 says that those who love the law resist the wicked, not tolerate them. This disaster may help rid America of some unprincipled, non-Biblical thinking that has permeated the nation in recent years.

(By the way, Toward Tradition has published an excellent pamphlet, "Terrorized by Tolerance," available at

Lesson Four: A New Affinity with Israel has Resulted.
The Bible is clear that Israel holds a distinct place among nations. As the Apostle Paul explained, "Concerning the election of God, Israel is beloved because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:28-29). And God has also made clear that the manner in which a nation treats Israel determines how God will treat that nation ("I will curse him that curses you and bless him that blesses you" Genesis 12:3, 27:29). David further instructs us, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your [Israel's and Jerusalem's] good" (Psalms 122:6-9).

America's long tradition of support for the Jewish people in general was established by our Founding Fathers. For example, while describing a federal parade in Philadelphia, signer of the Declaration Benjamin Rush declared:

The rabbi of the Jews locked in the arms of two ministers of the Gospel was a most delightful sight. There could not have been a more happy emblem.

George Washington's letter to the Hebrew congregation of Savannah showed a similar warmth:

May the same wonderworking Deity who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors and planted them in the promised land, whose Providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.

Elias Boudinot (President of Congress, a framer of the Bill of Rights, and a founder of the American Bible Society) was so fond of the Jews that he served as president of the "Society for Ameliorating the State of the Jews" and made personal provision to bring persecuted Jews to America where they could have an "asylum of safety."

Regrettably, however, this tradition of support for Israel and the Jews had begun to wane over the past decade as the Palestinians became prominently featured in American news stories, as Arafat was accorded special treatment at the White House, and as Israel was harshly criticized for her strong retaliations against terrorists. Now, because of this terrorist attack on America, we have a new sympathy for what Israel experiences on a daily basis and a new understanding of why she responds so forcefully against her terrorist attackers.

Significantly, Muslim commentators sympathetic to the terrorists who regularly attack Israel appeared on news broadcasts across the world (e.g., in Canada, Great Britain, Europe, etc.) following the American disaster declaring that America's tragic losses in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were actually self-inflicted wounds. They explained that we had brought this disaster on ourselves because of our support for Israel and that we actually deserved what had happened to us!

Such inflammatory charges - as well as the attacks against us - have served to strengthen our support of Israel, and for this we will be blessed.

Lesson Five: The Hypocrisy of Secularists is Confirmed.
For years, groups such as the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), AU (Americans United for Separation of Church and State), PAW (People for the American Way), et al., have consistently opposed public religious expressions. These groups claim that by suing to prevent such expressions, they are simply seeking to preserve the principles of the Constitution in all their purity. Yet, if they really believed this, then why have they been so relatively silent since the attack? After all, there has probably never been a time in recent American history in which there has been so much "illegal" activity for them to sue (so far, they have objected to only a few incidents, including public schools saying "God bless America").

When the attack occurred, I was in Washington, D.C., about to begin our annual WallBuilders' Pastors Briefing with pastors and Members of Congress. We were in a location that had been targeted by the terrorists, but their destructive plans for that area were unsuccessful. We did, however, see the Pentagon burn. When the city was reopened, airline flights were unavailable and we therefore obtained two cars in which I, my family, and some of our staff members could return to Texas. That 1700 mile cross-country trip was very instructive - and very encouraging.

For example, one State had taken its electronic highway construction signs and had placed them along the interstate. But instead of flashing, "Two left lanes closed, merge right" (or something similar), all the signs were flashing alternating messages of "Pray for America," and "God bless America." This was a use of State funds to deliver a religious message and to urge a religious activity - clearly an "unconstitutional" activity (according to the ACLU et als errant interpretation) . In another location, the public schools had covered their fences with signs urging passers-by and the community to pray - they, too, were delivering an overtly religious and thus an "unconstitutional" message.

Furthermore, when the President declared the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, we all saw media reports of hundreds of public schools across the country halting school activities and participating in the prayer time. I witnessed a plethora of other similarly "illegal" actions by city and State governments. Why has no lawsuit been filed or press conference held denouncing what these groups so often consider to be egregious acts against the Constitution? This general silence, while refreshing, demonstrates their hypocrisy and demagoguery by their attempts to avoid the public hostility which they actually deserve.

(By the way, Congress would now have difficulty voting for a fourth time against a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning. In the votes in the the last three sessions of Congress on that issue 90 percent of Republicans voted to protect the American flag, while 88 percent of those who voted against protecting the flag were Democrats. Undoubtedly, most of them would not have the courage of their "convictions" to vote against this amendment now.)

Lesson Six: The Court's Policies on School Prayer are Proven Absurd.
Notice the difficult position in which public schools were placed as a result of this tragedy. Due to the successes of legal groups on the left of the political spectrum, the official policy at the time of the attacks was that schools could not set aside time for prayer for the nation or the victims. In fact, the Court had ruled in Wallace v. Jaffree that even voluntary, individual, silent student prayers were unconstitutional! The official position therefore was, "Students, if you want to pray for these disasters, wait seven hours until you get home." Based on decisions by the Supreme Court, we can no longer do what we did at the time of Pearl Harbor, the Korean or the Vietnam Wars, or the assassination of President Kennedy. How absurd that in our nation's schools, public tragedies now require private prayers. Yet, talk shows - hosts, guests, and callers - are now clamoring for the reinstatement of voluntary school prayer, and it has been years since support was so high or fervor so strong for the return of this traditional activity.

Furthermore, this environment has provided a Biblically-justified setting for civil disobedience. Three thousand years ago, when the government prohibited Daniel from praying to God, Daniel deliberately disobeyed the law and prayed anyway. In fact, the three Hebrew children, the Hebrew midwives, the Apostles, and many other heroes of our faith were also guilty of civil disobedience. While civil disobedience does expose the individual to the punishment of civil government (e.g., Daniel was thrown into the lion's den, the three Hebrew children into the fiery furnace, the Apostles into jail, etc.), there probably will not be another time when civil disobedience at schools for the purpose of praying would be less likely to be punished.

Lesson Seven: The Depravity of Man is Affirmed.
Although many in society today are convinced of the natural goodness of all mankind, the events of recent weeks prove otherwise. Nevertheless, some teachers in New York City so strongly believed in the innate goodness of man that they were actually attempting to console distraught students by telling them that what had happened at the Trade Centers was simply "a terrible accident." Parents were properly outraged. It was not an accident; it was a deliberate action perpetrated by innately depraved men whose intent was the slaughter of innocent victims.

Expectations that man will behave in a civilized manner (unless influenced, directly or indirectly, by Christ or the Scriptures) are unwarranted (see Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 53:6-7) Jesus Himself understood this, for although the crowd was praising Him and throwing down palm leaves to honor Him, He knew they would turn against Him. Thus, John 2:24 says that Jesus would not commit Himself to them because He "knew the hearts of men."

Our Founders also understood the truth of the depravity of man. As George Washington noted:

A love of power, and proneness to abuse it, predominates in the human heart.

Alexander Hamilton similarly observed:

The passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.

John Quincy Adams understood this problem and pointed out its solution, explaining:

Human legislators acknowledge their inability to govern and direct the sentiments of the heart, but it is one of the greatest marks of Divine favor that God gave rules not only of action but for the government of the heart.

Thomas Jefferson similarly explained:

Jesus pushed His scrutinies into the heart of man; erected His tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.

While we should expect the best from others (1 Corinthians 13:7), the events of recent days prove that without the influence of Biblical teachings men will hurt and kill one another.

As Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop similarly explained:

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.

Indeed, without the influence of Christ or the Scriptures, man, and consequently society, will spiral downward rather than evolve upward.

Lesson Eight: The Influence of Christianity Elevates a Society.
How America responds to worldwide disasters such as earthquakes, floods, droughts, fires, civil wars, and other human or natural disasters is different from the response of most of the rest of the world. While other nations send condolences in the aftermath of tragedies, America sends workers and tangible relief. Why? Because, as our Founders explained, Christianity elevates the benevolent character of societies as well as of individuals:

Christian benevolence makes it our indispensable duty to lay ourselves out to serve our fellow-creatures to the utmost of our power. JOHN ADAMS

The doctrines proclaimed by Jesus and His apostles include lessons of peace, benevolence, meekness, brotherly love, and charity. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS

Let the religious element in man's nature be neglected and he becomes the creature of selfish passion. The cultivation of the religious sentiment incites to general benevolence. DANIEL WEBSTER

Christianity introduces a better and more enlightened sense of right and justice. It teaches the duty of benevolence to strangers. JAMES KENT, "FATHER OF AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE"

Christianity, in its tenderness for human infirmities, strongly inculcates principles of benevolence. RICHARD HENRY LEE, SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION, FRAMER OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS

Christianity's influence upon America has produced our benevolence - a benevolence that was obvious in the response of our people to the disasters in New York and Washington, D.C. In fact, foreign broadcasts almost universally focused on the remarkable humanitarian responses that have arisen spontaneously - from within America a land that they described as "the most religious of all nations."

Indeed, in what other nation has its leaders had to beg citizens to please stop their contributions and to stop volunteering? This is reminiscent of the accounts in Exodus 36:5 and 2 Chronicles 31:10 where the giving of God's people was so great that the leaders had to ask for the contributions to cease. Our remarkable national benevolence is largely a result of the influences of Christianity.

Lesson Nine: A Rebirth of Religious Feelings.
A revival of religious feelings and patriotism has swept the country in the wake of the disaster. Radio stations replaced their normal programming with in-house productions calling the nation to pray and to display American flags. Virtually every rendition of "God Bless America!" that was ever recorded has been revived; and Congressmen standing on the east Capitol steps singing "God Bless America!" literally brought millions of Americans to tears. Individuals who say they had not recited the pledge of allegiance in over three decades are now reciting it daily. The prayer service at the National Cathedral with Billy Graham's powerful presentation of the Gospel and President Bush's remarkable speech have been rebroadcast time and time again over local, regional, and national networks.

Not only have Americans in general been touched with these religious feelings but also the survivors in particular have a new awareness of spiritual things. One after another is expressing his or her overwhelming conviction that he or she was spared by God - for some specific reason - and that they are now rededicating their lives to finding out what it is God wants them to do and then doing it.

The overt expressions of faith in God and pride in country have also been rekindled in a most unlikely source: the national media. For example, the World Trade Centers were collapsing, Judy Woodruff of CNN called on viewers to pray for the salvation of the souls of those in the Towers. And Britt Hume of Fox has been unabashed in quoting Scriptures during his broadcasts. And when was the last time anyone saw Dan Rather of CBS cry? And national newspaper columnists usually critical of public religious expressions of faith are now opening their columns with Bible verses. These often crusty, cynical news reporters have had their hearts touched in a remarkable manner. And speaking of remarkable, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani talked more about God during the disaster than did many ministers!

An openness about our faith in God and pride in America has been rekindled, and an awareness of, and a new tenderness to, spiritual things has surfaced in some of the most unexpected circles.

Lesson Ten: There is Never a Time to Let Down Your Guard.
No one could have foreseen what occurred on the morning of September 11th: America was the only superpower: our enemies could be watched by satellite; our borders were safe; our military was the most powerful in the world. All of this was sufficient security to lull even the greatest statesmen and patriots to sleep. The setting was similar in the day of Patrick Henry when in March, 1775, quoting from Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11, he reminded Americans, "Gentlemen may cry 'Peace, peace' - but there is no peace! The war is actually begun!"

Indeed, 1 Peter 5:8 similarly urges us always to be sober and vigilant, to be self-controlled and alert, for our enemy is continually prowling around looking for someone to devour. This is true physically, (as we have seen over the past few weeks) but it is also true spiritually. There is never a time to relax and let down our guard. As Proverbs 6:10-11 reminds us, it is because of only a little sleep that our enemy will overtake us "like an armed bandit." Jesus similarly warned, "If the owner of the house had known what time the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into" (Matthew 24:43).

The events of recent days prove that there is never a time not to keep watch and be alert, both physically and spiritually.

While the recent tragic disasters have resulted in a terrible loss of innocent life, nevertheless God has been able to bring good out of it for the whole nation, and perhaps for the entire world.

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. ROMANS 8:28

What was intended for evil God has turned to good in order to save many.

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