After Sept. 11, a Return to Religion

Fuller Churches and Public Prayer — Could a Renewal Be Near?

NEW YORK, OCT. 27, 2001 ( In the wake of the terror attacks in America, many people have found solace in prayer and an expressed desire for traditional values. Media reports testify to the increased numbers in churches and a strengthening of family ties.

Even some atheists seem to have found God. According to a report in the National Catholic Register on Sept. 30, one atheist stood outside the doors of a New York church on Sept. 13 inviting people to come in.

The Wall Street Journal noted Oct. 10 that ratings for religious programs on television have soared in the aftermath of the attacks. Ratings doubled for James Robison´s “Life Today” on the Trinity Broadcasting Network during the two weeks beginning Sept. 16, compared with the two weeks before the attack. Viewership for a news program by “prophecy expert” Hal Lindsey jumped 60% during the same period.

As for church attendance, numbers at the 36,000 Methodist churches in the United States have more than doubled since the attacks, the Journal reported Oct. 5. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted Sept. 21-22, 47% of those surveyed said they had attended church or synagogue during the previous seven days, up 6% from the spring.

The upsurge in religious fervor has not been limited to the United States. In Britain, the Guardian newspaper on Oct. 11 reported that a month after the tragedy St. Paul´s Cathedral was still printing 200 extra service sheets every Sunday. And the American Church in London is at double attendance.

In England, demand for copies of both the Koran and the Bible have outstripped supply. Oxford University Press is rushing through a reprint of its “Introduction to the Koran” after copies sold at four times their usual rate.

The Times on Oct. 13 also affirmed an increase in church attendance. More than 800 people went to evensong at Exeter Cathedral in the previous week, compared with the usual congregation of 150. And Winchester Cathedral reported a 60% rise in the number of faithful.

Church-state division

The renewed fervor for religion has sparked off conflicts in America over the division between church and state. During the first weeks, the long-running battle over prayer in schools and public places ran overwhelmingly in favor of those who wanted more space for prayer. But as the weeks go by, more protests have been raised by groups who argue for a ban on all religious expression in events taking place on government property.

The New York Times reported Oct. 23 on a prayer circle formed by the players at a public school football game that appeared to defy the most recent Supreme Court ruling banning prayer at school events over a public address system.

And in South Carolina, according to the Times, state legislators are proposing a bill to transform the moment of silence that begins each school day into a moment of prayer, though such moments of prayer were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Wallace v. Jaffree in 1985.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he did not believe that courts were about to reverse earlier decisions on prayer. Moreover, he warned that the new practices pushing the limits of Supreme Court rulings would prove costly to communities forced to defend them in court. “The Constitution has not been suspended since Sept. 11,” Lynn said.

But Texas Governor Rick Perry said last Monday that he sees no problem with ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court ban on organized school prayer “at this very crisis moment in our history.” Perry defended a decision to have a Protestant minister open an East Texas middle school assembly with prayer last week.

“Any time you have a crisis that faces you either in your personal life or as we have now in our country, reaching out to a supreme being is a very normal act,” said the Republican governor, according to the Dallas Morning News on Oct. 23.

Perry told reporters that he is ready to make school prayer a campaign issue as he seeks election next year to a full four-year term as governor.

The Christian Science Monitor on Oct. 25 observed that while school-sponsored prayer has been struck down repeatedly by the court, the issue is murkier within government, where there has never been a clear ruling. In fact across the country, many city councils, state legislatures — and even the U.S. Congress — open their meetings with a prayer.

And in many towns local officials are pushing the limits between church and state. Ringgold, Georgia, for example, is one of the many towns that have brought Christianity into city hall since Sept. 11.

Three public buildings are now adorned with framed copies of the Lord´s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Another empty frame hangs nearby, “for those who believe in nothing.”

Cultural renewal

Legal battles aside, one of the consequences of Sept. 11 could be a move toward a renewal of Western culture. This was the hope expressed by Tomás Halík, a professor at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.

In National Review Online on Oct. 5, Halík argued that the attacks destroyed the hope that the ideals of an open democratic society are so attractive that the whole world will sooner or later accept them, just as it has embraced Western technology.

But he appealed for a response based “not on a spirit of revenge which will prevent us from escaping a downward spiral of fear and violence.” Rather, Halík favors a “new moral ecology” that fosters values.

This environment of values would reject the fantasy world created by the entertainment industry in which the glorification of violence “may well have become the most popular psychological drug for suppressing the deeper anxieties of civilization.”

Another value that needs to be promoted is life. A lack of a respect for life, especially in its most fragile forms, and a willingness to abuse medical inventions to manipulate human beings and the essence of life itself for commercial purposes, “render us less able to struggle with violence and death,” commented Halík.

John Paul II also appealed for a renewal of faith. In his general audience just a day after the attacks, the Pope observed that the events constituted “a dark day in the history of humanity, a terrible affront to human dignity.”

But, he continued, “faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ´s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it.” After Sept. 11, the West seems to be listening.

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation