Having now had a little time to think about it, it seems to me that Mayor Giuliani and the rest of the City’s civil servants, especially the fire department and police, have performed outstandingly well. And that President Bush and his team are on the right very forceful but deliberate path. The trick will be in keeping America’s anger hot and resolve firm, while never losing focus. It is NOT all Arabs or Muslims who did this; it is NOT Israel’s fault this happened. (I have heard the essence of both sentiments expressed on C-SPAN.)
Neither, for that matter (and despite the way I’ve titled this column, in deference to Reverend Falwell), do I believe it is my fault.
I assume most of you have seen by now the transcript of Pat Robertson’s conversation with the Reverend Falwell on last Thursday’s telecast of the 700 Club. In part:
FALWELL: ‘The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.”
PAT ROBERTSON: ‘Well, I totally concur . . .’
Falwell and Robertson have convinced themselves that when a hurricane hits Virginia Beach (Robertson’s neck of the woods), there’s no meaning to it, and that when a hurricane fails to hit Orlando as predicted in retribution for Disney’s equal rights policies for gays and lesbians, there’s no meaning to it, and that when AIDS devastates the (straight) population of Africa, or 460 die when a ferry sinks in the Red Sea – or six million innocent Jews or three million innocent Cambodians are exterminated – God merely works in mysterious ways . . . but that when religious fanatics crash planes into the World Trade Center, because they believe it will take them to a special place in heaven, this is not caused by a fanatic religious certitude greater in degree but not entirely dissimilar from their own. Rather, they concur, it is caused, at least in part, because people like me have made God mad.
I have to assume both Robertson and Falwell know with every fiber of their faith that the World Trade Center terrorists are not headed for a special place in heaven. The terrorists have accepted the wrong blind faith.
And I have to assume that Robertson and Falwell would disdain as laughable (or tragic) the myths of the ancients, who – lacking the knowledge and science to understand almost anything about their environment – believed in many gods and tried hard not to make them mad, sacrificing the occasional virgin to that end. But a lot of ancients really believed this stuff – it’s how they tried to make sense of the world – and a lot of virgins died.
Well, but of course, that was before we knew that the Red Sea parted (literally? it literally parted?) and before Jesus walked on water (literally? he literally walked on water?), and before the Bible told us that non-virgin brides should be stoned to death in the public square. Now we no longer deal in comforting myths, but in the truth, as interpreted for millions through God’s wealthy servants on the 700 Club.
And listen: I recognize my tone here will offend some, and I regret that. But assuming those I offend are right and I’m wrong, they are going to heaven for eternity and I am going to hell – which would seem to give new definition to the phrase ‘the last laugh.’ So at worst, rather than be mad at me, I hope they will just feel sorry for me.
I deeply respect the right of people to believe what they choose to believe, so long as they don’t hurt or condemn other loving, law-abiding citizens. I don’t doubt that the Reverend Falwell wishes everyone well. And there is much on which we actually agree. I believe the teachings of Jesus are magnificent. I believe in love and compassion and fairness and freedom and tolerance and dignity and charity and honesty. And isn’t that, after all, the bulk of it, even if I don’t go the extra step and, as a result, have to burn in hell?
Amazingly, those thoughts are related – at least in my mind – to the War Against Terrorism. Because in the long run, this war can only be won if people of differing faiths, and no faith at all, are able to learn to live with each other – as, for the most part, and underlying this nation’s strength, they have in America.
Tomorrow: Letter from an Afghan