September the 11th is a date that has permanently changed the shape of our culture, and even the way we live on this particular day. We remember the lost, hear the stories of those who survived and saw what happened firsthand, and think about what we learned from this.
One can wonder, however. What are we to do on a day where life was so unjustly snuffed out on such a scale? It seems all we can do is mourn, chafe at those who committed the atrocities and find ourselves at a loss. Like Théoden in The Two Towers, we can wonder what man can do in the face of such relentless hate. Or perhaps instead, we might find strength in knowing what the real nature of the conflict was about.
At its core, I believe we can understand the conflict was one of ideas and ideals. The attacks came not from a certain nationality or ethnic background, but came from a corrupt ideology directly opposed to the core founding philosophy of our country, one of Divine liberty and the belief that our values are actual statements of truth, not just opinion. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness bolstered by a dedication to absolute truth, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights is the center of our whole idea of being American. Of course such ideas being absolutes comes from the Founders’ belief in the Biblical text as truth. Belief is the source of these freedoms.
In the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, the main character faces off against the antagonist, saying, “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.” While I do not agree with this story’s philosophical standpoint completely, I want us to keep this quote in mind.
September 11th was an attempt to try to physically strike at significant landmarks that are iconic in the American mind. But these buildings and establishments are not, in the end, what they oppose. What they oppose are the ideas on which this country was founded. They, by terrorism, attempted to make us afraid to live out those ideas and truths and freedoms. They slew those innocent people in an attempt to say “recant or we will do this to you.” We have seen them almost succeed in shaking people’s belief that what we value is really worthwhile. As long as we refuse and continue to live out these principles, our enemies will have failed.
In the end, what the Enemy seeks to destroy beyond the damages they inflict cannot ever be really destroyed. Life after death continues regardless, and the ideas that make life worth living endure if we continue to affirm them in our lives. I recall a line from the Sean Connery Arthurian film First Knight (1995), concerning the guiding chivalrous principles of justice on which Camelot was built.
That is the very heart of Camelot. Not these stones, timbers, towers, palaces. Burn them all…and Camelot lives on. Because it lives in us. It’s a belief we hold in our hearts.
C.S. Lewis wrote often on this idea that we cannot, because life is hard or assaulted by tragedy, surrender our pursuit of beauty and knowledge and truth. On both his essays On Living in an Atomic Age and Learning in Wartime, the idea persists that humanity is created special in that it continues to pursue what makes us better even in the face of what attempts to destroy it. We do not stop being uniquely human (moral, creative and resilient) in the face of war. And as much as modern terror can strike fear in our hearts, death has always been on the doorstep of our lives in one way or another in one of a million forms. The certainty remained the same. The only thing that changes is variety. That is why beauty and dignity must be pursued as it is given to us each moment.
On this September the 11th, and each that follow, I believe that along with the solemn respect for the dead and praise of what makes us uniquely American, we should examine and further pursue exactly what our enemy wished to destroy in us.
As Lewis said, “Even if we are all to be destroyed, may oblivion, when it comes, find us doing sensible human things: praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting with our friends over a pint and a game of darts, not huddled together like frightened sheep, always thinking of bombs.”
They can take our bodies. A single bacteria could do that. But they can’t have our souls.
Until next time, Godspeed, Peace be with ya, and God bless America.