An old friend from my missionary days invited me to watch the newly released United 93, depicting the final moments of the ill-fated airliner hijacked on September 11, 2001 and ultimately crashed in rural Pennsylvania before reaching its intended target. Some argue against re-opening wounds so fresh in the collective trauma our nation suffered that horrible day. Others say the world needs to know the heroic story of the passengers and crew who exchanged their lives to save those on the ground. Whether the wounds are too recent, or too vivid to speak of, I cannot say. I can only point to my own experience of the film. Yes, I re-lived the horror and shock I felt 5 years ago as I watched those events unfold on national television. The pain is still very real, and more than once I found myself thinking, “How have I lived to see such times?”
But is it too soon to feel that pain again? Who can tell?
Several times the film depicts the religious beliefs and practices of the hijackers. It shows them praying to God and offering praise, even as they slit the throats of their victims and plot the destruction of countless other people on the ground. The contradicting imagery of religion-based murder caused me to react with utter contempt for anyone (regardless of religion or ethnicity) who invokes the name of God to advance evil-doing of any kind.
On all levels, humans tend to emphasize their own virtue while exaggerating the faults of others. I have no doubt the hijackers felt totally justified in their actions, as many Americans also feel justified in waging war against Islam in general. And so the conflict rages on. It reminds me of something I often hear my brother-in-law Mike Merchant say, “For many of us it’s more important to be right than kind.” As individuals, churches, communities, cultures, and nations, we often promote partisanship at the expense of basic human kindness. Speaking for myself, I walked out of the movie theater convicted of my own conscience for every unkind, spiteful, mean, or cruel act I ever committed against another human being.
When we drove home, my friend tried to engage me in a certain level of divisive political discourse, but I refused to follow. I would have taken the invitation a thousand other times in my life, but not tonight. I felt overshadowed with reverence for those who died as victims, not of Islam or even blind political forces, but as victims of extremism and rigid thinking. The 9/11 hijackers simply revealed one face of intolerance. We see other forms of intolerance all around us, and within ourselves. As humans we all embrace different religions, political beliefs, philosophies, and attitudes; and yet, can we celebrate our own beliefs without denigrating the ideas of others?
This is the great test of our age.