faith and doubt at ground zero
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discussion: reactions to the film...What did you think of Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero? Share your reactions to the film and its treatment of the central themes of God, evil, and religion.

Dear FRONTLINE

I happened to turn on the television just a few minutes after the first plane. I watched the second and the rest of the day. I cried. I have continued crying every few days even though I knew none of those lost personally and I am far away in Texas. As I have prepared my thoughts as a minister for this anniversary, I can only say, the meat of this program helps all of us confront the reality that draws us to realize without a loving caring God of all, there is no bounds of evil. Joy, peace, hope, where do they go without that faith that may be only as small as mustard seed, but lights up doubt when it becomes unbelief. Thanks for this thoughtful program.

Gary Seager
Marshall, Tx

Dear FRONTLINE

I have avoided watching programs on this subject until tonight. Whatever caused me to let you into behind the wall that I have erected to keep out the pain, I am grateful. I lost a friend and for the first time I was able to imagine that one of those bodies falling might have been his. I need to do this so that I can truly believe and grieve his loss.

As for my faith, it is as always a questing, questioning one but it is not in a God who allows or causes such things to happen. I believe that God was with those people as they fell, that God holds the grieveing hand and that there is indeed evil. It is manifested in the hearts and minds of those Missouri Synod Lutherans who condemned their faithful pastor for praying with others on that stage in Yankee Stadium. A lot of goodness died on Sept. 11 but the evil is still alive. But as your program pointed out, a lot more goodness still lives.

May God show us the way to peace and love,

Anne Burton
Stonington, ME

Dear FRONTLINE

You Frontline continue to reveal your true colors. You are just as selective in the thoughts that you post as you were in the testimonies that you aired in the documentory.

Why have you even mentioned religion or faith in God? This is all about your human-potential agenda.

Amoung others, I have heard not on Frontline a very moving testimony given by a man of the Islamic religion. He was trapped in the WTC with no hope of escape. He claims that he found himself on his knees crying out for Jesus Christ to save him. His next memory is running down the street away from the buildings. His family and friends have abandoned him but he claims he has never felt such peace and satisfaction.

You will allow a member of the "Church of Rock and Roll" to quote Springsteen but will you quote the word of God? "And My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14

Those with personal relationships with Jesus Christ seem to be the only ones that aren't bitter and blaming God. Human created religion is the source of this evil...and the one that crucified Christ. Matthew 23

John Rose
Ringgold, GA

Dear FRONTLINE

The day before I watched your film I finally plunked down my money for Bruce Springsteen's new album, "The Rising." Funny that no one else has mentioned it here.

Speaking as someone who does not worship The Boss though I have long been a congregant in the Church of Rock 'n' Roll, I have to say that this album is perhaps the first genuine artistic statement on the aftermath of 9/11 -- despite a couple songs that veer into mawkish sentimentality -- and what's more, it is imbued with a spirituality and a kind of questioning that fits easily under the heading "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero."

The most chilling lyric is from a song called "Empty Sky" ...

"I woke up this morning, I could barely breath/ Just an empty impression/ In the bed where you used to be/ I want a kiss from your lips/ I want an eye for an eye/ I woke up this morning to an empty sky. ... On the plains of Jordan/ I cut my bow from the wood/ Of this tree of evil/ Of this tree of good/ I want a kiss from your lips/ I want an eye for an eye/ I woke up this morning/ to the empty sky."

But that's somehow redeemed or so I want to believe by this lyric from "Into the Fire," about a firefighter who died in the World Trade Center:

"The sky was falling and/ streaked with blood/ I heard you calling me,/ then you disappeared/ into the dust/ Up the stairs, into the fire/ ... I need your kiss, but love/ and duty called/ you someplace higher/ Somewhere up the stairs,/ into the fire/ ... May your strength/ give us strength/ May your faith give us faith/ May your hope give us hope/ May your love give us love."

They were right, Bruce. We did need you.

American Male

Dear FRONTLINE

Here's a viewing recommendation for those who watched the Frontline "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." Circa 1980, PBS aired the series "Cosmos." In the episode "Who Speaks For Earth?" notable scientist Carl Sagan argues that we must hold ourselves responsible if we are to survive as the human race. The key question Carl Sagan raises I believe is much more relevant to our understanding of the events of September 11 than the questions raised by this Frontline, namely "Where was God?" and "What is the nature of evil?"

There are key economic, social, political, and religious assumptions we all make. It is absolutely essential that we all critically evaluate these assumptions. Perhaps by doing this we can avert another September 11.

Craig Kaufman
Reno, NV

Dear FRONTLINE

I guess, I don't get it. Of course, what happened on 9/11 is horrific, and it is perfectly understandable that it affects many people in many ways, certainly most of all but not only people directly struck with loss. What I have trouble understanding is this: 3000 killed in the US, we wonder how it affecterd our spirituality and our faith. After all, how can God allow such a tragedy?

Now I look at this. Earthquakes, for example:

China, Tangshan, 1976 - 250.000 people dead; Mexico City, 1985 - 30.000 people dead

Nuclear reactor accident in Tschernobyl, 1986: 55,000 dead among the clean up and rescue troops alone

Famine in Africa: thousands starving to death DAILY!

Populations requiring emergency food assistance by March 2003 Source: World Food Program:

Lesotho 444,800; Malawi 3.2 million; Mozambique 515,000; Swaziland 231,000; Zambia 2.3 million; Zimbabwe 6.1 million

Tragedies that could be considered to be by far worse than the one we had to face a year ago in the US, happen around the world every day. Yet apparently without any effect on our faith. I certainly don't mean to say that we should question our faith more often, but I wonder what this all actually says about us! So while I certainly found the documentary quite interesting, it does leave me, by the same token, with somewhat of a bad after taste.

Silvia Kelch

Dear FRONTLINE

Thank you.

I was touched by the young Jew who acknowleged it was indeed religion that at least partly motivated 9/11...and to deny it means that other faiths do not need to look at their actions and the blood on all our hands. Bless his head.

The best moment? The Buddhist woman imparting her astonishment and awe at the skillfull love of the people who rushed into the abyss...the vaccum of evil of that day. "Where did that love come from?" Where? Indeed. A wonderful mystery. The mystery has always been enough for me. I am a Buddhist and thank you for including this point of view.

May all beings be happy.

May all beings have cause to be happy,

Lynne Findley
Bellingham, Wa.

Dear FRONTLINE

I found this a very thought provoking program. Wonderful. I have ordered the tape.

After reading most of the responses posted here I see that most of the people are still concerned with there own agendas. That is not what this program was about. It was about all of us here on this earth as humans and how we respond to such tragedy. It does not mean that we have not counted all the past tragedies of history or that we think that they are less important. This is about what happened on Sept. 11 and how we all reacted. Not how a certain religion reacted but how the human race reacted. It is not what our religion is about or what it teaches. It is about all religions and all beliefs, about the human race. It lets us know that none of us are unique in the thoughts we have had during those terrible days. It shows that we are all connected is some way no matter what we believe or don't believe. What is my belief? I am Roman Catholic.

I especially pray for the Lutheran Minister that is being kicked out by his own people. If those people keep up that frame of mind, one day they will be flying a plane into someone's building.

Clarice Kell

Dear FRONTLINE

I would like to express my thanks to Frontline for making such an important program. Many hard, hard questions were asked, and now it is up to us as human beings to try and find answeres.

I've read many of the responses to the program, and from my point of view some viewers missed the intent of the program's speakers.

I don't think these people were questioning "where was God", but "where was religion". Two very different things. I think all those on the program who do believe in God still do. But how religion was perverted to carry out the attacks has made these people look at what a powerful weapon religion can be to motivate people to carry out horrible crimes.

T Pierson
West Chester, Pa

Dear FRONTLINE

As a Protestant Christian and a believer in Jesus Christ, despite what my fellow believers have written against your program, I salute you for a program that went beyond my highest expectations and has nurtured my soul. Your interviews with Ann Ulanov, Brad Hirschfield, Khaled Abou el-Fadl,and Lorenzo Albacete have provided me with so much thought-- so much in-depth reflection on the relation between religion and evil, and how persons of faith can face evil and see it for what it is-- that I am breathless.

Certainly the Lord Jesus, as he hung on the cross, knew that the true wisdom lies not in having neat theories about how God intervenes or delivers people when evil comes, but in having to become vulnerable to evil. This these courageous thinkers have done. Our task is not -- certainly not! -- to give easy answers to hard questions. I will quote from these interviews when I lead an interfaith gathering remembering 9/11 on the Delaware River Monday evening.

Alfred Krass
Levittown, PA

Dear FRONTLINE

A powerful and elegant work that deserves to be widely seen, debated, discussed and meditated upon in many settings -- not just at this season or with reference only to the particular that prompted it.

The honesty and pain of survivors was matched by that of those whose chosen work has been to grapple with, represent and speak to/for their various religious and a-religious traditions. I'm not surprised there are both thoughtful and petty criticisms of what and who the program includes and doesn't -- just grateful that anticipation of them did not deter those whose efforts made the film and its related materials here possible.

elaine reuben
washington, dc

Dear FRONTLINE

For me, the only suitable answer to your film is silence.

You could but touch the tip of the iceberg of the thoughts, feelings, emotions and spiritual hunger which 9/11 unleashed upon our little North American world. They were lying there all the time. You presented but glimmers of articulated consciousness.

There were no answers in your film, for how could there be when we are confronted with the age-old mysteries of evil, suffering and God. It is a scene repeated over and over again in the many hunger-holes and torture-pits throughout the world -- not just at the ground zero of 9/11.

But neither were there any clear questions. It seems that our cultural assumptions clashed so terribly with 9/11 that we do not even know what to ask of ourselves and we resort to cliches and hackneyed phrases -- the God-talk, the questions from the 1950s theological seminaries, treating spirituality as a liberal science. There is nothing with which to grapple and yet it seems that we are grappling with everything.

Now I must sit in the silence and listen to the emotions – the rage, the sorrow, the anger at the film's speakers as well as at the homicide-bombers; I must listen to the thoughts and pray for the grace to seek God within the emotions -- and to begin to formulate some questions that I need to be asking myself. And then I would desire to be granted the privilege of sharing these reflections these questions with others in my community -- and to listen in respectful silence to their own. Perhaps all the viewers of this film could consider engaging in a process something like this – for in this, I think there might be much healing.

Because as human beings, we really don't 'have' the questions – we only have the pain of each person which we can attend upon, wait upon, treat with reverence. And it begins in silence.

I caught a glimpse of this when one of women in the film shared her deep horror of sitting at the memorial service and realizing that her mother's corpse was somehow lying behind her in the rubble of 9/11. She said something about the horror of it. And I suddenly had a mental picture of the World Trade Centre site – those jagged teeth of twisted metal rising up into the dust-smog, that giant funeral pyre of so many things, hopes, loves, challenges, dreams -- and over top of this picture came a picture of Christ -- not a system of belief, but a beloved man -- hanging on the cross. And I said to myself, "Yes, this is Crucifixion. God is here."

None of the Catholic priests or Christian scholars or Protestant ministers on your show mentioned that, but it did come to me – an unchurched person – listening to the woman share her pain.

Karen Holmes

Dear FRONTLINE

I found Monsignor Albacete's remarks profound and the amplification of them in his extended interview on the site to be most helpful in terms of two points: that "hatred for humanity" drove the perpetrators, and that the efforts to "explain away the deed" are obscene and an affront to the monumentality of the loss.

The effort of any kind of ideologue, be that person operating from a political or a religious agenda, who attempts to surmount opposition to his "ideals" via the deaths of those who do not agree, makes humanity its manipulation or destruction in pursuit of an end a commodity that one can easily dispense with in such nefarious pursuit. This is indeed a great "evil" and as Elie Wiesel has said "makes of God an accomplice".

Fanaticism is indeed the bane of modern existence, but the credal fanaticism that can be found in all great religions and denominations has been plaguing humanity's search for God for all time. Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun.

Donata Guerra
Cary, NC

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Click here to read FRONTLINE's extended interview with Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete.

Dear FRONTLINE

Thank you for discussing such a difficult and intimate topic with the intelligence and compassion it deserves. In the discussion of the atrocities which humans can inflict upon others, I saw only one glaring omission: the mention of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The incinerations of innocent people at the world trade center, or in the ovens of Auschwitz should also remind one of the incineration of hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese men, women and children. Why did no one see the resemblance? Why were all the commentators silent on that subject? Surely the horror was the same, or was it a different horror? Surely 'evil' was there, or was it a different 'evil?'

H Miller

Dear FRONTLINE

Congratulations for a memorable, moving, and balanced presentation of a topic and its issues that mankind has wrestled with forever. Please note that, after the show had been taped, Dr. David Benke, former President of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and who was featured on your program addressing the aftermath of the events of 9/11 and his 9/23 Yankee Stadium "A Prayer for America", was suspended as District President and from the clergy roster by his own denomination, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, due solely and entirely to his participation at the event. While his suspension on grounds of heresy for saying a prayer "In the precious name of Jesus" with "pagans" has been appealed, the aftermath for him has only grown worse. Death threats now join the litany of venom spewed by the uneducated, unfeeling, agenda-money-and-power-driven right wing of the LC-MS. One may still ask, "Where is God?"

Alan R. Pollack Capell & Vishnick, LLP; Counsel to Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Alan Pollack

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