faith and doubt at ground zero
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discussion: share your stories...Did Sept. 11 cause you to question your faith or lack of faith? In conjuction with our viewers' poll, we invite you to share your personal stories of faith and doubt, belief and unbelief.

We have received an unusually large number of letters in response to "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero," and we anticipate many more as the film continues to air nationally on PBS. As always, we welcome and appreciate your feedback, yet because of the large volume, we hope our viewers will understand that we can only post a fraction of the letters received, striving to represent the range of responses to the film.

Dear FRONTLINE

I am one in a family whose members experienced September 11th very differently. Some experienced the events from as far away as the island of Hawaii while another was as close as four blocks from the World Trade Center site. We are more than a dozen siblings and spouses whose religious beliefs span the spectrum. Not only do we practice under different faiths, but the extent of our beliefs range from dedicated religious observance to unconvinced atheism.

Despite our differences, we are a close family. Like all other Americans, we have shared our thoughts with each other and tried to make sense of what happened in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania and what we should do next. Our discussions have been at times contentious, sometimes sorrowful and at other times our talks have left us in a state of despondency. As the one-year anniversary approaches, I sense our fears and feelings of confusion are becoming acute. I am reminded of the emotions that we have expressed these past 12 months: hatred, a need for retribution, anger, fear, confusion, and a lack of control.

In our email messages to one another in the days following the attack, I expressed the thought that we should not let our feelings of retribution and anger diminish our humanity. I still believe that today. We did not have a choice when the terrorists decided to attack us, but only we can choose how to respond. I do not mean a response with weapons and greater security measures, but the way in which we respond with our hearts and our souls. We need to deploy weapons, military services and security forces to help prevent another act like this from occurring again. However, if we prosecute a war against terrorism yet fail to fight the concomitant attack on our hearts and souls, we will have lost the battle that really matters.

Wilder Leavitt
Bethesda, Maryland

Dear FRONTLINE

September 11th ripped open the wounds of my own Black Saturday, May 22, 1999, when my 18 year old daughter was killed in a car wreck. Like Marian Fontana, I felt profoundly abandoned by the very God I had loved and served most of my life; like Tim Lynston, I felt I had just beheld a face of God the Father that I'd never seen before.

Sept. 11th plunged me into a dark pit, as I wrestled with the intimate knowledge of the path so many thousands were now walking---a path that only fellow grievers know, an agony of soul and crisis of faith that one can only come to appreciate from the underside of grief's belly. The abandonment I felt produced a depth of sadness I have never known could exist this side of hell; the face of God I now beheld was so foreign and distorted, it left me confused and angry.

Knowing that there were thousands of moms, dads, wives, husbands, children, siblings, and friends all facing this same agony simultaneously....I couldn't get out of bed for days, reliving the horror of our own tragic day of loss and envisioning that horror repeated thousands of times in families all across America.

But I am two years' ahead in my grief-walk... and today I can tell those believers still struggling to just "stay in the ring." Your interior crisis is a battle between what your soul "feels" and what your spirit "knows" ---and though your faith will never look the same again, it can become more resilient with substance and depth that it never had before. I've tossed a lot of my old theology out the window, but managed to hold on to these two truths: There is a God, and I'm not Him; There is a heaven, and this isn't it. And I still cling to Jesus, with His promise of eternal life in John chapter 14. "If it were not so---I WOULD HAVE TOLD YOU."

Like Job, I still don't know "why" He allowed satan to have the upper hand on May 22, 1999 or on September 11, 2001. And, like Job, I've come to understand the concept of His Sovereignty though, as a modern American, I still don't like it!.

I hope Marian Fontana and Tim Lynston read this response, to know that other Christian believers have walked this rocky path ahead of them--and though we've got bloodied knees, twisted limbs, and broken hearts...yet will we serve Him, and the gates of hell shall NOT prevail.

Jan Hernandez
Helena, Montana

Dear FRONTLINE

As one of an 8 member team of the Red Cross Spiritual Care Aviation Incident Response Team, I was called in the second week following the attacks, to respond to the disaster site in New York City.

My role: Assistant Officer to coordinate the chaplains providing spiritual care over the Respite Centers at Ground Zero, The Temporary Morgue and the Disaster Mortuary as well as the Landfill at Staten Island.

The work of screening many chaplains & ministers to care for the families and workers, was inspiring, sobering and disheartening. The human element arose from many ministers, untrained in the aspects of appropriate Pastoral Care in disaster situations. Many seeking to exploit the vulnerability of individuals, in order to impose a religious belief upon the victims. Our screening process, hopefully protected many from the prying designs of untrained individuals.

My struggle, beyond this, was the magnitude of such utter destruction, the lament and primal grief in the cry of family members who encountered the massive site where their loved ones died, will forever echo in my mind. And most of all, the experience of the valley of the shadow of death at the landfill. Here, the remnant of so many lives were being uncovered, grain by grain and it was nearly unbearable. The question deep in my heart of hearts remain thus; How incredibly deep is the scar of evil. I did question, my own resolve, knowing the notion of "control" is fleeting. I dove deep beneath the waves of this storm to find the still waters and there I just held on to the heart of God, in fear, and in tears. No words, just my breath and two shoulders for those to cry on. It is still too early to fully feel, but holding on, still works.

Tim Serban
Marysville , Washington

Dear FRONTLINE

I worked in New York City during the attacks and remember a moment when I felt truly vulnerable. It was when the third plane was still "out there" and nobody knew quite where it was headed. It was the first time in my life when I felt that vulnerable. I wasn't shocked or angered that I was vulnerable. Still, it was a reality that I had never truly faced before. It felt like waking up in the deepest sense. To this day I cannot recognize the woman that I was before Sept. 11.

Being vulnerable is the human condition. Living in the biggest city in the most powerful country shouldn't make any of us feel immune to death, disaster, or pain.

I left New York a few months after the attacks. For years, I had wanted to live there. The attacks happened the year that I had moved there. I wrestled with the notion of leaving. Was I giving up? Was I giving in to fear? That has been the issue I've most come away with after this: Living on faith or living on fear. I know choosing one or the other will lead me to a very different life. After the attacks, I knew that I wanted to live on faith. I also knew that it didn't mean I'd be protected from the ills of the world. That is the crux of faith: Life still comes to get you, but you base your reactions on a stronger truth. You don't get indignant or wonder "why me?"

What is hard for many of us, including me, to fully accept is the idea that a life of faith can include pain, loss, disaster, tragedy. Faith is not an immunity to pain. We will still suffer, but with faith, we will learn what we are meant to learn. I ultimately left New York City because I realized I was living on the wrong kind of faith. I was hoping for things that would satisfy my ego and not listening to what I was meant to hear. I didn't leave New York to escape: I still experience moments of doubt, fear, and pain, but I also know that I'm finally living a life of faith.

Erica Mathews
Dennis, MA

Dear FRONTLINE

After watching the Frontline episode entitled "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero" I automatically began thinking back in regards to what I was going through in my life this time last year. My father was terminally ill and as we all sat watching the devestation on 9/11 I thought to myself, "Dad is actually the lucky one here...he'll pass on to a better place while we are going to be stuck on this Earth where evil has taken a front seat."

Having to deal with my Father's impending death on top of the events of 9/11 truly did make me question my faith in a higher power. Why would a caring, loving God want to put any of his children through so much at one time? Why would He allow so much hatred, sorrow and terror to engulf our lives? Why would he put so many innocent people through so much pain? I have always believed that everything happens for a reason so to speak, but there was no "reasoning" behind these terrorists acts, nothing positive to take away from the devestation. And then for these acts to be done in the name of religion puzzled me even further.

Since that time I've read book after book on faith, but to this day, it's still hard to think back to this time last year and truly not question my beliefs in some way. Your show truly helped me see things in a better perspective. Listening to the clergy along with victims of the attacks made me realize that I'm not the only person in our country still trying to come to terms with not only why, but how something like the events of 9/11 could happen.

Lyn Garneau
Orlando, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE

My son watched the fiery towers from his dorm room, and called to tell me he was all right. I wasn't home, but got his message, and finally spoke to him at 4 in the afternoon. When the buildings collapsed, debris blew in his window, power failed, and he and his roommates fled. They tried to give blood but the line was too long, and they joined the people moving north out of the area.

When I got home that morning, I heard my son's message, and prayed that he be safe. Then I turned on the TV, and saw the coverage of New York's events interrupted by the picture of the plane hitting the Pentagon.

At that point, my prayers were, truly, for those who planned and executed the attack: that they would be sorry, that we would forgive them, and not do something stupid to retaliate. Watching the Palestinians and Israelis -- and the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland -- I know that to perpetuate hatred by constant retaliation is no way to solve the problem of evil in the world. No one who does evil thinks it is evil; evildoers think they are doing something better for themselves.

Jesus teaches me that doing something better for others than they do to us is the right thing to do. If our efforts to perpetuate war were replaced by efforts to eliminate hunger and illiteracy, if we shared what we have instead of kept it to ourselves, if we who are rich in so much provided for those who have so little, evil would have no air to breathe.

Thank you for your program on Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero. I hope we all keep talking, while we roll up our sleeves to help our neighbors.

Patricia Gray
Fairfax Station, VA

Dear FRONTLINE

As I witnessed first hand the events of 9/11 from the 64th floor of the north tower I called to God to direct me out to safety from the ensuing carnage.

To this day I remain at a crossroads with respect to my faith. I credit God to bringing me out safely yet at the same time I cannot comprehend how this same God could have allowed such a horrific act to occur and take such a huge amount of innocent life. I understand that the world is made up of good and evil but why couldn't this act of such a violent nature be averted somehow by Him? Does He not know so many people who had followed Him would now turn away from Him? Surely this cannot be His goal.

The bible tells us that all the heavens rejoice as each individual person discovers God and their soul then belongs to Him. All through scipture His love for us is mentioned as being immeasurable, beyond our understanding, yet the events of 9/11 were allowed to be played out creating feelings of anger, doubt, and disbeleif of His very existence. I beleive it will take an act as equally good as 9/11 was evil to restore the flock that left His fold.

Mark Carrillo
Hicksville, New York

Dear FRONTLINE

Your program last night brought it all back. What I felt at the time and how my thoughts have evolved since the tragedy. I hope this is cathartic for me or anyone who shares my feelings.

How do I feel? Stupid. Stupid to have been in pursuit of the all mighty dollar, a bigger raise and a nicer car. I think back to reports of genocide on the nightly news in Africa and Asia and regret my total neglect of the horrid situations. This was my home and a place I visited frequently in my financial pursuit, never giving a thought to my personal safety or the scars this could have left on the life of my daughter.

Now, less stupid, I have walked away from the material life in pursuit of a spiritual life. I will never take life for granted.

And God, how could you create the people that perpetrated this masacre? That's what's left to come to terms with.

Licia Britton
Newburyport, MA

Dear FRONTLINE

I just returned from a festival dedicated this year to the events of 9/11. I walked over a bed of hot coals in the name of peace. I had never done anything like that before, and the experience was profound. I wanted so badly a year ago to do something, anything to ease the suffering and helplessness all around me. At the firewalk, there was a women who had been at ground zero on that fateful day. She spoke so eloquently for us all. We all wanted to send love to those who died, but even more, healing to our planet to withstand the repercussions of this act of evil- to renounce acts of vengeance. They will only expand the hatred, fear and ultimately, the possibility of inflicting greater evil on others than we suffered ourselves. America must turn inward to her real strength, her people who live in the name of freedom, love, and gentleness.

Our immediate response to that horrible day, and everyone I spoke to remarked about it, was the simple acts of kindness between total strangers all over the country. This was our gut reaction, as well as the ritual of displaying our flags in solidarity with everyone. Hugging someone you never met, lending others money at checkout counters, carrying others burdens- these felt like sacred acts to us. I'm here to say that those moments could balance that act of hatred, that we have the power to end this in peace, by sending pure love out of our hearts. Regardless of our faith, we have the ability to show the world what America really means. And we can do it every day.

stacey lindholm
hallowell, me

Dear FRONTLINE

I can only speak as a Christian and hope that you receive what I write with an open mind, without prejudice, and without deciding that I myself am an ignorant, closed minded person.

And, having said that, I can hardly even speak on my own. I can say little more than what Christ has already said.

In the opening portion of the program, so many people who apparently thought of themselves as Christians as well questioned why God would allow this to happen.

Christ's words came to my mind. He said, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Do these people know that the very Bible they say they believe in addresses all of these questions?

I think that if one wants answers from God assuming we are talking about the God that Christianity worships, not that of Islam or Judaism, one is being arrogant to question Him without first looking at what He has already said.

Remember, he's the only one who said that he is the only way to God.

But as Christ also said, those who don't want to hear or see won't.

If you think I'm being arrogant, please don't blame me for what Christ said. I only believe it because it changed my life. And I, for one, have no questions about why September 11th happened.

James Michael Starr
Dallas, TX

Dear FRONTLINE

Why is faith seen as prerequisite to being religous? I as a Unitarian Universalist feel very religous and do not have a faith in the sense of your poll questions.

Phil Giudice

Dear FRONTLINE

On September 11th, I completely lost faith in god. I think that we are all here on our own, and that if there is a god, he has turned his back on us. I'm afraid that this is the beginning of the end.

Andre Betz

Dear FRONTLINE

I question whether or not, if there is a God, how would he have us respond to this attack? Would God sanction the United States declaring war on terriosim? Would God sanction the bombings of Tora Bora and the rest of Afganstian? I have the normal knee jerk reaction of "lets go get the Islamic fundamentalists who are responsible", how would God favor this? Religion seems more of a device which seperates people than one that bring them together, if there is a God, or an Alaih, or whichever one exsists as a supreme being, how could it allow this to be? How could a benevolent supreme being allow his creations to destroy one another this way in his name?

The answer is becoming painfully clear, and I reserve my personal view out of respect for those whom haven't come to the same conclusion which I have, or even more so for those poor souls that jumped 110 stories to their death with their only comfort being a last prayer on their lips on the short journey to the pavment, and perhaps thinking that they were about to meet God. How can I renounce the exsisence of God out loud, when it may have been the only thing which allowed them a small consoltion during the last excruciating moments of their lives? How can I renounce God when it may be the only thing which allows the families of those dearly departed to carry on? I have a clear view of what, and how I feel, but I'm reticent to shout it aloud, if for nothing else the repsect of those whom felt a moment of solace from their faith in God before their terrible and violent death. Perhaps just the thought of God justfies one's ritualistic belief if it can provide only this.

I was there, I was at the foot of the towers watching the bodies explode upon impact... My thoughts were initially; what kind of pain must these people be feeling to jump to certain death? Then after seeing one hit, I could only wonder what they felt, and what they were thinking on the way down? I concluded that out of the dozens, that the word God was predominantly on the lips and mind's of most of them, on some level at least.

I was, I am, a Catholic, I was brought up, and have led a good christian life, and that isn't a bad thing. However if the belief in God is the jusification for the Islamic fundamentalis attack and the taking of innocent lives, perhaps we should also rethink our view of organized religion Conversely, should we let such a atroicious act take our faith, which possibly prohibites some of the less than stable of us from comitting "sins"?

Most of all I feel anger for having been forced to this point by the perversion of "Islamic fundamentalist", I curse those whom are responsible for changing my life, and if there is indeed no God, what is to stop me from ultimately seeking vengence for what was done in the name of "justice"? This is what currently bothers me the most! God Damn Them!........ God Damn Them....

glen timpone
New York, New York

Dear FRONTLINE

I remember watching it that morning in school in the cafeteria after the first plane hit at abour 9:30. I sat there staring at the screen but nothing shocked me until about 10:00 when I realized that my mom was there. A sudden and an extreme sense of fear and danger, like someone knocked me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. I ran for the guidance office looking for my mom but the lines were all busy. I stood there impatient and while there i saw my classmates in the hall crying on a friends shoulder, some waiting outside calling on their cell phones every 30 seconds. It hit us hard and around 12:00 i finally recieved a call from my mom saying that she was safe, and she was home already.

I know a lot of people lost faith and felt God was no longer a part of them. I pray that they all find they answers they need and believe as they once did. This event strengthened my faith and beliefs because i knew that God was with my mom and i know he brought her home safely. A lot of people died, the instant the planes hit, some died when they hit the ground. And some were stuck in those buildings. But heros were born, friends found, and some loves grew for life and people. I still have a lot of anger built up in me just thinking about fanatics like these could perform such a cowardice and evil deed that is so life changing and i dont believe they realized how fragile life is. But i wont let my anger take over me and my decisions. I wont let this anger in me destroy my morals and beliefs that anything could be solved with just anger. Anger brings revenge and revenge brings evil.

Mark Yagos
Wyckoff, New Jersey

Dear FRONTLINE

I have no deep theological explanation for what happened on 9/11.

I think Billy Graham said it best when he gave the ser-

mon at the National Cathedral on the day of prayer and

remembrance on September 14th. He said the Bible says

that God is not the author of evil and indeed speaks

of evil as a "mystery". Graham admitted he had no

total answer when he is asked why God allows so much

pain and suffering.

For myself, I can only say that it comes down to faith.

A totally unsatisfactory answer to countless people I

know, but we as human beings simply do not have the ability to comprehend God's reasoning behind allowing

such obscenities to take place, other than the fact that God gives all human beings free will to either do good, or to do evil.

Terry Francis
Covington, Kentucky

Dear FRONTLINE

I am listening to the interviews of those whose faith in God has been so challenged by the horrors of 9/11 that many of them have renounced their faith in God and his 'intentions.'

I have a difficult time understanding how so many question God now regarding 9/11 as if it is the only time in history where God seems 'absent'. I would not underestimate the pain and suffering of all those who lost loved ones on 9/11, no more than I would underestimate the pain and suffering of those whose have lost loved ones in the over-occuring natural disasters and 'unnatural', evil acts of violence.

I believe God is present, and that 9/11 has surfaced a long-existing truth that is this: we are all suffering, and the mystery of God is not unfolding to reveal an evil God; it is unfolding, I think, to help us find an even stronger faith in and connection to what is beyond us here.

I find myself more faithful every day in a benign God whose worlds are interconnected in ways we are not meant to understand here/yet. And although the evil and horror of 9/11 are not God-like, I think we must more than ever trust that they did not occur without him and that we are not left behind without him, just as those who lost their lives are not without him now.

alison Foley Nash
Somerville, MA

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