faith and doubt at ground zero
Readings & Links

Readings selected by FRONTLINE's editors, with links to articles, commentary, and other collections around the Web.


"A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand ..."
Brian Doyle's essay, from which he reads at the end of "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero."

"Awakening, as we have, to a new religious America, we face a world of understanding and relationships from which there is no retreat." Written in the aftermath of Sept. 11, this is the preface to the paperback edition of Diana Eck's A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation (2001).

In this lecture delivered at Harvard University's Memorial Church in April 2002, Karen Armstrong, a celebrated writer on the world's religions, argues that what is needed after Sept. 11 is a "spiritual revolution," a "new faith." She says that most crises in the modern world can be traced to the loss of a sense of sacredness. In an erudite, wide-ranging account of the spiritual reckoning after Sept. 11, Armstrong draws on texts and anecdotes from ancient literature and from several of the world's major religious traditions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Sufism, and Confucianism.

More than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks, Karen Armstrong, a well-known religious thinker and author, wrote, "Religion has once again become a force that no government can safely ignore. Fundamentalism has suffered defeats, but it is by no means quiescent. It is now an essential part of the modern scene and will certainly play an important role in the domestic and international affairs of the future. It is crucial, therefore, that we try to understand what this type of religiosity means, how and for what reasons it has developed, what it can tell us about our culture, and how best we should deal with it." Read the first chapter of Armstrong's The Battle for God (2000) on the New York Times website (free registration required).

Excerpts from the first three chapters of Daniel Boorstin's book The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World, in which Boorstin writes about three episodes from the Hebrew scriptures: Moses' test of obedience, the prophet Isaiah's test of faith, and the story of Job. Of the latter, Boorstin writes, "This problem that haunted Western thought -- Why would a good God allow evil in the world He had created? -- was one that Judeo-Christian man had made for himself. It was plainly a by-product of ethical monotheism. ... 'If God were good,' observed C. S. Lewis, 'He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.'" (New York Times, free registration required)

Articles and Commentary From Around the Web

From award-winning author Ian McEwan, writing just four days after the attack in The Guardian: "I love you. She said it over and again before the line went dead. And that is what they were all saying down their phones, from the hijacked planes and the burning towers. There is only love, and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against the hatred of their murderers." (The Guardian, Sept. 15, 2001)

"The Crusades," writes James Carroll, a former priest and the author of Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, "were the first time that violence was defined by the church as a sacred act. 'God wills it!' was the battle cry with which Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095. Anyone 'taking the cross' to fight the infidel was offered indulgences, and, if killed, assured a place in heaven. The energy for war came from the conviction that, as President Bush put it in his address to Congress, 'God is not neutral.' Crusaders go to war certain of God's blessing." (The Boston Globe, Sept. 25, 2001; reprinted on

"Evil, understanding evil, making sense of evil is one of mankind's great struggles. Is there a universal understanding of what is evil?" asks Dick Gordon, host of NPR's The Connection. "Might an Islamic view differ from a Buddhist view, versus a Christian one? Some say evil is an innate part of the human psyche; others say it's the product of broken mind, a broken soul. Still others believe it derives directly from Lucifer's fall. ... How useful is it to frame the coming conflict [after Sept. 11] in the rhetoric of religion?" Gordon discusses evil with Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University, and Alan Olson, professor of philosophy at Boston University. (The Connection, Sept. 26, 2001)

Andrew Sullivan writes in The New York Times: "This surely is a religious war -- but not of Islam versus Christianity and Judaism. Rather, it is a war of fundamentalism against faiths of all kinds that are at peace with freedom and modernity. This war even has far gentler echoes in America's own religious conflicts -- between newer, more virulent strands of Christian fundamentalism and mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism. These conflicts have ancient roots, but they seem to be gaining new force as modernity spreads and deepens. They are our new wars of religion -- and their victims are in all likelihood going to mount with each passing year." (New York Times, Oct. 7, 2001)

"We as religious thinkers must stop simply making nice about this age of ecumenism, interfaith dialogue and fuzzy feelings among priests, imams and rabbis," writes Harvey Cox, a professor of divinity at Harvard. "We need to take a step toward candor. In response to a secularized intelligentsia, at least in the West, we have tried too hard to put a positive face on religion, when the truth is we know that all religions have their demonic underside." (The Nation, Dec. 24, 2001)

"Those who deny that religion has anything to do with terrorism miss the point," writes James Hitchcock in an editorial for Touchstone, a Christian journal. "No doubt such terrorism is a perversion of the highest teachings of Islam. But all religions, including Christianity, contain things that are available for such perversion." (Originally published in Touchstone, November 2001)

In The Atlantic Monthly, Ron Rosenbaum (co-writer of FRONTLINE's "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero") writes about evil and the "hierarchy of wickedness," examining the differences and similarities between Hitler, Stalin, and Osama bin Laden. "Even if Hitler and bin Laden share that particular dialectic of evils, that doesn't tell us the degree of evil that should be ascribed to each of them," writes Rosenbaum. "Can either man be said to exhibit that highest degree in the technical hierarchy of evil, 'malignant wickedness' -- evil for evil's sake?" (The Atlantic Monthly, February 2002)


El-Fadl, who is featured in FRONTLINE's "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero," writes: "With the recent escalation in suicide bombings against civilian targets in Israel and the continuing threat of Osama bin Laden terrorist attacks, the relationship between Islam and terrorism is, once again, the subject of rampant speculation." (, Oct. 11, 2001)

The Pew Forum sponsored this discussion on, in which Zahid Bukhari and Sulayman Nyang, co-directors of Project MAPS (Muslims in the American Public Square), answered some hard-hitting questions from readers about Islam after Sept. 11. "Any place in the world Muslims become majority, they attempt to annihilate the minority and convert them to Islamic faith by force or else," notes one participant, asking, "Can you explain why the Islamic faith is like that?" (, Oct. 18, 2001)

"[I]n its modern form, bin Laden's kind of extremism has much more in common with Stalin, Hitler, and Mao than it does with Islamic tradition," argues Cleveland State University law professor David Forte. "Like those state terrorists, bin Laden is at war with his own people. And finally, I have baldly asserted that bin Laden and his extremists are evil, pure and simple, and Islam is not." (National Review Online, Oct. 19, 2001)

"This is the problem with unedifying labels like Islam and the West: They mislead and confuse the mind," writes the literary scholar Edward Said, responding to the resurgence of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis after Sept. 11, and to the "Orientalism" of Middle East historian Bernard Lewis. "It is better to think in terms of powerful and powerless communities, the secular politics of reason and ignorance, and universal principles of justice and injustice, than to wander off in search of vast abstractions." (The Nation, Oct. 22, 2001)

Seth Stevenson of surveys the debate over whether the holy text of Islam, the Quran, supports the fundamentalist and violent views of Osama bin Laden. "Any debate based on Quranic interpetration could go back and forth forever without end," says Stevenson. "But if the Quran does not clearly condemn nor condone force, perhaps there are seeds of violence hidden in Islam's long history?" (, Oct. 24, 2001)

"By all standards of the modern world -- economic development, literacy, scientific achievement -- Muslim civilization, once a mighty enterprise, has fallen low," argues historian Bernard Lewis. "Many in the Middle East blame a variety of outside forces. But underlying much of the Muslim world's travail may be a simple lack of freedom." (The Atlantic Monthly, January 2002)

"The border separating what Muslims call dar al-islam, the 'House of Submission (Islam),' from dar al-harb, the 'House of Warfare' seems increasingly to define a long irregular battlefront, one that as of September 11, 2001, stretches across four continents," writes Jack Miles, author most recently of Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God. "With striking frequency, those post-Cold War conflicts typically termed 'local' or 'parochial' or at most 'sectarian' turn out to be battles between historically Muslim and historically non-Muslim populations." (CrossCurrents, Winter 2002)

Rutgers religion professor James Turner Johnson, writing in the journal First Things, explores the meaning of "jihad" in Islam. "The last hundred years or so have seen the development of another line of interpretation of jihad. First appearing in North Africa as an ideology for resistance against colonialism, by 1960 it was being used as a justification for terrorist attacks against Israel, and in the 1970s and 1980s it was adapted to justify armed struggle by terror and assassination in such states as Iran, Egypt, and Algeria against rulers who were nominally Muslim but were judged to be tools of the West. It is out of this tradition that bin Laden's fatwa has emerged." (First Things, June/July 2002)


Launched in 1991 by the Harvard religion scholar Diana L. Eck, The Pluralism Project is an ambitious effort to document and examine the growing religious diversity of the United States and its effects on American society and culture.

BeliefNet, a multifaith website and online community, posted this collection, which includes articles and essays by Karen Armstrong ("Have We All Been Hijacked?"), Desmund Tutu ("Forgive the Terrorists"); Thich Nhat Hanh ("What I Would Say to Osama Bin Laden"); and articles by other religious thinkers.

From the PBS station WNET in New York, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly presents an archive of its program segments and articles dealing with Sept. 11, including "Religious Views on War and the U.S. Response" and "New York State of Mind," a conversation between three New Yorkers -- a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian -- after Sept. 11.

Photographer Joel Meyerowitz's collection of photographs from his months documenting Ground Zero, as published in his book.

British newspaper The Guardian solicited reactions to Sept. 11 from some well-known writers, including Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Simon Schama, and Ian McEwan, among others.

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