faith and doubt at ground zero
photo of the wreckage
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.


I can't believe you spent 2 hours on the topic of Faith as it relates to Sept. 11, and you gave so little voice to the Faith tradition that founded this country: Protestant Christianity. Where are the Protestant pastors? The only two you had were an Episcopal priest lamenting his increased cynicism and a Lutheran pastor lamenting being attacked by some of his colleagues. There are hundreds of faithful Christian leaders to choose from, who are quite popular in this country, and very easy for you to have found. Why didn't you interview individuals from the Brooklyn Tabernacle, just miles from Ground Zero? What about Lisa Beamer? Instead you devote precious time on relatively irrelevant topics, such as a monologue about how art reflects our spiritual need. You give people with minor points major time. Your piece did not represent this country and was an insult to the major faith tradition of this country. We were very disappointed.

Dr. John Warren
Redwood City, CA


Thank you for this gut wrenching testimony of the people who lost their loved ones in the Sept. 11 tragedy. I've been in terrible longing for some insight, wisdom, healing and questioning from a spiritual perspective, spiritual experience, spiritual wisdom and spiritual foundation that lacked in any news coverage whatsoever during and after Sept. 11. I wanted the spiritual leaders, pastors, rabbis, priests, Sheiks, Native American Holy Men and Women and poets to speak during the aftermath and did not want to hear or to listen to any politicians or the President on TV.

It is so difficult to say but nothing is new about September 11 -- Rwanda, how the land was stolen from the native people in America, the Holocaust, Cane and Abel, nothing has changed. But, what is refreshing about this program is that I got a glimpse of the beauty, the heartbreak, the longing for forgiveness, the love a father and a mother expressed for their son and daughter, the love a wife of 17 years has for her husband and she too will be comforted and be able to forgive and have her talks with God some day, the acceptance of the unacceptable by the fireman who spoke of about his 24 year old son, his acceptance, his eloquence, his pain and his mourning offered me grace and grace is in short supply these days.

I live in Oakland, California and work with high school and middle school children and in our cities we have had to have memorials almost every week. Children from ages 13 to 21 have lost their lives to gun violence and our experience here is just as gut wrenching and hard to deal with. We too need deep healing and spiritual guidance.

I believe that the evil and devils and the demons are as real as food and water. I believe that to battle these army of demons one needs humility, love, compassion, faith, wisdom, strength all spiritual values. We have many models to follow: Jesus, Allah, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Gandhi, the New York Firefighters and the police officers that acted without considering their own life, our models could be the ordinary mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, teachers, community leaders in my city, the spiritual leaders on your program who are committed to non-violence ways of solving conflict and are brave enough to come forward and pray together with the Muslim, Catholic, Jew and other faiths.

I will pray for all those who have become cynical and questioning Gods ways, Gods ways are not man ways, they never have been and they never will be. It takes courage and strength to be vulnerable and surrender our sorrow to God, to have humility, to surrender, to cry and cry and cry and to endure grace and hope that someday we could evolve into the vision of a true human being.

Thank you for allowing me to grieve in respect of those who are suffering...

penina taesali
oakland, ca


I agree with Paul H. of Baton Rouge that "God's Will was not what happened to the Twin Towers on September 11th. Rather God's Will was the way people helped each other, conforted each other, and sacrificed themselves for each other on Sept. 11th regardless of whether the other person was either a friend, a lover, or complete stanger."

Very well put.

The horror of man's inhumanity to man is the stuff of literature, art and drama. But simple acts of compassion, sacrifice and forgiveness are much, much deeper; truly an act of God.

Murray Leslie
Victoria, BC


Although what happened Sept. 11 may have religious overtones, I doubt what motivated the Arab young men to plow airplanes into the towers was religion. I think we Americans are still blind to something else: Why did these men sacrafice their lives? We Americans are unable to think that perhaps there was a reason from their part. We don't listen! They have told us, they are still telling us: Control Israel, stop the Palestinian massacre, and leave the Arab countries. How many lives have we Americans cold bloodedly destroyed? I witnessed us needlessly kill Vietnamese people, just because we could. How about our Airmen who drop "smart bombs" on humanity and feel good, and feel cocky about doing such a "brave" act? This was purely an act of war. We are arrogantely proud of our military might. We proclaim "Nuke the son's of bitches" without realizing what we are saying. THIS IS EVIL.

Roberto Soto


I am not a 'person of faith.' I think that evil is a biblical term,

laughably inappropriate and far too vague to help us properly address the cruelty and barbarism that has plagued human history and plagues us still. If I had survived the atrocities or slaughter of Dresden or Hiroshima, Bataan or Aushcwitz, Rwanda or Bosnia, I would take great offense at the incessant handwringing and 'why me?' or 'why us?' attitude so many of my fellow Americans are perpetuating in the wake of this recent attack on suburban complacency. This might be new to you, but the world is a vicious place, always has been, and probably will be for ages to come. The ancient world was cold and brutish, the 20th century the bloodiest known to man. I felt sick about the slaughter of the innocents on Sept. 11th, but it's time to get over it. This happens from time to time, and let us not forget that over 90% of the tens of millions killed during WWII were non-combatants. Don't think that the foreign policies and ambivalent alliances forged by our politicians and federal agencies didn't invite an attack, to a large degree. We shot our neighbor's dog, then left our doors unlocked. I suggest we quit asking what God may or may not have had to do with it, and concentrate instead on what we need to do for ourselves. How about real airport security think Israeli, tight borders at least deploy the Guard until the INS is extensively gutted and redrawn, and zero tolerance for our worst enemy in the 'war on terrorism': SAUDI ARABIA. And let Israel lay in the bed it has made. I think the International Criminal Court is a promising start, despite the current administration's objections. Rejoice in the fact that we are on relatively good terms with China and Russia, the only countries that are any real threat to the safety of our nation as a whole.

Richard Wasserman


Great documentary. I think America may be learning the difference between religion and spirituality. As I see it, religion is a set of beliefs and spirituality is the attitudes and actions that come out of those beliefs. Truly regardless of what one believes about "God," we have the power to skew our beliefs of humanity and, in misguided attempts to make ourselves "special," we can dehumanize others and create a grotesque harmful spirituality that feels evil. Why does "God" get blamed for what mankind does?

Ruth Morton
Nome, Alaska


I was moved to tears watching the pain of those who lost loved ones. While it was almost unbearable to watch, I felt that the film raised significant questions, ones which do not have easy answers. One of the rabbis in the film made the point that he saw his mission, not to provide the answers, but rather to help people struggle with the questions.

This website asked the question, has my faith changed since 9/11? My answer would be no, but having studied history and as professor of religios studies, I am knowledgable regarding the great harm humans do to each other, sometimes in the name of a religious tradition. We need to not only ask the hard questions of faith, but the equally difficult questions concerning the broader issues of why America is targeted by terrorists - that is, we should ask such questions if we want to understand.

Roy Fuller
Louisville, KY


I thoroughly enjoyed your program tonight and found it very well-balanced. This will ensure that you receive a lot of hate mail from the religious fearful.

I was raised a Catholic. However I have completely rejected all belief in a supreme higher power of any kind.

The attack on the World Trade Center is yet another horrific demonstration of religious fervor which, in my view, will forever remain an obstacle to Peace on Earth.

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

-- Thomas Jeffersonletter to J. Adams April 11,1823

Personally, I am not as optimistic as Thomas Jefferson. I believe that our inner passion and urgency to have an answer for every question in the Cosmos is too powerful.

My cosmic question is: How can our planet survive if we all continue to ignore religion's proven track record of carnage through history? Particularly when much of it was inspired by silly discrepancies in each other's antiquated fantasy stories and folk tales

That so-called "noun called Evil" is simply the sum of fear,ignorance, and intolerance.

John Cregar


To say I was disappointed in the presentation would be vast understatement. I saw 2 hours of DOUBT and not 1 minute of real FAITH. At ground zero or otherwise.

Sadly, in your attempt to cover many religious perspectives, you MISSED the one of evangelical Christianity, the largest Christian group in America.

Our God is there to comfort and give hope. The Bible again, almost totally neglected in the report is replete with encouragement and answers.

Our God is the Sovereign of the universe. He said that not a sparrow falls to the ground -- much less the biggest buildings in the biggest city and 3000 precious souls -- without His knowing and caring.

Dr. Bob Griffin
Casper, Wyoming


Thank you for putting intellgent people on TV speaking about realistic issues. All you Bible Thumpers need to study political history and how religion has been used to control the illerate masses. I think we need to look at ourselves and our government and educate ourselves on how many unfair deaths we have caused for our own gain. Let's not be complacent Auschwitz neighbors, happy in our clean, affluent country. Think, You teeming msses!!!For God's Sake!

Katya Againe


It's not only religious fanaticism that leads pilots to fly their planes over cities in order to wreak death and destruction upon thousands of innocents.

Political ideologies are also responsible for massacres of civilians. The Cambodian and German holocausts were motivated by ideological hatreds and will to power, not religious zeal. And the American leaders who ordered the bombing of Hiroshima chose to believe that they were taking right and necessary action in dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered far more hideous injuries than we suffered on 9/11. Square miles of the cities were flattened, and even those who were not killed in the direct impact area, were burned or blinded.

I don't think the hijackers were evil any more than I think the Enola Gay pilots were evil. I think they all chose to believe they were doing right, even as they did terrible wrongs.

carolyn kelley


I just finished watching your program and must comment on one part that not only made me angry, but also disturbed me a great deal.

One of the clergymen that participated in one of the memorial services told what has happened to him as a result of taking part in that service. He stated that he has recieved mail condemning him and now faces charges of heresy brought forth by other members of his faith. What angered me most was the fact that this man, this good Christian, was doing something that Jesus would have commended; he did his utmost to bring comfort to those in pain. Now, he is being villified for sharing the podium with clergy of other faiths. They are accusing him of heresy and want him thrown out of the church. What I find most disturbing about this is not only the appalling kind of tunnel vision they are displaying, but the terrible timing of their attack. Instead of doing whatever they could to help heal their congregations and help heal the nation, they are displaying the same kind of religious narrow-minded thinking that the people who attacked us used to justify the murder of our citizens.

I think those people need to stop and take a look at what they are doing to the people of their congregations. To me they are saying that it is more important for them to be seen as being right than to follow Jesus' teachings about tolerance of those who differ from us. Not only is this Un-Christian, it is Un-American. SHAME ON THEM!

Kim Smith


My wife and I were both surprised by the film's quality and found it most moving. We lost no family on September 11th; nevertheless we both lost our mothers in this last year and we identified with many of your subjects' thoughts, questions and expressions of grief.

I was surprised, however, that not one of your representatives of the "desert religions" mentioned the Book of Job during the film. After all, many of the questions raised by September 11th "Why do bad things happen to good people;" "Does God reward the righteous, punish the guilty and protect the innocent;" and "Why is there Evil" are the central questions of that old poem. It is a poem that is part of the traditions of all three of those religions to this day.

Although interpretations of God's speeches in the Book of Job abound, one of them is that the knowledge, power and moral obligations of God are largely beyond the comprehension of Job or, for that matter, any of us humans. The main implication of this is not so much that whatever happens must be "right" even if we do not understand it. Rather, it is that our projection of our own moral obligations to one another as spelled out by God himself onto God himself are fundamentally "darkening counsel by words without knowledge," as the Joban poet might have said.

God, or Jehovah or Allah commands US to reward the righteous, punish the guilty and protect the innocent. We have no idea what "cosmic moral imperatives" God himself might be subject to. Indeed, put that way, it shows how problematic it is to ask "Where was God" on September 11th: Modesty demands that we grant that we have no idea where he was "supposed" to be. As God demands of Job:

"Do you know the law of the heavens;

Can you establish order on earth?"

Nat Wilcox
Houston, Texas


Your program was insightful and provocative. It brought back all the chilling feelings of helplessness and doubt of that dreadful day. Those were the first pictures I had ever seen of people jumping from the WTC. I could not help but feel completely helpless again. In many ways it was worse. This time I knew the fate of all those poor, innocent, people. Did I see evil that day? I don't know. But I do believe that every human has a spirit and a soul and from them springs courage, humanity, sacrifice and faith in a better human being than ourselves. It also harbors jealousy, selfishness and, ultimately, hatred. Is that evil? Perhaps heaven and a belief in a devine being is nothing more than the stuggle within each of our souls to be that better human being.

Thank You

Robert Grant
San Antonio, Texas


While the film was thought provoking in many ways, I was disheartened to see that there was very little discussion regarding the the free will that we have been granted by God. I find it interesting that we Americans will fight tooth and nail for our free will but when it comes to the rough times, we want and expect God to control things so we don't get hurt. I don't think it works that way. I believe that September 11th happened as a result choices made by humans, not a vindictive act by a distant God. Do I understand why people affected by this great tragedy would question God? You bet I do. I can only pray that they find their answers in the heart of a loving God who shares their sorrow.

Debbie Tranby

home + introduction + questions of faith and doubt + our religions, our neighbors, our selves + interviews
discussion + producer's notes + poll: spiritual aftershocks? + video
readings & links + tapes & transcripts + credits + press reaction + privacy policy + FRONTLINE + pbsi + wgbh

photo © reuters newmedia inc./corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation