One of the phenomena in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that most people remember is the increase in both kindness to strangers and an increase in outward religious activity, like going to church. So, five years later, are people still going to church? Yes and no.
Many of the religious leaders interviewed for the article say that while the pews have thinned out again, those who remain seem to have a deeper faith. Certainly, the situation for Boston Catholics (and indeed other American Catholics) is complicated by the Scandal breaking in 2002, providing a challenge to faith, but overall, they believe that many people who were there before stayed, many who came on 9/11 wandered off, and that most people are more scared than they used to be.
There is no single view, but in several dozen interviews over the past month, clergy at many of the major houses of worship in Greater Boston say they sense numerous subtler, sustained changes in their remaining congregations: a persistent sadness, a greater interest in poorly understood faiths, an uneasiness with war, and a yearning for security.
… The Rev. Paul B. O’Brien , pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Lawrence, noted that “plenty of people who have families and friends serving in the military have returned to the practice of faith in all different ways.” O’Brien also said parishioners had voiced a new interest in theological issues—the concept of evil, the nature of Islam, and even the future. “I think many people, in a way they haven’t since the Cold War, wonder if the world is coming to an end,” O’Brien said.
Yet some also say that 9/11, which was supposed to change everything, has in fact changed very little. I don’t think that’s the case in general, but I do think that for a lot of people, religion remains a fringe concern that comes up only in extreme circumstances. Foxhole believers, if you will. When danger is imminent, they cry out to God and when danger passes, He’s relegated to the periphery again.
The fact that Americans have felt so secure for so long, so safe from the dangers of a world that does not care about their individual lives, have become complacent. What use is God if I can garner security and wealth myself? Such security and safety is an illusion that events like 9/11 blows away for a moment. For those with eyes to see, the illusion is permanently dispelled, but for too many it’s too much to deal with and they let the curtain fall once again.
God will wait, they think, until the next time. There will always be a next time.