Where Was God on September 11?
by Richard S. Ehrlich
NEW YORK (EPN) -- The suicide pilots who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon were motivated by religion, but neither the terrorists or the U.S. should insist "God is on their side," according to the editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
"It was patently obvious that religion was a major motive when it became certain that the men were willing to commit suicide in this terror attack on all civilized people," Professor James Charlesworth said in an interview.
"Religion may be defined as that idea or belief for which you feel so strongly that you fully commit yourself to it, even to the extent of dying for it.
"The hell-bound murderers who hijacked the planes, using them and American citizens as bombs, perverted the heart of the Koran -- the 'Bible' of Islam. They simply hijacked Islam for their own perversions and from their own misconceptions of Islam."
Terrorism is an ancient form of behavior, graphically displayed in the crucifixion of Jesus, Mr. Charlesworth added.
"One can say that Jesus was murdered by a terrorist regime headed by a Roman governor. Pilate terrorized the Jews in Jerusalem.
"Jesus's earliest followers were also stoned, whipped, beheaded and crucified. Christianity evolved out of a world that was defined by terror and terrorists," he added.
Mr. Charlesworth is a professor of New Testament Language and Literature and also editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at Princeton Theological Seminary, which he described as independent, privately endowed and "the largest Presbyterian seminary in the nation and probably the oldest.
"Students of many faiths, from dozens of countries, study and worship here. It is clearly one of the most international institutions in the world," he said.
Asked about President Bush's use of the word "crusade" in an early speech about America's response to the attacks, Mr. Charlesworth replied: "I criticized the use of the word 'crusade' in Bush's speech. I am pleased that this inflammatory rhetoric is now removed from official announcements.
"This 'war' is not between West and East, or Christianity against Islam. It is clearly between all civilized people and those who define the present and future by hatred," Mr. Charlesworth said.
"During all wars, each side claims that God is on their side. This is dangerous business," he added.
"America is not a 'Christian' nation. That is a misconception. Our president and most of the people in America are Christians, but there is a vast difference among the Christians here -- and I must confess that for some the term is a sociological, not a religious, category.
"To a certain extent the emphasis on 'freedom of religion' means some separation between church and state. But it should be obvious that this separation is not a norm. Our money has the words 'In God we trust' on it. In court, we swear on the Bible to tell the truth.
"On the Friday after September 11, all our leaders gathered in Washington Cathedral to worship, mourning and seeking ways that we might again live in hope and freedom. The service was clearly a religious event."
Linking God and America can be beneficial, especially after such a traumatic event, he said.
"The hymn 'God Bless America' is entirely appropriate, especially at this time. We stand and sing it because we know how much God has blessed America, and also because we who sing it believe that we need God's help in restoring the peace and tranquility we experienced before September 11th."
Much of Mr. Charlesworth's work involves editing the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Jewish documents discovered in caves northwest of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament's book of Revelation and other ancient texts portray war as a fight of good against evil -- which some politicians now claim describes America's fight against Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 assaults.
"One of the most famous Dead Sea Scrolls is the War Scroll," Mr. Charlesworth said.
"It predicts the final battle between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness" in which "all the hosts of heaven, including the archangels like Michael, cannot defeat all the hosts of evil, led by Satan.
"In the final battle, God enters in to assist the righteous ones. The battle is immediately over. That is a graphic way to illustrate the awesome power of the Only One."
In the Bible's New Testament, "the book of Revelation depicts numerous wars between those who remain faithful to Christ, depicted as a slain lamb, and the forces of evil.
"The war occurs both in heaven and on earth. The conclusion is a moving scene when a new heaven and a new earth appears."
Mr. Charlesworth visited the so-called Ground Zero site where the World Trade Center's twin 110-story towers collapsed into a gnarled mess of wreckage and entombed bodies.
At the site, missionaries from various churches handed out literature colorfully illustrated with news photographs showing the exploding towers emblazoned with quotes from the Bible.
Lindsay Poluga, who passed out pamphlets titled "Fallen but not Forgotten," also wore a T-shirt adorned with a silhouette of the World Trade Center in ruins above the slogan.
Miss Poluga said in an e-mail interview she was "volunteering with Campus Crusade for Christ in an effort to show compassion and share God's love to the people of New York City."
Miss Poluga, 19, added, "I am a non-denominational Christian...involved in evangelizing to others."
She said, "Freely and openly expressing faith in the face of evil is important to fighting back against the repressive cultural ideals of Islam.
"Even though on different extremes, in this case the leaders of the terrorists might have had similar objectives in mind that Hitler and the Nazis had, to exterminate a race. It appears both groups felt the need to play God by destroying those of other beliefs."
She added, "This was an act of Satan.
"I'm sure 'their' God is embarrassed that they're celebrating his name in this terror."
Another evangelist, Genie Caraballo, 31, from New York's Glad Tidings Tabernacle, said, "Jesus gave his life up for us, and the [American] soldiers are going to give themselves up for us. This nation is God's nation.
"God did not blow up the World Trade Center."