By Frederick Schmidt
The events of September 11, 2001 invite comment from spiritual leaders. But they also invite oversimplification.
One brand of oversimplification indulges in an unreflective, categorical demand for vengeance. The other brand of oversimplification wallows in angst-ridden apologies for having somehow precipitated the events of that terrible day. Both alternatives are morally and spiritually problematic—resolving the terrible calculus of the murders committed in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania into simple, measurable choices that are equally misleading.
Strangely, both extremes deny the evil of the deed committed on that day: The demand for categorical vengeance assigns the capacity for evil to others, assuming that we could not possibly act in kind. In apologizing, others refuse to acknowledge the reality of evil and the willfulness of the choices made by the terrorists, implying that if we had only been more sensitive or reasonable, they would not have done what they did.
We cannot lead with moral and spiritual integrity from either extreme. Blind vengeance and a self-effacing, therapeutic flight from the reality of evil may be easy places to live, but it is only the commitment to justice, tempered by attention to the potential for evil in all of us that can ground our efforts to listen for God's guidance in complex times. The desire to erase the complexities and the fear of responding to evil is understandable, but they are also symptomatic of spiritual malaise and poverty.
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The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. An Episcopal priest, he also serves as the director of the Episcopal studies program. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).