As I have read and heard those words, I have wondered who "we" is. I was born in 1948, and my brother (two and a half years younger) and I were part of the first TV generation. Some of my earliest memories of television are of the World War II documentaries that were then ubiquitous. Needless to say, these carefully edited films did not show the full horrors of war, but nonetheless its reality was imprinted indelibly on my mind. I knew that America had won the war, yes—a victory my brother and I reenacted many times—but at a level below articulation I also knew that vast, incomprehensible forces could be unleashed as they had been in the world just a few years before I was born.
And it was not as if America had no enemies in the postwar world. Movies (on TV again) and stories introduced me to the shadowy world of communist spies intent on undermining America from within. It was fashionable for a long time, in the wake of McCarthy's excesses, to mock the fears of communist infiltration. We know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those fears were well-grounded. Certainly they did not bespeak a sense of invulnerability.
And then there was that mushroom cloud, haunting. Like most American schoolchildren of that era I went through the rituals of "civil defense" in rehearsal for a nuclear-missile attack, including the absurd routine of kneeling under our desks. Before I was ten years old I had read the first of many post-nuclear holocaust novels that I and countless others were to read in years to come. And when I was 14 I stepped into the newly constructed fallout shelter of a friend.
Was I constantly brooding about such matters? Of course not! I worried more about pimples than about the Bomb. In my faith I had a sense of security, that ultimately all would be well. But neither did I ever suppose that the country I lived in and loved was invulnerable. How could I think that?
The imagination of disaster can be twisted into morbid delectation or, even worse, into slick entertainment, as it has in so many Hollywood productions. But it can also take us out of ourselves and return us to our everyday lives purged of complacence. It can even prepare us for times such as this, when imagination yields to dreadful reality.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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Daniel Creson, Ray Bradbury, and Charlton Heston were among those who shared opinions in the Sept. 14 Chicago Tribune article on the aftershocks of last Tuesday.
The Text This Week, a resource for pastors, has collected sermons and reflections in response to the attack on America.
Christianity Today articles on the Sept. 11 attacks include:
Taking It Personally | What do we do with all this anger? (Sept. 14, 2001)
'Is That Thunder?' | With metal cracking at the World Trade Center, New York pastors cry out to God. (Sept. 14, 2001)
Shaken Christians Turn to Prayer | Impromptu services usher in the bereaved by word of mouth, road signs, and e-mail. (Sept. 13, 2001)
Christians Provide Comfort in the Shadow of Calamity | Still "stunned and reeling," New Yorkers seek support at prayer service. (Sept. 13, 2001)
Illinois Pastor on Fatal Flight | Jeffrey Mladenik, 43, was involved in workplace ministry, international adoption. (Sept. 13, 2001)
Communication Troubles Challenge U.S. Church Relief Agencies | Aid work continues amid atmosphere of shock, fear, and sporatic harrassment. (Sept. 13, 2001)
Reflections on Suffering | Classic and contemporary quotations for dark times. (Sept. 13, 2001)
When Sin Reigns | An event like this shows us what humans are capable of becoming—both as children of darkness and of light. (Sept. 13, 2001)
In the Belly of the Beast | Christians, calling terrorist attack "satanically brilliant," minister at epicenter of World Trade disaster. (Sept. 12, 2001)
Churches, Agencies Respond to Attacks | Leaders call for prayer, justice, and mercy. (Sept. 12, 2001)
Muslims Fear a Backlash | No matter who is responsible, observers feel a reaction will still be present. (Sept. 12, 2001)
A Wake-Up Call to Become Global Christians | The deadly attacks on America will provoke many responses, but Christians are commanded to love our neighbors. (Sept. 12, 2001)
Nation's Religious Leaders Urge Calm, Pray for Peace | Churches will maintain prayer vigils for victims and leaders. (Sept. 11, 2001)
Church Leaders Around World Deplore 'Unspeakable Horror' of Attack | Christians urged to unite in prayer as they unite in shock and denunciation. (Sept. 11, 2001)
Experts Say Spiritual Roots Will Aid in Coping With Catastrophe | Pray and connect with others, advise nation's chaplains. (Sept. 11, 2001)
Fear and Hate | In times like this, as in all other times, Christians have a responsibility to love above all else. (Sept. 11, 2001)
God's Message in the Language of Events | In the face of evil, we must focus on keeping our hearts right. (Sept. 11, 2001)
Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at ChristianityToday.com.
Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:
More Sex, Fewer Children | Mixed messages on condoms, contraception, and fertility. (Sept. 10, 2001)
The Strange Case of Napoleon Beazley | The latest poster boy for death row chic. (Aug. 27, 2001)
Apocalyptic City | The dream and the nightmare of megalopolis (Aug. 20, 2001)
Megalopolis Forty Years On | The ambiguous face of the city. (Aug. 13, 2001)
The Future Is Now | You want the news? Read science fiction. (Aug. 6, 2001)
Memorable Memoirs | Whether telling us about the Spirit in the South or the crumbling atheism of a Chinese immigrant, these books provide windos into others' lives. (July 30, 2001)
The Distorted Story of Memoir Inc. | There are many good autobiographies out there, but do those who write about them have to pretend they're the only books worth reading? (July 23, 2001)
Looking for the Soul of CBA | Nearly anything that can be said about Christian publishing is true to some extent, thanks to the industry's ever-enlarging territory. (July 16, 2001)
Give Me Your Muslims, Your Hindus, Your Eastern Orthodox, Yearning to Breathe Free | Immigration's long-ignored effect on American religion is garnering much attention from scholars (July 9, 2001)
Shrekked| Why are readers responding passionately about a simple film review? (July 2, 2001)
Debutante Fiction | The New Yorker should have paid less attention to the novelty of its writers and more attention to their writing. (June 18, 2001)
Saint Teddy? | Yes, Roosevelt paid the usual presidential respects to Christianity, but didn't show much explicit personal devotion to it. (June 11, 2001)
History Bully | Christian scholars speak not-so-softly over a big sticking point: Theodore Roosevelt's faith. (June 4, 2001)
'Taken Up in Glory' | The Ascension has been forgotten in many Protestant churches, jettisoning an essential part of the Christian story. (May 21, 2001)