Interest in spirituality and religious observance have been on the upturn since the attacks, and religion has found a new place in the public square, but for how long?
Time magazine (Oct. 8) reports that churches, synagogues and mosques were packed the weekend after Sept. 11. Sixty percent of all Americans attended some kind of memorial, and Bible sales rose 27 percent. Yet Gallup polls taken September 21 and 22 find that weekend church and synagogue attendance rose only six percent (compared to about 20 percent after President Kennedy was shot).
Still, the amount of religious activity generated after the attack may endure longer than jumps in attendance. David Van Biema writes that “Muslims and others have been doing furious research on the concept of jihad. Traditional antiwar denominations like Quakers and the Church of the Brethren are challenging the more common Christian concept of just war. Some mainline Protestants, Buddhists and religious liberals have begun peace initiatives. Many conservative Christians are speculating about the Apocalypse, and sales of the apocalyptic book series `Left Behind’ are booming.”
On the revival of public religion, Gerald Seib writes in the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 18) that “Just one year after a presidential campaign in which the question of whether religious beliefs should be mingled in public life was heatedly debated, Americans have accepted virtually without question a very public turn to religion by their nation and its leaders in a time of grief.
The fact that the first public gathering of the nation’s full political leadership took place in a cathedral rather that he halls of Congress was one such sign of the return of public religion, according to Seib. He adds that the “most remarkable thing about this development is how unremarkable it has been. Howls of protest aren’t being heard. There is no suggestion of a constitutional crisis. The nation seems relieved by the turn to religion. All told, it’s clear that America can handle more religion in public life than cynics and critics contend.”