Today, Nine-Eleven-Sixteen, our preacher preached quietly, soberly, his hands folded, his gestures muted, speaking about America’s history from the head of the central aisle. Behind him the marble altar held the veiled tabernacle centered between the flaming candles. The red Sanctus lamp burned, suspended high, and the medieval crucifix rose beyond, victorious. It is the place where we re-member the sacrifice of Christ in the action of the Mass. We bring him among us in the bread and the wine.
What happens, he asked, when a civilization no longer re-members its history? No longer teaches its history to the next generation through school and family, cultural icons and festivals? Nations who do not re-member, who do not recreate and bring into the present the best of their past, dis-member their present. They pull apart, disintegrate. But civilizations do not naturally remember, he reminded us. Each of us must teach our children and inform our culture or it will be dis-membered. There must be active intent on our part to pass on our faith as well as our culture.
Many are concerned we are flinging apart, dis-membering into warring communities. We live in a culture of the present that is contemptuous of the past. If we re-member our history, we re-member the wounds and the wrongs. We need to re-member the goods and the greats of the past. This is the history we must reweave into our national life story.
Not all cultures dishonor their history as we do. Islam respects its past, re-members it into their present. Al-Qaeda chose September 11 purposefully as a re-membering of September 11, 1683 at the gates of Vienna. Vienna guarded the borders of Christendom. The Ottoman Empire desired to conquer the West. Since Mohammed, the Muslim call to conquer the world has threatened Western Christian states who have, in time, built a legacy of freedom and democracy. On September 11, 1683, the Turks met defeat at the gates of Vienna, and the course of history changed. Vienna was spared, as was the Christian West. A good re-membrance of the importance and nature of the battle (after a 3 month siege and 300 years of warfare) can be found at Islam Watch where former Muslims explain Islam and its character.
And so the battle came into the present, on our own homeland, fifteen years ago today in New York City. The invaders attacked not only our people but our way of life, our beliefs, our freedom, our Judeo-Christian culture.
Our way of life, our culture, is a product of the Judeo-Christian belief in the God-given dignity of each person regardless of race, gender, handicap, age, born and unborn. It is a culture based on respect for one another, and we strive to protect these “natural” rights. But we seem to have forgotten where they come from. John Stuart Mill in On Liberty as well as Susan Nold in the Wall Street Journal agree that democracy will not survive if it is taken for granted.
Assuming democracy will forever structure our way of life, we cherish our differences, for this is who we are. We welcome law abiding immigrants. Most desire to support our democratic freedoms, for our liberty and laws protect and encourage flourishing, turning despair into hope. But it is, to be sure, a single unique culture that provides these benefits – the Judeo-Christian Western culture. It is this single culture that allows the multi-cultures to live together in mutual respect.
This is the great irony, or perhaps the tragic flaw embedded within democracy. Cultures that do not share the Western heritage do not desire multiculturalism. They desire their own to the exclusion of others. If we take Judeo-Christian foundations for granted or, worse, despise and reject them as exclusive not inclusive, we will dis-member our nation and our world.
I attended a fascinating Writers Club meeting yesterday, where a Persian-American author, raised in the Bay Area, spoke about mining our individual cultural heritage. She used the example of objects passed through generations as living artifacts of memory. She spoke of past journeys, migrations, immigrations and emigrations, crucial to character and plot.
She is speaking, of course, of history, its huge importance to us all, to humanity, and most importantly to Americans. For no other culture enjoys peace and celebrates freedom as we do. Through the centuries since Plato and Aristotle, since Augustine and Bede and Aquinas, since Locke and Paine, Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, it has been this single culture birthed by Britain that defines America. We have this immense legacy, this strong foundation. But without re-membering, we will crumble. There have other systems in the West, of course, but they have been sporadic attempts fraught with revolution and purges. Only England produced Magna Carta, developed common law, trial by jury, representative rule. America improved upon this new Eden, abolishing monarchies, ensuring freedom of religion, and producing a written constitution.
To pretend this is not the case, that all cultures are equal, is foolhardy at best, dis-membering and suicidal at worst. As we embrace many races from multi-nations, let us re-member as heirs of the Judeo-Christian civilization that we will always have enemies who hate our generosity, our freedoms, our respect for one another. There will always be those who desire total surrender and sameness. They will fly captive planes into our centers of free enterprise on historic anniversaries. They will bomb our theaters and public spaces. They will massacre those who express their freedom of dress or manners in public. Their goal has been consistent and clear since the seventh century, desiring annihilation of the infidel. Infidels include peaceful Muslims, Christians, Jews, gays, women unveiled, men unbelieving.
My recent novel, The Fire Trail, a literary suspense set at UC Berkeley, re-members September 11, 2001 in its central chapters. I will be reading from the novel this Saturday at Orinda Books, 3 p.m., unveiled, in public, my speech, so far at least, free. Hope you can come by. It is a time of recognition and gratitude for what we have been given: this glorious nation with its precious heritage to preserve for the next generation. It is a time to remember and not dismember who we are.