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Thoughts on the September 11th Terrorist Attacks

Atheist Community of Austin
Posted: September 20, 2001
All of us at the ACA wish to send our thoughts and condolences to those who have lost loved ones or do not know where their loved ones are. We also wish to acknowledge all the individuals who are working relentlessly in the recovery and rescue efforts.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, our nation was struck by tragedy. Two commercial planes were crashed into the World Trade Center buildings by terrorists, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth went down in a relatively uninhabited area. The World Trade Center buildings both collapsed with thousands of people inside, and the inhabitants of the four planes were all killed.

On Sunday, September 16, the Atheist Community of Austin sponsored a secular gathering of remembrance at Republic Square in downtown Austin, to talk about the tragedy and commiserate with each other. We raised $255 for the Red Cross at the event. Several people gave speeches and shared their thoughts on the recent events. These are transcripts of everyone's speeches.

Jeff Dee

The word I've been hearing over and over again to describe Tuesday's terrible attack is "senseless". And that pretty much sums it up. These terrorist attacks made no sense. They were deeply irrational, and display no grasp of reality whatsoever. We can imagine what the perpetrators hoped to accomplish, plotting in darkened rooms half a world away. They may have hoped for the collapse of our economy, our demoralization, and our retreat from involvement in the Middle East. But here in America and around the world, in the clear light of day, we cannot imagine how anyone with a lick of sense could have thought that these attacks would accomplish those goals.

It hasn't worked, of course. Senseless acts seldom do. It has served only to rouse the world's anger, and to instill civilized nations with a great resolve to root out those responsible, and bring them to justice. Right now they're trying to figure out who that is. Some people think it's taking too long - that when the evidence *began* to point at Osama Bin Laden in his Afghanistan hideout, we should have instantly stormed in there and slaughtered the lot of them. But that early evidence could have been wrong. Bin Laden could have fled elsewhere. An attack before we know what's going on would be ALSO be senseless, because it would not accomplish OUR goal. Some say that "attacking" won't work even after we've located the perpetrators. I'm just glad to see that kind of discussion taking place, because whatever the response is, we don't want it to be senseless.

*Senselessness* is the one enemy behind Tuesday's attacks that we have positively identified. We don't have to wait for any investigations to be concluded before we declare war on it. And we don't have to join the military to fight it. I can tell you for a fact that senselessness is not only hiding out in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Senselessness is the human propensity to believe things that are simply not worthy of belief. It is a tool that unscrupulous manipulators use to take advantage of our hopes and fears. Somebody used it to convince those terrorist pilots to sacrifice their lives, and there are those who use it right here in America. You can see it at work in the words of Jerry Falwell - who just told his flock that these attacks are America's fault for not being fundamentalist enough to satisfy his god. MOST Christians don't say that. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson say that. You can see it in other suicide cults like Heaven's Gate - whose leader convinced his followers that a simple comet was really an alien spacecraft come to liberate the few who were brave enough to drink cyanide. You can hear it in the voices of those calling for intolerance against ALL people of Arab descent living in America. You can see it at work in ads for TV psychics, who suck the financial veins of anyone foolish enough to believe they're able to see the future in tarot cards, or speak to your dead relatives. And you can hear it in the words of Osama Bin Laden, when he tells his followers that to murder for Allah is to become a hero. Most Muslims don't say that. Osama Bin Laden and a handful of other extremists say that.

We are in a war against senselessness. We can all fight this war by refusing to be tricked by hucksters and charlatans. We can fight it by speaking out whenever we hear them weaving their webs of deceit. We can fight it by questioning the ideas we're offered, and actually caring enough about the truth to make sure a claim is true BEFORE we consent to believe it. Ask Jerry Falwell to prove not only that his god exists, but that he is God's legitimate spokesman. Osama Bin Laden claims the exact same thing. Get a second opinion from qualified scientists before you agree that a comet is really a spaceship. Stop and ask yourself if the terrorists' *race* was really responsible for their attack before you throw a brick through an Arab-owned shop window. Demand to know why nobody who claims to have psychic powers warned us before Tuesday's attack became a reality. And if anybody comes to you and says, "Shoot that abortion doctor. Beat up that homosexual. Fly that plane into a building full of civilians. God is love, but for this he's making you an exception"... laugh right in that person's face, and then warn your children, friends, and neighbors about them.

Of course I'm picking obvious examples because I don't want to lose any of you by questioning something you already believe. But senselessness is a tool used by manipulators to bend you to their will - and they will keep trying until they come up with a senseless claim so desirable or so beautiful or so frightening to you that you'll feel you just HAVE TO believe it. And you'd better re-examine your own cherished beliefs, because it's possible that they've already got you.

This won't be over when we capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, because terrorism existed without him and can continue to exist without him. It won't be over when every nation on Earth agrees not to harbor terrorists, because terrorists like the Unibomber can operate right here in America where we don't tolerate terrorism for a second. But we DO turn a deaf ear to the most outrageous lies and nonsense. I once sat in a public restaurant and overheard a man in the next booth carefully explaining to his companion why Jesus wanted everyone in America to own a gun. I cringed, but I said nothing. I will never again allow something like that to pass unchallenged. THAT is how senselessness, hate, and terrorism survive in our very midst.

Terrorism won't stop, won't hardly slow down until *senselessness* is made so shameful and embarrassing that nobody will be able to say such things without challenge. It won't be over until we drive irrationality and senselessness itself into hiding. Not by DENYING the right of free speech to people like Falwell or the Unibomber or even Osama Bin Laden - but by using our OWN right of free speech to expose and ridicule the senselessness of their claims.

Vic Farrow

Hello, welcome and thanks for coming out today. My name is Vic Farrow, a member of the Atheist Community of Austin.

Like everyone else I am saddened, shocked and outraged at the horrific events of this past Tuesday. Although I suffered no personal loss I, as well as all Americans have suffered a tremendous loss.

We grieve for the senseless loss of life, for the suffering of friends, families and fellow citizens. In this past week I have seen both extremes of humanity. The absolute cruelty of terrorism and the heroic compassion of humanity.

If the goal of terrorism is to disrupt and demoralize, then this act of desperation has failed in its purpose. America has begun to rediscover its unity. We’ve looked past our differences and found our strength. “E Pluribus Unum” the original motto of this country, are the best words for that strength. Of Many, One.

If we are to move forward toward a brighter tomorrow, then we must abandon anger and intolerance. Let us seek justice, not vengeance. Understanding, not hate. Respect, not scorn.

Today we grieve, tomorrow we rebuild. From the ashes of this tragedy rises the lesson that we must not forget. Our diversity is indeed our strength. The United States is the home of many people of different cultures, languages, philosophies, and religions. But, we are all Americans

Michelle Gadush

The Atheist Community of Austin welcomes all of you as we gather to share our fear, our anger and our grief over the events of the past week.

Most of us have never experienced such a tragedy: So many lives cut so painfully short, so many dreams left unfulfilled, so many, many families ripped apart.

Let us remember the known victims, those people on the planes and at the pentagon. Let us also remember those people who are still nameless, but some of whom we have come to know by the heart-wrenching stories told by their families and friends as they wander the streets of Manhattan desperately searching for some sign of their loved ones.

We can only hope that their survivors can find the strength to carry on and that is what we also must do.

We must not allow these incidents to draw this country into racial and religious hatred and fear. Americans have always drawn together in times of trial. Let us fervently hope that ALL Americans remember that America's diversity is what makes her unique in the world. Muslims, Jew, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as, those of us who are Atheists-in spite of our differences-are first, and foremost, Americans.

The Atheist Community of Austin condemns all attacks against Arabs and Muslims here in American. These people are NOT the enemy. The vast majority of them are our fellow Americans. Most of them came here, just as our ancestors did, to achieve better lives for themselves and their families..

We also call upon the leaders of this state and country to restrain themselves from public displays, whether at events or on television, of blatantly christian prayers. All public displays of religious belief should reflect the diversity of this nation. Better yet, they should be avoided altogether. America is NOT a christian nation. I firmly believe that expressing only christian sentiment at this time only serves to perpetuate this "us against them" attitude. We do not want to see the reaction to these terrorist attacks turn into some sort of christian holy war.

Finally, let us all remember that the vast majority of people, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Theists and Atheists, all want the same things. We want to raise our children in peace, we want to be free to make the most of the lives that we have and to have the opportunity to spend all of the days of our existence in the company of those people we love the most.

The victims and their survivors of this terrorist act have been robbed of the last two. Let us all commit ourselves to a peaceful future for THEIR children, as well as our own.

Mark Loewe

Thank you all for coming.

My name is Mark Loewe. I am a scientist and a member of the Board of Directors of the Atheist Community of Austin.

My heart, and I'm sure all or our hearts, are with those who have suffered, and with those who are continuing to suffer, at the hands of Tuesday's terrorists.

The terrorists were motivated by hatred and were mislead into this hatred by authority figures who hold irrational beliefs in the supernatural.

The world would have been a better place if these terrorists had been strong enough to resist acting on their hatred or strong enough to resist being mislead into hatred. Unfortunately for the world, the terrorists were extremely weak.

For individuals, the answer is simple: Do not allow yourself to be motivated by hatred and do not allow yourself to be mislead into hatred by (authority figures who hold) irrational beliefs in the supernatural.

It is important to convince those who would become religious extremists not to be mislead by irrational beliefs in the supernatural. In doing so, I believe that it is in large part counterproductive to argue in favor of other irrational beliefs in the supernatural.

The civilized world calls for your help. Your help is needed to educate others about the futility of hate and to educate others not to be mislead into hatred by (authority figures who hold) irrational beliefs in the supernatural.

I thank you all very much.

Russell Glasser

This past week, I was asked: "How do atheists comfort the dying or those who have lost a loved one?"

It's a fair question. As atheists, we do not believe in an afterlife, and we don't believe that people live for all eternity. It's certainly not that we don't want to believe in those things. Clearly, if there was any real evidence for it, we'd all jump at the chance to live forever, or to reunite with our families, or just to think that they are looking down at us and appreciating what we did for them. But wishing for things doesn't make them true.

The question is very important to me personally. Up until a few years ago, I've never had to deal with any deaths that affected me personally, other than pets. Within a very short period of time, my great-grandmother and both of my grandfathers died, as well as one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams. The recent events at the World Trade Center also affected me greatly, even though I didn't personally know anyone who lost their lives or those of their families in the attack.

Lacking any belief in an afterlife, I believe instead that the measure of a person's life can only be found in the way they lived and the way they touched other lives. The way that I dealt with my own losses was, in some cases, to write short tributes that say what I remember about the deceased; to talk with other people who knew and loved them; and to sit quietly and take some time to reflect on the way they affected my life, and how the world would have been different without them.

I think that's why many of us continue to watch the news every night, listening to the personal stories of people that we didn't know. Even though we never met them, by holding them in our memories, we give them a sort of contained immortality that gives their lives and deaths special importance. Of course we don't believe that any of them went to heaven, and there's no denying that is very sad. But we also don't believe that any of them went to hell, and that's actually a positive thought that many religious people tend to gloss over when they focus on the "inspiring" aspects of religion.

The biggest lesson to take away from all this is that we should realize how important it is to reach out to the people who are still alive, and tell them how much we appreciate them, and why. Everyone's life is important and meaningful in an individual way, and they continue to reverberate in our memories and the changes they made in our world. People should value the importance of being alive in the here and now.

Rick Williamson

My name is Rick Williamson. I’m a member of the Atheist Community of Austin, the United States of America, and the human race. As such, I value and respect mankind, and believe in every person’s inherent civil right to freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom from tyranny. If you have a few free minutes to listen, I have a few free thoughts on this topic, which I sincerely appreciate your allowing me to share with you today.

The dawn of civilization was probably the point at which mankind first learned that you don't win the hearts and minds of humans with violence and intimidation; that such acts breed fear and endless retaliation, not an end to free thought and freedom. Last Tuesday's terrible tragedy was the world’s latest lesson reminder.

It demonstrated that in spite of our advancements in civilities over countless millennia, we still have a long way to go. That we are not ONE world; far from it. And that no matter how much it seems we’ve shrunk and united this planet with knowledge and communication, living in respectful peace upon it is still very much flawed and fragmented with horrible inequities. This past week the two extremes of our multiple worlds collided in a cultural clash of ideologies, and jealousies.

So who is to blame? And what lesson shall we gain from this gazillionth episode of mankind's violence upon one another? My sense is that to some extent and in varying degrees, we are all to blame. The overriding lesson we are doomed to learn - - and re-learn to infinity - - is that FREEDOM IS NOT FREE! It comes with a precious price to all who enjoy it, exacted by those who fight it and fear it. And so last Tuesday we made a hefty installment payment for the independence we’ve come to take for granted in this great country. It’s not the first such payment, nor is it likely to be the last we must make to be free.

Our world has become ever-increasingly overpopulated; not only with people, but with a boggling array of beliefs and values, and conflicts between them. It's a wonder we can even comprehend who believes what... and why... where... when... and how it somehow should make a difference to us. Yet, remarkably, we cope with it all and make pretend sense of it.

Of course, really, none of it makes much sense to most of us. That’s no doubt why so many of the masses gravitate to whatever doctrine seems to offer immediate answers and emotional relief from the realities of life on this planet. But if we are to ultimately endure as a peopled place of intelligent life, we must first and foremost make sense and sacredness out of our most important lesson to learn while living here: that FREEDOM IS WHAT ULTIMATELY MATTERS MOST TO MANKIND. Only freedom allows you to think, and do, and believe as you wish, so long as it doesn't infringe on the equal freedoms of others. THAT'S the lesson! THAT'S the precious gift we lost a piece of this week, and THAT'S what must be restored at all costs!

The vowed enemies of freedom are all those fractured philosophies, oppressive governments, militant dictatorships and rigid religions that don't subscribe to the inherent tenants of freedom. Those causes that claim they alone have all the answers and that others must march to the beat of their lock-step drums. It is they who threaten our free existence, who terrorize the foundation of our freedoms, and who breed irrational zealots to commit unconscionable acts of violence upon our independence.

There will always be terrorists in this world, but only in direct proportion to our TOLERANCE and ACCEPTANCE of them. It is therefore our INtolerance and UNacceptance of these people - - and ANY of their despicable acts - - that will make us free of them. It’s the price we must forever pay to be forever free. And it’s the lesson we must forever re-learn least we perish in a sea of complacency.

Thank you for your time and attention to my exercise in freedom and freethinking.

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