When the twin towers collapsed last Sept. 11, many people asked themselves how God could allow such a thing to happen. But have the terrorist attacks changed people’s relationship to religion and belief?
Many people are looking for the answers at church.
It has been a year since the terror attacks of Sept. 11 shocked the world. In Germany, tens of thousands of people expressed their sympathy with the United States and the victims of the attacks. The wave of emotions appeared endless: shock, anger, despair and frustration were overwhelming.
Memorial services were packed and many people hoped to find solace and comfort in the country’s churches. Prelate Dr. Heiner Koch from the Cologne archbishopric says the services in the city's Cathedral were much better attended in the days following Sept. 11 than ever before.
"I also noticed that people’s sensitivity was higher in this time," he told Deutsche Welle. "I held the high mass on the Sunday directly after the attacks, where I addressed what happened. And I have never gotten so much response to a sermon as I did then."
But, Koch adds, this short-term reaction cannot be mistaken for a fundamental change in Germany’s religious landscape. "I don’t believe that."
Searching for answers
Of course, it is difficult -- if not impossible -- to back up the impressions of Prelate Koch and other religious groups in Germany with concrete figures. After all, no one has sat at the church’s door over the past year, counting the faithful as they pour in.
But one fact that has materialized is an increased interest in Islam. Herder Verlag, Germany’s leading publisher of religious and theological books, says its books on Islamic belief and tradition became bestsellers overnight.
Herder also noticed a rise in sales for other spiritual literature, including books on meditation. It appears that many people were searching for meaning not so much in the Church, as within themselves.
Robert Doetsch, or Swami Ramateertha, is head of the Osho Uta center for spiritual therapy and meditation in Cologne, one of the largest spiritual centers in Europe. He confirms this development. "After the initial shock subsided, people started becoming alive again. And then the real questions arise, like why am I here, what do I really want?"
He says he found these issues became more pressing after September 11th, and that the sharpness of the situation has continued. "It has become more particular that the ones who are looking for a different way are doing so more strongly." But, he adds, people who are looking for answers in old values are also doing so more intently.
Prelate Koch says he has noticed this tendency, too. "I had the impression that people’s sense of security also collapsed with those towers. The terror attacks made some things appear questionable. And I believe that a lasting tendency is that people are questioning more now. Above all, I and many of my colleagues determined that people have become more open towards Christian beliefs."
"No world peace without a peace between religions."
But the events of Sept. 11 didn’t just lead to a shift in personal religious or spiritual activities. As the increased interest in the Koran and Islamic literature showed, there was also a change in the way people viewed other religions.
Annette Esser heads the Cologne/Bonn branch of Religions for Peace, an inter-religious U.N. organization bringing together representatives of the world’s great religions. She says it became important to many Germans after the terror attacks to understand Islam better and to improve inter-religious dialogue.
"The theologian Hans Küng said there will be no world peace without a peace between religions. Well, after Sept. 11, that saying became very urgent," she says.
According to Esser, a positive effect of Sept. 11 has been the increased importance placed on inter-religious dialogue. This exchange is crucial for the development of peace in the future, she says.
"Really, religion is about peace, but it was misused for war. And I think now, as it might be going to a war against Iraq, we have more the feeling that we should enter into a dialogue with Muslims worldwide, including Iraq."
For Esser and many other theologians, religion could be an aid to develop dialogue in a peaceful way. "It should not be a reason for war. That would be a wrong perspective on religion."