Horgan also asks Reverend Geer practical questions about grieving, solace, healing, and persistent distress: How can people help others—and themselves— start healing after an event like September 11? Do post-9/11 symptoms such as sleeplessness, inability to concentrate, or vague dread fall within the normal range, or are they flags for clinical attention? Drawing on a lifetime of pastoral duty and priestly meditation, Reverend Geer answers with courage and loving-kindness Horgan's battery of tough questions in Where Was God on September 11?
All royalties from this book go to charities selected by the authors.
About the Author: Formerly senior staff writer for Scientific American, John Horgan is the acclaimed author of the controversial bestseller, The End of Science, translated into 11 languages. His newest book, Rational Mysticism — based on in-depth interviews with the world's preeminent religious philosophers, scientists of the mind, and mystical practitioners—will be published by Houghton Mifflin within the next year.
Rev. Frank Geer is the rector of St. Philips Church in Garrison, New York, and the director of religious services at St. Luke's–Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, where he served in the months after September 11 as a grief counselor to the families of the victims and to the survivors of the World Trade Center disaster.
John Horgan: The way you put it makes it sound too deterministic. It still implies that there is an omnipotent God in control. What I was trying to suggest-and what process theologians and others have suggested-is that maybe God isn't fully in control. This takes away the notion of God as the ground of being, as a kind of ultimate foundation or security blanket that we can rely on. This means that God to a certain extent is struggling and floundering in the same way that we are.
Frank Geer: But you are also implying that things don't "just happen." You are moving away from saying that what happens is all just luck to the idea of an imperfect God, of a God whose power is not limitless. I was taking that notion a step further and thinking about how it might be applied to what happened on September 11. You hear over and over again-from the media, from individuals, from pulpits in churches and mosques and synagogues-that September 11 changed everything. What is it that changed? And how might things change for the better? But you're saying that whatever is happening may be happening without God managing it like the conductor of an orchestra. You're leaving room for human free will.
John Horgan: Yes, according to this heretical tradition, things are to some extent beyond God's control; he doesn't know what's going to happen either. The notion of a "semi-competent" God suggests that God is challenged by human events such as September 11 to change himself. As I recall, the Biblical story of the Flood can be interpreted this way. After destroying every creature in the world except for the passengers of the Ark, God promises that he will never again punish humanity with this kind of global extinction. God seemed to realize after the Flood that he had treated us too harshly. He needed to be more compassionate toward us, just as we need to be more compassionate toward each other. When you get too detailed with a theology like this, it can end up sounding silly. But the point is to make God even more human, especially compared to the stern, judgmental, almighty God of many parts of the Bible.
Frank Geer: You were talking earlier about a God who doesn't manage things, a God who is not out to manipulate everything. You didn't actually say this, but maybe it's also a God who is aware in an ultimate sense of the process that we're all going through, and a God who in some way shares that awareness with us, and tries to point us toward better ways of overcoming our problems.
John Horgan: What you're saying reminds me of something that Elie Wiesel wrote about in one of his books about the Holocaust. He describes this scene at Auschwitz, where the Nazis have hanged two men and a boy in front of the whole camp. The boy is so light that he doesn't immediately die; he just slowly strangles. And one of the Jews in this crowd of inmates whispers, "Where is God?" And Wiesel thinks to himself, "God is up there hanging from that rope." Again, that's the only way I can make sense of the concept of God. If there is a God, he has to be a God that suffers.
Frank Geer: So maybe on September 11 God was in those people jumping from the top stories and holding hands as they fell to their death; God was in the heart and soul of every one of those people as they rode the building down as it imploded into dust and rubble. God was in the heart and soul of every one of those policemen and firemen after helping twenty-six thousand people escape as the buildings collapsed around them. God was in every wife, every child, every mother, every father of one of those firemen or victims who died as they struggled with their grief and tried to continue with their lives. That's a powerful articulation-but for me not entirely satisfactory, because it sort of makes God into the cosmic patsy.