"This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while," President Bush said. Vice President Cheney also used the word crusade. But after many complaints, "administration officials gave private reassurances that the word would not be used again," reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's what the terrorists use to recruit people—saying that Christians are on a crusade against Islam," Yvonne Haddad, professor of the history of Islam at Georgetown University, told the Associated Press. "It's as bad to their ears as it is when we hear jihad." One would think Bush's chief speechwriter would know this—his alma mater last year dropped the crusader as its mascot for exactly these reasons. (No word yet on whether press conferences will continue to end with the chant "God wills it!")

Crusades have been repeatedly invoked this week as evidence that Christians have had their dark spots too and that Islam doesn't have a corner on extremism. Some pundits have even taken to beating up on religion in general. (See Monday's Weblog for several examples.) In one of the sadder columns Weblog read this week, Lauren Sandler writes in Salon.com, "My atheism has only been strengthened by this week of human catastrophe … With this astonishing human bravery to bless America, who needs God?"

Is religion emerging as the hope or the cause of the attacks?

"If many Americans saw this tragedy as rooted in a perverse religious impulse, our own response was religious as well," writes columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. "We poured into churches, synagogues and mosques to ask God's consolation and help. President Bush's most inspiring address of the terrible week was not a speech but a sermon." Is this a bad thing, he wonders? Not necessarily:

Religious faith cannot be supported just because it brings comfort in moments of anguish. Neither can it be discredited by the horrid acts committed in its name. Faith is suspect when God is harnessed to immediate human ends and identified entirely with a personal, political, or national cause. Faith is brought down by a pridefulness that expresses an unwavering conviction that our own desires and interests coincide perfectly with those of the divine. Faith is more credible when it stands as a challenge, when it insists on aspirations beyond those of our own political movements, communities or nations. The prayers of this faith do not express certainty that God is on our side, only the hope that this might prove to be true.

Indeed, at least a few faiths are taking hits while the country turns to God. There's of course the whole Jerry Falwell fiasco, which Weblog refuses to get into again. There are the horrible attacks on Hindus, Arabs, and other Asians, which is getting plenty of play elsewhere.

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And then there are the Scientologists. The National Mental Health Association is warning the public and media that the Church of Scientology is trying to recruit members by claiming to be mental-health professionals offering counseling. "This is a very important and sensitive time," the organization's president and CEO said in a press release. "I urge the Church of Scientology to stay out of mental health. The public needs to understand that the Scientologists are using this tragedy to recruit new members. They are not providing mental health assistance." Fox News is also taking heat for referring viewers to a Scientology hotline for counseling. "The bottom line is we [messed] up," explains Fox News spokesman Robert Zimmerman. "Unfortunately, it didn't get vetted. We apologize."

Scientologists, of course, are upset with the criticism. "We reject and, indeed, are outraged by the NMHA's attempt to use false statements to create controversy in the midst of this tragedy," said a church statement. "While thousands of people of good will are uniting to alleviate the suffering, NMHA officials are sowing discord."

Fox News can take some solace that they didn't make the worst mistake on television. That dishonor apparently belongs to the Dutch Muslim Broadcasting Company, which, immediately after the country's three minutes of silence honoring the victims of the attack, started broadcasting threatening texts from the Koran. One such Scripture: "To those who do not believe: their properties and their children will not conciliate Allah. They are but fuel to the fire." The network issued an apology, saying they mistakenly aired an old tape.

Canada is apparently avoiding all such controversies by banning religion from public life, says an editorial in the National Post. "Has Canada become an officially areligious country?" the paper asks. "It looked like it at last week's National Day of Mourning ceremony on Parliament Hill … There was virtually no trace of a deity; no God, no Jehovah, no Allah. There was a 'lament' and a 'musical interlude,' but no hymns." But this official secularist response doesn't accord with the feelings of most Canadians, the paper asserts. "There is no merit in slighting those who worship God in order to avoid the grumbling of a small minority of aggressive and inflexible atheists. The absence of an acknowledgement of God comes at the expense of the majority of Canadians, who naturally contemplate the existence of a higher power at a time when the fabric of day to day life is torn by a humbling cataclysm."

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For now, however, public religion is alive and well in the United States. "From public schools and local governments to Congress and the White House, the acts of terrorism on Sept. 11 have caused a remarkable convergence of patriotism and spirituality," reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The paper notes that today's See You At The Pole rallies at schools around the country face much less antagonism than in previous years.

Related Elsewhere

See our past Weblog updates:
September 18 | 17

September 14b | 14a | 13 | 12 | 10

September 7 | 6 | 5 | 4

August 31 | 30 | 29 | 28 | 27

August 24 | 23 | 22 | 20

August 17 | 16 | 15 | 14 |13

August 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6

August 3 | 2 | 1 July 31 | 30

July 27 | 25 | 24 | 23