Faith and doubt at Ground Zero

Interfaith conversation
On the morning of All Saints Day 1755, while the faithful citizens of Lisbon were attending mass, the city of 250,000 was crushed by a catastrophic earthquake, fire and flood. Voltaire, who wrote a poem about the earthquake (“Poème sur le Désastre de Lisbonne”), saw in its ruins the shattering of Leibniz’s theory that we live in the “best of all possible worlds” and the collapse of Alexander Pope’s cosmic optimism. No conception of providential design or prearranged harmony could be squared with such wanton horror. It was the defining experience for the Enlightenment’s religion of reason.

On September 11, 2001, 3,000 citizens of all faiths were crushed under the crystalline twin towers against a clear blue heaven by religious votaries of death claiming heaven as their prerogative and reward. As Voltaire said of the Lisbon earthquake, it made us realize anew that an omni-tolerant religious optimism does not suffice; for truly there is evil in the world.


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