The Tale of Two Cities (A 9/11 Reflection)

t the river’s bend, I noticed clear sky above the city of Louisville. Between an international airport and the UPS headquarters, there was always a steady flow of air traffic. But not on that Tuesday in September back in 2001. It was a day no one will ever forget.

Two movements emerged from the ashes of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Neither were new, but both experienced an awakening. On the one hand, there was a radical secularism. On the other, robust theology. Both movements offered a total worldview.

In  The New Atheist Novel authors Andrew Tate and Arthur Bradley describe the secular campaign as “a new front in the ideological war against religion, religious fundamentalism and, after 9/11, religious terror.” This new movement grew through the personalities, polemics, and publications of public intellectuals like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. They took aim, not only at extreme religious fundamentalism, but at religion in general. One author even equated religious education in the home with child abuse.

At the other end of the spectrum, author Collin Hansen described a groundswell of budding theologians united around gospel-centered theology in his book Young Restless and Reformed. Hansen pointed to pastors, authors, and academics like John Piper, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler as key leaders in the movement and Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, as Ground Zero. They sought to encourage and equip a generation to respond to the growing secularism with biblical truth.

After eighteen years, both movements have experienced changes. Yet one thing remains the same, they are two worldviews in constant conflict. They speak of two cities, the City of Man and the City of God. Atheism rejects the City of God in favor of the City of Man, seeing the Cosmos as an end unto itself. Christianity maintains the City of Man finds its value in light of the City of God. Divorced from the City of God, the City of Man loses categories for basic human values.

On secularism, there is no such thing as evil, justice, or true moral responsibility. Don’t just take my word for it, read Dawkins’ A River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life or Harris’ Free Will. According to them, evil, justice, and moral responsibility are merely useful illusions hoisted on us by our evolutionary past. The City of Man, when seen by and for itself loses real and lasting purpose. Even the idea of terrorist acts as objectively evil gets lost in a system of secular negations.

Biblical Christianity, however, explains good and evil as real things at war with one another. And Christianity does more than simply offer intellectual arguments for what we call evil. It offers a solution. Christians call it the gospel.