Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero

By Malea Ritz

Daily Collegian – Sept. 9, 2011 | Daily Collegian – Sept. 12, 2001

Courtesy of Flickr

“It was hell on Earth,” one voice describes as the Frontline documentary “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero” opens with a variety of voices describing their reactions to what many refer to as “America’s Darkest Day.”

Frontline re-released a special report that originally aired on Sept. 3, 2002 for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The program, located on the PBS website, looks at Sept. 11, 2001 in a series of different acts, with seven parts. Each part digs deeper into detail, looking at everything from the facts of the day to the reactions and doubts of the individuals affected by it. Each person interviewed shares different outlooks on the situation, trying to make sense of what happened. This offers an eye-opening viewpoint that can be difficult to watch but is well-worth it.

The narrator describes common rhetorical questions a person affected by Sept. 11 may ask him or herself, explaining the day caused a “moment in darkness.” The looming questions were quickly reproducing and held a heavy burden of unknowingness. It’s explained that Sept. 11 began a “conversation about spiritual questions” in the “role of God, problem of evil and potential for violence within religion itself.”

Several personal accounts begin to explain how the day began. They describe the start of the infamous day as just an ordinary day. The sky was blue and the air was crisp. The weather made the disaster to follow even more out of place. Several survivors from the towers explained the sound of the impact.

“It was a screeching, horrifying and ghostly sound,” one person said.

Another person describes an “enormous orange fireball” that blew out from an elevator.

An eyewitness said “the people falling from the building looked like birds.”

The flowing mass of people was “streaming uptown like the living dead.” All of the images of the event caused people to question their safety in America. They also began to imagine their own deaths if they had been in the same situation.

An assortment of facial close-ups appear on the screen as they all describe their reactions to losing their loved ones and the pain and confusion it brought. Some people are able to overlook it all in thinking that it was in God’s plan.

However, most of the interviewees explain having lost faith in God after that dreadful day. A man explains he “can’t accept the purpose of so many people having to die,” which seems to be a common reaction shared among many people.

Sept. 11 powerfully changed the beliefs of many people, including a priest. He admits in the documentary that God seemed absent and he was frightened. The qualities of God he had trusted in all disappeared at once.
“I was left with that thing we call faith. But faith in what? I wasn’t so sure,” he said.

The documentary investigates responses from people of different beliefs, including Christians, Jews and atheists. An atheist man says, “It shook my belief in the human race.” He was amazed that nearly every attempt to save the situation was shot down with the collapse of the buildings on top of the firefighters and police officers. He describes it as feeling like “sinking into an abyss in which you can’t hold on to anything in the world.” Another person says “I wish it wasn’t such a big question because in times like these we need simple answers.”

In the next part, professors and experts do their best at using words to describe and define evil. They share their opinions on whether it exists or it is just a state of mind. They also analyze another event in which evil was prominent: the Holocaust. A survivor gives her account of an eyewitness of evil. People began to question how you can kneel in praise to a god who allows evil on Earth.

Experts analyze what would drive a person to kill themselves and thousands of others for God. They try to make sense of what it means for religion. People question if religion is a good thing if someone would commit such an act for God. The power of the religion the terrorists believed in had to have been incredibly strong for them to do such a thing to innocent people and to themselves, people recognize in the video. A priest says, “I knew that that force [religion] could take you to do great things but I knew that there was no greater and destructive force on the surface of this Earth than the religious passion.”

“It took [an] enormous amount of energy to be that destructive,” a woman explains. A priest describes changes he has seen in people since the tragedy. Although he has seen people become less materialistic and more spiritual, there have been many changes that he has not liked, including in himself. “We have been burned, some literally, by religion” he says.

People give their reactions and responses to ground zero and the aftermath of Sept. 11. They explain feeling the solemn, enormous impact of the site. The monstrosity and enormity of the event was certainly felt by the vast, lonely gap in the middle of New York City. A woman explains watching the cranes and bulldozers sweep away the rubble and debris from the day. She says she began to feel the somberness of it all and could almost feel how the victims of it must have felt in that moment.

The impact of this documentary is extremely tangible upon viewing it. The unbelievable images, powerful videos and excruciatingly emotional faces pull on the viewers’ heartstrings. Though it can never completely tell the story, the descriptions and imagery of that day painted a painful picture. On a day that seemed so hopeless, the documentary ends on a hopeful note. It analyzes the images of the jumpers from that day reaching for each other’s hands in faith and love as they accepted their fate. The video explains that the act of a person willing to take one’s hand, to be there for them in their last moments and take a leap of trust and of faith, gives people a reason to believe in God.

Malea Ritz can be reached at [email protected]