Posted by: Harold Knight | 07/17/2010

9/11, Ward Churchill, Joan Chittister, and the Cloud of Unknowing

Irony is not inconsistency and vice versa.

A problem with too much reading is that one can never read enough. All of the books in the room where I write will never be enough to explain what my life is all about—to me or to anyone else.

Yesterday, fifty-seven people found this blog through internet searches for September 11, 2001 in some form or another. My posting that popped up for 9/11 is from December 3, 2009, “The Third Person Effect: Nostradamus and other nonsense.”

I have no way of knowing what those 57 people were hoping to find in their search. We have accepted the two numbers, 9 and 11, as shorthand for an event or for writing about an event that means something different to each of us. Yet the search for whatever meaning any person attaches to those two numbers brings 57 people (some days three or four times as many) to one specific posting on my blog.

My guess is people who stumble here are turned off by the posting if they read it. My guess is most of those people are looking for information about the Great Conspiracy Theory promulgated by crackpots such as David Ray Griffin (formerly a stable, even stuffy, academic). The Great Conspiracy Theory is that Dick Cheney and company somehow planned and carried out the events of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington, D.C.

My rude comments about the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are part of my rude comments about conspiracy theorists in general, beginning with those who believe Nostradamus has correctly predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. I’m not rehashing those ideas (my posting is readily available).  Suffice it to say my assertion in that posting is, “If you believe any one (or all) of these theories, YOU ARE NUTS!”

You can read Karen Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton’s article (1) on the subject if you want to find an intelligent (rather than emotional) explanation of why I think those people are nuts.

Fifty-seven (a conspiracy led by John Kerry ?) people, looking for information and pictures of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon stumbled unawares onto my blog for December 3 (I should, of course, have waited until December 21 to post it).

Irony is not inconsistency.

It is probably ironic that a posting I wrote that’s outside the normal purview of my blog attracts more attention than any other, and the people who find it are most likely looking for writing that buttresses rather than attempting to debunk their cherished ideas.

In her book In Search of Belief, Joan Chittister says we

. . . . live with the images before our eyes of those we’ve hurt, each of us tastes the guilt of our curdled little private wars in the back of our throats. Each of us has cooperated with violence, ignored evil, temporized with the gods of this world, and prayed the Creed at the same time. In the light of the pain we have ourselves inflicted, what right do we have to hope for good for ourselves? (2)

In an infamous diatribe (even though I somewhat agree with his premise, I can’t imagine why he expressed it the way he did), Ward Churchill described victims of 9/11 as

. . . . civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire – the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved. . . . If there was a better. . . way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it. (3)

How on earth does one get from Joan Chittister to Ward Churchill. Especially on the heels of writing yesterday about spiritual mystery as found in the writings of Flannery O’Connor, Charlie Smith, and the Desert Fathers?

Yesterday in the evening I was sorting some boxes of stuff (mostly trash —almost none of it worth saving) that had been in my storage area for six years. As a diversion from work that I detest (hence, the six years), I had the PBS Newshour playing on the TV. One of the long segments of “news” was a somewhat sensational presentation of the evils of “leveraged buyouts” and their potential for damaging the American economy (4). Even if I had been listening closely, I would not have understood any of what Paul Solman was trying so urgently to explain to us economic dummies.

Here in rapid succession I am thinking about three wildly disparate sources of ideas—all of which should (it seems to me) help me to understand my life, myself, my place in the universe.

They do not, although on the surface they treat the same subject. I can barely abide Joan Chittister’s book. I love some of her writing, but praying through the Nicene Creed is untenable to me. I think Ward Churchill presents some ideas worth consideration, but he is a sensationalist. PBS intends to inform by presenting snippets of evidence of wrongdoing (or at least dangerous activity) that can do nothing but raise one’s blood pressure as they confuse.

All of this and more is not enough to explain what my life—or anyone else’s—is all about. Call me romantic or deluded, but I know there’s something else. Being a son of the mid-20th century, born in war and living in rampant capitalism, I can hardly bring myself to think about

. . . .this darkness and this cloud will remain between you and your God. You will feel frustrated, for your mind will be unable to grasp him, and your heart will not relish the delight of his love. But learn to be at home in this darkness. Return to it as often as you can, letting your spirit cry out to him whom you love. For if, in this life, you hope to feel and see God as he is in himself it must be within this darkness and this cloud. (5)

It is ironic, if not inconsistent, that I am drawn to the darkness when what I want is enlightenment.
(1) Douglas, Karen M., and Robbie M. Sutton. “The hidden impact of conspiracy theories: perceived and actual influence of theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana.” The Journal of Social Psychology 148.2 (2008): 210+.
(2) Chittister, Joan. In Search of Belief. Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph, 1999.
(3) Churchill, Ward. “Some People Push Back.” Crimes Against Humanity. 25 Jan 2005. Web. 17 Jul 2010.
(4) “Potential Risks of Buying Companies on Borrowed Money Examined.” PBS Newshour. PBS. July 16, 2010. Web. 17 Jul 2010.
(5) Anonymous, 14th Century. The Cloud of Unknowing. Ed. by William Johnston. New York: Doubleday Image, 1973.


  1. One of the things that I found heartbreaking about 9/11 was all the people that gave/lost (?) their lives trying to help those in the towers. I remember reading a list of firefighters who had died. Hundreds of them had Irish names and I wondered if they were cousins of mine.

    For a moment we treated the firefighters who survived as heroes. Now many of them have chronic debilitating illnesses resulting from exposures at the towers. They and their families have been left to deal with this the best they can with little or no help from governmental agencies. This is only one tragedy that followed 9/11.

    I find that my mind quickly jumps to other tragic fallout both local and global from 9/11. It is nuts making. Perhaps it is more comfortable to focus on conspiracy theories.


    • Tragic results of 9/11: we now have over 180 government agencies dealing with “security,” an incalculable expense over which no one has any control. The same people who want to curb government spending on social and economic realities have no interest in reining in the waste of the $250 billion dollar a year security industry that has grown up. We have bizarre laws making it virtually impossible for Muslim Americans to fulfill their Zakat obligations for fear of “supporting” terrorism. We live in what is coming closer and closer to a police state. And no one can say any of this has made us any more “secure,” and not one penny of this has done anything to unburden our national psyche from the trauma of 9/11. It’s all a bit like Dallas building a monument to JFK without ever once collectively trying to understand how it happened that he was assassinated here—and 40 years later that reality still hangs over the politics of the city.



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