Westmont Magazine One Nation under God
Four months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, participants in Westmont’s Alumni College spent a day reflecting on the meaning of those events. About 75 alums attended “One Nation under God” Jan. 19 on campus.
In the morning, Ronald Enroth, professor of sociology and internationally known cult expert, discussed “Extremist Religion: September 11 and Cultic Behavior.” President Stan D. Gaede ’69 spoke to alums at lunch. A panel of four professors concluded the day by giving personal perspectives on Sept. 11 and the phrase “One Nation under God.”
Professor Enroth began his talk by noting chilling parallels between Osama bin Laden and Jim Jones, who led his People’s Temple followers to mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. Like Bin Laden, Jones was highly idealistic, strongly attached to his cause, convinced the United States was a terrorist nation, and willing to sacrifice the lives of his followers. Other cults practicing terrorism or suicide include the Japanese group Aum Shinrikyo and Heaven’s Gate, based in Southern California.
Cults use a variety of tactics to control followers, including sensory deprivation, isolation, fear, guilt and intimidation. Noting that Jesus Christ does not call for mindless commitment, Enroth concluded, “Commitment without reflection is fanaticism in action.”
Shirley Mullen, professor of history and interim academic dean, moderated a panel of three professors in the afternoon.
Philosophy Professor Robert Wennberg wondered if U.S. military action in Afghanistan is morally justifiable. Relying on just-war theory, he argued that because the United States is acting in self-defense and not in retaliation, the bombing is acceptable. Had U.S. armed forces retaliated with raids aimed entirely at innocent civilians, the war would be unjust. The fact that civilians have been killed doesn’t alter Wennberg’s opinion as he considers their deaths tragic and unintended consequences of war. While the United States has limited itself to military targets, terrorists impose no such restrictions. In fact, they are willing to use their own civilians as shields as well as to kill innocents in the United States.
Chandra Mallampalli, assistant professor of history, drew on his knowledge of India and Pakistan to consider the state of terrorism in that region of the world. Noting that Gandhi’s non-violence movement suddenly lost influence in 1947, he worries that Talibanization is occurring in Pakistan and India. Leaders there who attempt to compromise on issues like Kashmir are often assassinated. He believes both nations need to re-fashion firm identities to make room for change.
Telford Work, assistant professor of religious studies, argued that American-style pluralism, which is democratic and pragmatic, benefits from Sept. 11, while radical moral relativism and religious fundamentalism have lost influence. In face of an ascendant civil religion, he encouraged Christians to stay committed to Jesus Christ, the authority of scripture and the importance of missions.