Famous Amos on 9-11

The more I hear about 9-11, the more important it is to talk about it.

Especially to young people and children.

In the book of the Hebrew prophet Amos  there are some pertinent passages.  I expect pastors will remind me that a text without a context is a pretext. I am not trying to proof-text here. This is a poetry blog after all, so give me a break. I am only citing passages from the prophets that I personally and poetically associate with the attacks of 2001.

There are several  parts of Amos that come to mind as we recall September 11:

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?
shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?  

[Amos 3:6 KJV]

This verse is extremely challenging. In spite of the flag-waving and superficial references to Faith that abounded in the months after the attacks, I heard garbled and inconsistent explanations from many believers. The 9-11 coverup conspiracists had a more coherent explanation than many supposed Christians. I heard a lot of this: evil and the devil instigated the attacks and it is a great blow to all that is good and right about our country, etc.  So God was wishing and hoping that the 19 jihadists would not carry out their plan? The Good Shepherd  was trying His best to prevent evil from occurring that day? No way.  God is sovereign and omnipotent. He allowed their plan (a well – rehearsed and well-executed plan) to succeed. At every check point they passed, God was Sovereign, ruling and reigning over this universe. He purposed that their plan should unfold as it did. That is my take on the above passage.

I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. 

Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.

[Amos 4:11-12 KJV]

In this passage I take “Israel” as an archetypal name for the entire human race, as well as referring to any specific nation.  In other words, using some poetic license, we can substitute “Humanity” or “NYC”  or “USA”  for the word “Israel” in the passage. I think about how quickly the religious fervor and empty jingoism died down – and it was back to Babylonian business as usual…

Now comes one of the most cryptic parts of Amos for me.

And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die. And when one’s relative, the one who anoints him for burial, shall take him up to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, “Is there still anyone with you?” he shall say, “No”;  and he shall say, “Silence! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”

For behold, the Lord commands,  and the great house shall be struck down into fragments,  and the little house into bits.  

[ Amos 6:9-11 ESV]

I read this like an absurdist Hebrew Zen koan.  It is one of the most amazing passages in the Prophets.  It is horrifying and hilarious at once. You meditate on it and go insane or reach satori. People are searching for bodies in the rubble [think NYC, think Fukushima, think any recent serious earthquake or disaster] and when asked if there are more corpses to remove, the  one inside shouts back  “no – none.”  The questioner rebukes him for shouting “none” :

“Shhhh! Don’t mention God’s name.”

So what IS God’s name for all the enlightened atheists, for the PC anti-Christians, what is God’s name for all who wring their hands over cataclysms but persist in their unbelief?

God’s name is “NONE”.    It’s brilliant.   It speaks to both sides of the culture wars at once.


Translation by Roy Fuller (1912 – 1991)

Now that the barbarians have got as far as Picra,
And all the new music is written in the twelve tone scale,
And I am anyway approaching my fortieth birthday,
I will dissemble no longer.

I will stop expressing my belief in the rosy
Future of man, and accept the evidence
Of a couple of wretched wars and innumerable
Abortive revolutions.

I will cease to blame the stupidity of the slaves
Upon their masters and nurture, and will say,
Plainly, that they are enemies to culture,
Advancement and cleanliness.

From progressive organisations, from quarterlies
Devoted to daring verse, from membership of
Committees, from letters of various protest
I shall withdraw forthwith.

When they call me reactionary I shall smile
Secure in another dimension. When they say
Cinna has ceased to matter’ I shall know
How well I reflect the times.

The ruling class will think I am on their side
And make friendly overtures, but I shall retire
To the side furthest from Picra and write some poems
About the doom of the whole boiling.

Anyone happy in this age and place
Is daft or corrupt. Better to abdicate
From a material and spiritual terrain
Fit only for barbarians.

Here is a lovely WordPress site where I found Roy Fuller’s poem:   http://favourite-poems.com/