Take a stroll down the sidewalk along the west side of Chatham County’s Justice Center in Pittsboro, NC and you’ll walk back into a somber place of American history marked by unimaginable horror and mind-numbing shock and awe.

There on a small plot of ground 444 miles from “Ground Zeroyou will encounter one of over 1000 monuments erected across America and around the world in the wake of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack. As is true with many of the other 9/11 monuments, the steel beam anchoring this memorial was plucked from the rubble of the fallen twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center and trucked to its final resting place of honor. Grounded with the words “WE SHALL NEVER FORGET,” the monument stands as an austere reminder of that fateful September day two decades ago. Like 12/7/1941, 9/11/2001 has become for all Americans a date that will live in infamy.”

The aerial “kamikaze” attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the symbols of this nation’s economic prowess and military might, sank the hearts and raised the hackles of red, white and blue-blooded Americans who at the start of every school day had pledged “allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

Americans and their allies around the world rallied around that flag in an unparalleled show of solidarity. Out of the ashes of terror, shock, devastation and grief would rise a Phoenix of cooperation, compassion, recovery and resolve that truly united Americans as one nation.

20 years after the great “coming together” as we once again declare that “we shall never forget,” we must also pause to ponder the question, “How has that resurgent Phoenix fared?” Or to put it more symbolically, “How high and majestic has the American Eagle soared?” A brutally honest assessment will show that two decades after the great “coming together” we have managed to pilot the Eagle into the ground. With the addition of the new infamous date of the 01/06/2021 insurrection now stamped, stomped and pile-driven into the history books, we have demonstrated just how deeply and firmly the flags of partisan allegiance and ideological divide have been plunged into the “common ground” of the republic, making it the new “ground zero” of home-grown domestic terrorism/extremism.

A section of a March 17, 2021 NY Times article (New Report Warns of Rising Threat of Domestic Terrorism), reads: “Domestic extremism poses the most lethal and persistent terrorism-related threat to the homeland today,” Alajandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, told a House committee on Wednesday…”The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capital and on American democracy is a searing example of this threat,” Mr. Mayorkas said.

Just last month this statement was issued on the Department of Homeland Security website: “Through the remainder of 2021, racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) and anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists will remain a national threat priority for the United States. These extremists may seek to exploit the emergence of COVID-19 variants by viewing the potential re-establishment of public health restrictions across the United States as a rationale to conduct attacks. Pandemic-related stressors have contributed to increased societal strains and tensions, driving several plots by domestic violent extremists, and they may contribute to more violence this year.”

This month, two decades after 9/11/2021 as the last troops exit America’s longest unwinnable war, we leave Afghanistan’s fate in the hands of religious fundamentalists, and extremists. These are the kind of zealots who warp the theology of their Muslim religion and dupe/brainwash susceptible minds to commit twisted acts of violence and terror all in the name of God and Country. It was such misplaced religious zeal linked to perverted patriotism fueled by vengeance and hate for America that produced 9/11.

Two decades after 9/11/2021 we have learned that no nation, no religion is immune to the virus of perverted patriotism and religious extremism with all its variants that are spawned from merchants of mischief, malice and misinformation. In a recent documentary, Memory Box: echoes of 9/11, a man whose wife was lost in the Pentagon attack said this as he thought of his children: “Inhuman scum killed their Mother, and they hijacked their religion to do it.” A Muslim woman living in New York City in reflecting upon how this event would forever change her life mused, “All we can do is try to correct this wrong thinking so this no longer can happen.”

But it has happened and continues to happen. After an initial step forward when it felt like we were all coming together and mending together, two decades later we live in a torn and tattered republic with democracy hanging by a bare thread. Today the pledge to a Utopian republic of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” sounds hollow and feels out of reach. Today the greatest threat of terrorism/extremism comes not from a foreign enemy, but from the enemy within.

Today the God in whom we claim to put our trust as a nation has been used and abused to perpetuate wealth and power in the hands of the few, promote business as usual on a dying planet, give license to greed, deny all forms of diversity and elevate an anti-Christian myth of “God-given individual rights and freedoms” over the just pursuit of the common good. If true democracy should ever die in America, it will, to a large degree, be because Christianity has been hijacked, warped and twisted into a pseudo nationalistic ideology and the Church has been unable to correct such wrong thinking among its snookered adherents.

We’ll close this look at 9/11 then and now with this quote from an article by David Leong, Christians must challenge the selective memory of #Never Forget:This moment of resurgent Christian nationalism bears a striking resemblance to the groundswell of patriotic evangelicalism after 9/11. “Memory” itself is being contested and redefined. The collective consciousness of what some call a “Christian” nation has become more than conveniently edited to omit certain unfortunate events. An entirely new and revisionist “history” is now being constructed in its place — an imagined world where subjugated people were patriotic and white supremacy was justifiable. What happens to our moral imagination when memory becomes fiction?”