09/09/2011 01:44 pm ET | Updated Nov 09, 2011

Did Religion Cause 9/11?

The questions I am most commonly asked regarding the 9/11 attacks, certainly this week, are, "How do we explain 9/11, especially to our kids?" and "Did religion cause 9/11?" My short answer: be honest -- religion drove those planes into the building. It's painful to say, especially for a person of faith, but it is we who need to say it most. And, at the risk of being even more provocative, it is Muslims who need to say it the most among those who are religious.

There is a long history of hate and violence being done in the name of God, and failing to admit it means failing to fix it. After all just as we ought not to fix what isn't broken, we can't fix what is until we admit that it is. To be clear, this is not about one particular faith; it is about fanatical faith which sees its way as the only way. Any time that happens, in whatever tradition it happens, we all suffer. But that is only part of the story.

As much as we must admit that fanatical faith has spilled the blood of millions over the centuries, it must also be admitted that as many human beings were murdered in the name of Godless ideologies in the 20th century, as all those killed in the name of God during the previous 18 centuries put together. Think I am wrong? Just repeat these three names: Hitler, Mao and Stalin.

I am not suggesting that because atheist absolutism killed people in larger numbers, faster, it is worse than fanatical faith. The rapid "catch up" was largely a function of the growing capacity of technology to inflict mass harm. But the conclusion remains that this is not simply about one more time what religion always does and secular systems don't.

It's not as simple as either those who defend faith or those who attack it would like to believe. Ultimately it's about whatever systems are used to fire up people's absolutism, and the presumption by those systems that if we just get rid of some other group -- racial, ethnic or religious -- whether through murder, banishment or conversion, all of the world's problems will be solved. It has never been so, and it never will be.

Finally, it would be helpful if people -- especially those who are most adept at pointing out the bloody history of religion -- were equally adept at pointing out that no force has been better at inspiring the most selfless, compassionate and healing acts as religion has. From caring for people in need to inspiring the political movements of Gandhi, King and so many others, religious faith has fueled many of humankind's greatest achievements.

It's really not about the faiths, it's about the faithful. It's not about what any sacred books say or don't say -- they say everything, from the very best to the very worst. It's about how those who hold such books sacred, use them.

Religion is like a fire -- it can warm our homes and cook our food, or it can burn those same houses down and take a great many of us with it. It's up to us. That's what I'll be thinking about and teaching about this Sunday, and every other opportunity I have.