September 11 in freethought history…

ghermantitovSeptember 11, 1935 – Cosmonaut Gherman Titov is born in Russia. On August 6, 1961, he was the second man (after Yuri Gagarin) to orbit the Earth and the fourth man to travel to space. During a 1962 visit to the Seattle World’s Fair, Titov (by all accounts polite and personable) spoke soberly of his grim childhood during World War II, and his desire that the coming generation avoid the horrors of war. He raised eyebrows, however, when he said of his trip to space, “Sometimes people are saying that God is out there. I was looking around attentively all day but I didn’t find anybody there. I saw neither angels nor God… Up until the orbital flight of Major Gagarin, no god was helping make the rocket. The rocket was made certainly by our people and the flight was carried out by man. So I don’t believe in God. I believe in man — in his strengths, his possibilities, and his reason.” Titov died of a heart attack in 2000, aged 65.

September 11, 2001 – Members of the Islamic terrorist group Al Qaeda hijack four American aircraft, destroying the World Trade Center towers in New York City, damaging the Pentagon outside Washington, DC, and crashing a plane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks killed 3,000 people, injured thousands more, caused billions of dollars in property damage, and sent the American economy into a tailspin. In the aftermath of the attacks, the United States launched two wars (one in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda masterminded the attacks; another in Iraq based on questionable intelligence and a misrepresentation of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s relationship to Al Qaeda). The US is still embroiled in both of these wars to one extent or another. The already deep religous/secular and conservative/progressive divides in American society were only deepened by the attacks. Among the social movements catalyzed by 9/11 was the so-called “New Atheism,” personified by pundits such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

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