David Ray Griffin: How a Retired Theologian Became a High Priest of the 9/11 Truth Movement
David Ray Griffin holds high status in the 9/11 Truth community as its leading scholar and advocate. Over his career, Griffin has metamorphosed from a long-time professor of philosophy, religion and theology into a 9/11 publishing machine, selling well over 100,000 copies of a slew of exhaustively annotated conspiracy theory books, and writing many dozens of papers and articles. Griffin figures in two of the most-popular documentaries of the past decade. He is credited as a script editor for Loose Change: Final Cut, the best-known, most-watched 9/11 Truth film of all time, and has a starring role in what may be the most-watched documentary series of all time, Peter Joseph's Zeitgeist.
Asked in a 2005 interview with the L.A. Times about his “role as a 9/11 dissenter depart from [his] life's work as a scholar and theologian,” Griffin responded, “At first glance it may seem strange, but the task of a theologian is to look at the world from what we would imagine the divine perspective, [which] would care about the good of the whole and would love all the parts. [So] 9/11, if it was brought about by forces within our own government for imperial reasons, is antithetical to the general good.”
The focus on 9/11 isn’t limited to left-oriented American Christian theologians -- fundamentalist pastors have also shown a high level of interest.
The academic Michael Barkun, in his book, Culture of Conspiracy, explains how millennialists fit the 9/11 attacks into their theological worldview. They “were in no doubt that the attacks were of eschatological importance,” given the Middle Eastern roots of the accused hijacker(s). Barkun cites Texas evangelical mega church pastor John Hagee, who preaches a coming golden age heralded by the return of Jesus. Hagee said of the attacks, “Without question, I recognize that the Third World War had begun and that it would escalate from this day until the Battle of Armageddon.” But Hagee doesn’t depart from the government’s official storyline — its account supported his larger spiritual agenda, while Griffin has challenged the world of earthly evidence as proof that the Washington is driven by a “demonic” imperial agenda.
From Process Thought to 9/11
A few years after receiving his doctorate from the ecumenical Claremont School of Theology in Southern California, Griffin launched the Center for Process Studies at the campus in 1973. At CPS, Griffin adhered to an approach known as process thought — “a philosophical tradition that emphasizes becoming and change over static being” and one that departs from the Western tendency to view reality as a series of culminating “events” with fixed ends and beginnings. “Process thought helps to harmonize moral, aesthetic, and religious intuitions with scientific insights,” the CPS site explains. “It also grounds discussion between Eastern and Western religious and cultural traditions.”
Griffin wrote over 20 books on philosophy, theology and natural science, many with a process theology approach, before retiring from CPS in 2004 at the age of 64. But Griffin didn't trade his scholarly career for a bag of golf clubs; he already had a new passion: uncovering and exposing the truth behind 9/11.
In 2003 Griffin began to believe that the official 9/11 account was false, “not simply in minor ways ... it [was] false from beginning to end.” After researching the topic he came out with his first 9/11 book, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9-11, the same year he retired. Within a short time, Griffin gained status as a major scholar in the 9/11 Truth movement. Griffin has argued not only that the government’s account of 9/11 is false, but that it was “a rather obviously a false-flag attack. A false-flag attack occurs when some country, which wants to attack another one, orchestrates an attack on its own people while planting evidence to implicate that other country."
Now in his 70s, Griffin has 11 9/11 Truth books to his name, with titles such as New Pearl Harbor: 9/11, the Cover-up and the ExposÃ© and The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions. His research disputing the government's official account of 9/11 has made perhaps the most headway in terms of getting mainstream media coverage. The 9/11 "Truth Purveyor" addressed the SF commonwealth club in 2006, and has appeared on C-SPAN, ABC News Radio, and MSNBC. He claims to have been a guest on over 300 talk shows.
Griffin has been on the receiving end of many an attempt to debunk his 9/11 research and his methods of argument, from Popular Mechanics to Chip Berlet, researcher and expert on the far-right and conspiracy theories, to Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who engaged in a 24,000-word exchange on 9/11 with Griffin for AlterNet in 2008 that I organized. While I personally disagree with many aspects of Griffin's 9/11 Truth arguments, I believe that an exploration into his theology and religious background offers a useful alternative approach to understanding what drives the 9/11 conspiracy theories and their adherents. Not only this, the quest for truth and the debate about truth often arrive at a spiritual crossroads -- they can take the form of a religious quest, or an attempt for a social reconciliation with God.
Griffin’s Christian Faith in 9/11
“If you are open to the grace of honest inquiry and the risk of following the historical Jesus in confronting the evils of empire, this rigorously argued book is a MUST READ," blurbs the former CIA analyst-turned Christian progressive leader Ray McGovern on the cover of Griffin's third book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11. Published in 2006, Christian Faith starts by laying out his case that the government’s official account of 9/11 is false. He insists that the argument that the Bush administration carried out the attacks remains “unrefuted.” Citing the media’s failure to educate the public, Griffin writes that “there is, however, another means through which this information could be conveyed—through the churches.”
Christianity is a fitting medium for spreading 9/11 Truth, Griffin says, because the Bush administration had the same imperial motives that propelled the ancient Roman empire: “Let us look at the Roman Empire as a basis for understanding both the nature of America’s empire and the person our religious tradition has called the Christ—our central revelation of God to whom we have pledged our ultimate loyalty.” Griffin casts what he sees as Jesus’ prayer — known as the Lord’s Prayer — as rooted in the struggles of his people at the time, victims of “demonic” Roman imperialism. “In proclaiming the coming kingdom of God...Jesus was proclaiming an end to the present subservience of the people of Israel to the Roman empire and its local collaborators,” Griffin writes.
Griffin casts the American government as literally demonic, “driving the world in a direction that is diametrically opposed to divine purposes.”
What does Griffin perceive as demonic behavior? US refusal to abolish nuclear weapons despite the knowledge that use of them could eliminate the human population, and resistance to transitioning from a carbon-based energy system to a sustainable one — that, to Griffin, is demonic.
Demonic power harnessed by humans, in Griffin’s view, came about through competition between tribes, especially in recent millennia. He writes that “perhaps the first great increase in demonic power” occurred in the Bronze Age 6,000 years ago, spiking “near the outset of the Iron Age 3,000 years ago.” Modern civilization has taken the demonic achievements of the past to almost inconceivable heights, with the emergence of “computerized weapons and the drive for an all-inclusive empire.”
It’s not just the weapons for Griffin, it’s all around us in the United States, appearing to radiate from some all-pervasive demonic spirit, infiltrating every aspect of our lives and penetrating every dimension of our psyches. For Griffin, we’re talking about the “demonic soul of a culture.”
Griffin cites theologian Arthur McGill’s book, Suffering: A Test of Theological Method to lend his readers understanding of how the demonic operates:
Sometimes it crushes and violates with overwhelming force...In this mode the demonic is represented as a giant or a dragon, full of brutally destructive violence. At other times the demonic is experienced as securing its mastery over human beings, not by brute force, but by subtle insinuation...seducing people to give themselves over into its power. In this mode, the demonic is a wily serpent taking on the appearance of a lovely woman or handsome man, manipulating and enslaving the human ego by means of enticing forms.
What a journey. Griffin takes us from the imperial motives behind the horrific 9/11 attacks to a theological exploration of abstract, demonic sexual symbology.
But it’s just preparation for the real agenda: Griffin tells us that Jesus’ message is that “God’s will is to replace the present reign of demonic values with a reign of divine values in which for instance, all people would have their daily bread.”
Unfortunately, demonic power is in the “driver’s seat” as a force on this planet. Christians are to understand 9/11 as a “revelation” of the evil of American imperialism.
It’s an opportunity for the Christian church to reflect on its “very purpose.” And Griffin is ready to supply ideas for its purpose that are the bedrock of the progressive agenda: educate church members and the rest of the country about the government's military spending, reverse corporate control of the mass media and establish public financing of US elections.
These proposals are mere build-up to Griffin's very ambitious purpose for the Christian church — global democracy. Griffin is quick to try to distinguish his idea from the goal of the neocons, but he also acknowledges that he’s treading on the same ground that his Loose Change collaborator Alex Jones has spent years denouncing on his radio show: “The idea of creating a global government, to be sure, a huge and extremely controversial idea.”
A commenter on conspiracy media superstar Alex Jones’ Prison Planet site wondered why Griffin had the same plan for the “destruction of America” as David Rockefeller and the Council on Foreign Relations. Griffin envisions that "Christianity would play a major role" along with other religions in establishing a global government -- a prospect likely terrifying not just to Patriot conspiracy theorists fighting a perceived New World Order but also church-state separatists.
From the outset, religious leaders showed an extreme lack of support for Griffin's plans to teach 9/11 Truth through the Church.
The chair of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, which oversees the imprint that published Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, took the surprising step of apologizing for the book, saying it wasn’t “up to the standards” of their program and was based on “questionable research.” The president and publisher of the imprint, Westminster John Knox Press, resigned after the scandal, and a vice president at WJK was soon to depart as well.
Rejection has not discouraged Griffin from speaking out. I reached out to Griffin, who now lives in Santa Barbara, to discuss his book on Christian faith and 9/11, and how his religious training has assisted his crusade for "9/11 Truth."
Jan Frel: Do you think it's any coincidence that probably the leading author-writer embraced by the 9/11 Truth movement (you) has a background in theology?
David Ray Griffin: No. For one thing, a strong religious vision can give one the energy to spend the time necessary to study and read, and to keep with year after year in spite of the fact that our work is ignored by the mainstream press and even most of the leading left-leaning writers -- or, when not ignored, ridiculed.
Also, my PhD education and then my continued work provided a basis for dealing with most of the relevant issues, e.g., the problem of evil, historiography, American exceptionalism, imperialism, religion and science (which includes the philosophy of science), and sin (which includes the tendency to lie and steal and then rationalize one's behavior).
With regard to "the problem of evil" in particular: The main reason Americans evidently reject the idea that 9/11 was an inside job, in spite of all the evidence, is the belief that "our leaders simply would not do something so evil." I have long been aware that seemingly decent human beings are capable of terrible evil, and my study of American history shows that our leaders are no exception.
Frel: If the soul of the United States and its culture are corrupted by “demonic evil,” as described in your book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, the idea that the corporate media is an obstacle to educating people about 9/11 Truth seems to only scratch the surface. Isn’t the Christian church corrupted in almost exactly the same way regarding its awareness about the American empire?
We know for example that just about every major elected political figure responsible who has advocated for empire and is responsible for the conduct of it makes a very big show about their — usually Protestant or Catholic — professed faith.
Griffin: In discussing what I call a non-mythological view of demonic evil (Chapter 8), I have defined it "as creaturely power that, besides being diametrically opposed to divine values, is also powerful enough to threaten divine purposes" (Chapter 9). I also suggested that "the demonic can largely be understood as symbolic structures that channel human creativity toward destructive activities based on hate or indifference.” An essential element in demonic destructiveness, I added, is "the whole symbolic framework of myths, images, beliefs, ideologies, traditions, and habits that seduce us to employ our power destructively" (Ch. 8).
Because the USA has been primarily a "Christian nation," in terms of its self-identification, then it follows that much that passes for Christian teaching and action has served to promote demonic values. "The myths, images, and beliefs in the demonic cluster of symbolic structures," I suggested in Ch. 8, "contain a wide variety of ingredients, such as... religious scriptures or interpretations of them that provide divine sanction for military conquest and the domination of nature; [and] interpretations of the universe implying that ultimate success and security come through coercive power."
"A difficult but necessary task" for Christians to deal with, I suggested in Ch. 10, "would be to reflect on the degree that the church community itself has been subjugated to demonic power.” I do believe that much of the church has thus been subjugated (whereas other parts of the church work against this). We Christians must recognize that, insofar as many major developments now threaten the very survival of human beings -- a marvelous attainment that it took many billions of years to bring about -- these developments have been the products of what we call "Christian civilization."
Frel: One of the key areas where your background as a Christian scholar comes into play is in the realm of hermeneutics -- studying not just the texts themselves, but the history of how people have interpreted religious texts, from literal interpretation to allegorical to the idea that the writing contains allusions to secret metaphysical knowledge.
An example in the case of 9/11 Truth is the dispute over what World Trade Center lease-holder Larry Silverstein meant when he said he wanted to "pull" building 7 after it had caught fire before its collapse. Do you see any need to maintain a kind of interpretive consistency in debates with doubters of your arguments regarding evidence about the 9/11 attacks?
Griffin: I certainly believe that we should be consistent. With regard to Silverstein's statement, a spokesperson for Silverstein Properties claimed that "by 'it,' Mr. Silverstein meant the contingent of firefighters remaining in the building."
However, as I wrote (in my 2009 book, The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7): "Larry Silverstein himself undermined the attempt by the Silverstein Properties spokesman to claim that he had been talking about pulling the firefighters out of the building. He did this inadvertently by stating that his conversation with the fire department commander had occurred after all firefighters had left the building. The statement by the Silverstein Properties spokesman, as we saw, simply said that this conversation occurred “in the afternoon,” which left open the possibility that it had occurred in the very early afternoon, before the firefighters had been ordered out of the building.
It was widely agreed, as we have seen, that this order had been given around 2 o' clock. But Silverstein, in response to a question from a We Are Change group in March 2008, said that the decision to pull was made "around 3:30 or 4pm" Therefore, Silverstein inadvertently pointed out that his "pull" statement could not possibly have been about pulling out the contingent of firefighters.
Frel: As time goes on, do you see any sign that the evil you describe inhabiting the American empire may be subsiding? It’s been five years since this book came out; do you think 9/11 is the key to educating people about the true nature of the United States? Certainly the polling numbers on 9/11 show that doubts are at the very least stable, and possibly continuing to grow.
Griffin: A large percentage of Americans reject the official account of 9/11. What the present percent is now is hard to say, partly because polls depend so much on the way questions are worded. But it seems that perhaps 35 to 40 percent reject, or at least seriously doubt, the official view of 9/11.
Also, the 9/11 movement is now being led by various professional organizations. In addition to Religious Leaders for 9/11, already mentioned, there are organizations of actors and artists, firefighters, intelligence officers, lawyers, medical professionals, pilots, political leaders, scientists, military officers, veterans, and the biggest organization, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which has close to 1,500 professional members. Unfortunately, the truth about 9/11 will make a big difference only if it becomes publicly recognized, and the elite opinion in the USA will be loath to acknowledge it.
For example, the truth about JFK's assassination -- that it was not carried out by a single man, but by a conspiracy -- is now widely known. But it has still not been publicly acknowledged. The same for the assassination of Martin Luther King. Breaking through the barrier will be extremely difficult. But I am committed to keep working towards this goal, because acknowledging the truth about 9/11 will not only help us break free from the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also provide Americans a stimulus to rethink what our country should be about.
Most Americans -- about 70 percent of us, according to polls -- believe that we should get out of Afghanistan. But this opinion seems to be based primarily on the grounds that the war cannot be won and that it is too expensive. I would hope that the truth about 9/11 would help us realize that what we have been doing in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) is fundamentally wrong, and that what we have been doing there is a continuation of fundamentally wrong foreign policies that characterized the USA throughout the 20th century in countries where we wanted material goods or to defeat ideas that we saw as unhelpful to us.
Frel: Aside from the issues surrounding your publishing imprint offered for publishing your book, have you faced other obstacles sharing what you argue is 9/11 Truth among Christian clergy that you have in the mainstream media?
Griffin: I discussed these issues in my lecture, "9/11 and Nationalist Faith: How Faith Can Be Illuminating or Blinding." I there endorsed theologian John Cobb's view of the basic "faith" of our culture, according to which “the United States is a fundamentally virtuous nation.” And this "faith" makes it virtually impossible for the facts about 9/11 to be presented.
Cobb wrote: “The response of most Americans [to a recitation of such facts] shows how powerful is the hold upon them of their nationalistic ‘faith.’ They do not want to hear that members of their government may have deceived them on a matter of such importance. They do not want to examine the evidence. They ‘know’ in advance that the questioner is out of line. They ‘know’ this because the alternative does not fit with their ‘faith.’”
With regard to the treatment I have had by some Christian leaders, I wrote: "[T]he fact that Christians in America think of themselves as Christians does not mean that their Christian faith trumps their American faith. They often seem to take the latter with greater seriousness. I have never had a lecture in a church canceled because someone took exception to my christology or doctrine of God, but more than one church has canceled lectures I was scheduled to give about 9/11, and many more churches have refused to rent their buildings out for this purpose in the first place. The leaders of these churches are unwilling to expose their people to, or be seen as supporting, such heresy.
I have, to be sure, spoken in a few churches. And I have been supported by a few theologians, such as John Cobb, Rosemary Ruether, Joe Hough (who was the president of Union Theological Seminary in New York), and the late William Sloane Coffin. But I have been attacked by others. For example, after my first book, The New Pearl Harbor, was published, Christian ethicist Ian Markham, while he was the dean of Hartford Seminary, published a critique of it in a Christian magazine. He said: “There needs to be limits to the range of possibilities considered; and I want to suggest that Griffin is outside them.” Explaining this statement, he said: "When a book argues that the American President deliberately and knowingly was ‘involved’ in the slaughter of 3000 US citizens, then this is irresponsible....I am operating with an a priori assumption that Bush would not kill 3,000 citizens for the sake of a political justification to invade the Middle East for oil."