The US government’s throwing money at religious symbolism again, and the American Atheists have launched a lawsuit against it.
For once, though, I’m not really on the atheists’ side.
In the rubble left by the destruction of the twin towers by terrorist-hijacked planes on 9/11, a couple of steel beams were found, maybe 15 feet high or so, which had been part of the building, and which roughly formed the shape of a cross. This symbol of Christianity, found at a time when many of that faith were suffering and terrified and in need of something to galvanise their shattered spirits, has become profoundly meaningful to some people.
Let’s not get into the issue of a loving God leaving this cross as a sign of hope for those New Yorkers who’d just seen Him let thousands of their friends and relatives be slaughtered. You’re too smart to need that spelled out for you.
What’s pertinent is the suggested inclusion of this “9/11 cross” in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is being planned to commemorate the lives lost in the attacks.
American Atheists think this is an unconstitutional endorsement of one specific religion by the government.
I’m not convinced. I think it’s just a museum piece going on display.
The museum director, on the memorial’s website, says:
The Museum will be about each of us, about what it means to be a human being, and what it means to live in a complex, global community at the start of the 21st century.
And a big part of that meaning for many people, and of their place in the community, is their religion. To memorialise the events of 9/11 without mentioning both the religious fanaticism that motivated the attacks, and the role that religion played in the way people faced the aftermath, would be to omit a crucial part of the story.
It’s a museum. It’s meant to document historical things. And this cross was a real thing, which really came to mean something important to a number of people, among many other artefacts which will be exhibited there.
The argument’s also been made that a lawsuit like this is terrible PR for atheists in general. I’m not sure where I stand on that, but given how much atheists are already hated by much of the American public, and how rarely many Americans are probably even prompted to think about atheists at all except when they’re hearing some news story about how we’re trying to ban all crosses or make Korans part of all school dinners or some such, it’s a non-trivial point to consider. Maybe even if we’re right, we should just leave this one, because we’re inevitably going to sound like hope-crushing buzzkills and nobody’s going to be on our side.
On the other hand, maybe we should just fight for what’s right and not worry about people disapproving of us every time we open our mouths. Because we’re never going to get anything done if we insist on trying to mollify the hate for atheists that’s already out there by stepping lightly and not doing anything provocative.
That link illustrates just a few of the violent death threats made against atheists on Fox News’s Facebook page after this story was reported. Hundreds of Christians were very publicly suggesting or offering to murder people who think differently from them, as the most simple and obvious solution to the problem that some people think differently from them.
Actually my favourite comment from that list wasn’t just directed at atheists:
Two people “liked” that one.
This isn’t a reason to back down and not make a fuss. People like that aren’t going to hate any less if they realise that hating works. We absolutely need to keep fighting, but it needs to be a worthwhile fight. And keeping this steel cross from being presented as a significant part of American history doesn’t seem worth it to me.