Cross purposes 38

A group called American Atheists have filed a lawsuit in protest against a cross being officially recognized as a 9/11 memorial.

No one deliberately erected the cross. Two iron girders, one vertical with a shorter one attached to it horizontally near the top, were left  standing in the rubble. Some Christians have chosen to treat it as their sacred symbol. A Franciscan monk performed a ceremonial blessing of it when it was moved recently to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Here’s part of a report and commentary on the story:

American Atheists expressed their outrage that, in a memorial partially subsidized by tax dollars, a cross should be the only religious object included.

“We honor the dead and respect the families,” they wrote in a statement on their website, “which is why we will not allow the many Christians who died to get preferential representation over the many non-Christians who suffered the same fate. This was an attack against America, not Christianity, and Christianity’s does not deserve special placement just because THEY think the girders look like their religious symbol.”

In the complaint … American Atheists point out that people of many different faiths died in the attacks. According to the lawsuit, the cross was originally blessed by the priest who ministered to workers clearing the site after the attacks, in response to the workers’ belief that the cross was “a sign that God never abandoned us at Ground Zero.” Naturally, some are asking: whose God are we talking about?

We wonder how Christians reconcile their trust in the beneficence of their all-knowing,  all-powerful god with his permitting those thousands to suffer and die on 9/11. If he didn’t abandon them, what was he doing for them? But that’s an aside. The issue here is whether Christians should be allowed to treat the girders as an officially sanctioned religious memorial.

Although the atheists’ “us vs. them” rhetoric leaves something to be desired, their point is fair. If the creators of the 9/11 Memorial truly want to honor the dead, they can’t include only one religious symbol, even if it was recovered from the wreckage. It might require a little creativity to come up with appropriate tributes to the faith traditions (or lack thereof) of the many people who lost their lives in the attacks – but then again, perhaps it would be best simply not to include the cross at all.

We are entirely tolerant of other people’s choices and behavior if it in no way harms us. We don’t understand why people worship idols and imaginary beings and continue to hope against all experience that, when supplicated, the idol or the unknown god will do something good for them; but we are as unperturbed by their religious foibles as we are by any other kind. A pair of girders are for us simply a pair of girders, and if some choose to hold them sacred and bless them and kneel down before them in prayer, though we may be bemused, we feel no indignation. We cannot live in a state of perpetual emotional turmoil because others (most Americans, in fact) are religious.

Some atheists are arguing that the cross should only be allowed at the Memorial and Museum if other religious – and, presumably, atheist – signs and symbols stand with it.

What signs and symbols? Some religions have them, many do not. Would those that don’t have to devise them specially?

How does anyone know what some three thousand individuals believed?

What sign or symbol would the protesting atheists put up for their supposed like-thinkers who perished on that day?

We would like to know what our readers think about this.