The Spiritual Landscape
The Ground Zero Cross: An Open Letter to Atheists
Photo: rhaaga, Flickr C.C.
I miss Christopher Hitchens.
Admittedly, if I had been in Hitchens' place, I would not have spent my considerable rhetorical gifts railing against something that I didn't believe in. But to Hitch's credit, he didn't always focus on God and the Christian faith and when he did, his arguments were always cogent, even if he left me unconvinced.
But the arguments lodged by whiny atheists against the cross-shaped I-beams from New York's Trade Towers are something entirely different. "It sickens me? It hurts me?" Please. Give me the in-your-face rhetoric of a Hitchens or Hobbes before you play the victim card.
Of course, the new crop of whiny, less-articulate atheists has rhetorical reasons for playing this card:
- One, it excuses the person who plays the victim card from making a case for their objections or their point of view.
- Two, it places the people expressing a point of view on the defensive, characterizing their views as intrinsically abusive.
- Three, it appeals to that segment of the population that loathes conflict and would like for all of us to get along.
- Four, the victim card is an ideal gambit, because if you really don't have anything that you want to accomplish other than to put others on the defensive, it's the card to play. Playing the victim card makes it appear that the opposing point of view is the presenting cause for the debate and it has the effect of shifting attention away from the real culprit: in this case, people who want to silence others and/or exclude their point of view of the fateful events of that day.
But whether you side with Christians who were moved by the chance survival of the cross-like symbolism that will appear in the ground-zero museum or not, both our courts and public opinion should draw the line at arguments of this kind.
To the atheists who make that argument, I would say:
You are certainly entitled to have your opinions of what happened that day.
You are also entitled to have your opinions of the way in which Christians understand the events that transpired that day. (I took public exception, for example, to the views expressed by the late Jerry Falwell.)
You are not entitled to argue that the expression of a Christian point of view "hurts you" in any fashion that has legal standing.
This is not a Christian country, but it is, for the moment, a free country and the founding documents of our national life preserve freedom for religion, not freedom from religion.
So, man-up, play like Hitchens or, better yet, Hobbes, but spare us the victim card. The rhetorical gambit is obvious. Playing the victim card falls well short of atheist claims for gravitas and reason—you embarrass yourselves even trying to make it—and worst of all you threaten the freedoms we all enjoy.
We are entitled to believe what we believe and we refuse to be bullied by the fatuous claim that somehow we have hurt you.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/