***Update***: On Monday, July 25th, American Atheists and select individuals filed a complaint (PDF) against people involved with the WTC memorial.
The lawsuit has begun…
Days after 9/11, in the middle of all the rubble, there were steel beams from the World Trade Center everywhere. Some of that debris looked like a Christian Cross and, at a time when people were looking for any sign of hope, that did it.
The person who found the giant cross put it this way:
“I saw Calvary in the midst of all the wreckage, the disaster,” Frank Silecchia recalled Saturday. “It was a sign … that God didn’t desert us.”
I know, I know… It’s not really a “sign.” If God didn’t desert you, where was God when the buildings came crashing down. I’m thinking the same thing. Moving on, though…
That cross is now going to become a permanent exhibit at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. But not because it represents Christianity…
… for all the religious fervor surrounding the cross, it will become part of the museum because of its history at ground zero, not because of its Christian symbolism, museum officials said.
“It’s powerful because it provided comfort to so many people — it is a part of the history of the space,” said Joe Daniels, president of the memorial foundation.
He said steel girders made into other makeshift crosses, Stars of David and possibly some Eastern religious symbols would also become part of the museum, which will open in 2012 and will be primarily underground at the site. The memorial will open this year, on the 10th anniversary of the attack.
Let’s get a few things straight.
1) The cross itself isn’t a miracle. That’s how the buildings were made — with steel girders crossing each other. If you found them in the shape of a perfect circle, maybe that would be worth an eyebrow-raise. Two steel girders hitting each other at a right angle? Not so much.
2) The cross was a symbol of hope for a lot of people. Not atheists. Not non-Christians. Probably not even all Christians. But a bunch of Christians found solace in it and it took on a life of its own. (Kind of like the “Seven in Heaven” phrase stuck to a particular group of first responders who died that day.)
Brian Jordan, a friar in residence at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in New York, is being completely disingenuous when he says:
“This was a symbol of hope for all faith people,” he said. “This is not meant to put one religion over another, that’s not the point at all. We needed friendship and support and that cross was a stimulus to provide that support.”
Right… as soon as he points me to the Muslims who saw the T-shaped girders and found Hope, I’ll take him more seriously.3) When the memorial opens, the cross will join other religious symbols as exhibits.
That last bit is the part that’s confusing. If they’re including the cross exhibit as a symbol of hope, why bother with the other religious symbols at all? It’s not like a Star of David was found in the wreckage and given the same reverence.
If they want to memorialize the fact that we were all united that day, regardless of our faith, or that people of all faiths (and no faith) died that say, then they should include symbols for all belief systems, including Islam and atheism, By cherry-picking only a few religious symbols, the meaning behind why they’re there is not-at-all clear.
American Atheists is pissed off and they’re opposing the inclusion of the Cross in the WTC memorial, even threatening to file a lawsuit:
This cross is set to be included in the official WTC memorial. No other religions or philosophies will be honored. It will just be a Christian icon, in the middle of OUR museum. This will not happen without a fight.
We love this country, and our constitution. We honor the dead and respect the families, 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.
We will pay for our own memorial of equal size inside the museum, or the museum will not include the cross. Equality is an all-or-nothing deal.
It helps to get the facts straight and AA has some things wrong. Officials have said other religions will be represented. They’ve also said the Cross isn’t there to honor the dead Christians. It’s there as one artifact that helped some people grieve. (Whether you buy that explanation or not is another story…) In any case, it doesn’t help AA’s case to go after memorial officials because they think dead Christians are worth more to memorial officials than dead non-Christians.
All that said, I think Dave has a point. If the officials want to include religious symbols in the memorial — for whatever reason they claim — then why reject an atheist memorial of equal size, donated by AA? Atheists died on 9/11 and they were among those saved others.
The Memorial Officials owe the public an explanation of why they’re including certain religious symbols over others. Without that explanation, they’re just fueling speculation that is bound to get out of hand as the tenth anniversary of the tragedy draws near.
American Atheists (and any other church/state separation group) needs to be very careful about how they approach this issue. Just like the “Seven in Heaven” street sign, they’re treading on very thin ice and they have to make sure they’re addressing the legality of including certain religious icons (and not others) in the memorial. They have to do that without denigrating Christians who saw more in that cross than just steel. Sure, you could mock them, tell them it’s not a miracle, and dismiss their entire mode of thinking, but that’s a separate issue than the one AA wants to be focused on right now.
If they’re not careful with their sound bytes and press releases, this is quickly going to turn into a story about how atheists are attacking “Christians who lost their loved ones on 9/11.” That’s not what this is about. AA needs to do everything in their power to not confuse the issues.