Priest: Stop Calling That Religious Symbol a Religious Symbol!

For some reason, ABC News invited Father Edward Beck and Rabbi David Wolpe to comment on the World Trade Center Cross controversy and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Prayer Rally.

In other words, they brought on two religious people to debate the lawsuits… and not a single atheist was there to counter them.

That’s ABC News’ idea of a balanced news segment?

The line you need to hear comes from Beck, who argues that the WTC cross is “more than a religious symbol” only to follow that up — seconds later — with “It’s not going to be the only religious symbol there!”

That distinction is the crux of the issue, and even he can’t get it straight.

(Of course, no one calls him out on that…)

Later in the segment, Beck says he opposes the Prayer Rally… but mostly because he thinks it should include more interfaithyness instead of just a group of fundamentalist Christians. Right answer, wrong reason.

I’m still in support of the WTC lawsuit on principle. This cross is a religious symbol and everybody knows it. But if a symbol that had meaning for Christians after 9/11 is included in the memorial, then other symbols (religious and not) important to non-Christians must also be included in the displays.

There’s an easier solution to all of this. Just give the steel girders to a local church. Christians who want to pray to it or treat it as a miracle can do so there.

We need to make sure the 9/11 Memorial represents people of all faiths and no faiths, since everyone suffered because of the attacks. Not just Christians.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Anonymous

    “A group of *atheists*…” “Another controversy involving atheists…”

    Are we a hive mind? How hard would it be to say American Atheists and Freedom From Religion Foundation? 

    • Manphiso

      Resistance is futile. You will be atheistillated.

      • Anonymous

        Huzzah

  • Ursula

    Bottom line is that it’s a national memorial, not a christian religious site.  They could have an area set aside that was more for reflection, but to make this a christian memorial just adds to the problem that religion created in the first place

  • Anonymous

    i find it ironic that the rabbi protested about jews being excluded from the governor’s “christian prayer rally”- but of course, that’s different than marginalizing atheists…  ???

  • Anonymous

    I’m not clear on some of the details.  Is it a memorial government funded? 

    I think the AA and FFRF should find or make an I-beam in the shape of an A and demand it be included at the memorial.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not clear on some of the details.  Is it a memorial government funded? 

    I think the AA and FFRF should find or make an I-beam in the shape of an A and demand it be included at the memorial.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    The God Squad….?

    Really?

    Hmmmm….. we need a catchy name to show how modern and comic-booky we are too…

    *********** League of Extraordinary Heathens *********** 

    Yup, that’ll do :)

    • Anonymous

      Although League of Extraordinary Infidels would be more accurate. Heathen is really synonymous with Pagan.

  • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

    Beck is right when he says the cross is more than a religious symbol.  It’s also a Roman torture/execution device.  Does Father Beck think it would be appropriate to include a guillotine in the memorial?  Or maybe a pear of anguish?

    • Anonymous

      YES!  Why can’t they see that?  And the crosses that have the tortured body of the savior on them are even worse.  My mother has a little statuette of the beheaded saint of musicians… the body with the head just a tiny bit away from the body reclined on a slab.  [shaking head]  Ew.  I just can’t get behind the gruesome imagery that the religious object to in horror movies being front and center of their worship!

      • Drew M.

        St. Cecila? That is delightfully macabre and I want one!

    • Anonymous

      In this case, maybe an explosive vest or a bomb-turban would be more appropriate.

  • adam

    yeah, all this is embarrassing for us christians. One of my favorite biblical concepts from proverbs is that if you’re a fool, your best bet is to be quiet. Although, if you’re wise enough to know you’re foolish, you’re not that foolish. Hm. Interesting paradox. Regardless, these fools should just be quiet. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/smedrick Richard Watkins

    I’m going to have to agree with the Rabbi when he said of the WTC cross controversy: “There’s a principle here, but it’s kind of an aggressive and unpleasant principle.”  AA is out of line for pursuing this and is making a bad name for themselves.

    The prayer rally, OTOH, is ridiculous and needs to be dealt with.

  • Annie

    I know I wasn’t there, but I can say with confidence that I highly doubt those beams “rose from the ashes like a phoenix.”

    Anyone else think Fr. Beck is wearing colored contacts? 

    • Vanessa

      I don’t know…. I think he’s just naturally freaky looking.

  • Lindsay

    I thought they were hilarious! They obviously are not silly, fundamental believers. They understood all the sides, and had a sense of humor. The priest had some freaky eyes though…  I like that they thought the Gov.s prayer event was exclusive to an extreme. I might actually watch this show again if they have the same preachers. I do like the point that “ground zero is a graveyard”. As atheists, we really don’t have one definitive symbol, so we just wouldn’t get anything. Unless a group wanted to put a big red “A” or an atheist atom? Why does it have to be all or nothing?

  • Lindsay

    I thought they were hilarious! They obviously are not silly, fundamental believers. They understood all the sides, and had a sense of humor. The priest had some freaky eyes though…  I like that they thought the Gov.s prayer event was exclusive to an extreme. I might actually watch this show again if they have the same preachers. I do like the point that “ground zero is a graveyard”. As atheists, we really don’t have one definitive symbol, so we just wouldn’t get anything. Unless a group wanted to put a big red “A” or an atheist atom? Why does it have to be all or nothing?

  • Stu

    i wouldn’t be surprised if American Atheists declined a media appearance and that’s why there was no atheist representation on this segment. If you remember the controversy around “Seven in Heaven Way” (another pointless lawsuit!),  AA declined media representation on Fox News and they instead got Michael de Dora from CFI (an organization with no stated opinion on the matter) to fill in. The result was painful.

  • Anonymous

    If Allah, the Jewish God, and the Christian God are one and the same (Abrahamic), wouldn’t that cross be somewhat of a ‘middle finger to you’ to the Christian sect, seeing as the Muslim radicals took out the building in Allah’s name, and the Christian aspect of God allowed it to  happen? (yeah I thought it silly when it popped into my head but c’mon religion is silly)

    • Anonymous

      I get the feeling these Christians don’t think about what they’re doing at all, but jump at any expression of public dominance.

  • Megan

    Has any atheist group started a fund that would be used to erect an atheist symbol at or near Ground Zero? I’d donate in a heartbeat. Watch the Christians fight it even though it’d be paid for entirely with private funds–just like the Muslim community center they were so upset about.

    • Werne66

      the phrase ‘atheist group’ is beyond scary to me.  Atheist Group?!  When you start organizing with an intention to declare you come across a lot like this dude I read about and his twelve friends about two thousand years ago.

  • http://twitter.com/crankyhumanist Cranky Humanist

    Does anyone have a good link that describes what/how they intend to use the girders?

    • Anonymous

      Yup – all the evidence is in my blog post on the subject:

      http://www.templeofthefuture.net/current-affairs/cross-with-american-atheists

      “The World Trade Center Cross will be part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, opening in September 2012.  It will be displayed in the historical exhibition.”

      This from a representative of the Memorial and Museum itself. I.e. it is not, as American Atheists, Inc. have repeatedly claimed, in the Memorial part of the site, but in the museum section as part of a historical exhibit.

      • http://twitter.com/meyekael Meyekael

        Whether it’s in the memorial or the museum makes no difference. Christianity has nothing to do with this. But, true to its form, it has found a way to worm its way into the situation and draw attention to itself.

         It’s like a spoiled, bratty child who can’t stand not being the center of attention.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t agree. The lawsuit seems to have been premised on the assumption the cross was to be placed in the memorial (AA has stated numerous times in the past few days that it thought this was the case). Further, placing an artifact in a publicly-funded museum, with commentary on its significance to people, is a broadly accepted secular practice ad happens all around the country. It serves to actually secularize the symbol and make its interest as a historical item available to everybody to learn from.

          In our zeal to protect the wall between church and state we must not become unthinking philistines who are unable to see the cultural value and interest in expressions of religious faith. The cross is an important part of the story of some people’s response to the attacks and should be housed in the museum. It is entirely legitimate.

          • http://twitter.com/meyekael Meyekael

            No, I don’t see the cultural value of people mistaking a coincidence for a sign from God.

            No, I don’t see the cultural value of people trivializing this tragedy by incorporting its victims into their fantasy lives where in the end it’s all for the best because now they’re all in heaven with God and deleriously happy.

            And no, I don’t see the cultural value of a belief system which self-servingly renders its adherents incabable of dealing with reality without it.

            Go ahead, think me a thoughtless Philistine if you will. I couldn’t care less.

            • Anonymous

              I can understand that you may not see the value in the exhibit, and that is fine. But we do not generally make decisions on what to include in a museum based on an individual’s personal preference.

              The question here is whether there is a legitimate cultural or historical reason for the cross to be in the museum. In my judgment (and in the judgment of Susan Jacoby, who wrote yesterday an article which essentially parallels my position here) there are good reasons to house it there – good secular reasons.

              Whether you appreciate the exhibit or not is entirely your own business, but it has no relevance to the question of the legitimacy of the exhibit itself.

              • http://twitter.com/meyekael Meyekael

                “Whether you appreciate the exhibit or not is entirely your own business, but it has no relevance to the question of the legitimacy of the exhibit itself.”

                When did I ever say it did?

            • Werne66

              I don’t think your a thoughtless Philistine, just a thoughtless biggot.

              • http://twitter.com/meyekael Meyekael

                What? I can’t question the cultural value of religion, voice that opinion, and not be thought a bigot? Nice.

                Atheists (or A-Theists as you like to say. What’s that all about?) who criticise other atheists for criticising religion always strike me as being the atheist equivalents of “Uncle Toms.”

                Not that I’m trying in anyway to equate the religious bigotry that atheists have  experienced with the much, much worse racial bigotry that African-Americans have experienced. But there you have it.

  • Erp

    I haven’t read up much on the WTC memorial so don’t know quite how things will be arranged, but, a cross is very much a Christian symbol and from a Muslim and Jewish point of view one often used to  oppress them.

    Two other points to consider.  First it is  a believed  by some WTC revisionists that no Jews died at the WTC (false but believers look for any evidence to support this).  Making a cross or other Christian symbolism a dominant part of the memorial may fuel this.   Second it fuels  the belief that this is a battle between Christianity and Islam.

  • Rich Wilson

    I think we should take the truly American approach to the I-beam cross.  Auction it off on eBay and give the proceeds to some 1st responders fund.

  • http://twitter.com/meyekael Meyekael

    It’s bad enough that they want to include this “cross” in the memorial. That alone would have turned the memorial to those who died in the WTC into a mounument to Christian pareidolia, but they’re also including symbols from other religions that were delibertly fashioned from WTC debris.

    Now its just a monument to religion.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      well religion was central to the disaster….

  • Anonymous

    The best way to conceive of what the metal beams are is to imagine how they could be replaced. What would be equivalent?
    If they were gone or damaged, what would be considered an appropriate replacement?
    We all know the same Christian group would immediately demand an equally iconic golden cross. You wouldn’t see any proposals to mount a recovered door or fire truck scrap. (never mind that stuff about avoiding idolatry)

    And if we can concede that an equivalent artifact of a non-denominational nature exists, why not use that artifact in the first place?

    It’s obvious this junk metal is a religious symbol. The entire proposal is for the enshrinement of a relic. It doesn’t get much more sanctimonious than this.

  • bigjohn756

    Nice pun, Hemant!

  • Anonymous

    This is how a barren and inhospitable patch of desert slowly accumulates enough ‘spiritual’ significance for people to fight to the death over it.

    Icons are “discovered” and celebrated in order to establish some kind of historical claim to the location. Bit by bit, claims that may seem like “not a big deal” at the time establish precedence and build into a tradition. Eventually, more territory is claimed in the name of the

    The evangelical groups pushing this cross into the memorial know this. They know their game very well; they have a lot of history and practice to study (and they tend not to study too closely anything else.)

    How long before we see city councils, mayors, or governors looking to build their own “memorials” outside this one? Who wants to bet Rick Perry goes next for an “authentic WTC support beams” shaped memorial of his own?

  • Flawedprefect

    Wow. A crossbeam taken as a symbol of a crucifix. Paradolia has reached a new low. What if a beam had toppled a bit against another, and a third had dropped two thirds of their length, coolung just in time to form a huge letter A? not inconceivable. Would’ve loved to see the hoo haa then: god sent us the Atheist A! God is an atheist! Woo!

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      But if God is an atheist… *head explodes*

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps there was indeed such a structure, but there was no atheist there to interpret it and rescue it from the debris removal.  

  • Dan W

     What is it with news stations doing this? I expected better of ABC. Then again, I remember an incident with CNN a few years back where they had a panel discussion about atheists being discriminated against in America, and there wasn’t a single atheist on the panel! Strangely, Fox “News” gives atheists who they disagree with more airtime than the more reality-based news channels.

    And seriously, theists will interpret anything as a symbol of their religion. This WTC “cross” is no different than images of the Virgin Mary or Jesus in pieces of toast or whatever.

  • Anonymous

    Except that it’s not in the Memorial. It’s in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, in the Historical Exhibition. I do wish people would get the darned facts straight.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonRTweets Jason

    Hmm, the hosts language is interesting. 

    “Atheists launched a law suit”

    “Atheists failed to…”

    I can’t imagine he’d say:

    “Muslims have launched a lawsuit”

    “Muslims failed to…

    It’s more likely to be, “A group of Muslims”

  • Werne66

    Here’s my issue with A-theists (and I’m one).  There is this underlying and silent, but obvious, need for validation.   I often get this queasy feeling when A-theists find it necessary to affirm their non-belief.  Apparently a crucifix at ground zero makes some people feel better.  I don’t care if they put one up with an actual person nailed to it.  When one becomes offended by symbols or archetypes that represent something that they happen to have a differing view on it makes that person no different than the people who find it necessary to display that symbol. Would any of you refuse to attend a good friend’s wedding because it’s held in a church?  Hopefully not.  You go out of respect for another human being and their right to believe what they want. The cross issue is no different.

    • http://twitter.com/meyekael Meyekael

      Really? You wouldn’t care if Christians put up a cross with a human being nailed to it? Would the person being living or dead at the time make any difference to you?

      You’ve got it all wrong. The atheist movement is an ad hoc movement which only exists to counter the aggressive behaviour of the religious. If all religious people were like the Amish, willing to live and let live, most of us would be willing to do the same. But they aren’t willing, or, at least, not enough of them are. So we have to stand up against them. It may be that this particular instance is not one of those times we have to do so, but even if it isn’t there are plenty of instances where they are definitely trying to force their religion on people who want nothing to do with it and ruining their lives in the process.

      You seem to think that atheists should just shut-up and keep it to themselves, but I agree with Sam Harris when he wrote in “The End of Faith,” that religion is just too prevalent and influential not to be challenged and criticised, and affirming our non-belief is an unavoidable part of that process.


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