Militant atheism, militant Christianity

In South Carolina, where I live, the Confederate flag is prominently displayed on the grounds of the State Capitol. Many of us want it moved to a museum that contains artifacts of the Civil War (also referred to as “The War of Northern Aggression”). That’s why I’m somewhat conflicted about whether the cross-shaped steel beam found in the rubble of 9/11 should be placed in a museum that memorializes the event.

The courts might have to decide whether this cross would be in a museum simply to commemorate a historical event or as a sectarian religious artifact inviting worship.

Government displays of sectarian symbols can give the false impression that our government is allowed to favor one religion (usually Christianity) over another or religion in general over non-religion. The 9/11 cross has been displayed outside a nearby Catholic church for the past five years, certainly a non-controversial place for religious symbols. Nobody questions Ten Commandments plaques in churches or private homes, but they don’t belong on courthouses or other public buildings.

I didn’t like the argument by American Atheists that the cross should be taken down because it gave some of its members “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack.” I can’t help but think that American Atheists, a serious organization, was just having a little fun. Nevertheless, that’s the kind of remark the media likes to focus on.

Atheists are often falsely accused of being “militant” for speaking out against religion or making fun of antiquated religious beliefs. Here’s what I view as militant: death threats and threat of violence posted against atheists after the Communications Director for American Atheists appeared on Fox News. (http://atheists.org/blog/2011/07/29/fox-news-facebook-page-on-911-cross-generates-death-threats-against-atheists) Here’s a sampling:

“I say kill them all and let them see for themselves that there is God.”

“Shot them. Shoot to kill.”

“They’re atheists so it won’t matter if you kill them.”

“Nail them to the cross then display it.”

On a personal note, I also had a cross incident. The College of Charleston, where I was teaching, purchased a building from a church that had a cross on top. I sent an email to Alex Sanders, president of the College, requesting that he remove the “plus sign” from what had become a public building. Sanders did, but with his usual sense of humor about most things, described our exchange in a local newspaper. He wrote, “I will just assign the building to Herb Silverman as his office. With the cross at the top and Herb Silverman at the bottom, that would be an equalizing force. I told him that if he kept quiet about the cross, no one would be nailed to it.”

Neither of us had been offended by Sanders’ public humor. However, there was much community outrage about my referring to the cross as a “plus sign.” Indignant writers fumed about how I offended Christians. Nobody took offense to Sanders’ allusion that I might get nailed to the cross for my behavior.

What do atheists want? We want the same rights and privileges as everyone else in our secular country.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/militant-atheism-militant-christianity/2011/08/03/gIQAJS0rrI_blog.html

About Herb Silverman

Herb Silverman is Founder and President of the Secular Coalition for America, and founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in Charleston, South Carolina. He was founder and faculty advisor to the College of Charleston student Atheist/Humanist Alliance. He is a board member of the American Humanist Association as well as a Humanist Celebrant, advisory board member of the Secular Student Alliance, and member of the Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He has served on the boards of the Atheist Alliance and the Humanist Institute. He has written for "On Faith" at the Washington Post and for the Huffington Post. He has spoken at a number of conferences and written articles for many freethought publications. He has appeared in a number of debates on topics like: Can we be moral without God? Does God exist? Is America a Christian nation? He has also debated at the Oxford Union in Oxford, England on the topic: Does American Religion Undermine American Values? Here is information on his recent book, Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt
http://pitchstonepublishing.com/site/candidate_without_a_prayer.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00176754512128249839 Nathaniel

    I'm an Atheist and I'm not sure I oppose this cross. The toughest part of this is that this museum is also a memorial. A cross has no place in a government funded memorial like this. This is mostly on the grounds that it is a disservice to those non-christians who died in the attacks. On the other hand, the purpose of a museum is to showcase history. This cross IS part of the history. It was a symbol of hope and lifted the spirits of many (although I can't see why… because it seems like god would have to had allowed the buildings to be knocked down and then set up some crossbeams as if to say "yeah, I was here, but didn't do a damn thing but leave these crossbeams like this"). In any case, it is part of the history of the whole thing… and I'm opposed to editing out bits of history just because they offend people.

    Perhaps if the museum and memorial could be somewhat quarantined from each other then it would be alright. For instance, you've got a 9/11 museum with a memorial in it. That makes sense to me. All these sections over here are devoted to the history, and this section over here is a memorial to those who died. At that point, you could include the cross in the museum with a plaque mentioning it's historical significance, and at the same time keep the memorial completely secular.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X