Pluralism at Ground Zero

During my lifetime, our foreign policy has been defined by two wars: a cold one with Soviet-style Communism and a hot one with Islamic-style terrorism. Neither kind of war is good, but cold is better. We have no monuments, sites, or dates to honor American victims who died on our soil because of the Cold War. That’s why it was called “cold.”

This is not in any way a justification for the horrible dictatorships in the Soviet Union. That regime had much in common with many Mideast countries: an ideology that suppressed dissent and brutalized its citizens; old men holding onto power and eliminating rivals at any cost; lack of human rights or freedom of conscience.

There are differences, too. Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was the doctrine that assumed neither the Soviet Union nor the United States would launch its nuclear weaponry on the other, for fear of retaliation in which millions of its own citizens would be destroyed. Leaders of both superpowers preferred life to death. I’d be more concerned today about the efficacy of a MAD doctrine with a theocracy, especially when we’ve seen suicide-bomber citizens happily give their lives to kill innocent civilians because they expected rewards for their actions in an imagined afterlife.

During the hateful McCarthy era witch-hunts, many lives of decent Americans were damaged through accusations of not being anti-Communist enough. Collateral damage also occurred by those who wanted to distinguish the United States from “Godless Communism.” The words “under God” were added to our pledge of allegiance, turning a secular and unifying pledge into a religious and divisive one. This melding of God and Country resulted in many of us who believe in no gods feeling less patriotic. Our wonderful unifying motto E pluribus unum (Out of many, one), adopted in 1782, was changed in 1956 to In God we Trust, which excludes more than 16 percent of Americans without such trust.

The 9-11 attack was a faith-based initiative, conceived and carried out by people radicalized in Saudi Arabia who became more radicalized in Afghanistan. I could support either of two different types of remembrance ceremonies that would distinguish us from those theocrats who attacked us.

The first would be to have a completely secular ceremony in this secular country, unheard of in theocracies. The second would be to allow all groups to participate in a diverse country that does not favor any one religion over another religion or religion in general over non-religion. We could have a remembrance ceremony that includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Humanists, Atheists, and any other group that wishes to participate in unifying people of all faiths and none. In other words, E pluribus unum.

This just might help us turn the worst of times into the best of times.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/the-case-for-pluralism-at-ground-zero/2011/09/07/gIQA1gqZ9J_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/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Taner,

    Good post. Thanks. The comparison to the Cold War is interesting to me because I am now reading John Lewis Gaddis' A Short History of the Cold War, which is excellent.

    The Cold War was won when the Soviet Union collapsed and China, de facto, became capitalist. I do not think we will see a similar collapse or capitulation on the part of theocratic Islamist radicals.

    The difference seems to be that communist leaders, eventually, could face reality. Gaddis reports that by 1970 many officials in communist countries, though they continued to mouth the official line in public, privately admitted that communism had failed and that history had not turned out as Marx predicted. When East Germany collapsed, someone painted on a factory wall: "Workers of the World: I'm sorry." No signature was needed.

    I get no inkling of a similar recognition of failure among theocratic Islamist radicals. On the contrary, they seem to be riding a wave of confidence. I wonder why. Iran seems to me to be as big an icon of the failure of its ideology as the Soviet Union was for Marxism Leninism.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X