Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WTC cross is part of the history of 9/11

American Atheists is opposing the inclusion of the WTC cross in the 9/11 Museum.  I do not agree with them on this. 

I think that the separation between church and state is extremely important, and I absolutely do not want the government endorsing any particular religious view.  I also think that this boundary is often stepped across by Christians who have not considered what it would be like to live in this country as a non-Christian.  Atheist organizations such as American Atheists are important in maintaining and re-asserting that boundary against religious encroachment, and law suits are an important tool for doing so.

But I don't like this one.  Separation of church and state does not mean that all mention of religion must be eradicated from public spheres.  The WTC cross is a piece of the history of 9/11.  It was a symbol of hope and faith for Christian responders as they sorted through the emotional and literal rubble of 9/11.  It is part of the story of how we responded, as a nation.  No doubt there were non-Christians among the responders who probably felt little affinity for the cross, and still others who probably participated in the on-site Christian ceremonies even though this wasn't their faith.  Some may have seen it as a symbol of how religion got us into this mess in the first place, but nonetheless it was there at ground zero and it mattered.

To say that this cross cannot go in the museum is to make invisible a part of the responders' story, and it is to do so only because that part of the story is religious.  That is not what separation of church and state means to me, and I don't think it means that legally, either.

It is important to me that the memorial and museum not seem to communicate that we are a Christian nation, or that Christianity occupies some superior position in our society, or that 9/11 was in some way an attack on Christianity rather than on America, or that this cross should represent all religious Americans or all Americans, or anything of that sort.  That would be overstepping; it would be a government endorsement of Christianity and/or an erasing of non-Christian Americans.  But the WTC cross represents, to me, that there were Christian responders who found this cross in the rubble, and then drew hope and comfort from it. That in a time when we were all asking ourselves what this all meant, some people felt that the symbolism and discovery of this cross was part of their answer. 

As long as the museum doesn't step over those bounds, that part of the story should be told, too.  I think this lawsuit is grotesquely insensitive.  I would prefer, in this case and in many others, to see the secular community looking to make sure that everyone feels included and represented rather than making sure that there is no mention of belief whatsoever.  As atheists/humanists we have our own perspective to share and represent. Death takes on a different character when you know that the dead are truly gone. There is no next journey or happier place, we can only celebrate our memories of the dead and what they meant to us in life.  Our brushes with death bring into sharp relief how precious this one life is, and the absence of other meaning emphasizes how important other human beings are to us.

Let us add the atheist/Humanist perspective, rather than subtracting the Christian one. 

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