There has been a lot of discussion lately about the cross Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attack. Basically, a huge steel cross (a cross-shaped piece of actual rubble from the Ground Zero site, comprised of I-beams), is to be placed in the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. The American Atheists group filed a lawsuit over the inclusion of the cross, saying that it -- obviously -- promotes Christianity.
I'm of two minds on this controversy. First, it's obviously inconsiderate and inappropriate to put the cross at the site, since many of those who died were of different religions or were entirely non-religious. To put a cross at the site is basically saying, "We honor the Christians who died here on that fateful day." It basically dismisses or minimizes the deaths of hundreds of those who died. If everyone who died had been Christian, I'd be all for this -- but that's obviously not the case. If the Memorial and Museum had allowed other belief systems/non-believers to include their own memorial symbol, I'd be fine with that, too -- but they did not, and they're ignoring requests.
However, my second reaction is this: Atheists need to pick their fights. Freethinkers, rationalists, agnostics, atheists, non-theists, secular humanists -- whatever you want to call us -- are looked upon as a bunch of angry, elitist people who will stop at nothing to squash religion trample on sacred memorials like crosses on highways and the WTC cross, which do "no harm" to anyone and are meant to honor the dead. No matter how right we are, ethically, in suing to prevent the cross from being included, we aren't doing ourselves any favors.
By some metrics, atheists are more hated than gays and Muslims in America today, and being so publicly combative in a controversial situation like this does us a disservice. We won't earn any rights or respect with this fight, but we will fire up Christians. Christians will get defensive, and it will be harder to curry favor and/or (de)convert them in the future. This sort of thing strengthens faith and kindles hatred and resentment, but it does nothing to positively affect the long-term rights or public perception of atheists.
People who are moderates or are on the fence/apathetic about religion certainly will side with the Christians on this issue, and that's a huge net loss for us atheists in many ways. When someone like Jon Stewart (culturally a Jew, but obviously an atheist) makes fun of us, you know we've stepped over the line.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Culture War Update - The Dividening of America - American Atheists vs. Ground Zero Cross|
Now, Stewart is obviously way off base when he asks, "Why do you give a shit?" We give a shit for the reasons I stated in the third paragraph, above. However, he's on point in pointing out that American Atheists President Dave Silverman's quote was way over the line:
"The WTC cross has become a Christian icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn't be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross."
Granted, I agree with that quote in its entirety -- but that doesn't mean that it wasn't incredibly dickish. While true, it was over the line, overly harsh, and didn't make us any allies. It was a quote meant to be controversial and bring attention to the issue, but sometimes that shouldn't be the only goal. Sometimes the goal should be a soft-handed approach that allows our opponents to let their guard down and embrace reason. This heavy-handed approach does nothing to convince those who are willing to be convinced.
So, again, I suggest we atheists learn to pick our fights. We need to start using a long-term-acceptance mentality, not a short-term-point-making mentality. We should live through example and choose smart opportunities and tactful responses to prove our points.
-- Atheist Apologist --