Saturday, August 6, 2011

The World Trade Center Cross -- Learn to Pick Your Fights

I feel the need to preface this entry with an apology for the long hiatus. I'm not going to make any excuses, but ... here are some excuses: I was playing in a lot of World Series of Poker events and I was trying to start up a few businesses/help another startup company grow. It has been pretty hectic. Now, onto the topic at hand.

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 StewartMon - 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 --


  1. Succinct and true. Well done.

  2. I don't agree.

    Arguing against this stupid cross is a perfectly legitimate point. If I had relatives who died in the WTC, I would be freakin' pissed that they are putting this cross there, when the attacks had NOTHING to do with Christianity, and all who died were obviously not Christian.

    It is ludicrous. As for us being 'dicks', like Dave Silverman apparently is, *please*.

    We're not the ones erecting divisive religious structures on sites of great tragedy. We're not the ones seeking to erode separation of church and state at every conceivable opportunity.

    The only dicks here, are the people who think nothing of disrespecting thousands of people with their idiotic crosses in places they have no business to be.

    So, I think our 'dickishness' is well within boundaries.

    It's not as though the public will hate atheists any less if we lie down and submit. Atheists have been hated just as much since LONG before the New Atheist movement, and since the movement, numbers have grown, even though the religious right might hate us more for being outspoken.

    Too fucking bad for them, they can deal with it, like we've dealt with their shit for the entirety of human history.

    "Dicks", my arse.

    1. I agree no point it letting the retards think they are right, especially when they are wrong. I am in Hitchens' and Carlin's camp on this one. If an idea or concept is insanely retarded it should be branded so.

  3. As a Christian, I'm agreeing with you've stated, Atheist Apologist, and I believe that the cross should be removed due to the fact the establishment prevents others religious symbols from being displayed there. This is common sense.

  4. I'm an athiest.

    For our christian friends, who make up >70% of the US population, the cross is a symbol of hope, courage, etc...

    It is also a statement - we will not give in to Al Qaeda (or the Islamic front against the Jews and Crusaders). Judging by the name a Christian symbol is pretty appropriate.

    I think the vast majority of people know that religion is silly. It's silly, it's not quite rational but neither is patriotism or art or tradition but it's part of the culture for Christ's sake. A multi-faith shrine is silliness to the power of n religions (and Islam can go fuck itself) and taking the cross away would be a demonstration of our impotence 'We're going to defend our country without hurting people's feelings'

    I'm also generally against judicial activism - Nobody appreciates politics through lawsuits, giving an appointed body and their ever-chaning interpretation of the US constitution a greater say, is a bad thing.

  5. I'm religious, but because of that I believe very firmly in the separation of church and state. Just as I would not want others to impose their faith on me, I feel I should not impose it on others, and I think that applies especially to newly built structures and memorials. It's one thing for a publicly owned historical site to continue to carry the religious symbols of its past (as long as the history behind such symbols is laid bare), and another for a memorial of a non-religious site of commerce to carry such ideologically charged symbolism- especially when so many people want this to be "holy war" of sorts.. A cross doesn't belong here, unless it is part of a more inclusive memorial, and even then it's iffy at best.

    Of course, the way this is done makes a huge difference. Thinkers like Dawkins, for example, end up preaching to the choir, because direct attacks only make people defensive, and often serve only to entrench the two sides of a debate. In the end, statements like Silverman's end up creating their own straw men, as angry believers will learn to paint all atheists/agnostics in that "dickish" light, just as many people equate religiosity with fundamentalism or an anti-scientific worldview. Even if such generalizations are mostly true or statistically relevant, they won't work too well in the multitude of cases where someone strays from the stereotype in one way or another. Yeah, those who want to "cross the aisle" will be accused of ideological impurity by their peers, but the question is if we want to get something done or not.

  6. I would really like to learn more about the way in which atheists should handle themselves in debate and in a public eye. It's very obvious we have the intellectual front covered, but considering what we're fighting against, I think we need to work on the way we deliver ourselves. Apologetics defend weak arguments, where as we need to defend poor character. Is there another place of discussion or information where I can learn more about philosophies on delivering atheism in an effective way?

  7. I'm an atheist, but it's just a cross. Crosses were symbols well before Christianity.

    1. Agreed. Though at one point crosses may have been almost exclusively a Christian symbol, the cross today often stands as a non-religious symbol to honor the dead and I don't think there is anything wrong with that.

  8. I'm a Christian. But I agree with you. They should not put up a cross without the majority of the people's consent. Although this country was built on Christian values, the country has grown to add other religions. So now the U.S. probably has a wide variety of religions. I say that putting up a cross there when not all of the WTC attack victims were Christians is offensive to other people.

    1. "Although this country was built on Christian values..."

      Please never say this again, unless you think "Christian values" include enslaving an entire race or reducing women to a subhuman status. This is not a Christian nation, and never was one. If the Founders wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, they would have included it in the document that founded our nation. I'll wait while you go and look for ANY mention of God, the Bible, or Jesus in the Constitution.

  9. How can you convert a Christian in the first place when logic, history and fact have already had no sway?

  10. Erecting a cross doesn't offend me particularly because its purpose is to give comfort to the families of these thousands of innocent victims. Nor would I be offended by erecting other religious symbols for the same purpose. Of course, as an atheist, I think their beliefs are irrational but they ARE their beliefs and its not our place to call them out AT THIS TIME and PLACE on them. Neither does the cross offend the non-christian and/or non-believer victims who died there - they're dead - they can no longer be offended or disrespected. I'd be the first to debate any faith believer about the irrationality of their beliefs but to do so at the gravesites of their families is just obnoxious, crass and self-defeating. I don't see much difference between this conduct and a fundamentaist muslim/christian ranting and raving about how "God/Allah" is offended by some words/conduct/symbol, etc. It seems to me it's now just a bunch of Atheists, instead of religious zealots running around claiming "blasphemy."

  11. I don't know the details of the law suit, but if it is explicitly "anti-cross" then I think it's misguided. We (the non-religious) should be rallying for more openness rather than for exclusion--to allow other organized groups to erect symbols representing victims of other religious beliefs and, of course, victims that were "nones," humanists, atheists, agnostics, etc. Is it really true that the Memorial & Museum has allowed no other such symbols aside from the Christian cross? Now *that's* dickish!

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  15. Tear it down. Doesn't belong. Simple as that. The judge was clearly a biased Christian.

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