It is so common that zealous individuals take actions that seem wholly against what they claim they stand for it is almost a cliche; those who object to abortion as murder commit murder to get their point across, the heinous mass killing in Norway was meant to “protect” traditional values, Republicans claim to be defending US soldiers while they cut their pay and strip them of benefits, and multiculturalists out to protect “free speech” want to ban objectionable words and phrases. Neither left or right is free from this hypocrisy, and it continues to hamper public discourse and objective consideration of opposing viewpoints, and a group here in NYC that I agree with in principle has done something I wholly disagree with, attempting to force the removal of a “cross” at the Ground Zero memorial.
It is no surprise to anyone that atheist groups fight an uphill battle in the US, where many people view it worse than Satanism; in a country that has religion so deeply ingrained in almost every cultural aspect, atheism is seen as some sort of deliberate challenge to everything that the US stands for (not religious freedom, apparently), and inspires the usual hysterical blather from right wing nutcases about worldwide conspiracies and so on. Atheists are compared to Hitler (wrongly, since Adolph was a Christian) and blamed for the decay of morals and decency in the world, an accusation so ludicrous as to be nearly unbelievable, and in general are regarded with outright horror by many Americans, most of whom are only religious so far as yelling “God damn!” when they see a waitress in a short skirt. Much of what they do is quite valid, and motivated by a genuine desire to see more freedom and tolerance, and less reliance on outdated ideas which are used to disenfranchise and exploit the weak minded.
Which is what makes this action so sad; removing a cross shaped pair of beams removed from the rubble. Seriously folks? This is what your time and energy should be spent fighting? Isn’t atheism meant to allow more choices for people, instead of less? Aren’t you playing the same game as the religions you contest, trying to make people do what you want them to? Whatever the goal, we pagans should be generally opposed to any action which is meant to narrow your choices instead of expand on them. This is a bad move for many reasons, not the least of which is it represents a side of atheism that is not in line with many of their beliefs, the idea that people should be forced one way or another. Secondly, this seems to me to be legally untenable; the Ground Zero memorial isn’t an official government site (I presume they will claim since it is administered by the government, I assume the Parks Department, it is, but that’s semantics at its worst; are they maintaining that a public park is on the same level as the Pentagon?), and it is sure to include mention of the various religions of the victims. Also, the object in question is not, shall we say, an intentional cross, but some twisted beams that resemble one; no one deliberately set it there, and after appearing in hundreds of newspaper pictures and articles, it could certainly be argued that it has become symbolic of hope, of endurance, of belief in the power of good over evil. Are those strictly religious viewpoints? I do not believe in God, and I have nothing but contempt for any religion that justifies mass murder (take your pick), but I do believe in the resilience of the human spirit, and I admire the ability of people to carry on after catastrophe; surely, the cross is just as much a symbol of that, of the recovery and reclamation, both physical and spiritual, that Ground Zero represents.
We must also consider the heart wrenching nature of the tragedy represented here; this is no set of tablets on a courthouse wall, or a manger outside the DMV, this sits on a place that stands as one of the worst things to ever befall this great city, and emotions still run high when it is considered, and with today’s unconscionable gutting of the Zadroga bill, those emotions are going to be even more fired up. This suit will be seen as trampling on the memories of the victims, and of their friends and family who wish to see them honored, and as such, it is simply wrong.