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The Ground Zero "Cross"
Amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center, following the tragic events of September 11th 2001, two cross-beams were found. These steel beams intersect each other forming a cross and are currently located in NYC as part of a memorial at ground zero. It should come as no surprise that these intersecting beams have been interpreted as a Christian symbol by many religious believers and sentimental religious value has been placed on them.
So it struck me as perplexing when an atheist group, American Atheists, filed a lawsuit against the city of New York claiming that the so-called WTC Cross violated the separation of Church and State. My guess is that many religious believers who have heard this news story are likely upset about the lawsuit. I want them to know that many in the atheist community share their attitude towards the lawsuit even if we do not share their beliefs. In this hub I will explore why I think the lawsuit is frivolous and why I feel the cross should remain at Ground Zero.
Where were you?
For Americans September 11th holds special significance. Thousands were killed or injured in the attacks. Most people, I think, remember where they were on that day. For me the memory of what happened to me on September 11th holds special significance because looking back on it is a clear reminder of why religious beliefs are dangerous - for multiple reasons. Before I talk about the cross I'm going to tell the story of where I was on September 11th and hopefully it will put what I have to say about the supposed "cross" into perspective.
I was in eighth grade, middle school, sitting in Algebra class on what seemed an ordinary Tuesday morning. Suddenly the principal came on over the loud speaker and I still get a knot in my stomach recalling the vague announcement she made. It went something like this,
"Students, reports are coming in that something has happened in NYC. We're not sure what yet but it may affect the entire East coast."
That's all we got to start with, that's all the students were given at any rate, and at the time we were down in the basement computer labs (computers which were locked out from the internet and far too old anyway) and far from a television set. I'm not sure what the rest of the students thought of those announcements, but I know what I thought. Rapture had come - and I was left behind.
I was raised in a Fundamentalist household and taught that Jesus would be returning at any moment. Throughout my teen years any event could have sparked fear of being left behind. From discovering someone's clothes left in the middle of the floor to hearing a plane overhead and wondering the pilot would be raptured out mid-flight causing the plane to crash. So I left Algebra class and headed for gym with the vague announcement the principal had given replaying over and over in my head. No matter how I dissected it my mind kept coming back to the idea of the Rapture. I can remember what that felt like, the sick hot feeling in my stomach like my organs were cooking... the ball in my throat and the heaviness of the air as I got dressed for gym class.
So there I stood figuring I'd been left behind and would now have to suffer the tribulation, likely without my family there (since I figured they had all been taken). I knew from what I'd been taught that Christians during the tribulation were beheaded by the Beast and that was the only way to get into Heaven after you'd been left behind. The possibility occurred to me that I might be too cowardly, or not have the faith, to confess Christ before the Beast and thus would be lost to Hell.
Finally I stood in line for gym, everyone was very quiet because no one knew what the hell was going on. The teacher came out and explained to use about the hijackings. While everyone else reacted with solemn silence or gasps of horror I reacted with relief. The weight off my shoulders lifted for a few moments as I realized that I didn't have to face the Tribulation or the possibility of Hell.
This is what I mean when I talk about the dangers of religious belief. It was religious belief that drove those men to fly airplanes into buildings. It was religious belief that had so distorted my sense of reality that this tragedy initiated feelings of RELIEF. Of course later on in the day I did realize the true gravity of the attacks in New York and Washington DC despite them not being the Rapture but I still remember that day not just because of its significance to all Americans but because it reminds me how fucked up religious beliefs can make you (that goes for both me and the terrorists).
Religious belief can be very dangerous but there is something more dangerous than those irrational beliefs and that is telling people what they can and can't believe. We must defend religious freedom for without it I would not have been free to leave behind the beliefs of my parents. Religious freedom is a fundamental right here in America and it's one that most atheists, and indeed most theists, both utilize and support. Some months ago when an Islamic center was to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero many Americans got enraged about the act, but most of the atheists I know of supported the so called "Ground Zero Mosque". In fact it was the first topic I ever covered here on Hubpages.
I'm not sure what the group American Atheists stance was on the Islamic Center but they are clearly against the Ground Zero Cross. To me it smacks of hypocrisy.
Despite the psychological damage that religion is capable of, despite what that religious belief did to distort my view on the morning of September 11th it is still important that we protect people's right to believe. For from that right to believe what you want comes the right to reject those beliefs.
YOU have to see it as a Cross
One of the big reasons why I think the WTC Cross should remain where it is and the lawsuit by American Atheists be dropped is that these beams are not an overtly religious symbol. We're not dealing with a crucifix carved specifically to be placed at Ground Zero as a religious monument, we're dealing with pieces of the wreckage, with a piece of history. The only way this can be claimed to be a religious symbol is by those CHOOSING to view it that way.
I've said it before elsewhere online while defending this "cross" but I'll repeat it here. These beams are no more a religious symbol than the plus-sign in the middle of a math problem is a cross. If religious students choose to do so they can imagine a tiny little Jesus stamped to their plus signs and pretend its a religious symbol but that doesn't mean we have the right to sue schools to get plus signs banned from the classroom.
This religious symbol is in the eye of the beholder. For American Atheists to come out against it proves they are playing into the mindset of believers who view the cross as religious. They are in some sense validating the believer's view of this cross. It gets worse though as they are making all atheists look back. For one thing the organization's name is American Atheists, it sounds an awful lot like they want to speak for all of us atheists here in the States.
They are also feeding into the Christian persecution complex. Most of the news stories about atheists here in America are negative. They focus on billboard campaigns arrogantly declaring that there is no God or that all religious are myth. They focus on the contrived "War on Christmas". Now they have a new target and for once its a target that I agree needs to be called out for their Bullshit. The problem is that the public's opinion of atheists is going to be shaped by this negative story as it is all the rest of the negative stories. We are portrayed as the national SCROOGES and American Atheists is making us come off as just that, a bunch of assholes yelling humbug.
Do we want theists to see us like this?
Division and Disrespect
I'm not one for superstition, I don't think any curse will befall us for disrespecting the dead but I also don't think any good can come of it. To me this lawsuit is an insult to those who died in September 11th. The tragic events of that day sparked a brief period of patriotism and brotherhood in this country that unfortunately didn't last very long. I'm not one for nationalism and I think the government is bought and paid for by wealthy special interests but that doesn't change the fact that we have fundamental freedoms protected by the Constitution. We also won't get anywhere without working together.
Why let a piece of the rubble of the WTC, a piece of rubble that should bring us together to remember that fateful day and feel a sense of camaraderie for our fellow Americans, divide us? There's already enough tension and division between atheists and theists that makes meaningful conversation difficult.
Sometimes its important to point out that atheism has no dogma, no doctrine and that not all atheists think alike. The only thing the label defines is your stance on whether you believe in god(s). Still I think its important, even if the atheist community is a disjointed mess of individuals, to call other atheists on their bullshit. This is one of those times.
The WTC beams should be left where they are. If religious folks want to view them as symbols of their Faith I have no issue with that and it most certainly doesn't violate any aspect of the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is what allows freedom FROM religion. I choose not to see this as a religious symbol, I chose long ago to be free from that superstitious way of thinking. It others choose to believe these beams are a cross, let them.