Exhibit A: Newly announced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, America’s greatest embodiment of a living Ken doll, has folks–atheists and non-Christians alike–up in arms because of his National Day of (Christian, but that doesn’t need to be said, really, does it? because all other religions aren’t real anyway) Prayer and Fasting this past Saturday to help our nation find its way. (Somehow, I think the way would be more clearly viewed without the body politic having its head clear up its grossly self-serving ass, and I didn’t even have to have divine inspiration to figure that one out.)
Exhibit B: Evidently, in the rubble at Ground Zero in New York, some fused beams that appeared to some to look like the holy cross symbolic of all Christian religious were noticed and appreciated by folks I assume are Christians, and they took heart in a terrible time from such a sighting, in much the same way folks have in spying the image of the Virgin Mary in their toast, or in a potato that looked uncannily like their lord and savior. Atheists are suing to keep this “cross” out of the 9/11 memorial, on the grounds that it wasn’t just Christians that perished there, and having only a Christian symbol is unnecessarily and wrongly exclusionary.
Now, I am an atheist. I do not believe in a personified god of any kind, and have not since I was 19, despite brought up in the Catholic church. I believe in some kind of greater reality beyond the commonly experienced and understood world of the five senses, because I’ve experienced it myself, and I’m reasonably comfortable with the idea that whatever that reality is, it’s the same thing other people probably mean (whether they realize it or not) when they refer to “god.” So while I think individual sects’ certainty in their righteousness is ridiculous and more than a little arrogant, I recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, we’re all probably talking about the same mysterious thing. If your life experiences have brought you to an understanding of that thing that is different than mine, or you just don’t feel it in your life, that’s fine. I’m not bothered. We each do what we can to make meaning of this life, and I shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t understand and approach the world the same way as I do; how could you? I’m not going to argue that my life experience is somehow truer and more valid than anyone else’s. So there’s that.
And I’m a big believer in the separation of church and state. Thing is, I would be even if I were religious, because if I were religious, I would not be at all interested in my government interfering with my expression of my beliefs. And as an atheist, that’s how I feel as well. The government has its job, and primary among its duties is to treat everyone equally and fairly. This is easier to do when we’re not confusing arbitrary rules with morality, and morality with ethics, and insisting on enforcing the whole jumbled mess on people who may or may not agree, validly, with it regardless of their own views of morality and ethics. People’s various spiritual paths (including no path at all) are their own, and should remain an entirely separate thing. People can be guided by morals if they choose, but when dealing with the greater population in the form of government, they need to be guided by ethics and not blinded by dogma and habit.
So when atheists or non-Christian theists complain and file lawsuits when one person or one group in a government position or place is insistent upon foisting their own Christian beliefs (because it’s always the Christians) on everyone else who must deal with that government agency, or inhabit a government space, I think their cause is a noble one, because that crap? That’s just ham-handed, unconstitutional bullying. It should’ve never come to a lawsuit; the defendants should’ve known better than to proselytize in government spaces, because our great Melting Pot experiment means none of our diverse citizens should feel in any way left out or persecuted when dealing with their government of/for/by the people, of which they are one. That’s why they put it first in the Bill of Rights. This isn’t difficult to understand.
However, there are atheists like me, and there are atheists who are just as intent upon their point of view and proselytizing to any and all as anyone who rings your doorbell to give you a copy of Watchtower. They don’t believe in god, and they don’t think you should either. Evidently unappreciative of irony, these folks are cut from the exact same cloth as the people who want to insist on prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and crèches on the courthouse lawn: they know what is right, and they’re going to tell you, whether you want to hear it or not, and whether or not you have your own considered opinion on the subject. They are evangelical atheists, and they are here to debunk whatever meaning of the universe, up to and including god, you have managed to cobble together. It’s not enough for them to not believe; they want to convince you not to believe, too. They should hold hands with the Jesus freaks, because they have more in common with each other than either has with me, and probably most people.
Except, despite their deeply held non-belief, the fact is, none of us really know what the heck is going on, what it all means, why we’re here. If we did—if the truth were that clear and self-evident, we wouldn’t need to argue about it, war about it, kill and die about it. We don’t argue that the sky is blue. At best, we just have hunches, feelings, and experiences that direct us toward our current beliefs, beliefs that can deepen or change altogether through different experiences, as they have through time, for groups and individuals. And anyone who wants to argue otherwise is insane, in my opinion. Devotion is one thing; assuming absolute rectitude is quite another.
So back to Ken…er, I mean, Rick Perry. Rick Perry is the governor of Texas, and as such, it would not be cool of him to hold an exclusive Christian prayer rally at the capitol in his role as a governor, or pay for it with state funds. If he did that, I think it would be correct to complain and/or sue. And I think he’s kind of a tool, and a politically unsavvy politician, to leave other prayerful folks from other religions off the invitation, but last time I checked, it wasn’t illegal to be a tool (more’s the pity). He really doesn’t need those other folks, anyway, when you get right down to it; Christians are in the majority in this country, although perhaps not all of them are of the kind he claims to be one of.
But regardless of his day job and responsibilities thereof, Rick Perry is still a man. A Christian man. A real human being with a real life and values and hopes and dreams of his own; people don’t give up their human rights when they take public office; the Bill of Rights covers them, too. And if this is what he wants to do, I think he absolutely has the right to do that as Rick Perry, U.S. Citizen, even if I don’t think he does as Gov. Rick Perry. This rally was held at a privately owned football stadium. I assume it was paid for by the people who attended it and other private donations. Personally, I would think the people who are offended by this would appreciate knowing exactly who he is and how much he cares about them and their own lives, values, dreams, hopes, and dreams. That way when he runs for president, they can cross him off their list. He may be a jerk, but he’s not a criminal jerk, as far as I know.
As for the “cross” at Ground Zero, an atheist group is pushing for equal representation of other religions, if they can’t get rid of the cross entirely. I could understand disliking the cross; however, the idea of an atheist group suing to make sure multiple religions are represented seems pretty comical to me. Atheists for religious plurality! What the what, now?
The argument I would make is not that it’s the cross that’s the problem, but rather that its symbolism being a focal point merely fans the flames of anti-Muslim hatred that frankly don’t need any encouragement in this country. If we make this memorial into a holy war, how does that make us any better than the zealots who made the memorial necessary? If they were wrong to do it–and no one disputes that they were–then we are wrong to follow suit by insisting on a Christian interpretation of the experience and the suggestion, however vague, of a solely Christian victimhood.
But regardless, we’re dealing with a non-profit corporation, not the government. They can put whatever the hell they like in their museum. If it were the government itself, then it would be questionable. But at minimum, it is an artifact of a historical event; it’s a part of the actual building, and it means something to more than a few people. I would argue that the whole point of a memorial museum is to address the emotional realities of historical events, and the lingering questions that haunt us as a people. I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. It’s not about dry facts and dates; it’s about real human stories. We are meant to be moved, and to be moved to reflect on how such things can happen and what we can do to prevent them happening again. As a memento, it is as meaningful as anything else found at Ground Zero, and as such, deserves a place in the museum. If it doesn’t speak to me, that’s fine. That it spoke to someone else at a time of great tragedy and greater sorrow is the whole point of it, anyway. And I get that. Why would I want to take away from that? I really don’t think a lawsuit is appropriate in this case.
Honestly, I’m more annoyed that the president asks god to bless America at the end of every speech, because there he IS operating as the government. But I also know that if he didn’t, there would be riots in the street, especially if it’s our current president. Which really is the whole problem here, isn’t it? People just can’t let each other be; too many always have to be pushing their own agenda on others. I choose, for the most part, to exercise my right to ignore it because it doesn’t really persecute me. I’ll save my real outrage for real persecution, and that’s just not happening in either of the above cases. As a religiously pluralistic nation with a Christian majority, the laws exist to protect the minority from a potentially tyrannous majority, but all of us have the responsibility to appropriately recognize the lines those laws draw and not overstep them, from either side, lest the line become so blurred as to no longer exist.