June 29, 2005

One Nation Under (a Christian) God

In light of today's construction update, I'm going to post something that's been on my mind for awhile. Even though I've been in NY City many times since 9/11, last week was the first instance I visited Ground Zero since the attacks. I'm working close to the courts downtown and my office is basically a block away. While delivering some papers, I decided to walk back a little out of the way and pass by the site. Maybe I've just missed the boat and this is common knowledge, but there's a giant metal cross left in the rubble made out of construction I-beams.

When I saw it, frankly I was shocked. I couldn't believe that such a blatant Christian symbol was left in the aftermath of September 11th. A quick perusal of the list of victims of the attack makes it clear that many Jewish (and probably Muslim and Hindu) people died that day. I thought the crucifix sent the really unfair message that people of only one faith suffered that day. Talk about discrimination against people of faith.

Furthermore, I think the maintenance of this symbol in such a controversial place also imparts that America does regard the attacks of September 11th as a clash of civilizations. Whether or not you believe the theories of Bush and his Defense Department cronies, leaving a crucifix at Ground Zero basically says "it's the Christians versus the terrorists," which is ridiculous because I'm sure there at least some non-Christian Americans who buy into the clash of civilization theory.

I just want to close this with a quote from Justice O'Conner taken from a NYT article:

Justice O'Connor said the country had worked well, when compared with nations gripped by religious violence, by keeping religion "a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat." She added: "Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

I do realize that the WTC is private property and the government isn't responsible for this affront, but I still think this example epitomizes the publicity of religion, particularly Christianity, that is having seriously harmful consequences on the fabric of contemporary American society. Religion used to be a private affair that would unite people in quiet worship. Today, it's become a political tool which is only polarizing the country more by the day.


  1. Anonymous9:06 PM

    Just to clarify - a crucifix is not the same as a cross. A crucifix is a cross with the body of Jesus nailed to it. So don't refer to what is at Ground Zero as a crucifix.

    In addition, I think I remember that the configuration of the I-Beams was discovered in the rubble just as it was as they were going through the site. They didn't take it down - but they didn't put it up either. I think that's worth keeping in mind.

    The other thing I think it does, which you don't mention, is that it draws attention to the fact that it is a solemn place - for many, it is the final resting place of a loved one's body who was never found. It's a cemetary, and in most cemetaries I have been to, there are crosses. Just a thought. And I think that also ties into why some people were upset with the plans of the memorial and the freedom center thing they were planning - for them, Ground Zero is a place to grieve, a place to continually pay last respects - not a place to learn about the oppressed and freedom loving peoples of the world.

  2. I believe that my usage of crucifix is correct. The second meaning on dictionary.com is "A cross viewed as a symbol of Jesus's crucifixion," which is proper in the context used.

    Obviously, the cross wasn't put there. It's rubble from the destruction. I just think it should have been torn down with everything else that got demolished after the attack.

    Maybe you haven't been to any Jewish cemeteries. In Jewish cemeteries there are Stars of David, not crucifixes. My biggest problem with the display wasn't the cross in itself, but rather the fact that the religions of everyone who died in the attacks weren't represented, just one. I think there either should be no religious display or an attempt to incorporate all faiths.

  3. Random 0412:51 AM

    I think there either should be no religious display or an attempt to incorporate all faiths.

    So would you oppose a holocaust memorial that has a Star of David but no other symbols to symbolize the other groups persecuted by the Nazi's?

    Also, I attended Catholic schools my whole life, and I have never heard of a crucifix without the body of Jesus nailed to it. I've always been taught that that was what a crucifix is, so I believe you're wrong in terms of what the common meaning of the word is. There's a reason you had to go to the second meaning in the dictionary.

    I think that your concern here is a noble one, but I think it's just another example of sensitivity gone too far. Should we simply ignore religion unless we can include every religion, regardless of how small a fraction of the population that religion represents? Should we clean up toxic waste sites to save a single statistical human life regardless of the billions of dollars the cleanup will cost? I'm guessing a lot of people would say yes to both, which certainly doesn't make you a jerk like most conservatives, but certainly makes you short-sighted like most liberals.

  4. Random 04,

    I think part of what Adam was reacting against is the unambiguous nature of the cross as a symbol of Christianity only; the cross is not used in remotely the same way by any other faith community in the world.

    Because the symbol used, then, to illustrate and express the feelings of America about 9/11 (I would argue in this case that it actually represents America itself--undefeated, triumphant, resurrected even) is only Christian, it does not just "draw attention to a solemn place" as anonymous said above, but rather draws attention in a very limited way, and draws a very specific kind of attention.

    It is the gravity of the site and the power of the symbol used that makes the exclusion or ignorance of other faiths a legitimate concern.

    There are symbols that do not carry such specific religious weight, and while, like angels or doves, many of them carry a specific religious connotation, they are not the dominant symbol of a dominant (and often dominating) faith. It's the same kind of thing as saying "God Bless America" as opposed to "May Jehovah, the one true God, smite our enemies and keep our lands safe tonight."

    In addition, your attempt to lassoo the Holocaust in here is a disanalogy. While many other groups were targeted by the Nazi regime, no group was targeted as systematically and as thoroughly as the Jews. Not only that, but the Jews were targeted because they were Jews. No person in the WTC was targeted because they were Christian, but because they were American.

    As far as I know, the cross (or the crucifix) is not a symbol of America.

  5. "...Ground Zero is a place to grieve, a place to continually pay last respects - not a place to learn about the oppressed and freedom loving peoples of the world."

    But shouldn't our mourning accomplish said learning?

  6. Adam, you go to ground zero for the first time since the 9/11 attacks, and what is it that you are moved to write about?:

    The senseless tragedy? The cruelty of the Islamist murderers who did this? The 2,700 grieving families left behind? The determination and resolve we must have in order to take measures to insure this does not happen again? The sheer physical size of the destruction? The bravery of the NYPD and NYFD who died trying to save others?

    No, nothing so trivial.

    Adam, you didn't "just miss the boat" as you put it, you missed the whole fucking ocean.

  7. Comeon bill, don't be an ass.
    I understand you republicans have a visceral compulsion to evoke the most emotionally poignant imagery of 9/11 whenever you can, but seriously, just fucking don't.
    Frankly, if he had written about all that, it would've seemed really trite. Everybody thinks of 9/11 and its implications, and nobody can go to ground zero without thinking about the people who died.
    But get a fucking grip. Talking about the presence of a cross there isn't at all demeaning to those who died, like you somehow imply, and I think we'll all make it through our day just the same as before without some insincere garbage about sacrifice and liberty and whatever other words you people seem prone to regurgitating.

  8. Anonymous4:28 PM

    feetballbill, i find it really ironic how new yorkers don't feel the need to fucking wax patriotic and militaristic even though they were the ones hit hardest by 9/11. only the uneducated rednecks (i wish they were educated) in rural america who have no idea how anything so complicated as the world outside their own county works get worked up, allowing war-mongering, power-hungry politicans to play on their fears and resentments while fucking them up the ass economically and perpetuating their uneducated redneckness. that's how america works, plain and simple, and if you don't see it, you must fall int othe group of either the rapists or the rape victims.

  9. Funny, I thought Adam was the one that was being an ass? But I see, I'm just not SENSITIVE enough. Afterall, there were Muslims that died there [even some innocent ones], and Jews and Buddhists, and athiests, and who knows what.

    Adam, you are so entangled your political correctness you would prefer that we just did nothing rather than preserve a piece of history that has touched thousands, most of whom happen to be Christians, in a time of tragedy. If you're serious about it though, you can go to athiest.org which has been organizing trying to have the thing removed.

  10. wow, a rare f-bomb from feetballbill. I must have touched a nerve. Oh Lordy, Lordy Jesus I repent! How dare I actually write about something other than bland jingoistic tripe I'm sure you'd prefer.

    P.S. You forgot the obligatory "won't somebody please think of the children" in your hysterical post-911 invective.

  11. I'm going to have to agree with Adam. What would be so wrong with having symbols of all faiths and religion at ground zero. To show the world that we're all in this together and that terrorists won't divide us but bring us together, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus. In America, no matter what horrific thing happens we will continue to choose love over hate and that's how we will win the war on terror. Too bad there's people like feetalbill who are so hateful it clouds their judgements. That's how the terrorists win bill.

  12. You guys ARE the children. Hopefully, some day, you will grow up and actually SERVE your country. I repeat what I've said elsewhere here that military service should be mandatory. Having your butt on the line gives you a different perspective.

    Unfortunately, many of my generation, likely some of your professors, never grew up either.

    P. S. I don't respond to redneck newyorkers who don't have the balls to sign their posts.

  13. Yes, yes, it sounds like everyone being rationale here are the ones being children. Come on. So let me get this straight, if you haven't SERVED your country you don't know how to fight the war on terror? You're so full of shit because I bet it's people like you who attacked Kerry last fall so viciously for being a chicken, even though his butt was on the line back in Vietnam. He had the medals to prove it. So don't give me that line.

    And I hate to bring up old crap like this but if you call what Dubya did SERVICE, then I think I'm SERVING my country right now playing my fighter pilot video game in the comfort of my home. I mean it could be considered training and I never have to leave friendly US airspace. Get me?

  14. "there were Muslims that died there [even some innocent ones]"

    Congratulations feetballbill, the implication here is probably the most repugnant [even overtly racist] thing ever posted on this blog. Your tripe is occasionally entertaining, and it is hilarious that when argued into a corner your only response is an ad hominem attack followed by rants about mandatory service in the military. Who among the Bush administration (besides Colin Powell, who they forced out) has served in the military, guy? But aren't they all great Americans? They certainly speak of the September 11th attacks in the manner that you prescribe. Is this not the recipe for a great American? Are they not great Americans?

  15. I'd also like to add that there is a subtle irony here to which no one will fess up. Feetballbill does not necessarily belong to this group (I do not know him), but there are a large number of people who wax poetic about the September 11th attacks but persist in hating New York and everything it stands for. New York is full of ethnic minorities, religious minorities (Jews and Muslims, even innocent ones), immigrants, and homosexuals. When you come here from your suburb in the Midwest or the South, you may not notice from your double decker tour bus that there are junkies and crack addicts wandering the streets and panhandling. This city is full of intense and self-righteous people of vastly different backgrounds and life experiences. It holds together because of a pervasive atmosphere of tolerance (with notable exceptions such as the recent hate crime in Howard Beach). New York does not fit in to the image of America that conservatives envision. There is no room in this hallucinatory image for many groups that exist here in great numbers. This city is an abomination to the simulacral conservative America that so many both advocate and believe to be a living fact.

  16. I think it apropos to quote the very recently retired Justice O'Connor on this. In 1984, in a decision to to allow a Christman display in Rhode Island, O'Connor wrote that an important and relevant factor in determining the consitutionality of any particular display is discerning whether it "sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community."

    Turning an American catastrophe that effected groups of all origin into a distinctly Christian tragedy sends exactly the wrong message. This is not a case of being "overly sensitive." This is the rest of America saying loudly, "We too are Americans." And who are you, or anyone else, to challenge us on that? In fact, the suggestion that we ought not be represented at Ground Zero is perhaps the most dictinctly un-American thing you could say.

  17. Magnum, nope, didn't say that...just said you'd have a different perspective on things generally otherwise described here as "trite".

    "...we will continue to choose love over hate and that's how we will win the war on terror."

    That's a sweet thought, Michelle, why don't you tell that to the guys sawing off heads? Gonna just love'm to death, I guess. Sorry I seem hateful to you, but mindless blather does that to me.

    "[even some innocent ones]" You're right George, that's a little over the top. Sorry.

    Regarding Bush, Cheney, etc., they do a lot of things, particularly Bush, as he's the one responsible, that piss me off, so I'll defer on greatness. But they have generally demonstrated to me that they understand that this is a war, that it's one without traditional battle lines so you fight on every front you can, that the military has to be allowed to fight it, that they know the difference between appeasement and negotiation, and more to the point of my earlier comments, they appreciate the sacrifice of our innocents as well as our soldiers. I don't see that respect and appreciation in your collective posts--and I was [perhaps sarcastically] noting that I reacted similarly in my younger days (VN era) until I was put in harms way. So, I'm just suggesting that age, service, experience,...gives you a different perspective on those touchy-feely things us cons get mushy about.

    In that vain, one of the tremendous things that GWB does, which I'm sure will illicit only derision from TLGB, is that he meets privately with the families of slain soldiers and marines at military bases every time he visits a base and mourns with them, such as at Ft. Bragg prior to this week's speech [and as he did with many of the families of WTC victims]. It's ironic that for all the concern of the left for the 1700, going on 1800 deaths of our soldiers, the President's strongest support group regarding Iraq are the those that are in Iraq doing and dying and their families. Not all, I know, but still a fair statement. What, I wonder, is it that they understand and believe that the left cannot or will not?

    "This city is an abomination to the simulacral conservative America".

    In addition to being a poor stab at using simulacrum, that's just crap, George.

  18. You guys have a nice July 4th weekend.

  19. "In addition to being a poor stab at using simulacrum, that's just crap, George."

    Wrong. This is an appropriate usage of the adjective form of "simulacrum." Happy 4th.

  20. "...one of the tremendous things that GWB does, which I'm sure will illicit only derision from TLGB, is that he meets privately with the families of slain soldiers and marines at military bases every time he visits a base and mourns with them..."

    This is an appropriate practice given his responsibility for their deaths. Justify this war in Iraq. That's not derision, it's fact. This administration's policies (torture, etc.) are also Al Qaeda's best recruiting tool ever.

  21. Anonymous2:53 PM

    amen, to anonymous

    from all newyorkers: just dont politicize (eg exploit) this in an attempt to support your facile as fuck points. For you it stopped being a tragedy the week after....for us the hurt is still very real.

  22. David Lee12:29 AM

    I can’t believe no one else had any problems with this last paragraph:

    "I do realize that the WTC is private property and the government isn't responsible for this affront, but I still think this example epitomizes the publicity of religion, particularly Christianity, that is having seriously harmful consequences on the fabric of contemporary American society. Religion used to be a private affair that would unite people in quiet worship. Today, it's become a political tool which is only polarizing the country more by the day."

    "A private affair that would unite people in quiet worship"?!? Religion was at the heart of so many wars that I won’t bother to post them all. You could argue religion was at the root of slavery. It wasn’t that long ago, wait it still happens today in this country, children read the Bible and recited the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. I’m wondering when it was when religion supposedly was a “private affair” for “quiet worship.”

    Another thing, where in your mind can you draw the connection from a simple cross, which was probably left up by blue collar construction workers, to an elaborate republican plan to polarize our nation and discriminate against people of faith? I’m sure Bush and his evil cronies paid off the dumb construction workers to display this cross in an effort of discriminate against people of faith. If it upset you that much, you should have put up a Star of David yourself. It would probably have been less effort and definitely much more effective than your blog. It’s easy to talk about the discrimination but it’s another thing to actually do something. In my book, writing a blog that frankly degrades the other good blogs on the website, doesn’t count as doing something.

    I know I arrived a bit late to this blog but I pray (to my Christian and supposedly Republican God) that Adam can respond. I'll check up on this site but feel free to email me at selee@mail.colgate.edu.

  23. David-

    What American wars have had religion as a root cause? Economic reasons were the driving force of slavery, religious justifications were after the fact ways for slave owners to soothe their conscience. I know I'm young, but you would have to be a fool to try and deny that religion is playing a stronger role in politics than it has in decades.

    I don't recall ever posting that this was an "elaborate republican plan" (although I woudn't put anything past Rove). In fact, if you read the first sentence of the paragraph you quoted from my post I say the government is probably not responsible. Also, I'm guessing you've never been to Ground Zero because civilians aren't allowed inside anymore, not that I would go in to erect a Star of David if I could because that wouldn't solve the problem because that would just further exclude the non-Western religions that are also a part of this country. I think the cross should be taken down or a faith neutral display should be erected.

  24. David Lee6:35 PM

    I really don't think you have a stance on this issue rather than to piss off most of America. If people of various religions were barred from putting up their respective symbols, there would be a mass media shitstorm and there would be a universal call for justice. Yet, its only the atheists and you who are bringing this travesty to light. Let me just cue you in on some facts: first, the shocking cross is temporary and made of scrap metal. second, plans are being made to erect a permanent memorial that will, hopefully, please everyone. last, roughly 3/4ths of this great country follows or associates with Christianity. It's not really smart, even for liberals, to piss them all off and tear down the cross.

  25. First, I don't see how my stance is "to piss off most of America." I'm just writing about what I believe (and I don't think I'm alone here) is right. America is a nation founded on diversity. The promotion of Christianity over other faiths is antithetical to everything on which this country was founded.

    Second, there is a profound distiction between public displays of religion and the cross at Ground Zero. The Sept. 11th attacks had a profound impact on all Americans, not just Christian ones. Ground Zero isn't a church or religions rally, it's a historical site (not affiliated with any particular religion) that should be preserved as such .

    Third, please don't try and patronize me with your pathetic attempt at sarcasm. I'm well aware that the cross is temporary and a better permanent memorial is in the works. It was, after all, designed by a Dartmouth alum.

    Lastly, just because the majority of America is Christian doesn't make it right to glorify it over other religions. If we didn't protect the rights of minorities we would be living in 1700s.

  26. David Lee11:52 PM

    First, you are trying to piss off most of America because most of Americans are Christians and would support a cross at ground zero. You say you aren't alone in this liberal rabble rousing? I know I pointed out the atheists, care to share the identities of other supporters?

    Second, I think you misunderstood my statement when you try to criticize me for not knowing the difference between the cross at ground zero and public displays of religion. I'm merely stating if people of other religions tried and were denied access to ground zero to put up religious symbols, that would be a clear infraction of their liberties and even I would have a problem with that. But that hasn't happened. Show me evidence that someone's religious freedom, and not merely their feelings, were tampered with and I'll help you get media attention for your cause. There is no law stating mandatory equal religious representation at a site like ground zero.

    Third, I wasn't being sarcastic, I was trying to point out the provisional nature of the cross. That's fabulous that a Dartmouth alum is designing the new monument. I hope the plans meet all your needs.

    Fourth, if everyone behaved in this politically correct, don't-step-on-any-toes manner as you are describing, we'd be living in the 1700s because no progress would be made at all. I’m sure you know the hassles of working in a group setting.

    Lastly, try to keep away from comments on my supposed lack of humor. That's an attack on me and pertains nothing to the issues at hand. It cheapens your argument.

  27. David Lee11:56 PM

    I just wanted to bring back my original question in addition to my other comments because it deals with the statment that prompted me to write a reply:

    I’m wondering when religion was supposedly only a “private affair” for “quiet worship”?

  28. I don't think either one of us has the information to declare how "most of America" feels on this issue.

    Groud Zero is private property so people would have no right to put up their religious symbols there unless they owned the land. I never said leaving the cross there was a legal or constitutional issue. While I personally feel its wrong and insulting to many Americans, the owners of the land have the ability to do whatever the want with it within their rights.

    I refuse to quibble with you about sarcasm. Also, please don't tell me how to write.

    As for the 1700's thing, that might be the most asinine thing you've said so far. I don't even know where to begin criticizing this nonsensical argument.

    As for religion being a private affair, I meant in the the context of politics. Please read my posts thoroughly before jumping to ridiculous conclusions because this is clearly implied. Yes, there have obviously been public displays of religion for many years, but religion and politics have been relatively exclusive in modern times until it recently became in vogue to use Jesus as a political consultant.

    This is the last of your comments I'm going to respond to on this post because obviously we both have very different opinions on the subject and are just wasting each other's time arguing over semantics at this point.

  29. im gonna have to agree with feetballbill. Should we have to put a monument for every single religion at the WTC? No! That's ridiculous! Now there is most likely going to be a Mosque built near the WTC. Should there be a center of worship for every single religion next to the WTC now just because there is a religious building there? Of course not. I don't understand how a Cross made out of debris causes such a controversy, but a Mosque stirs no turmoil. To me, its the same thing.