Ethics Alarms used to have its own in-house atheist activist, and this is one of the times that I miss him: he would undoubtedly have a fascinating rebuttal to this Comment of the Day. I’m old enough to remember when Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the most hated woman in America for challenging the Constitutionality of school prayer, and winning. (Remind me to tell the story of the time I spoke to O’Hair on a call-in TV talk show, posing as God.) Although I have come to agree that she was right (she later said she wished she hadn’t raised the issue), it still seems to me that atheists are more obsessed with religion than most religious people are, and their passionate antipathy borders on the pathological. The SCOTUS case that sparked this COTD is a good example: is it really necessary to attack a nearly one hundred year old war memorial because the design is a cross?
Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on item #6 in the post, “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/5/2019: Knaves, Idiots, And Fools”:
This isn’t the first one of these cross lawsuits, as has been discussed here a few times, and it sure as the devil won’t be the last. The problem isn’t really even with atheism, at least as the title for those who never have believed or choose not to believe in any god or gods. The First Amendment’s about as clear as any law can be that no one here can be forced to believe or disbelieve anything. America is still over 70% religious, and those religious Americans are overwhelmingly Christian, though how strongly so is up for discussion. Those who belong to no particular religion vary almost as much as those who do, from people raised in whatever faith who just drifted away at some point in life and never went back, to those raised without any faith who just never bothered with it, to agnostics, who think the presence of God is beyond knowing, to those who think religion’s all a bunch of hooey and choose to have nothing to do with it. It’s a minority of non-believers who are actively hostile to religion, but, unfortunately, those are the ones that get all the press.
As someone who is at least nominally a Catholic, and as someone who strongly dislikes one particular faith (Islam) I will venture a guess that those who dislike religion generally feel and think about it the way I do about that one particular faith I dislike. We can also both marshal some arguments that sound compelling. I can say that Islamic thought is incompatible with the Western way of doing things, that their history is checkered and shows an unhealthy propensity to impose itself by violence, and that a lot of their holy scriptures are downright scary. However, those opposed to religion generally can also say that ancient religion generally isn’t compatible with a world of the internet and surgery and science, that religion doesn’t have the greatest history generally, and that most holy scriptures are problematic, including the Bible, which, at least in the Old Testament, got the most basic moral question, slavery, wrong. Of course all these arguments are simplistic as phrased, and aren’t so absolute when you look at them in more detail, but that takes time and thought. The difference is, though, if I speak out against Islam, (which I have) I have to tread carefully lest I be deemed a hater, while those who speak out against all religion are not deemed haters.
The problem is that this minority who are hostile to religion are treated differently than those who speak out against one particular religion (though at least in the US, their hostility is overwhelmingly anti-Christian). This is despite the fact that a lot of their rhetoric, especially away from carefully phrased stuff like “an atheist believes a deed must be done rather than a prayer said, and that a hospital should be built instead of a church,” is just as insulting as that directed against particular religions. Yet for whatever reason, an atheist who talks about someone else’s “Sky Fairy” or “Imaginary Friend” isn’t viewed the same way as I would be if I referred to “their moon god (due to the Islamic use of the crescent)” or “Mohammed the pedophile bandit (Mohammed did do some raiding and one of his wives was a girl who’d be considered a child today).” I don’t see why the former insults are any less slurs than the latter, which a lot of people would be all over me if I actually uttered them.
To some degree this is because those hostile to religion portray themselves as Spock-like logical intellectuals who are the smartest people in the room and who don’t believe precisely because they are so much smarter than everyone else. The media lets them get away with this because a lot of the left-leaners there are hostile to religion too.
I honestly don’t know what moves people like the American Humanist Association in this case, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which I believe would be more accurately titled the Hatred Of Religion Foundation, to search this country for individuals claiming offence at cross-shaped memorials and public meetings that open with invocations, then send letters or bring suits on their behalf to attempt to get the prayer to which anyone is free not to say “amen” stopped or the offending cross removed.
I believe it is significant that they often target smaller towns and public entities, since those are more likely to roll over without a fight to save scarce public money. I believe it is also significant that these organizations have essentially built a fairly lucrative way of generating legal fees by seeking out and, in some cases, stoking division and the feeling of being offended. Honestly, I don’t see who benefits from a lawsuit over a Celtic cross in the park honoring an Irish regiment in the Civil War or the non-sectarian Fireman’s Prayer engraved on a monument to fallen firemen by City Hall other than the lawyers.
I might add, I believe that if there were a monument to victims of the Holocaust with a Star of David on the grounds of a courthouse (as there is near me) or a monument to the mistreated Japanese in WWII on public land that had a Torii (gateway that marks the entrance to a Japanese shrine) on it (though that’s probably more on the West Coast), or a “peace garden” in a public park that had the Hindu “om” symbol somewhere on it, no one would touch any of these things, although technically they would be the same issue. Their main problem is with crosses, especially those erected to honor those icky veterans who fought for oppression or the emergency services who include the police who target young black men. If it’s a cross to the victims of the potato famine or slavery, or the Armenian genocide (I’ve seen all of these) they won’t touch it, because the publicity they’d get would be a net negative.
However, in this case, it’s a grave marker style cross, put up to honor fallen soldiers from a war there are now no living veterans of (the last WWI vet in the US died in 2015), and it’s very prominent. Apparently a few of these non-believers are triggered by driving past it, and we can’t have that, otherwise there’s Christian privilege and we’re being unsuitably inclusive. Never mind the fact that it was originally built with private funds on private land, and only taken over by the government because a road was built through the area, public land is public land. Never mind the fact that it is clearly marked with the symbol of the American Legion and bears not one religious word on it, a cross is a cross is a cross. Never mind the fact that it has never been used for a religious ceremony, it can’t be separated from the religious element. Never mind the fact that it’s been there for 93 years and no one’s said a word, someone’s saying something now, and an old wrong is still a wrong.
It all goes back to the idea of the left wanting a monopoly on honor, and being able to tell everyone else who they can honor, when they can honor them, and how they can honor them. The taking down of one more traditional symbol of honor to traditional heroes is a victory for them, that they can point to and say “See, this is one more victory for us. We took down your symbol, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so you better get with the program.”