A few weeks back, Weer'd put up an interesting post about the 9/11 memorial. I chewed on it for a while, then I got sick, so I didn't write down my thoughts. His focus was on the cross-shaped bit of rebar from the rubble, and that the American Atheists organization was protesting its inclusion, because it's a religious symbol. There followed a discussion about the constitution and religion. Feel free to read it; Weer'd's pretty cool, and I identify with him as a former liberal and gun enthusiast.
I really like this point:
My first thought is about the Constitution. I don't know the history of case law on the topic, but logic tells me that acknowledging religion is not the same as establishing a state religion. And if it's a slippery slope, well, there's another slope on the other side of the same hill: refusing to acknowledge religion as banning religion. It's all a matter of degree, isn't it?
The thing that really got me though, Weer'd's last statement:
"...Grow up and get over yourself. Not believing in these things SHOULD mean they don’t have any power over you!”
Isn't rational thinking the hallmark of most Atheism? The Atheists I know are generally very intelligent and logical. So why are they bothered by the inclusion of religious symbols in a government-sponsored event? Especially in this case, where the “cross” is literally a found object, rubble, not a commissioned piece? I think there are some vocal Atheists who are being very subjective in their protests against something as subjective as religion.
Among the comments was this: “... there are a number of things people *don’t* believe in and don’t attach labels to them for doing so… If you want to believe that it is faith that unicorns don’t exist.. you are entitled to your opinion. Could I be wrong in thinking they don’t? Sure.. but I’ll keep not believing in unicorns.”
This was, of course in response to my insistence that technically, Atheism is a matter of faith, a belief without proof. ( And yes, I understand that Atheism is as broad as deism; there is no single “doctrine.”) Naturally, being me, trying to hold my own among some very smart people, it took me days to figure out the point I was trying to pursue. Hence, my title.
Here's the thing. If a “meaningful” symbol has no meaning for you, why would you object to it? A devout Christian chooses to give meaning and importance to his beliefs. Objectively however, his faith has no inherent meaning; it is a personal belief. Period. So why do many Atheists also choose to give meaning to the faith of Christians? I've heard a few Atheists say, “I don't believe in God the same way I don't believe in unicorns.” In many cases, I think that's untrue. I think many Atheists “don't believe in God,” with a great deal more emotion than they “don't believe in unicorns.” Where did their empirical objectivity go?
Some people DO believe in unicorns (and some of them are actually adults.) How many Atheists protest the unicorn in a sculpture at the Old State House in Boston? Some people believe that Pan is a real deity, and there is a sculpture of him in the Capitol building. Any protesters? There are fifty silhouettes of pentagrams on the United States flag. *crickets.* These are all, quite literally, religious symbols sponsored by the government. My theory: these are symbols of minor religions, unimportant ones. Unimportant to those who don't follow them, but very important to those who do. So groups like American Atheists object only to symbols of big powerful religions, religions followed (and led) by lots of folks who would be happy to rule others according to their beliefs.
It's not about religion, is it? It's not about personal beliefs regarding divinity. It's about politics. Truly rational Atheists would ignore the symbol, because the only power it has is the power given to it by each and every individual, believer or not. Violation of the Constitution comes not from objects, but from people who would use any tool to restrict the rights of others. The real issue isn't faith or religion, it's freedom.
So. What am I missing? This topic has been rolling around the edges of my brain for five weeks, and frankly, I'm feeling a bit smug about my conclusions here. That's a bad sign. I've learned that when I have the answer, I'm not always asking the whole question; my own biases usually blind me to something. Any glaring fallacies or assumptions here? In my quest to be "right," I welcome (rational and gentle, please) criticism of my logic. I hate to be wrong. When I am, I want to fix that. Insights?