Archive - Aug 2011

August 29th

Can't Nail Yourself To A Steel Cross

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Memo to David Silverman and American Atheists: CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES.

I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that in a recent poll, the Tea Party had lower approval ratings than either atheists or Muslims, two groups that generally fare very poorly in those rankings. The bad news is, it's probably not going to stay that way, thanks to the American Atheists' lawsuit over the 9/11 Cross.

Now, don't get me wrong. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, not completely fucking stupid about the 9/11 Cross. It's a pair of steel beams in the shape of a cross, pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. It's spent the last five years sitting atop St. Peter's church. It's going to move to the publicly-funded 9/11 memorial site, which is what's led to the American Atheists' lawsuit.

Christians saw the cross as a minor miracle, a symbol of their specific brand of hope rising from the rubble. This is because religion does not traditionally inspire an interest in math. Just counting the two towers, there were 220 stories of building that ended up in the pile of rubble at Ground Zero. Every single one of those floors was made up of a gridwork of steel I-beams. I-beams attached to each other at ninety degree angles.

Having two of those beams end up sheared off roughly in the proportions of a cross is not a miracle. It is roughly akin to giving an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of custom typewriters, where, instead of letters, the keys type entire words like "bodkin", "thou", and "Hamlet", and then being shocked when they eventually come up with one passage from Shakespeare.

I tell you what, Christians. Your God is so awesome? Then change the symbol of your religion from one of the single most commonly occurring geometric shapes, and see if the rate of "miracle appearances" in steel beams and kudzu drops off any. You don't see Trekkies shitting themselves once a month because one of those swoopy, pointy Federation arrow-V's has shown up on toast. Crosses are easy. Dodecahedrae are hard.

But it's not a case you can win. You lose by trying in the first place. You'll probably lose because no judge would have the steel I-balls under his robes to grant your injunction. And if you won, well, you'd REALLY lose. Because you're not just fighting against a handful of local Jesus-freak hicks. You're fighting against post-9/11 America, where we all* got to freely indulge our inner local Jesus-freak hick. Nobody's ever going to treat 9/11 rationally. It's all catharsis and id and bombing brown people from the general vicinity.

When a spokesman for the American Atheists went on Fox News, Fox had to spend hours scrubbing over 8,000 barely-coherent death threats against not just the spokesman, and not just president David Silverman, and not just against American Atheists, but against atheists, period. That is a lot of pent-up rage Silverman is releasing for what would be, at best, a dubious victory. And it's a shame, because Silverman did score a palpable hit in news reports about the lawsuit. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn't be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross. It's a truly ridiculous assertion."

Is that mean? Yes. Is it WRONG? Fuck no. It's the Guardian Angel fallacy writ large. Nobody ever figures guardian angels are involved when you make it safely home from the grocery store every Saturday afternoon. No, the guardian angel is making sure one small baby survives a horrific multi-car crash that kills six other adults. It's a theological sticky wicket for people who like their faith to make more sense than a fairy tale told by a five-year-old, which is why so many believers get red in the face, splutter, and post death threats to Fox when they hear it.

But at the end of the day, one mathematically-inevitable I-beam cross in a 9/11 memorial, even a publicly funded one, is not the kind of violation of church-state separation any atheist groups needs to spend any time of money fighting. There are two rock-solid Dominionist theocrats in the top three for the GOP presidential nomination. If I were the American Atheists, I'd be banking as many billable hours as I could manage, not spending them on a public relations debacle of epic proportions.

*By which I mean not me.