Two days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, smoke was still rising from the twisted and burnt material that used to be the World Trade Center. Untold numbers of first responders from around the country were converging on New York City to help look for survivors trapped in the rubble, and the nation as a whole was still somewhere between fear and unmitigated anger: somewhere between “woe is me” and “woe is thee.”
And that’s when workers came upon a 20-foot section of steel beams that the heat and pressures of the attacks had left shaped as a cross. It was standing upright in the mangled mess, and for those laboring in the carnage and the untold numbers of family and friends waiting to receive news on the safety of their loved ones, the cross provided a moment of transcendence.
Throughout the months of cleanup that followed, that cross “served as a symbol of hope for many devastated by the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history,” according to Congressman J. Randy Forbes of Virginia. It was, and continues to be, a commonly used symbol of sacrifice for all kinds of people: not just Christians. And as such, it is simply a part of the history of the 9/11 attacks.
Because of this, the cross has been relocated in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum (which opens in 2012). There it will be on display with a myriad of other artifacts and memorabilia linked to the Tuesday morning we won’t soon forget.
But if groups such as American Atheists get their way, the cross will not be in the museum when it opens. In hopes of ensuring this, they have filed a lawsuit claiming the very presence of the cross has caused atheists to feel “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack.”
In other words, because the two steel beams that happened to be standing after the smoke cleared were in the form of a cross, those two beams must be excluded from other 9/11 artifacts because of the way they make atheists feel, the feelings of the rest of the country notwithstanding.
Just as Easter and Christmas, though Christian in their roots, have become so mainstream as to be celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike, so too, even secularized references to the cross as a symbol of suffering are ubiquitous. Thus it is reasonable that the two steel beams which intersected to form a cross, by no intention or invention of man, have served as a rallying point for both religious and nonreligious persons since the September 11 attacks.
It’s disheartening that American Atheists has nothing better to do than fight to remove this focal point from the landscape of our nation’s memory.