Posted From The US
Here we go - a nice fat n' juicy topic: the Mosque at Ground Zero. Please add the cheese, pickles, and mayo.
Almost everything I have read on the topic can be divided into the following:
- This is in really bad taste, how dare you, the 9/11 terrorists were Muslim.
- This is America - all religions are free to do as they please.
- The Mosque will be a friendship outreach center, an antidote to terrorism.
The more I read about the founders of the US - the more I like where they were going with the whole thing, and the more I freak out about what people today think they were about. We tend to associate America with the the idea of Freedom Of Religion. But the deeper I go into how the original coders thought, the more I realize that they meant:
Freedom From Religion.
Now what does this mean? I do not think it means that they were against religion, or that they were all atheists. I really think it means that they wanted a country relatively free from religion in the public and political sphere. It was the noxious mix of oppressive religion and intolerance in Europe that drove many to cross the Atlantic Ocean in crappy little wooden sailboats(!) Imagine how bad it must have been to risk everything just for a little breath of freedom from the oppression of crazed religious folks in power.
In my own life I have friends from every spectrum of faith (and lack of faith) and religion: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists, Wiccans, Agnostics, Spaghetti Monsters Folks - everything and everyone. What has really helped all of these friendships is that our discussions are mostly free from discussing religion - and if and when we infrequently do, it is not a battle of right vs. wrong but one of trying to learn about some cultural tradition and then quickly back to a topic which does not involve religion.
It is one of the things I love the most about the idea of America - religion as a non-issue: do your thing, but let me do my own thing, and let's be tolerant and not in each other's face about it. Keep religion as a somewhat private, personal, family thing - you do not have to hide it, but let's not make a big deal about it. Nothing is more personal - when we die, each of us will face whatever we believe (or do not believe) in. Religion needs to become largely a non-issue.
So what about the Mosque at Ground Zero? The organizers (because this is America) are surely free to build the Mosque. Should they keep in mind that it is probably in bad taste? Yes. I would recommend that they sit down with the families of those who died in 9/11 and really find out if this is helping to build bridges of friendship and peace. How about taking the same money and donating it to the kids of the victims and helping them all through college? How about taking taking that same money and building schools of tolerance and liberal thought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is sorely needed. Are you really trying to extend a hand of friendship? If so, this symbolic act may be not the right move - and there are always ways to adapt - it is not too late.
But most importantly - this is America. It is our distinct freedom of, and from, religion, that allows to have this discussion at all. Maybe all religions need to take a small step back, and just let people come forward, and we'll all realize what has been in our way, and that we do have many things in common, once we let the walls of politics and religion take a backseat.
Maybe we all believe in G-d, or something, or not - but how and why we do should not be dividing us anymore. I have my own beliefs in G-d, my own sense of religion - but I also have to leave open a window of uncertainty. Uncertainty that as I grow I will learn more and my understanding will surely continue to change and evolve (as it has), and that none of us can really know what is by definition beyond our capability to know - so we need to be highly tolerant of everyone and their own beliefs, as our own is surely flawed. We are human, as humans we are limited - the arrogance of those who claim to know everything is in my view the highest form of idolatry - because if they do believe in G-d, only G-d knows what they think they claim to know. If we were all much, much, more humble in our beliefs (believers, atheists, and everything in-between) the world would be a much better place.
So what would good old George Washington tell the builders of Mosque? I think he would sit down with them and have a long chat. This is America, my friends - you are welcome here, and you are also welcome to build here - in the spirit of freedom and friendship. But let's perhaps discuss a better place for your dollars. You don't have to agree with me, but at least let us sit down and talk. After all - this is why we fought and defeated the British King - it wasn't all about tea (at least not all of it!).