As America prepares to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the primary focus is on New York, at the spot where two passenger jets, hijacked by suicidal terrorists, brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided that the ceremony at that location will be “areligious.” In other words, there will be no formal religious observances at the ceremony.
Some observers have claimed that religion is being banned or that ministers will not be welcome at the ceremony, but that is not exactly the case. The mayor says the focus should be on those who lost their loved ones. He has invited family members of the victims. Presumably, any family members who are priests, ministers, rabbis, or imams will be welcome. There just won’t be any special invitations to religious leaders. Nor will prayer be part of the official ceremony.
According to a spokesperson, Bloomberg wants to avoid “disagreements over which religious leaders participate.” I suppose that can be an issue, but it is a common one at events like this, and Americans are quite used to dealing with it. Plenty of clergy, including an imam, spoke at an interfaith service at Yankee Stadium after the attacks, and it went very well. There is no reason to think it would be any different this time.
The mayor’s plan is that “family members who lost somebody on 9/11” will be permitted to “walk onto the plaza, look at their loved ones’ names, look down into the voids.” Those “voids” are the reflecting pools in the footprints where the two towers stood.” There will be a roll call of the victims’ names (including those who died at the Pentagon and in the crash in Pennsylvania). There will also be readings of selected quotes and poetry. In other words, there will be a religious ceremony, but without the religion.
It reminds me of a wedding I went to one time. The couple was not religious; they held their wedding outside of a library. They did not have a Bible, but there was a large decorative book of poetry from which they read. The man presiding over the ceremony was not a religious figure, but he wore a robe that made him look like he was. The ceremony had all the trappings of a church wedding, but it was devoid of religious content.
Of course, that ceremony is what the couple wanted. They decided upon it. It would not have been my choice, but it was not my decision to make. They got what they wanted, and they are still happily married. I am very happy for them. The overwhelming majority of people, however, prefer a church wedding - or at least one having a religious figure presiding.
In the case of the 9/11 ceremony in New York, a politician has decided for the victims that politicians will speak, but religious leaders will not. Mayor Bloomberg said that he did not want to “take away from the solemnity” of the occasion.” I’m not sure how a prayer could do that. In the Catholic Church “solemnity” is a principal holy day in the liturgical calendar, usually commemorating an event in the life of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or another important saint.
The implication from Bloomberg’s statement, of course, is that prayer would detract from the serious and dignified nature of the 9/11 ceremony. If that is the view, it would signify a significant departure from America’s traditional view of religion, and it would suggest a further advance for the new atheism movement. I feel quite certain, however, that this is a minority view. My guess is that if the victims’ families were surveyed, they would overwhelmingly favor actual religious content over the faux-religious events scheduled by the mayor. It’s a shame that he decided this issue for them.
Ronald Rychlak | Sep 7, 2011 12:03 PM