9/11 and Smarmy Ecumenicalism in Philadelphia

So, I was walking with Gina through town earlier today, since she had to pick up tickets for her show this after noon and evening, and I decided I would walk over to Rittenhouse Square and read my book for a while.  But when I got there, I realized I would be reading no book.  It turned out that the atheist fairy left me some presents.

As I approached the center of the park, I saw a number of white-topped tents set up (there turned out to be 15 of them) and my eyebrows raised.

Today is September 11th I said to myself.  It’s been ten years They are going to be doing some uber patriotic anniversary thing.

Not quite.  Better.

Is that a church group? Is that a Moslem group?

The answer was yes, to both, and my mouth curled into a devilish smirk (of course).  This is going to be fun.

Now, since I had originally planned on being at a wedding this weekend (the trip got canceled due to lack of traveling funds), I had not bothered to pay attention to what might be going on in Philadelphia this weekend, so I didn’t know about this event until I stumbled upon it.  But after I thought about it I realized that I should have known about this anyway…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

15 booths.  One city living group (or something like that), the Shambala meditation center, one Jewish, one Moslem (CAIR), one Turkish American group, and about 10 Christian churches were milling about and talking to each other.  Then I saw the stage, complete with lectern and seal of the Mayer of Philadelphia, Mr. Nutter himself.  He was off stage at first, but that would change.

This was going to be an interfaith, ecumenical lovefest among the local religious groups and I was going to be able to watch.  I was quite amused.  It was called Hands Across the Square.  It was supposed to start at 2:00, and it was around 1:00 when I arrived.  I had time to mingle, and mingle I did.  I had some short but friendly conversations with people who noticed my “Atheism: A Non-Prophet Organization” T-Shirt (what else is a man supposed to wear?), and when it was time for prayers and such, I made my way near the front to watch, take notes, and a couple of pictures.

And before I knew it, I was saying to myself Hey, there’s the mayor.  He’s totally going to speak, isn’t he? Yes, totally going to get his G-O-D on today!  With official government seal and everything.  Yay church and state!

So, when the invocations, prayers, etc started (led by a female priest from St. Mark’s) I started taking notes.  Phrases like the following would be thrown about liberally;

“Celebrate our unity”

“we need each other”

“No religion is an island”

“Disagreement without disrespect’

and, of course…

“One nation under God” (said by a Moslem)

There was a sense that these religious traditions are really alike, and there is no reason for there to be strife.  They doth protest too much, methought, and I started to think about all the things religious texts say about other faiths as I tried not to laugh or look too amused.

And, of course, there were no atheist groups represented.  And, believe me, many of us would have liked to participate.  Had the people organizing the event even considered inviting an atheist, I would have likely heard something about it.  I would have personally loved to address the crown as a voice for atheists; and yes, I would have remained civil, even if I would not have toed the ecumenical line completely.  I suppose that’s why I would not have been invited.

I tried to ask Mayor Nutter, after the event ended, why no atheist was included in the event.  But rather than even get a chance to voice the question he looked me up and down, read my shirt, and made some comment about having to be at another appointment.  Not surprising, really. No time for us atheists, especially with voters around.  We atheists, after all,  are nothing but rabble-rousers and have no place in such an event. We might cause trouble, such as pointing out the utter absurdity of unity through religious difference, especially in how it overlooks the obvious logical flaws in ecumenicalism.  Couldn’t they have at least thrown in a token accommodationist atheist?

Would the Mayor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives even know what an accommodationist v. a gnu atheist is? I doubt it.  It’s not really their job, I suppose.  But they didn’t even try and include us.

The prayers and so forth were followed by everyone holding hands in a continuous line around the park, while the church on the corner did some music with it’s bell tower.  A few minutes of silence to remember that horrible day 10 years ago.  I didn’t include myself because, as I told one person who tried to make room for me, I’m philosophically opposed to the basis for this act of religious ecumenicalism, even if it was in part a rememberence of 9/11.  Atheists remember this day too.  And for many of us, myself included, 9/11 was a catalyst for more dramatically opposing religion and faith in our world, not a cause to overlook those differences in order to pretend we can all be friends.  It’s a delusion; religions, while having some good qualities, are a part of the problem, not the solution.  Events such as this are an attempt to cover this fact with wishes and rainbows.

I remain unimpressed.

I do not believe that ecumenicalism is useful.  I do want people to live among each other peacefully, but I think it is a deception to argue, as the many speakers did today, that religions need each other, that the fundamental virtues of compassion, love, and unity supersede the fact that much of religion calls for the death of non-adherents, apostates, and perpetually oppression of women much more than they call for unity.

Unity is a human virtue, usurped by religion and claimed as its own.

I am perpetually annoyed by this short-sighted and insincere attempts by groups such as these to pretend like there are not real things within their religions which make this ecumenical perspective fundamentally flawed.  There are parts of scripture from the Tanakh, the Qu’ran, and the New Testament which make each mutually exclusive to the other.  Granted, the Shambala Center, which was also represented, truly does accept people of all faiths (and no faith, thank you  Jeffrey Lee, for adding that to your talk), but their willingness to accept people does not say whether those people can actually do so with logical coherence.

Oh, right, logical coherence is not really a buzz word in ecumenical circles.  Never mind, I suppose.  This was an event for warm fuzzy feelings devoid of actual critical thought.  They must know that real analysis of religion, faith, and history does not lead to the liberal-porn of ecumenicalism which I saw paraded about today.  And if they don’t know, their levels of compartmentalization transcend anything I would have thought possible.  But, then again, I have stopped being surprised by human inadequacy, especially when it comes to faith.  Moving from a position of faith in gods and souls to the idea that people with other ideas of gods and souls could be their BFF  is not really a huge step.  Never mind that their heaven is not yours, and you aren’t invited.

Without the need for reality-based thinking, there is no limit to the amount of rationalization and one could achieve.  The sky is not even the limit when there is an imaginary heaven above.

There was, of course, a lot of reading from scripture, including Arabic reading from the Qu’ran, Old and New Testaments, and some talk of fearlessness and cowardice (which I thought was actually pretty cool.  I may blog about that later).  I was bemused by the statement, made by more than 2 speakers, that we are all drawn together as “children of Adam” or at least of some god.  Lets just say that I felt a little unrepresented in this category, as I don’t have any Adams in my family (I don’t think) and this god-thingy is somewhat puzzling to me.  Perhaps I’m not a real Philadelphian.  Because, as Mayor Nutter said, “this is so Philadelphia.”  I guess I’m not included, even though it is my home town and all. And while it is true that Philadelphia, with it’s pluralism rooted in William Penn’s view of religious freedom, is a tolerant and open city, Mayor Nutter forgets that there are people that are not of god at all.  He also forgets that he represents a government which is supposed to be neutral in such regards, and I feel somewhat slighted in his office even having a Faith Based Initiatives office, let alone utilizing it in this discriminatory way.

The similarities of these religious traditions are due to the fact that they are done by humans, and not because of any shared divine insight.  Religion has usurped our humanism and called it their own, and they overlook their vast differences in order to try and pretend that we can all just live with each other without conflict.  It’s naive.  Yes, we can live with each other without killing each other, but that’s only because the common decency that exists within most people trumps what the scriptures say when they command us to kill each other.  The people that get together to have these religious love fests are ignoring too much of the scriptures they claim to be god’s word, cherry-picking what they like and ignoring what they don’t.  It’s simply annoying to witness.

Oh, and after the event the Truthers came out.  They don’t deserve any more comment than that.