God and Man at Ground Zero

Source: Hot Air

By J.E. Dyer

In which a bemused observer tries to make sense of man, religion, and the state

Here’s my bottom-line problem with the concatenation of events and trends surrounding the Ground Zero mosque: I see privilege being accorded to Islam, as against situations in which the civil authorities have de-privileged Christianity and Judaism. The reflexive animus against America’s traditional major religions will be recognizable, in what I describe below, to every conservative. Yet in a situation where a very large group of Americans objects to the placement of a particular mosque, government authorities not only don’t privilege the objectors, they castigate them as bigots and override their concerns.

We can stipulate at the outset that none of the situations here is exactly analogous. The situation involving synagogues is not even in Manhattan; it’s in Brighton Beach. But in each case, the reflexes of the civil authorities have responded very differently, and the difference is telling.

There are two relevant tales of Christian developments near Ground Zero. One involves a Greek Orthodox church, St. Nicholas’, which was crushed by the collapse of WTC Tower Two on 9/11. St. Nicholas’ Church was across the street from the World Trade Center. In 2008, a deal was announced with the New York Port Authority to rebuild the church two blocks from its original site. But civil authorities objected to the church’s plans for a larger structure, with a dome and spire in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Their express concern was that the church not be taller than the World Trade Center Memorial.

There is no apparent concern about the Park 51 Islamic center being taller than the WTC Memorial (it is). It will not be built as a wholly new structure, of course. But on the other hand, the commercial skyscraper planned by the Port Authority will be a new structure, and it will tower over the WTC Memorial. The principles at work appear to be as follows: new commercial structures may be taller than the Memorial. An Islamic group may occupy a building that is taller than the Memorial and devote it to a religious purpose. But a Christian structure may not be built taller than the Memorial.

We must note about St. Nicholas’ that the 2008 deal with the Port Authority entailed a contribution of $20 million from the Authority toward the new building. Certainly, public funding properly gives the Authority some leverage over the structure. St. Nicholas’ hasn’t been singled out for special public benefits, however; it was the only church that was destroyed by the 9/11 attack. Rebuilding it was simply proposed for public funding as part of the overall plan for the 9/11 site.

The Port Authority planned to build a platform and foundation for the church, because under the 2008 deal it was to sit on top of a garage and security screening area. In March 2009, Authority officials refused to allow the church to review the plans for the garage and screening area. At that point, talks regarding the church’s rebuilding ground to a halt.

The other Christian development is the ongoing question about the fate of the “Ground Zero cross.” This remnant of the WTC was found in the rubble after the 9/11 attack and stood at the site until it was moved to nearby St. Peter’s Church in October 2006, to clear the way for renovations. Atheist organizations, which began objecting to the display of the cross in 2002, oppose its planned incorporation in the WTC Memorial. Although the Port Authority reportedly intends to display the cross at the Memorial, the possibility of a lawsuit by opponents can’t be excluded.

Interestingly, there has been no attempt by the MSM or leading politicians to denigrate as bigots the atheists who object to the cross. Nor has the Port Authority’s dilatory approach to rebuilding St. Nicholas’ Church earned it any contumely from them for acting in questionable faith regarding a religious group.

Authorities in Brooklyn are similarly unscathed from an ongoing confrontation with two Brighton Beach synagogues over the noise from a public park’s amphitheater and concert series. Oh, there’s a conflict of interests, there’s passion on both sides, and a lot of people know about it and have strong opinions. But two thing stand out: one, that the ubiquitous Mayor Bloomberg had no qualms about being utterly dismissive of the synagogues’ concerns, and two, that this is probably because there’s no punishment from the MSM and the political elite for being high-handed and insensitive with Brighton Beach’s Jewish congregations.

The short story, summarized here, is that the Sea Breeze Jewish Center and Temple Beth Abraham have been accommodating the noise from concerts in nearby Asser Levy Park for some years; but now Brooklyn’s borough president wants to enlarge the amphitheater and increase the concert-noise encroachment dramatically. Concerned for their ability to hold services, the synagogues asked for reconsideration of this plan. Receiving only dismissive responses, they sued to have a local ordinance enforced, which prohibits excessive noise within 500 feet of a religious structure.

Bloomberg, displaying his exquisite sensitivity to freedom of religion, is on record with this advice to the synagogues:

“Maybe they could adjust their services slightly earlier. We just have to start being a little more tolerant of each other.”

To which one might respond: Well, yes, Mayor, indeed we do. Perhaps the noise concerns of congregations that have been holding services at the same time for years deserve at least as much consideration as the commercial interests of the amphitheater expansion’s sponsors.

It’s the reflexiveness of the opposite reaction that jumps out at me, particularly coming from the same Mayor Bloomberg who got so choked up about the Cordoba Initiative’s unalienable right to make an Islamic center of the old Burlington factory on Park.

It also set me thinking about the issue of noise, and where Bloomberg would be likely to come down if it became an issue for the Park 51 center. There’s every possibility that it will, as far as I can tell. The center will house a mosque, and mosques broadcast the call to prayer five times a day. This practice has become contentious in a number of American cities; in the Bronx, a masjid stirred vigorous community opposition last fall when it applied for an amplified sound permit for the purpose. The specific reason for requesting the permit was, apparently, that the call already broadcast outside the mosque was not considered loud enough to attract the attention of the faithful, and needed to be louder.

During the years I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, I lived not far from a masjid and I recall that in the 1980s, the calls to prayer were barely audible outside of about a block’s radius. By the 1990s, they were being amplified, and could be somewhat annoying on a temperate evening when you wanted to have the windows open. I don’t know if anyone ever formally objected to the noise. From a quarter mile away, I found it a bearable irritant. But I can understand why people closer to it might have found it objectionable – as I can understand why residents of the Bronx would, who have no alternative to hearing the adhan five times a day.

Perhaps the Park 51 center will agree not to broadcast the call to prayer outside its walls. I don’t know. I do know that locals who would object to hearing it, and who would object to hearing it at Ground Zero because it’s Ground Zero, would not inherently be acting from bigotry. I am, frankly, deeply offended at the implication that it could only be an act of bigotry to resist the establishment of a mosque at a particular site. Mosques the world over bring loudspeakers, and very often crowds of the faithful praying five times a day in rows outside of them. If we say that Christians or Jews must not view that as noise pollution or as an unseemly usurpation of certain public spaces, then how do we also justify not calling atheists bigots when they are offended by Christian symbols?

And if we say that the religious arrangements of Jews don’t deserve the same respect from civil authorities as someone else’s plans for secular entertainment – then on what basis are we more solicitous of the religious arrangements of Muslims?

The reflexive tendencies of at least some of our political leaders – and agencies of our governments – seem to amount, if not to a suicide pact, at least to an Islam-promotion pact. I do not believe that this is evidence of some dark conspiracy, so don’t run off and say I do. But what I see is the same law interpreted to mean that Christianity is an encroachment on public life, and Judaism a hindrance to it, while Islam must win battles with the public over our shared living space, lest we all be bigots.

That is wrong. A test of our true political and legal “impartiality” appears to be looming, with the intention of Florida-based evangelist Bill Keller to establish a Christian center near the Park 51 Islamic Center. (Keller’s website for the center is here.) According to Keller, the location of the center will be announced in December, suggesting that it has not been confirmed yet. It will be extremely informative to watch the progress of this effort and see if Keller is accorded the same support and affirmation from the local authorities that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has had. Whatever any of us thinks of Keller’s theology, he, his religion, and his Christian center are entitled to equal treatment.

Cross-posted at The Optimistic Conservative.


  1. Christ is in our midst!

    I wrote the note below this morning not as a direct response to the article above but I find that it is related in theme. I wrote a response to an email I received this morning which included several photos of large crowds of Muslims praying in NYC intersections. The attached text is extremely hyperbolic and incendiary, an example of the fury being raised in some quarters. I don’t want anyone to accuse me of inciting unreason so please remember the source is not my own keyboard.

    Let us be clear that the current administration in DC is merely following in the footsteps of the previous one, which went way out of its way to draw a false distinction between a putative ‘normal Islam’ and a ‘perverted Islam’ of jihadists. We ought to know, having read our history that Islam is inherently aggressive and expansionist. The conservative political establishment has long demonstrated that it prefers any kind of religion to none at all. Thus the Bush admin was very close to, for example, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, despite the problematic nature of his religion. Likewise, all the recent admins have supported the establishment of Islamic cultural edifices in our midst.
    As Orthodox, we should be more picky in our support of causes, not for the sake of a disembodied, general religiosity but for the sake of Christ, the incarnate Truth.

    Dear N,

    This is certainly effective agitprop conveying a compelling image of a Muslim takeover of Manhattan. I guess it’s comparable to our “Critical Mass” bicycle demonstrations on Fridays, about the same time actually. I’d like to see the cyclists try to get through these intersections. Perhaps that could be arranged. The bike demo is so named because it seeks to set conditions for a critical mass of cyclists to take control of the streets for safe pedaling. Likewise, Muslims are always seeking leverage to achieve a ‘tipping point’ in culture where they become the functional majority and can impose their system on the rest of us. Of course, this is called by the pleasant term “invitation’ (Ar. “Da’wa”)

    I suppose the most relevant opinion regarding these mass demonstrations of Islamic faith would be that of the New Yorkers themselves. It is their city and these people worship amongst them. So far, I haven’t heard any gainsaying from the New York people regarding Islam in their midst. You and I know that the Cordoba Initiative is slated to be built on Park Ave. 2 blocks from the WTC site and not actually at “Ground Zero”, more like “ground 2” from what I gather. I am opposed to even that proximity to the Sacred Ground of the WTC site, but then I am in TN right now. For Manhattanites, who we should remember seem to be quiescent about the subject (or so we have been taught) those 2 busy downtown blocks may constitute a discrete distance separating the two sites enough that the notion of a “Ground Zero Mosque” may appear absurd to them. Or maybe not. I don’t watch TV or subscribe to the NY Times so I am not really in touch with the heartbeat of The City. Maybe Rupert knows.

    The photos of masses Muslims worshipping and blocking traffic ( I guess they have permits as do the Critical Mass folks) appear to us in (relative) podunk as a grave threat because they are framed to incite us to fear and revulsion. I surmise that in the cyclopean megalopolitan setting of Manhattan they must appear rather small, otherwise locals would get worried. Maybe some are already, and we have to recognize that this demonstration of faith is designed to induce conversion to Islam. It’s their right of course in our open society.
    Seems to me he only positive response is for us to teach, teach, teach. The sudden explosion of Islam into the American consciousness needs to be met not with fear and loathing but with real investment into understanding history and theology.

    I fear that ignorant fearful people will take the note below as a call to ant-Muslim ‘jihad’ and create a situation of terror which will both enflame Muslim anger (always just below he surface and usually out in the open already in many places) while eliciting sympathy and openness to conversion, or ‘reversion’ as Muslims term it. Also, I hope they have really good security in their gatherings because jihadists could commit acts of terror against them for the same purpose. This would not be outside the playbook of Al-Qaeda, et. al. I think if that threat were considered carefully by the NYPD, they would have to ban these open-air prayer sessions.

    Stephen Prothero authored a book a few years back that everyone is ignoring, making the case for a renewed program of public education about religion. Americans describe themselves as a religious people, more than any other advanced nation, yet we are more ignorant and unschooled in religion than any. Prothero says this is a dangerous situation that educators need to remedy, so that students can make informed choices regarding faith. If we persist in our fogginess about all things religious, an ill state self-imposed by our poor grasp of the concept of religious freedom, we are more likely to be made victims of liars and deceivers who will manipulate us through religious means.
    As Orthodox, we possess a uniquely vivid cultural memory of what Islam does to society. All ORthodox should take this moment to speak from our convictions in a clear and loving way to invite people to criticize Islam as well as secular agnosticism. The visible Muslim presence in our midst is forcing a confrontation with one of our greatest fears and we Orthodox (and all traditional Christians, not Protestant heretics) have a duty to share our own convictions and experience of communion with a loving and personal God. If we remain silent – especially if our hierarchs remain silent – we will lose the coming battle for hearts and minds.

    We need to take the forum away from the Muslims and the extremist Protestants and demagogues. As a priest I will do my part, to the extent of my skills and the grace given me by ordination. I will try no show who Christ is – the incarnate Truth– and not merely complain about what is not true.

    In Christ, the Incarnate Word of God,
    Fr John



    From: “M B”
    Date: August 18, 2010 3:45:07 PM CDT
    Subject: FW: This is NYC on Madison Ave

    No matter what you may have heard from our government, Islam is a violent religion. And your head is the one they want. Not in business, but on their chopping block.

    WAKE UP PEOPLE! We’re sitting back like a bunch of idiots and letting this “government” ruin our country!

    This is NYC on Madison Ave

    I wonder what would happen if Christians blocked the streets of New York every Sunday for an hour or two?????

    A Christian Nation cannot put up a Christmas scene of the baby Jesus in a public place, but the Muslims can stop normal traffic every Friday afternoon by worshiping in the streets… Something is happening in America that is reminiscent of what is happening in Europe.

    This is Political correctness gone crazy….

    This is an accurate picture of every Friday afternoon in several locations throughout NYC where there are mosques with a large number of Muslims that cannot fit into the mosque – They fill the surrounding streets, facing east for a couple of hours between about 2 & 4 p.m. – Besides this one at 42nd St & Madison Ave, there is another, even larger group, at 94th St & 3rd Ave, etc., etc. – Also, I presume, you are aware of the dispute over building another “highrise” Mosque a few blocks from “ground zero” – With regard to that one, the “Imam” refuses to disclose where the $110 million dollars to build it is coming from and there is a lawsuit filed to force disclosure of that information – Just some facts FYI – But then, you have your own troubles with the “immigration” problem and the new AZ law – November can’t come soon enough


    This is in NewYork City on Madison Avenue, not in France or the Middle East or Yemen or Kenya.

    Is there a message here???? Yes, there is, and they are claiming America for Allah.
    If we don’t wake up soon, we are going to “politically correct” ourselves right out of our own country!

    “For evil to flourish, all that is needed is for good people to do nothing.”
    Edmund Burke

    • Michael Bauman :

      Fr. John, I agree with your statement. There is another difficulty we face however for even when someone makes a reasoned statement on the nature of Islam and the historic use of force to spread it, many folks, soaked in egalitarianism and anti-Chrisitan bigotry will say that the Bible is even more violent in its imagery and stories than the Koran. Often such statements are coupled with the false assertion that Timothy McVeigh was a ‘Christian’ terrorist. All religion is just an excuse for violence anyway, etc, etc.

      In our ignorance and ‘tolerance’ we have lost the ability to properly define what a Christian is so it becomes even more difficult to state a Christian position on anything. You obviously include the Roman Catholics and Oriental Orthodox as Christian in your response but our Orthodox hierarchs cannot even gather the fortitude to state much of anything from a common Orthodox understanding even within the same jurisdiction. So what is your clear line that allows you to include those that you do and yet exclude protestants? How can we effectively make clear the nuances of faith which require such lines to be drawn and actually stand against the Islamic incursion?

      The other factor is that we are easily cowed by the very real threat that any criticism of Islam will be met with violence.

      BTW it would not be diffcult to construct a curriculum to teach the base understandings of various faiths on the five major items of import to understanding the faiths (even within Christianity):

      1. What is the nature of God or the divine?
      2. What is a human being?
      3. What is the relationship (inter-relationship) between 1 & 2?
      4. What is the nature and purpose of the physical (other than human beings) world?
      5. What is the interaction amoungst 1, 2 & 4?

  2. It is unfortunate for most Americans that a trend has prevailed in America — at least from the time since Barack Obama was sworn in as President — and this trend has favored minority rights over the rights of the majority. I like to refer to this as “the undemocratic process.”

    This minority favoritism can be seen not only with respect to many decisions made by the federal government, but also by decisions made recently by America’s federal courts. The ruling this month by a federal judge rejecting California’s mandate against same-sex marriage is a good example of this trend.

    Another example is a federal judge’s ruling in Utah this week, which required that state to take down over a dozen crosses on a highway — crosses that served as memorials to state troopers killed in the line of duty. An atheist organization had complained that the crosses violated the freedom of atheists. What about the freedom of believers?

    Unless Americans unite and continue to markedly promote true democracy and freedom — as Americans did recently in supporting the Manhattan Declaration — the United States is doomed, as it will continue to proceed on its current eroding path to self-destruction!

    • … the political fight is just the surface, the real fight going on is “the fight between good and evil; between God and the devil”. This is what Eastern Europe and Russia understood during Communism. http://www.frederica.com/writings/the-wounded-torturer.html

      We need the intercession of Archangel Saint Michael.

      O glorious Archangel Saint Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, be our defense in the terrible warfare which we carry on against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, spirits of evil. Come to the aid of man, whom God created immortal, made in His own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil. Fight this day the battle of our Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in heaven. That cruel, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels. Behold this primeval enemy and slayer of men has taken courage. Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the Name of God and of His Christ, to seize upon, slay, and cast into eternal perdition, souls destined for the crown of eternal glory.
      Arise then, O invincible Prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and give them the victory. They venerate thee as their protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious powers of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude. Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.

  3. By the way, I forgot to mention in my comment above (Comment 2) that I have written several commentaries on my blog, Theology and Society, in which I criticize the self-destructive path America has been taking during the past few years.

    In one commentary, which I believe AOIUSA readers will want to read, I tear apart the American judicial system and more specifically Judge Walker for sabotaging the mandate of California citizens who voted to ban gay marriages. Readers can access this commentary, which I wrote on August 8, by visiting my Theology and Society blog.

Care to Comment?