Street name “Seven in Heaven Way” upsets American Atheists

posted at 7:12 pm on July 12, 2011 by Tina Korbe

This summer, the city of Brooklyn renamed a neighborhood street “Seven in Heaven Way” to honor seven local firefighters who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. A nice thought, right? Simple, symbolic, sincere. But sadly, the commemorative gesture has since generated controversy.

The New Jersey-based American Atheists, the same group that brought the country “God Less America” Fourth of July aerial banners, promptly objected to the street name.

“It’s improper for the city to endorse the view that heaven exists,” American Atheists president David Silverman said. “It links Christianity and heroism.”

Additional objections: Sept. 11 was an attack on “all of America,” so no memorial of it should “break” the Constitution — and, also, the street sign presumes to know what the seven firefighters themselves believed.

But, as The Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall points out, the group’s objections reveal a misunderstanding of freedom of religion.

Godless secularism – or a “naked public square” denuded of all religious references and symbols, as the late Richard John Neuhaus put it – never was intended to be the character of our American republic. Religious freedom, the cornerstone of all freedom, is freedom for religion, not hostility toward it.

Yes, the Founders wisely separated political from religious authority in our federal government, but they didn’t intend to divorce religion from public life or politics. They based the American model of religious liberty on a favorable view of religious practice.

Far from privatizing or marginalizing religion, the Founders assumed religious believers and institutions would take active roles in society, engaging in the political process and helping to shape consensus on morally fraught questions. …

Most nations are dominated, demographically anyway, by adherents of particular faiths. But every denomination – and the atheist camp as well – is a small minority somewhere on the planet. This reality underscores why religious liberty, not the radical secularist or theocratic systems at either end of the spectrum, should be precious to everyone.

But on a more practical level, the objections reveal an acute sensitivity that seems unwarranted in this situation. A street name with the word “heaven” doesn’t automatically imply an endorsement of Christianity — many other religions include a paradisal idea of the afterlife, too. Nor does it even necessarily imply an endorsement of the belief that heaven is real. Are no streets named for mythical places or fictional characters? Additionally, more than 400 New York City streets have been named for 9-11 victims and heroes. Clearly, the sign was named with the simple motivation of recognizing seven men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Perhaps that’s why one First Amendment lawyer described the situation this way: “The area of religion is so complex and nuanced that you could argue nearly anything … But a [legal] challenge in this case would be far-fetched.”


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It’s a joke son. See “The Blues Brothers”.

metalguy22 on July 13, 2011 at 6:37 PM

OK “dad”… ;-)

SauerKraut537 on July 13, 2011 at 6:47 PM

I’m being too obscure I know. “It’s a joke son” is a joke too. See Foghorn Leghorn. I’m not just any old theist, I’m a Christian. Wouldn’t want to be you but that’s up to you.

metalguy22 on July 13, 2011 at 7:12 PM

I’m being too obscure I know. “It’s a joke son” is a joke too. See Foghorn Leghorn. I’m not just any old theist, I’m a Christian. Wouldn’t want to be you but that’s up to you.

metalguy22 on July 13, 2011 at 7:12 PM

It is up to me… and it is to you as well. You don’t have to live your life on faith you know? You see, you’re told that you’re worthless in the eyes of this god we can only imagine, but you’re not! You don’t HAVE to let them, the human agents of god, guilt you into submission like they did me and many others over the years.

There MAY be a god out there but you don’t have to believe that you’re guilty of anything and propitiate yourself to he/she/it. Just be good for goodness sake.

“The first religions were primitive by any definition. For reasons of limited population, communication, and plain old geography, they never grew to be anything other than a local concern. But religions mutate in time and grow in sophistication as each generation of holy men learn what works and what doesn’t. What makes people obedient and what causes rebellion. What ideas people can easily escape and which will haunt them until they have to pray just to stop the nagging fear.

When populations grew due to the slow but steady growth of knowledge, as if confronted by a bumper harvest, the religions went into an arms race with each other. From gods of wind and thunder and sea, the threats, incentives, and claims of power escalate until every dominant organized religion has a god that is all-powerful, all-loving, all-seeing, and words like “infinity” and “eternity” are deployed cheaply while all other words are open to abuse until they mean exactly what the religions want them to mean.

As Bishop Lancelot Andrewes once said, “The nearer the church, the further from God.” Maybe you need to run. Away from the mosque. Away from the church. Away from the priests and the Imams. Away from the Books to have any chance of finding God.

Religions tell children they might go to hell and they must believe, while science tells children they came from the stars and presents reasoning they can believe. Look at what religion has made us do, to ourselves and to each other. Religion stole our love and our loyalty and gave it to a book—to a telepathic father that tells his children that love means kneeling before him.

We were told long ago and for a long time that there was only the Earth—that we were the center of everything. That turned out to be wrong. We still haven’t fully adjusted. We’re still in shock. The universe is not what we expected it to be. It’s not what they told us it would be. This cosmic understanding is all new to us. But there’s nothing to fear. We’re still special. We’re still blessed. And there might yet be a heaven, but it isn’t going to be perfect. And we’re going to have to build it ourselves.

If I have something that could be called a soul that needed saving, then science saved it… from religion.”

SauerKraut537 on July 13, 2011 at 9:05 PM

You see, you’re told that you’re worthless in the eyes of this god we can only imagine, but you’re not!

LOL. You could not make a more ineffective argument against Christianity. Value is what someone would sacrifice to obtain something. God sacrifices daily a lack of perfect will and singularly the life and pain of his son (who is himself as well). It is within the text of Christianity (although not as often emphasized) that the lamb was slain “from the foundation of the world”, that means the sacrifice was settled with our conception.

A non-existent God does not have eyes. A fictional construct God only has those eyes you can attribute by the text about him. Yes, you can say that other passages make it unclear –but you cannot say that it is clear that we are worthless as interpreted through Christian scripture. “A sparrow cannot fall to the ground… and yet you are worth so much more to your Father in Heaven”.

As long as we are comparing the two. God has a way to deal with the frustration of perfect will: to forgive, restore redeem, and exhort. Nature? She hopes you die before you reproduce–or your kids do–So we can make way for the better models. (Of course, Nature hopes for nothing and this is just a figure of speech for sharp relief.)

…science tells children they came from the stars and presents reasoning they can believe.

I think that’s part of the problem. I never could become a accept faith until I became aware of how much I believed reflexively as a “skeptic”. Your presentation right there shows a lack of analysis into this belief. We came from the stars–but then, everything came from the stars. Feces came from us. “Came from” is a poor indicator of value. It can only retain that value with a submerged naivete about the stars . Your advice amounts to “open your eyes–but remember to squint a little bit so you get a soft haze”.

Look at what religion has made us do, to ourselves and to each other. Religion stole our love and our loyalty and gave it to a book—to a telepathic father that tells his children that love means kneeling before him.

Snort. You actually believe all that? Where’s your control group of “humans evolved without religion”?!?! I’ve heard love described in scientific terms as “saliva addiction”–so you’d rather know love as that?

You see in scientific terms almost everything is what it functionally is or what it tends to be–not what it can be. So because love can be explained by perhaps accompanying addiction to another’s saliva, the idea of least explanation creates the reduction that that’s ALL IT IS as long as it satisfies the listener as an explanation. And that listener is steadily reinforced by his or her worldview to have lesser expectations.

What scientistics tend to be really (really) naive about is what role subjectivity plays in a “satisfying explanation”. So I have no doubt that poet-icized science can provide explanations that someone can believe in. I just don’t think it’s me. I went through about a year of intensive introspection about what I accepted to be lead to a position of faith, the naive statements of a net atheist does not sway me from that and 20 years since of deliberation on the same topic.

Axeman on July 14, 2011 at 10:36 AM

Axeman on July 14, 2011 at 10:36 AM

You sound like a career apologist Axeman… You conveniently dismiss all the horrible parts of the bible and extol the good parts and completely miss the entire point of what I said.

Spirituality is completely distinct from religion. Atheists experience spiritual moments but what you fail to grasp is that these spiritual moments are just our body reacting to emotions that our brains put into play as we think. We get excited about a beautiful sunset, we are after all human.

the problem with religion is that whenever we have one of these moments, religion STEALS it and says, “ah, you had a religious experience, that’s GAWD talking to you through the holy spirit.”

It’s bullshit.

You don’t HAVE to have a religion to be good, you don’t HAVE to have a religion to attain heaven. Heaven is in the here and now, and as I said before, WE are going to have to build it. Don’t wait for some afterlife that you, I, everyone else only thinks exists.

The story of Jesus is nothing more than a poetic play on the concept of scapegoating where the village shaman used to heap the sins of the tribe on a goat, to be driven from the village (taking all those sins with him) and slaughtered to rid the tribe of all bad omens and sins.

If you objectively study the story of Jesus you will see this is all it is.

You can call me a naive net atheist all you like, but the facts are that our ancestors in antiquity were the ones who were very poetic and naive. They ascribed what we now know to be purely natural phenomena to this god we imagine exists and cares for us but I have YET to hear a sufficient answer to the Riddle of Epicurus

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

the long and the short of it Axeman, is that you’re scared. You’re scared of what comes after. We all are. Your holding onto religion is purely a response to this fear of death.

We ALL want to live on, I get it, but there is just NO GOOD EVIDENCE FOR IT. Nobody has ever come back from the dead, including Jesus.

As I said before, religions mutate over time and grow in sophistication as the religious leaders of that day learn what works and what doesn’t. The Jesus story is not the first time a prophet or savior was raised from the dead after being sacrificed.

Who was the Son of the highest God, and the biggest healer in Antiquity? He healed the sick and even raised the dead. Hear and behold: former paralysed walked again, the blind could miraculously see again, and the deaf could listen and the mute speak after the Master’s gentle touch! But he did not only heal the body, he also healed the soul. They called him Saviour and Redeemer, and he healed both rich and poor, men and women, young and old, slaves and free men, friends and enemies. In one occasion a paralysed man was brough to him in his bed, and took his bed and left walking after the Saviour had touched him. What was this Saviour’s name?

… Asklepios.

Who was born by a mortal virgin mother and had a divine Father, and was known as the “Saviour of the world”? Before he was born his parents wandered to a bigger town, and prophets had foretold his birth and that he would be a king. This instigated a search for the infant Saviour by a leading figure who wanted to kill him. After growing up the Son of God was shown all the kingdoms of the world from a high mountain. He also walked on water and when he met his end his mother and his favorite disciple stood by him. He then tells his mother: “Do not cry, I’m going to heaven”. When he dies he utter: “It is finished” and the earth trembles and darkness cover the land. Then he ascended to heaven, and his greatest achievement was to conquer death.

His name was of course…Hercules.

The original “Light of the world” was the mediator between God and man and was born on the 25.th of December. Local shepherds witnessed his birth and gave him gifts. He had 12 disciples, and when his work was done on earth he gathered together to a last supper, and then ascended to heaven. At doomsday he will return to pass judgment on both the living and the dead. The righteous will go to heaven and the sinful will be killed in a giant fire. Sunday is his holyday, and this religion gave us the seven days of the week. His followers called each other “brothers” and their leaders “fathers”. They practiced babtism and established a sacred meal ritual, where flesh and blood was symbolically consumed by initiates. Above earth was heaven, and below the dark hell with demons and the sinners.

The ‘Light of the World’ is of course the sungod Mithra.

SauerKraut537 on July 14, 2011 at 12:30 PM

many other religions include a paradisal idea of the afterlife, too

Ya, like the religion of those who committed 9/11.

Dandapani on July 17, 2011 at 8:26 PM

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