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Faithless at Ground Zero

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned all clergy from formal participation in this coming weekend’s commemoration ceremony at Ground Zero.

It is certainly understandable why he would contemplate this step, especially given all of the rancor that arose prior to the 2010 elections over the proposed mosque just blocks from the former WTC.  Still, it will seem very odd not to have at least some of the accouterments of civil religion which are so important to American public life.  Here in the south, we can hardly have a football game unless somebody prays over it, much less something of this great significance.

It is deeply unfortunate that the animus which fueled the 911 hijackers has been, after a fashion, adapted and adopted by our society to turn against each other.  Rather than rejecting hatred, we have embraced it, such that now we even fear to mourn our dead in public prayer, lest some disturbance occur on that sacred ground. This, of all days, at this place, of all places, would be a day on which, and a place at which, one would think everyone in America would see the value of people of all faiths praying together.

I don’t often find myself in agreement with Richard Land or Mark Tooley, but I do on this. I am usually opposed to much of public prayer–like at high school football games, for example.  It is too often used by Christians to rub everyone else’s nose in it.  But this case seems to me to be different.  911 struck a nerve that everyone alive when it happened can still feel, like some form of collective PTSD.  People want–and need– to pray in this kind of context, as much as they will likely want to do anything else there.  And the Mayor ought to be able to find, in that great city of his, a handful of clergy from across the faith spectrum who will, with dignity in the presence of survivors and deference to those of other traditions and no tradition offer up simple prayers that reflect the core values of their communities, and of our larger common American family.

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