Our Secular 9/11 Commemoration

September 12, 2011 at 10:24 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I got up yesterday in time to hear PBS coverage of the beginning of the 9/11 memorial service in Lower Manhattan. With great seriousness, the commentator stated that this was to be a secular commemoration, which, he explained, means no clergy from any religious tradition would speak. One assumes this was the case because if imams were included, there would be a riot, and if they weren’t, it would be discriminatory.

Said commentator then announced that during the moment of silence, all the churches in the country were asked to ring their bells. (It was later clarified that all the churches in New York had been asked to ring their bells, which probably meant Manhattan; I certainly heard no bells here in Flatbush, on the edge of “Little Pakistan.”) Then President Obama began his talk by reading from Psalm 46 of the Hebrew Bible.

I don’t need to point out the silliness of describing as “secular” a service that involves all the churches in some geographical area or another ringing their bells ( no mention of synagogues, temples or mosques of course) and begins with the words “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of suffering…” I would like to mention, however, that the “secularization hypothesis”–the modern notion that religion is in decline–has been increasingly discredited.  For more on this I refer you to Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge University Press 2004) by Pippa Norris of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and Ronald Inglehart. And when you think about it, a murderous attack by members (however unfaithful) of a particular world religion is inherently unsecular, no matter who speaks at the memorial.

Apparently, it wasn’t just the PBS commentator, but the planners of the event as well who announced that the memorial was going to be secular because no clergy would be included among the speakers. I guess they think that religion in our time is limited to clergy. Somebody better break this to Barack Obama.

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