by Steven DeVries
In the weeks and months following Sept. 11, many cities and towns felt
compelled to eulogize the victims who were lost, and also to provide comfort to
those left to bear the emotional weight of the crisis. In the areas surrounding
Manhattan - the boroughs, and the bedroom towns of New York, New Jersey and
Connecticut - most every municipality that lost someone held a memorial service,
if not several. And the way many of them went about it was to mirror those being
held at and around Ground Zero—with an Ecumenical Service.
Ecumenism? It's a word I'd always heard growing up in the Dutch
Reformed Church, but I never bothered to find out its meaning. As defined in
your basic dictionary, it's a push for Christian universality, a coming together
under the common banner of Christendom of all the many denominational limbs, the
span of which makes the Biblical "branch of Jesse" look like a clover.
Okay, I embellished a bit, but you get the point.
But what we've seen from these services is a new working definition of
"ecumenism," a sort of all-inclusive version that brings people of
faith together under a different banner - in fact, that could probably be the
banner, "People of Faith." Any town's roster of speakers that didn't
look like the first line of a joke—"a priest and rabbi and a Muslim guy
(imam) walk into a bar..."—betrayed an unfashionable apathy of the new
Like Noah taking tally at the gangplank of the ark, municipal and religious
memorial planners perused their programs to make sure there was at least one
dashiki, one yarmulke and one collar at every service to represent what they
perceived to be the complete menagerie of Americans united. The message sent was
that Jews, Catholics, Protestants and true Muslims all stood united in the face
of this great evil - one nation under whichever god you choose, they're all
The leaders came, spoke of reunions in the afterlife and God's infinite love
and justice. They vindicated "true" religion, and prayed for God to
Bless America (though I'm not sure if it was a tongue in cheek request for Him
to do a better job than he did Sept. 11).
But has anyone questioned the fact that up until now, for these leaders to
stand with one another, thus showing approval for each other, it was considered
blasphemous? Christians believe Christ is the only path to heaven, Jewish people
believe they are God's chosen people, and Muslims believe Allah to be the one
and only God. For centuries, priests, rabbis and imams have taught that God
would reject anyone who falls outside their own dogmatic standards.
Now we see them together on stage, leading prayers of unity to God? Do we
honestly believe that any of the big three gods, despite their track records of
lethal jealousy, are going to put their spite for competing faiths on the shelf
while America has a politically correct recovery? Are they sitting in paradise
right now saying, "it's okay if my representatives stand with false
prophets for the moment, because America just needs a god right now - not
necessarily me"? It absolutely counters every major god's character to show
Apparently, Yahweh's command, "you shall have no other gods before
me," was just a request from his booking agent that He be allowed to speak
first. There his representatives stand, united with the others in a holy buffet
of encouragement, where each dish is as good as the next, and what's right for
you depends on what whets your appetite.
Say this war and terrorist threat end tomorrow. Do these religious leaders go
back to their temples, churches and mosques and revert to preaching about the
damnation or rejection of the other guy? Or after all the unity, relativist
bliss and warm fuzziness of the last few months has god finally become a Trinity
- The Yahweh, The Savior and the Holy Allah [with room for more aliases should
our Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh friends ever build up a key voting demographic]?
When competing religious leaders are willing to stand with the infidels and
come before their god using safe, rather than sincere, language, it says to me
that none of them really took their singularity too seriously to begin with.
Does the fact that they're all willing to submit to relativism negate the
allegedly unchanging, non-negotiable foundations of their faiths? Is this the
first definite crack this century to appear in the stack of monoliths currently
standing between the people of this planet and the realization of their one true
commonality - their being human?
As a secular humanist, I'm glad to see such willingness by members of the
three main faiths to step outside their prejudices and put their roles as
healers of mankind before their god's neurotic edicts of celestial monogamy. How
much longer until such parochial loyalties are erased completely?
How much longer, then, until the collars and caps are shed in acceptance of
the realization that the only true image we're made in is that of each other?