I wonder if we have considered the wider implications of the controversy about a “mosque” near the World Trade Center Site? I put “mosque” in quotes since I am not sure that it actually is a mosque, formally speaking. Rather it seems to be more of an Islamic Center. I will admit to not knowing fully the distinction between a mosque and an Islamic Center though my premise is that such a center may have a wider purpose than just as a place of worship and would probably include places to gather to study or for social interaction such as receptions and the like. It would seem that there are already two mosques within a dozen blocks of the proposed site.
I suppose if you ask me, I don’t think building the center so near ground zero is a good idea. It has obviously proved incendiary and, if the original purpose was to promote mutual understanding the whole thing has back-fired. There are surely many reasons for this and plenty of blame to go around. There may have been some fear-mongering by those opposed. There were some problematic statements by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf . And when the politicians entered the picture, it was like gasoline being poured on the already smoldering topic.
But what I want to consider are the possible implications of this event beyond the Muslim Community to our own Catholic Church. The matter that most concerns me is that many who oppose this Mosque (though not all) seem to be asking that the Government prevent its construction. Perhaps this would be done by revoking construction permits or through zoning changes.
I’ll be honest, I don’t want the Government to have a thing to do with refusing permission for the mosque (or center). Because, truth be told, if they can intervene in a matter about a mosque they can just as easily make life difficult when it comes to building churches too.
There are many in this land who distrust Muslims and dislike many aspects of the Muslim Faith. As a Catholic I surely have many strong disagreements with what the Muslim Faith teaches. Distrust is a more complicated question. Most Americans are willing to distinguish between extremist Islam and mainstream Islam. But here too the failure to hear of strong denunciation of violence from Muslim leaders makes Americans wonder. Further, the lack of religious tolerance in many Muslim Countries also causes consternation. To some extent this distrust makes it easier for some to demand the government step in and prevent the Mosque.
But let’s be honest and sober. We as Catholics are heading south in the popularity ratings too. There are increasing numbers in this country who consider us hateful, backward, sexist, homophobic, judgmental, and so forth. They think this of us because we have not signed on 100% with the cultural, sexual and social revolution. Many also distrust us on account of our handling of the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis. It is not that far of a stretch to consider that within the next decades we too will discover many obstacles toward building Churches in prominent or visible places. At first opposition to us will be rooted in complaints that we will cause traffic etc. But the next step will be to refuse us zoning easements because we are sexist (no women priests, opposition to abortion) or anti-homosexual (No Gay marriage), insensitive (e.g. no Euthanasia), and thus our “values” do not comport well with the community in question or our presence causes some to experience outrage or hurt. Hence our prominent presence in a community could be denied simply because others experience hurt or rage. (I do not say that such feelings about us are fair or right, I simply note their current existence).
Now this may seem far-fetched, but is this not some of the logic being applied at the ground zero site? And those who think that the Government should intervene at the ground zero site should carefully think this through. It is a very poor basis on which to ask the government to act. And we may be next in the cross hairs of this sort of logic.
We ought to be very sober about encouraging the Government to continue to expand its involvement in how private citizens use their land and resources. In the last 40 years the government has become increasingly intrusive when it comes to building anything. There are increasingly picky zoning requirements, declaration of historical districts, nature preserves, etc. And eminent domain (allowing the government simply to take your land for its own purposes in exchange for a price it deems fair) which was once rather rare and for serious reasons has now become shockingly common. There are certain western states that are almost wholly owned by the Federal Government and where private ownership of land has become rare. As one who has built a large building on Church property, I can personally attest to how frustrating it is to build. There are endless permits, delays, regulations, zoning waivers, delays, forms, and did I say, delays?
Now I realize that not every one who opposes the Mosque is asking the government to intervene. But for those who are, think very carefully. And even for those who are not asking the government intervention, be careful of the logic used. That a mosque causes grief and anger, fear or suspicion at ground zero may at some level be understandable but it is a poor basis on which to tell someone they cannot build a building. For I fear that same logic will be used against the Catholic Church sooner than we think in certain areas of this country. It is not a great leap of (tortured) logic to say that a mosque cannot be built because it evokes negative feelings to saying that a Catholic Church cannot be built for the same reasons. We ought to be very careful about the logic we use.
What do you think? I know that this article needs some distinctions, qualifications and factual additions. Remember this is a discussion I have started. I do not intend this blog it as a pronouncement. I am grateful if, in addition to any comments about the issue in general, you might address the specific question of the logic of demanding the non-existence of a building on the basis that it will cause hurt or anger and how it might ultimately affect us as Catholics.
Here’s an interesting interview about the Mosque (Islamic Center) before it really heated up: