Letters: Tidings of comfort and rage

Readers respond to an atheist's lament, the plight of shunned mourners, and the heretical thoughts of readers in the wake of 9/11.

By Salon Staff

Published September 16, 2002 7:32PM (EDT)

Read "Classroom Karaoke" by Susan McCarthy.

There is no telling how much our little family appreciates your article on the Pledge of Allegiance. It is very encouraging to know that amidst of all this pro-God hooplah that's going on in this country, there are still a number of people reasonable and courageous enough to respect other people's freedom to believe in whatever they may choose. Wanna see belligerent Christians galore? Go to Florida where everyone is God's child, whether one wants it or not!!!

-- Alex and Quita

I think everyone should compromise and adopt Robin Williams' suggestion for the pledge: "... one nation, under Canada, ..."

-- John Wilhelm

Thank you for, I believe, the only article about this subject that I've read which looks at it from an atheist child's viewpoint. Journalists constantly report this story as if it was merely a political wrangle of a rabid left-wing group against the majority, instead of considering the person's rights -- which are being violated -- and precedent in constitutional law. Like the author, I am an atheist, but I am a first-generation atheist and came to it only after a confirmation year at age 12 which saw me crying every Sunday at church.

Why did I cry? Because I was unwilling to be dishonest and unfaithful to myself and my beliefs, by pledging myself to God. But to not pledge myself to God, I knew, meant to be regarded with disapproval and disappointment by many in our society, to be a bad girl. What people fail to understand is that being an atheist is not some casual lack of belief. It is not about people who should know better than to be rude around people who have "real" beliefs. It is a belief in itself, and mine was much more hard-won than the Christianity that most people I know profess. I wanted to pledge my patriotism every day, in the public school that my country required me to attend, but my country forced me to choose between my country and my religious beliefs.

How would the majority of Americans like it, if every day they were forced to include in a pledge "under communism" or "under Allah"? Why was I forced, in a country that says there is separation of church and state, to betray my beliefs?

-- Catherine Dong

Thank you so much! I am so sick and tired of being told that atheists such as myself are just offended by the phrase "under god." Have they honestly never heard of the harassment we have to endure?

As a child, I got hit a couple of times by somewhat older kids for being an atheist. Sometimes the adults in charge were of the opinion that any intimidation was wrong and ended it there -- if only there were more school administrators like that. Others mumbled something about religious freedom and explained to me that regardless of the fact that they were hitting me and I hadn't lifted a finger, they really were better human beings than I ever could be, at least as an atheist. There's very little I can do to change beliefs, but everyone is entitled to not be harassed.

Ironically, if believers started viewing atheists as human beings who're just as variable in behavior as believers, we wouldn't be so eager to have the words "under God" removed.

-- Katherine Guild

It doesn't matter what faith you happen to be (and I see atheism as a faith like any other, much to the chagrin of my atheist friends), the addition of "under God" to the pledge went against the word and intent of our founding fathers. While this is not a godless country as many detractors claim, it is not a Christian nation as many of our own citizens seem to believe. Ours is a nation of many beliefs and that is something we should be proud of, not ashamed of.

--Wahrena Pfeister

Read "The Big Chill" by Aaron Hicklin.

I feel for the fiancés and lovers of the men and women who died at the WTC. I would like to add that gay and lesbian partners end up in this situation in EVERY death where there are no domestic partner benefits. The descriptions of families giving loved ones the cold shoulder reminds me of the deaths of many friends during the '80s and '90s due to AIDS. These issues are still arising, as can be seen by the lack of benefits for gay and lesbian partners of those who have died due to 9/11.

America seems to be a country that recognizes marriage, as defined as a union of one man and one woman, as the only legitimate state in which a family can live. It is time for Americans to recognize the shortsightedness of this for all situations.

-- Jeff Dauber

I'm disappointed by Aaron Hicklin's article on unmarried partners of those who died on Sept. 11. I agree it's worthy of journalistic focus to talk about the lives of unmarried partners, but the issue he covers is much larger.

Hicklin's article points out what committed unmarried couples, same-sex and otherwise, have known for years: that reducing relationships to a piece of paper causes thousands of relationships to not count in the eyes of families and the state. Those who choose not to marry or are not legally allowed to marry get the "privilege" of being told that our relationships aren't "real" or significant.

American law and culture places a huge weight on marriage certificates as the single legal marker of the validity of a relationship. Married people are accorded hundreds of legal and social privileges that unmarried couples don't get, from survivor benefits to avoidance of estate taxes.

The issues pointed out in this story are serious and political for thousands of Americans, not just the survivors of 9/11 victims. Reducing the issues of married privilege to a series of personal anecdotes misses the point.

-- Shane Landrum

Read " Forbidden Thoughts About 9/11" by Damien Cave, and the forbidden thoughts of readers that followed.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for running this. While we're often reminded that the good things in life -- love, compassion, bravery -- are universal to everyone, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation, we do need to be reminded that everyone -- everyone -- can be selfish, vain, egotistical, or narrow-minded, if only for an instant. It's part of what makes us human, and it has to be admitted and recognized. To claim that we can't say bad things about supremely tragic events is to deny us the right to acknowledge that good people sometimes feel or think bad things.

-- Emru Townshend

I loved reading the "dirty" thoughts people had regarding 9/11. People responded in several ways, and it was nice to see this perspective. Lord knows the major news media would never show these feelings. Thank you.

-- Tim Morehouse

If this isn't creepy, I don't know what is. I'm more afraid of my fellow Americans than of any terrorists. These letters, as "refreshingly honest" as they are, make me want to take to the woods with a tent and a guitar. I don't even know how to play the guitar.

-- Danielle Feica

I feel so sorry about all these people that wrote all these stupidities. I lost a brother and a cousin, how would they feel if someone writes these stupid things about how fun it was to see the Towers fall? Don't they see that not only the Towers went down? Thousands of people went down with it. As I was reading this I couldn't feel anything but sorry for all these idiots, and they think they are very brave by writing this comments but they didn't even sign their names.

-- Lucy

I am totally blown away by your utterly unfathomable lack of decency, tact and sense of dignity with your obscenely reprehensible "Forbidden Thoughts on 9/11."

Salon reminds me of the famous line uttered in reference to the government's desire to define pornography in an attempt to forbid its publication in its legal battle with free speech advocates.

I don't recall the exact quote but to paraphrase; "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it."

It appears, that definition applies to your article as well.

-- Michael Savoy

It's fascinating articles like this that make me a Salon subscriber. You guys are the only place I go to find irreverent, cynical, ballsy, out-of-the way story ideas. You never see stuff like this in any of the national newspapers or magazines.

Congratulations on once again hitting a nerve no one else thought to do. Keep up the great work!

-- C. Smith

Salon Staff

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