February 27th, 2012
02:51 PM ET
My Take: 9/11 Memorial not sacred enough
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Sunday was the 19th anniversary of the first World Trade Center terrorist attack, which claimed 6 lives on February 26, 1993. I took this occasion as a chance to see the 9/11 Memorial, which remembers these six victims alongside the 2977 people killed on September 11, 2001, in the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
I have been writing recently about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Lower Manhattan site is obviously influenced by that design. So it is hard to avoid comparisons. There are the granite walls, though in the New York memorial there is flowing over them. And there are the names of the dead, though in New York they are cut through bronze rather than inscribed on granite.
But the spirit of the 9/11 Memorial is very different.
As you approach The Wall designed by architect Maya Lin in Washington, the mood of the place is almost palpably sacred. Mourners cry. Visitors move slowly and speak in hushed tones. At the 9/11 Memorial the first impression is also auditory, though here it loud: water crashing over a series of waterfalls.
The other impression is of scale. Unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which feels intimate, this place feels big — as big and as loud as America.
At the 9/11 Memorial there are two areas of remembrance, each occupying one of the massive footprints of the towers that fell that day. Each is square in design, with water cascading down each side, and then cascading again inside a smaller square, out of eyesight at the center of each pool.
At least for me, this was reminiscent of nothing so much as the big waterfalls you see sometimes inside of skyscrapers. It didn’t evoke nature. It didn’t evoke death.
The winning design, by the Israeli-American architect Michael Arad, is called “Reflecting Absence,” and that feeling is definitely conveyed here: the buildings are gone, we are told, as are the people whose names line the bronze panels that line the edges of each pool. But that message felt obvious.
What was missing, at least for me, was a sense of the ineffable, of mystery — something akin to that moment when you stand before The Wall and its endless names and you see yourself in the reflection and you start to reflect yourself on war and peace and what you have done (or left undone) to make either and what are the meanings and ends of America, and of life itself.
There is no similar confrontation at the 9/11 Memorial — no reckoning.
As I circled the North and South Tower sites, I noticed names of people of many religions: Muslim names, Hindu names, Sikh names, Jewish names. I also noticed unborn children memorialized alongside their mothers — a feature absent from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
But I was upended by what came to feel, at least to me, like a hyper-segmentation of the names.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the names of the dead are presented chronologically, from those who died at the beginning of the war through those who died at the end. Here there are sections for victims on each of the fateful flights that day, for those who died in the North Tower and those who died in the South Tower, and for people who died at the Pentagon. The first responders are also presented together, though they are further segmented by groups — by ladder and engine, for example.
There is also an effort to list names by “meaningful adjacencies”—in other words, by their relationships to one another. So siblings are listed next to each other, as are the hundreds of people who died at the offices of investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald.
Although I understand and applaud the impulse to group friends with friends and families with families, I found the seemingly endless segmentation of groups (there was one victim listed with the U.S. Secret Service) literally divisive. At The Wall in Washington, you experience the dead as individual human beings, and as members of a single group. There is no separate section for the Marine, for example, or the Army. At the 9/11 Memorial you encounter the dead as members of groups.
This memorial is not yet finished. The trees planted on the plaza have not yet taken full shape. The museum is not yet opened. So it is possible that visitors will start to experience this memorial differently in months and years to come. But during my initial visit what I experienced was a site at odds with itself — like when you go to church to pray in Paris and there are tourists sitting behind you talking in some other language about which museum to visit next.
During my visit on Sunday, there was a white rose lying atop the names of the six people killed 20 years ago at the World Trade Center site, and visitors observed a moment of silence at 12:18 p.m. — the time when the site was first attacked. I also saw two women tracing the names of a victim on paper, as visitors do at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
But visitors are instructed not to throw anything in to the water, and there isn’t much room to leave things behind as mourners do at The Wall. So right now, at least, the first order of business at the 9/11 Memorial seems to me to be tourism. People smiled wide for their cameras, and talked of banal things.
We must talk of such things, of course. Life goes on. But in a memorial like this I wanted more of the sacred and less of the profane.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
M should be me here: But I was upended by what came to feel, at least to m, like a hyper-segmentation of the names.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Please for the love of journalism, and the integrity of the English language PLEASE edit your writing before you post it for the whole world to view. There are so many mistakes; I would be embarrassed to call myself a writer...
If you can read the story it can't be that bad. I am tired of you grammar nazi's crying all the time about something not spelled right.
You forgot the comma after "language" and before "PLEASE" in your perfectionistic, dumb, arrogant comment.
Wesley isn’t a professional posting an article on an international news site. Your comparison is childish. He has a point.
Agreed. SO MANY MISTAKES. This is awful. How is this guy a writer?
Geez. Get over it. No one outside of NYC really cares anymore.
You have a mental illness. Get help.
You are an I D I O T. And........ that comment prooves it.
That comment is so stup!d that it is obviously an adolescent attempt at sparking conflict. Kinda like a little boy tugging on a girl’s hair because he doesn’t know how to flirt.
Cal T: If you’re <15 yrs old, than you’re excused. But, if you’re an adult – than you’re just an id!ot…seriously…an absolute id!iot.
I agree with this guy. Someone whining about how the emotions evoked by a memorial are not good enough is not really news.
#1 – I guess I should not be so hard on Perez Hilton for not proofing his work before publishing, but if a Professor from Boston University, ( my alma mater ) cannot be bothered to do the same, who am I to criticize Hilton? When you are paid to write, typos are not okay.
#2 – Why did we allow a hyphenated American to design this memorial? Why did we allow a Polish Man to design the freedom tower? Why is this country so adverse to have it's own native born citizens do the most important work in this remembrance?
This entire design project has been woefully mismanaged in every aspect. The freedom tower is an utter failure in design. It is uninspiring, no different than any large building in any large city. It breaks no new ground. At such a location, it should.
Damn all those white collar execs responsible for this mockery to hell!
While I have not visited this memorial I have studied it in great detail and I have visited Maya Lin's masterpiece in D.C. It is difficult to take this article seriously as it is so poorly thought out and written. He nibbles on some meaningful points but it seems like he really does not know what he is talking about and these points just peter out. Also, comparing the Vietnam Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial as absolutely ridiculous. Despite some basic aesthetic similarities you wont find two memorials that were more different in so many ways. However, in his defence I think writing a short and pithy article on a subject so complex and fraught with conflict and emotion might just be impossible.
I am a native new yorker this man is right. they made an office park with a waterfall. I work near and see it everyday. it sucks.
That sure is a shame, you folks deserve a heck of a lot better. Who knows, in the fullness of time as the landscaping blooms the place may come to life. I remember the D.C. memorial was initially rejected quite vocally. Gotta say that has to be the most difficult place to accomplish what we normally expect of a memorial. Also, I'm not all that surprised things seem to not have worked out given the political silliness that was involved with the whole process involved in the project. I did some reading up on it and the whole thing was flawed from the beginning. Either way, heres hoping it mellows with age for you folks.
I believe the design for peace, quiet reflection about souls lost was complete. Thank you and God Bless.
@HeavenSent "quiet reflection" with a big noisy waterfall?.........
I completely agree.
Ask ‘god’ where he was the morning is stood by and watched this happen. Mysterious ways …right..right?
"I also noticed unborn children memorialized alongside their mothers — a feature absent from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial." How many of the 67 American women killed in the Vietnam war were pregnant? When you make ignorant statements such as that, you lose your credibility.
You just want to be the first to criticize, apparently.
So do you, apparently.
Your comparison to the Vietnam memorial is interesting, but you know what they say – First as tragedy, then as farce.
I think the memorial is beautiful. It's not even complete yet. Just wait for the trees to be there blooming with the sponsored engraved stones. It's a very unique memorial and not anything like the Vietnam Memorial in DC. This is the first time I've heard that comparison.
So you're expecting closure for 9/11 in architecture?
He was expecting more… as many of us where.
Sounds like a perception problem on the part of the author. It's a shame he can stand at that memorial and feel so little. Maybe he needs to look inside himself and figure out why, rather than pointing out perceived flaws in the memorial himself. It's not the stone, or the falling water, or the names that are the memorial – the loss they represent is the memorial.
I think for Stephen Prothero this is just sour gr.a.p.es. I am guessing one of the designs that did not get selected was HIS favorite.
Also he should stop going to churches in Europe. The Crystal Cathedral is in Orange County and the people smell nicer there and speak in English so you can hear if they are going Knott's Berry Farm or Disneyland next.
If you want to see an ugly memorial, go to the JFK memorial in Dallas. Yuk.
I haven’t been to the 9/11 memorial but wife has and she told me it was quite "sacred" indeed.
Captain America thinks Larry the Cable Guy is the best comedian of all time. It's true!
This monument can only be made sacred by piling it high with the corpses of our enemies.
Definition of an 'enemy' to all those who are religious – "everyone who doesn't agree with our religion".
This works for me: anyone who wants to harm my fellow countrymen or allies.
No one can make something sacred. it is or it isn't, its the people who value its meaning that create its sacredness... so in short if you find its not sacred enough for YOU then its YOU who is the issue...like most things! 🙂 enjoy it, it is life and its fleeting!
Do you read before you write?
Right on HP
Hip poet? you are more like a drivelmister
i realize what i typed... i stand by by drivel... sacredness is not built nor destoryed! it is sacred to those who feel it is important!
I will never forget standing in the fields of Verdun amongst countless rows of nameless, white crosses and the inescapable feeling of loss and futility that washed over me.
Nor can I shake the memory of my stomach churning as I walked through Dachau and the mixture of rage and desolation such an abbatoir elicits.
Those places have such gravitas that one cannot help but be humbled and shamed at how easily the hearts of men can turn against their brothers.
9/11 was a great tragedy – especially for a nation unaccustomed to being attacked on its own shores.
I lost a friend in the Pentagon attack and wept with my American cousins as the full scope of the loss became evident.
If the New York memorial is becoming nothing more than a neon tourist trap, as the author suggests, then it will serve only to cheapen the memory of 9/11.
(and a pre-emptive STFU to Cap'n America)
"(and a pre-emptive STFU to Cap'n America)"
love it lol!
You are a phony who endorses the atheist philosophies that created a Dachau and worse. You want atheism keep it in your own backyard ass hole. There's your sign
Troll on cappie, show us how pathetic you really are.
Hey Captain America....lighten up, would ya? You must be another one of those "christians." How do you live with yourself? You make hateful comments and come off as a holier than thou a**hole.....
To those so called Americans siding with foreigners, how is having canadian atheist types doing all your thinking for you. There's your sign
Hey cappie here's a thought. Try saying something new. Or how about trying to make sense in your postings. You're a hateul, pathetic, sad excuse for a human being and an American. I'm tempted to start having faith that hell exists so at least I know that you'd go there.
Hell does exist and atheists consign themselves and tons of innocents to it every day. Atheism, chronic ethnic cleansing of the world since creation. We get enough bull sh it from folks like you here without importing it. There's your sign.
Name one bout of ethnic cleansing carried out by atheists. Be careful not to be confused by politically motivated mass murders.
Yes yes we've all heard the whole "hell exists and atheists will go there" spiel over and over. You really need some new material cappie. Tell me something why do you have this burning need to troll around on here, and only against a few people. You attempt to insult them, yet you only make yourself look more like an idiot. You offer absolutely no posts with any relevance or constructive information. In essence as far as can be seen from these forums, you're just a complete waste of oxygen and space.
Interesting how you put the likes of Stalin into the political cleansing arena yet those Christians that were used for political purposes are religeous nuts.
Be fair in your evaluation of the truth and you will see that the things of God in the Bible were for your benefit
Fred, *I* have not positioned Stalin or any other potential person or event – you have. The Babble is fiction – there are no unique truths in it, therefore no unique benefits and definitely none from any god.
Eh, suck it, cap.
How about remain $exually pure and the result would be 1% STD rate instead of 30% in the North America. How about love your enemy we would have very few wars. How about make peace with your brother before you come give your offeing there would no religious bigotry. Do not divorce. What ever you do in life do it as if onto the Lord.
Lots of truth in the Bible that work every time.
fred, are you actually claiming those "rules" are unique to The Babble? That no other culture or cult came up with them too?
Re "work every time" – please explain the number of believers that have abortions in the USA each year. And, please do not insult me with "they were not really true believers" or "some god gave some pople free will."
One of the themes of the Bible is that man never obeys God. Beginning with the Garden man goes his own way over and over we chase after what we are not supposed to have. Even without God I imagine man would chase what he is not supposed too. That is actually an argument for God because it shows evil is in man and the Bible explains it. Yes, we need to be saved from our selves. If we don't need to be saved we don't need Jesus.
As to many "cults" having similar do not do lists that is true. Theory is that the word of Bible was spread all over the world.
Captain America. DAMN, it's HERE"S your sign.
@ captain America
You really don’t want to get into a p!ssing contest between Atheism and religion when it comes to tragedies. I would add if you even knew what atheism was you’d realize there is no such thing as atheistic philosophies.
What was the point of this blog? It's under the Belief Blog section, so I assume by sacred he means a more religious memorial. But the author never says that. So what's his stance? It doesn't appear he has one unless he has mistakenly used the word "sacred" when he really meant "solemn."
Tracy, you are not supposed to actually read the article. That just messes up your understanding of the article.
There is only one tiny difference between a religiuos "nut job" and an atheist. It is so obvious. Does anyone know what it is?
Did not think so… Other than their "conditioning" (Pavlov), there is very little difference. Both claim to be in a possession of the Truth, arguing their subjective, arrogant, conceptual point of view, based on their extremely limited and bias perception of Reality. Both are trying to prove each other being wrong, in order to be right, not realizing (or fearing to admit) that neither really knows. In fact no one really knows, we only "think" that we do. Well, thinking and making stuff up is a job for Hollywood or our esteem political leaders. A concept about "existence of God" (a pretty story) is not what the word "God" points to. It is especially disturbing, when people argue about knowing what "their" (version of) “God” wants, plans, or is going to do. The same applies to the ones arguing about the absence of "God", unless the argument is limited to the falsehood of a concept (story) itself only. It is rather comical, when you notice it. ;0))
Your comment is flawed. Only the "righteous atheists" try to argue their non-beliefs while your average Christian will talk about it all day long. many Christians are told by their religious leaders that it is their duty to reach out the non-believers. Atheists have no such directives.
Of course, once again, it is the radical few who sully the reputation of many. Both religious and non.
Gotta agree with Tracy. I don't know anything. I am just not religious, I think it is stupid and dangerous.
you logic is flawed in many, many ways. for one, atheists say there is no Christian god in the same way they say there is no Zeus, Odin or Ra. in the same way that if i told you God is actually a purple martian that lives in my anus, you say that wasn't true. same thing here. atheists think it's just as likely that God is a purple alien living in my anus as there is a Zues, Odin, Ra or Yahweh. there is very little chance gods exist. there is no proof whatsoever of any god ever having existed. could Ra, the egyptian sun god, and the rest of his pantheon really be up there in the sky? i can't really say definitively 'no'. but the chance is so ridiculously small, that it may as well be a 'no'. get it? you seem to confine yourself to is there a God or not. but open your mind. there are thousands of gods. they all have the same infinitesimally small chance as the christian god at existence.
also, it is up to the person making the claim to prove it, not for those hearing the claim to disprove it. christianity fails at proving there is a god, ergo, there is no reason to believe there is. same with all other religions ever.
"extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." - Carl Sagan
Christians are just offended because they no longer matter. Each and every day that they continue to rant and rave. Continue to do so. By the time your generation of morons die off we'll see a more educated next generation because we atheists put the knowledge in front of your eyes to evaluate it.
G of Death, Jesus already told us that you non-believers are on the loosing team. You can lie, re-write history, scam, steal, cheat ... do any/all unethical behaviors over and over again and think you'll make a dent, but, Jesus labeled you a looser.
To those, who are stuck in their “mind-made” logic and obviously did not get the post…
The point I was trying to make is that any “logic” is the root of the problem, because any “logic” can be justified by the mind and is based on a limited and bias perception. Just because we think something is true, does not make it so. Just watch the news tonight and notice the insanity in the world, based on human “logic”. Isn’t it funny that people can’t control their own bowels but proclaim to be in control of their own destiny?
I am not trying to prove anything to anybody – that is a completely useless exercise. I was sharing a personal experience of a one-time extreme ultra-orthodox and an arrogant atheist. I don’t believe in any fairy tales, why should I believe in yours?
Religion is a sickness of the mind
It twists, distorts reality and will
Divide, sort, break, and label our kind
Delusion that is truly evil, ill.
Religion is a sickness of the world
Opinions, positions, thoughts, beliefs
Can only bring destruction, pain, and war
Can only cause more bloodshed, grief, and tears
Lies that are spread to keep the hate alive
Contagious blindness, masked as real Truth
To see, one only has to look with open mind
And open heart, to break from prison of their views
Blind faith, unconsciousness, fanatic make-believe
Like wounded animal, tries to defend itself
Imagined enemies and threats to it’s own myth
Cause pain and suffering in it’s own hell
Infects our minds with thoughts of right and wrong
Pretends to be the Truth, to know what it is
Based on reality that’s long been gone
It lies of Love, true kindness, bliss, and peace
Pretends, as if it’s possible in words
Express the miracle, that is One Life, itself
The depth of space, the “why?” of countless worlds
Contained in dusty books, decaying on the shelf?
Reality itself, Eternal, Infinite, Divine
It’s purpose, plan, and reason “why?”
It’s everywhere and all the time
For “special me”, to grant me “mine”?
For us to feel the joy, to simply be
Exists reality beyond religion’s plan
Beyond the ego’s, “mine”, and “me”
Lies consciousness of Tao and Zen.
To notice, all we have to do is listen, look
Inside, One Truth, One Life is who we truly are
But, we won’t get from “them” or “their books”
The fact, God does exist, it’s only Love.
Any mention of any god makes the memorial too "sacred" (silly would be a better word") for me,
Sacred need not imply any god or religion.
Since you're a F'n canadian and it is our memorial who gives a sh it what your opinion is? There's your sign
@myweightinwords: Actually, the very definition of "sacred" means 'devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose'. A secular definition is also available, but this is a Belief Blog, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the author meant more "solemn" than "sacred".
Troll on cappie, show all of us how pathetic you truly are.
Hey Captain Asshole, Canadians died at 9/11 too.
None you could name hotair. Mind your own F'n business it is our memorial. There's your sign
Hey Captain America....why don't you reach around and pull out that long stick you seem to have up your a**. You might feel better....sheesh!!!
Garnet "Ace" Bailey – NHL scout.
Had to go look that up hotairace eh?
So what if I did?
That would make you the fuc king phony CA said you were.
Hardly. I doubt Captain Aswhole could name an American who died there without looking it up, either. Prove me wrong.
I do believe the atheists highjacked Cptn's handle to write their babble.
Dear Cabin Boy (wink wink) Alex,
When you are done looking after Captain Asshole, please show me where I made any claim about personally knowing any 9/11 victim.
Different memorials for different purposes. The 9-11 memorial is meant to show the strength of character (like it has any) of America, our unwillingness to bow down to terror. The Vietnam war memorial is supposed to remind the government never to do stupid crap again. Unforunately, it fails at that purpose, as stupidity is all our government is capable of.
Prayer changes things
Proven (no need to thank me, and don't you double up again like last time!)
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.
Nope, I pray that some day you get a life and stop believing the ways of man.
Stephen P. is an acknowledged atheist and yet he complains about a memorial not being sacred enough??
• Dedicated to or set apart for the worship of a deity.
• Worthy of religious veneration: the sacred teachings of the Buddha.
• Made or declared holy: sacred bread and wine.
• Dedicated or devoted exclusively to a single use, purpose, or person: sacred to the memory of her sister; a private office sacred to the President.
• Worthy of respect; venerable.
• Of or relating to religious objects, rites, or practices.
Hit report abuse on all reality posts.
Actually, RealityBot, holding something sacred just means that it's special to you, that it has meaning.
Please refer to bullet point #4 & #5 out of your own definitions. "Sacred" can have no religious connotation attached to it.