The “princess atheists” are at it again, attacking affronts to their sensitivities. (You remember the fairy tale of the princess and the pea. They knew she was the real, delicate thing when a tiny garden pea placed under a stack of mattresses still gave her a backache in the morning.) These are the people who flinch and litigate whenever religious themes surface on public property.
Now they’re upset that New Yorkers have honored with a street name (“Seven in Heaven Way”) some brave firemen who lost their lives on 9/11. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, calls it “preachy,” saying, “It implies that heaven actually exists.” Ken Bronstein, president of New York City Atheists, claims it’s “really insulting to us.”
Alas, insulting implications are everywhere, and it will take a lot of scrubbing to remove them from the public square. Every time the Air Force does a flyover at the Super Bowl, pacifists are discomfited. Every time I visit fitness.gov, I sense that the state does not endorse my flab. Look, I understand that agnostics in Evanston, Illinois, might not appreciate streets named Wesley and Asbury, but down the way in Chicago, devout Methodists are not so keen on Hugh Hefner Way.
To be honest, I’m a little put off by Seven in Heaven Way. Who says these men are in heaven, and on what basis? Is it enough that they sacrificed their lives in an attempt to rescue their fellow citizens? Granted, in Matthew 16:15, Jesus says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” but did the firefighters die for his sake? That would be a stretch, at least for some of them. And remember Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Could it be that at least one of the firemen was motivated by professionalism, peer pressure, or even glory, and not by love? It’s possible.
I know this sounds like quibbling, but there’s a big issue in play, the status of works salvation. I’m afraid people might get the wrong impression—that we get to heaven by doing good, even heroic, deeds.
The best I can tell from reading the obituaries and tributes for the firemen, they come from Catholic backgrounds, one a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament in West Brighton, another at Holy Child in Eltingville. The list of memorial masses extends to St. Clare’s in Great Kills, St. Thomas the Apostle in Pleasant Plains, Our Lady Queen of Peace in New Dorp, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Deer Park. Some of the heroes appear to be more active and devout than others. I imagine that one or two of their parish priests would be reluctant to guarantee that all seven are currently in heaven.
Be that as it may, I just wish the council hadn’t implied that people are saved by what they’ve done or suffered rather than what Christ did and suffered.
So, do I want to enlist a lawyer to set things straight? No, a witness fortified with Ephesians 2:8-9 should do just fine.
Mark Coppenger is professor of Christian apologetics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, director of the Seminary’s Nashville extension, and managing editor of Kairos Journal. He received his doctorate from Vanderbilt University. He has published several books and has contributed to such publications as Teaching Philosophy, Touchstone, American Spectator Online, and USA Today.
Seven in Heaven | Thesis, the BibleMesh Blog.