The Ground Zero Church

In response to Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposed mosque near ground zero, a Christian by the name of Bill Keller is fund-raising for an eight million dollar “9-11 Christian Center” to be built near ground zero. 

Want to donate to the building of Bill Keller’s 9/11 Christian Center? You can do so here.

And Bill Keller held his first service yesterday at the Marriot on 85 West Street.

If you want to attend next Sunday, a map to that particular Marriot is here.

Happy now?

Bill Keller’s proposed church is part of the genius of Jeffersonian American pluralism: if you don’t like what somebody is doing, compete. Let freedom ring.

So why no applause?

Well, Bill Keller is not exactly the right sort of Christian. You see, Bill Keller says a lot of harsh things about Muslims, Mormons, and gays. And he’s a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. And it might be just a teensy-weensy bit possible that he’s in the religion biz for the money. Here’s Salon on Bill Keller:

Keller has a history of seeking to profit from his various projects (one, called Gold for Souls, involved telling people to simply mail him their gold and jewelry). The 9-11 Christian Center appears to be no different. The project’s website features a prominent link telling viewers to “Earn $$$ – Click Here!” It goes to a letter from Keller offering people a 10 percent referral cut on donations from their friends to the 9/11 Christian Center. 

In other words, Bill Keller is not helping the FOX noise narrative that opposition to the ground zero mosque isn’t about religious bigotry and collective guilt directed toward Muslims; it’s about maintaining decorum for 9/11 victims’ grieving families. Here’s the Daily News:

Andy Sullivan, a leader in the movement to move Park51, said Keller’s 9/11 Christian Center is “just what we do not need” near Ground Zero.

“This guy is going to justify all the people who call us bigots and racists for opposing the mosque,” he said.

But this is exactly what we need, for this is Jeffersonian America: the America that makes tribal identity secondary and foregrounds individual liberty and free association.

And so this whole ground zero mosque controversy is turning into a parody of holiday public space: if you get a Christmas tree on the lawn outside of a city hall, then the Jews get their Menorah, the pagans their statue to Athena, and the atheists their cardboard cut-out of a smirking Richard Dawkins.

And this is exactly how it should be in a country founded by Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Paine.

The Reverend Bill Keller, the grand bullshitter that he no doubt is, is doing America an enormous public service by being, eh, eccentric, for he is reminding all of us of what America is: a historic experiment in Jeffersonian liberty, not just another Herderian tribal nation. And sooner or later, each New Yorker living near ground zero will be resigned to just do his or her own things alongside other individuals doing their own things, exactly as Jeffersonian pluralism based in individual liberty has always been envisioned. 

Thus the Reverend Bill Keller, whatever his far right views, is actually functioning as an ironic block to Herderian religious and nationalist conformity (as promoted by people like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin). So long as you are not violent, live and let live. You don’t like the mosque near ground zero? Build your alternative version of what you regard as a proper house of worship down the street from it. That’s the unique strength of our country.

The mosque near ground zero has brought American conservatism to an unmistakable and historic crossroads: it’s Oakeshott or Strauss; Jefferson or Herder. Or, to put it visually, it’s this:

thomas jefferson

Or this (Calvinists iconoclastically trashing a Catholic Church in Geneva, 16th century):

To choose you must now pass, not just through Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, but the Reverend Bill Keller.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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