God only knows how US will sort Ground Zero mosque crisis
The American man is telling me Satan is running rampant in the world and only the Good Lord can save us from his machinations.
The man shakes his head and says that sometimes he truly wonders why the Lord allows so much evil to flourish in the first place.
“But I want to share this with you,” he adds. “I believe that perhaps it is because evil must exist to point up the good.”
But I will not be joining in this theological discussion. I am not here to save the sins of the world.
I just want to sort the hire car.
I show him my licence and he notes the address. “Wow,” he exclaims, “Belfast, Northern Ireland. Is that still going on?” I don’t get the chance to offer even a brief appraisal of our current security situation before he is off again.
“I’m praying for you every day,” he says, placing his hand on his heart to emphasise sincerity. “I am praying for you morning and night.”
The man means well. But I am starting to suspect that if he keeps up the preaching I will be with him for all eternity.
Later, in a downtown drugstore, an assistant offers to help pack my bags at checkout.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Glory be to our God,” he replies.
I realise that somewhere between the conveyor belt and the trolley I seem to have misplaced an item. Then I notice that he’s packed it underneath the trolley basket.
“There it is,” I say.
“Praise the Lord!” he cries.
Praising the Lord comes naturally to many in America in a way that many of us in the UK (even in our supposedly Bible-thumping bit of it) would find odd or over-the-top.
The religious zealots hitting the headlines in the US right now, however, are not Christian.
They’re members of an Islamic group who have sparked considerable controversy with plans to build a community centre close (some would say, offensively close) to Ground Zero.
Many relatives of those who died in 9/11, their supporters, and, importantly, sympathetic construction workers are determined the project will not go ahead.
Describing it as a clubhouse for terrorists and a mosque on the graves of the innocent, they are waging a campaign to urge other workers and suppliers to boycott it.
The mosque’s backers say that the centre will promote moderate views — but the fact that work is due to begin on the exact anniversary of the September 11 atrocity would suggest they are not as sensitive to the feelings of victims’ families as they make out.
It is, of course, a tricky one for Barack Obama (middle name is Hussein as his Republican adversaries are ever keen to point out).
Obama has supported the right of those behind the project to proceed.
But polls show that a massive 70% of respondents are against it. And as we know from our own experience, as argument rages (and protest rallies are held) passions rise and positions become even more entrenched.
How Obama and his administration resolve this particular conundrum mixing religion, race, politics and pain, well God only knows ...