Of all the weirdos and self-righteous ideologues who populate Ann Arbor, one stands above all the rest. He shares the eccentricity and propensity to induce rampant eye-rolling that so many Trotskyist affirmative-action supporters and screaming street preachers share, but puts them to shame by being about the only one of our local wackos to be able to bring his grandiose schemes to fruition. Unlike those dedicated, but under-funded, champions of this-or-that cause, Tom Monaghan has the money to turn his repellant delusions into reality.
The Domino”s Pizza founder and right wing sugar daddy has long planned to move his currently Ypsilanti-based Ave Maria School of Law to his Domino”s Farms property in Ann Arbor Township, where it will anchor Ave Maria University. The best part, of course, is that besides programming his students with rightist, politicized Catholicism, he wants to jam it in everyone else”s faces too with the world”s largest crucifix. If the Ann Arbor Township Planning Commission and Trustees approve of the project, the intersection of US-23 and M-14 may soon be the site of a 250-foot tower, with a 40-foot Jesus on top.
Why do I get the feeling that what he”s actually building is a giant middle finger pointed right at our going-straight-to-hell campus?
There was a time when if a devout Catholic had a lot of extra money lying around, or a lot of peasants to force into laboring for him, he would build things that were at least attractive, like cathedrals, that had some ostensibly worship-related purpose. The world”s tallest crucifix isn”t something that anyone needs to further his faith and Monaghan is likely smart enough to know that the spectacle is so unlikely to convince anyone to start following Catholicism that it can”t possibly be erected to proselytize.
The probable goal of Mega-Jesus is to be a show of defiance: That, though this is a largely liberal area, Monaghan and his minions are right here too and driven to change our world into theirs. That is after all the point of Ave Maria University. Not only to train people to be more personally religious, but to train them to push conservative causes through political, social and legal advocacy. That”s also why he started the Ann Arbor Political Action Committee to fund pro-theocracy political candidates and founded the Thomas More Law Center to push for state-supported religion (his religion, mind you) in the public schools through the courts. The big cross symbolizes his goals well an in-your-face display that forces itself into the lives of innocent and uninterested bystanders. Monaghan is an enthusiastic member of the crowd that sees their religion as something to beat other people over the head with.
Most people in Ann Arbor respect those of other faiths. Hell, they even respect those with no religious inclinations (gasp). But being religious and putting up a giant religious icon that towers over everything else in town are two very different things.
Monaghan has made perfectly clear over the years that there”s not enough religion, at least his favored brand of overtly politicized religion, anywhere. And what better place to base his crusade for more than notoriously lefty Ann Arbor?
Monaghan is known for advocating such charming views as “Marriage should be permanent, for better or for worse” and regarding abortion, “this country is committing a million and a half murders a year. If I were God I would send another flood,” as he told the Detroit News in 1999. He also likes complaining about nuns not wearing habits anymore.
He”s certainly a traditionalist, though ideologically only. Building a huge Jesus to glare down at the unbelievers, not-fervent-enough believers and infidels among us is quite an unusual tactic. I”ll admit it”s slightly more tasteful than the huge cross put up next to I-275 that”s really a cellular tower, but a giant advertisement for anything, including a religion, isn”t what an area otherwise devoid of tall buildings and other structures needs.
Hopefully the Planning Commission can see that and prevents an area of low buildings and woods from being dominated by this thing.
I can hear the complaints already: “You”re just saying this shouldn”t be put up because it”s about religion, if it was anything else it would be fine.” I wouldn”t say anything else would be fine, but yes, this is different because it”s about religion. I don”t think anyone”s particular religious symbol should loom over a community. It carries an exclusionary tone, says something about who has power (or who should) and suggests a character about an area. Whatever the religious symbol was, it would convey a great deal of negative meaning to a lot of people in the way a tall building never would.
This isn”t about excluding someone”s religion, but not letting one literally tower over us. I don”t really know what Monaghan had in mind when planning his huge crucifix, but if he was trying to get people to think about religion, especially his idea of it, I don”t think it will work. If you”re into right wing politifaith, you are and if you aren”t, the sheer size of something won”t change your mind. But for me and I suspect a lot of people, it will indeed get us to think about something more frequently than we normally would: What a tool Tom Monaghan is.
Peter Cunniffe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.