I took a drive by one of my favorite corners this morning — the little shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe on 300 East and 700 South. The Virgin of Guadalupe, as you may know, is the patron saint of Mexico. I counted more than 250 votive candles there, most of them in holders decorated with paintings of saints and angels. I saw a dozen portraits of Jesus, bouquets of flowers and dozens of written prayers.

The shrine, like many of the crosses that memorialize Utah Highway Patrol troopers, sits on public property.

Nobody has said a thing.

I don't know why American Atheists Inc. haven't gone after the shrine. Maybe they don't know about it. Or, maybe they know about it but haven't gotten around to it. Maybe they lack the courage of their own convictions. Or maybe, like me, they've seen the homeless, tempest-tossed souls praying there and don't have the heart to interrupt.

Maybe.

My guess, however, is that going after the shrine would not be politically savvy. It would be counter-productive. Being seen as an organization that beats up on the lonely and destitute at Christmas wouldn't play well. Going after the roadside crosses is a safer and shrewder move.

Yet, I can't help feeling that if compassion can be extended to the Mexican believers who visit the shrine, compassion can also be extended to the families of the fallen troopers. For many people — me included — religion is the doorway we go through to find love, caring, peace and strength. Without that doorway, we have a hard time finding such things. So, allowing government to point to that door in displays and such is just another public service — like signally the dangers of disease and the evils of drugs. Pointing out where people can find refuge and relief is part of the government's role. And helping American citizens find a storehouse of goodwill and brotherly love seems, to me, to be in the national interest.

But that's me. Maybe such thinking is too simplistic for those bent on change.

On my way back to the office from the little shrine, I drove down 200 East to the City and County Building and stopped to admire — the bronze work of Allan Houser, the Navajo artist who I used to seeing striding the sidewalks of my home town, Brigham City. The piece there shows a young Plains Indian lifting his sacred pipe to the heavens in reverence.

It is a very religious statue — no different in its way than the shrine or the roadside crosses.

And it, too, is a doorway to goodwill and understanding.

But American Atheists Inc. will not be going after that statue. They have no bone to pick with Native Americans nor with poor Hispanics. Their beef is with folks like me — and perhaps like you; people whose religion has the unfortunate lot of being tagged as part of the establishment.

Why they feel so hostile about all this, I'm not sure. I suspect, at some point, a soul like me must have made them suffer greatly. And that pain is now coming back now as passionate protest.

Tip O'Neil once said that all political issues are, in the end, local issues.

I believe that. I also believe that all religious issues, in the end, are personal issues.

People who have been hurt tend to hurt others.

The nice thing about roadside crosses, shrines to the virgin and praying young Indian warriors is all of them point us to a doorway that leads to a better way.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com