Playing with Fire – On Christian Book Burning

Published on Dissident Voice, by Gary Leupp, September 9, 2010.

Christians have a long tradition of book burning, dating back to the first decades of what some call the “Jesus movement … //

… What about setting fuel and match to a text handled reverentially as a matter of course by a fifth of the world? Isn’t that even more provocative than challenging any historical record? Whether or not it’s a hate crime according to somebody’s legal definition, it’s a moral crime that Christians and all of us should deplore. Book burning’s part of an historical pattern, but Christians can question and renounce that heritage. 

The world itself is burning. People are blowing themselves up in Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan. People are being fried by missile strikes on wedding parties in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Stinger and Griffin missiles burn bad . Everywhere the U.S. flag is getting torched precisely because of the crazy behavior and political influence of some U.S. Christians desperate to see the Apocalypse, after which they imagine the Beast and False Prophet will be thrown into a lake of fire (“to burn forever,” Rev 20:15). The latter (even those burning the Talmud) are eager to cheer on Zionist Jews including those with the most grotesque racist, Islamophobic inclinations, ‘I’m on God’s side,” they think, holding his His holy fire in their hands—stupid kids playing with fireworks.

After the rally in Kabul on Tuesday by Afghans denouncing not just the Florida church but Obama and the whole U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus in urged the Rev. Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach to step back. The general knows he can’t change the people’s religion. He’s just charged with the task of bringing Afghanistan under the control of the U.S. military-industrial complex, and as a rational man sees a contradiction between the overall objectives of U.S. imperialism and the objectives of the Islamophobes in the U.S. fired up by cable news airheads. But the U.S. ruling elite–have despite all the talk about tolerance–deployed tools of bigotry from square one. (Think of Bush’s reference to a “Crusade” after 9-11.)

Malcolm X (a U.S. Muslim of significance) once said, “The chickens are coming home to roost.” After quoting that, right after 9-11, a very decent U.S. academic got ferociously attacked in a sort of book burning frenzy. But now even the top brass is alarmed at those chickens coming home to roost. It’s not like they really care about burning books in principle; they shred documents detailing their crimes, they attack WikiLeaks and demand it remove documents from the web.

But they suddenly care about anti-Muslim book burning “blowback” impeding their efforts in Southwest Asia. That blowback is their bad karma. And the inevitable decline of an immorally constituted empire is (in my humble opinion) fine. The main issue is the welfare of humanity. During the Spanish Inquisition, the Qur’an was burned in Spain. The German writer Heinrich Heine in his 1821 play Almanso, observed, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen. (“Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.”)

If the crazies in Gainesville do their thing this Saturday they will burn more than books. They will perhaps draw down fire on all of us, contented that whatever happens is part of what they think is their god’s plan. Those among us, religious or irreligious, believers or atheists, with a sense of compassion for humanity and capacity for reason ought to protest such provocative actions.

There are plans for a rally this September 11 to defend the right of New York City Muslims to build a mosque or Islamic center—wherever they want, wherever is legal and approved by local authorities. On that day, as the idiots do their ugly thing in Florida, I hope there’s a good turnout in New York (especially of non-Muslims) to oppose bigotry. (full text).

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