Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The "Equality" of Books

I have to get this off my chest. If you watch the news, the following timeline will not be new to you. I provide it for those who may have missed it. On March 20th, an attention hungry pastor of a fringe religious group finally made good on his threat to burn a copy of the Quran. Of course, he video taped it and distributed it on the internet. On March 31st, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a speech condemning the burning and called for the arrest of the pastor (I am not going to name him..he's gotten enough attention). The day after that, protesters stormed a United Nations compound in Mazar-e-Sharif and killed seven foreign workers. There were more demonstrations across Afghanistan that lead to twenty-two more deaths and many injuries. People are angry (added for those who can't see the obvious).

There has been a lot of moral outrage with regards to both the book burning and the murders. Do we really believe that both are immoral? (Before I answer that, I want to make it clear that I am talking about an individual burning any random book. This is not the same as the government taking books by force and destroying or burning them. That is completely different...and immoral). A book is nothing more than ink covered paper bound together in some specific order. It is a medium by which an author can share ideas and opinions. When you burn a book, all you've destroyed is the book. The idea remains. You can discredit an idea by offering opposition to it and exposing it as weak or faulty, but you can't burn it out of existence. If we could, the first idea that should be burned is the one where we justify the killing of innocent people because someone burned a book (holy or not) thousands of miles away (okay..maybe it shouldn't be the FIRST one we destroy, but I have to believe it would be pretty high on the list of bad ideas). On this issue I would have to consider myself "pro-life" rather than "pro-book", because people (yes..even crazy ones) are more important than their books.

Religion commands so much respect in our society that we don't just condemn the truly immoral act of taking a human life, we also insist that the guy who burned the "holy book" share in the blame. Everyone (Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Jedi, Paul the alien) should be able to stand together and acknowledge that the only people who should be blamed for the deaths in Afghanistan are the angry Muslims who are doing the killing. NO ONE ELSE!! But when I watch the news, I don't see that happening. I see people blaming the book burners AND the murderers.

Most groups or clubs have rules. If you are not a member of that club, you shouldn't have to play by its rules. For example, I am not a Christian, so I don't have to believe in the divine authority of the Bible. That would be silly. To me the Bible is just an object. If I own one (and yes I do) I should be able to do whatever I want with it. That may include using it to balance a wobbly table. It also may include lighting it on fire, either to keep me warm or keep me entertained. The fact is, if I bought it, it's mine. Don't worry about what I use it for.

I had thought about holding my own demonstration. I was going to gather all of my books on science and atheism, take them out in front of my house and light them on fire. I figured this would be safe, as I have never heard of a scientist killing someone for burning one of their books. I also figured if I record it and share it, I might be able to use it as a "get out of violent death" free card when I am confronted by angry Muslims. I decided not to because I think that burning a book is a stupid thing to do (I also am not rich, and wouldn't be able to rebuy all of them). I don't think it is wrong to burn a book, I just don't think it accomplishes anything. And I don't think that it accomplished anything in this case either (other than making a crazy guy in Florida look crazier). And it certainly shouldn't be blamed for the acts of violence that are being committed by crazier people in Afghanistan.

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