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Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Civilized People Do Not Burn Other People's Holy Books

A pastor in Florida plans to mark September 11 by burning copies of the Koran. You may have noticed that Americans have the right to do some un-American things, even if they're wrong.

If you're here for the second half of our discussion of my old block of 200 West and its evolution, or for the next and probably last installment of my attempt to be reasonable on the subject of immigration policy, I'm going to put you off a bit. Both of those are coming, but today I have decided to make this point instead:

Civilized people do not burn others' holy books. Barbarians and tyrants do.

I don't care that the Koran happens to be the holy book of 19 terrorists who took down the Twin Towers or, for that matter, that a worldwide movement bent on the destruction or enslavement of the entire world claims to be rooted in that book. I don't care that these radicals would be quite content to destroy my holy books -- or to destroy me and my family, for that matter. Civilized people do not burn others' holy books. Barbarians and tyrants do. Since we seem to be fighting against barbarism and tyranny, we ought to keep that distinction as clear as possible.

I haven't known a lot of Muslims in my life, but the ones I have known are neither barbarians nor tyrants. They tend to be well-educated, friendly, tolerant, and rational, and some of them are also devout. A public burning of their holy book is offensive to me, as an American and as a Christian, not just to them.

I met my first Muslim in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when I was a Mormon missionary. He said he'd read the Book of Mormon, if I'd read the Koran. That sounded like a win-win to me, so I went without delay to the bookstore at the University of Pittsburgh and purchased a paperback copy of the Koran -- somewhat to the consternation of my missionary companion, who knew as well as I did that the Koran wasn't on the approved reading list for missionaries.

I don't recall reading in the Koran that I and my civilization should be destroyed or enslaved. I'd like to think I would have noticed that. I don't even remember reading that I and my fellow infidels should be preached to and, insofar as possible, converted through persuasion and the power of righteous example. That's a different proposition altogether, and I'm perfectly comfortable with it, if they want to try -- and if they don't mind some of the more evangelical Christian churches, such as my own, trying to convert them at the same time.

I have half a mind to --

Let's try that again. If I had only half a mind, and if I wanted to waste some good books to prove it, I'd send an assortment of volumes from my personal library to the Rev. Terry Jones, inventor of "International Burn a Koran Day," just to see how many of them he'd want to burn.

My Koran? It goes without saying.

My Gita? Good heavens, the Hindus aren't even monotheistic; where are the matches?

My Jewish Bible? I suspect he'd incinerate that, too, if he thought he could get away with it.

The Bible I actually study? It's the King James Version, officially preferred among Mormons for everyday use. He might have nothing personal against the KJV itself, but (a) mine has lots of footnotes pointing to other offensive books, which I regard as additional scripture; and (b) surely he would find the way I teach from my Bible to be offensive. Just to make the decision starker for him, I could send him the very King James Bible I carried as a missionary, when I was officially engaged full-time in attempting to convert Christians and non-Christians alike to the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) version of Christianity. Clearly, that Bible is an instrument of evil in the Rev. Jones' book, right?

As regards the aforementioned "other offensive books, which I regard as scripture," I'll bet he'd enjoy setting a match to my Book of Mormon, my Doctrine and Covenants, and my Pearl of Great Price. He'd probably think he was doing God a favor.

Even if the only book he wants to burn is the Koran, the salient point here is that civilized people do not burn others' holy books. Barbarians and tyrants do.

The fact that an American minister is within the law (with the possible exception of the local fire code) to indulge in this particular species of barbarism changes nothing.

Civilized people do not burn others' holy books. Barbarians and tyrants do.

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