Pharyngula

You know, I’m something of an expert in the public desecration of sacred objects, and I’m seeing the same madness going on right now with Terry Jones and his plan to burn copies of the Koran that I saw in the response to throwing a cracker in the trash — only amplified to a ludicrous degree. People just aren’t getting it; they’re so blinded by an inappropriate attachment to magic relics that they’re missing the real issues.

I publicly destroyed a communion wafer once (OK, a few times). There was a simple reason for it: a few Catholics had responded hysterically to a student who didn’t swallow a wafer with harrassment and threats, and I was demonstrating that that was not acceptable — religious believers may not demand that non-believers grant the same reverence to their rituals and beliefs that they have. Jones’s motivation seems to be more of a fundie head-butt to Moslems while expecting a greater respect for his Bible, but he’s still right — Moslems cannot demand that Christians love their doctrines (and vice versa).

Now what I expected in the wake of my cracker-killing was that Catholics would be annoyed, but that it would be easily rationalized — I’m an unbeliever, their rituals have no meaning to me, Jesus can’t be harmed by some stunt with bread…what I expected was a combination of “tut, tut” and “so what?” and the cleverer Catholics announcing that their faith was too strong to be shaken by a raspberry from an atheist. That’s what I expected; it would have put the poor student’s actions in context and made people step back from the screaming that was going on.

It didn’t work out that way.

The lesson of that incident wasn’t that you can find some jerk somewhere who will disrespect what some group finds holy — that was trivial and uninteresting, and I actually had to ignore many of the elaborate suggestions for cracker disposal sent my way to emphasize the absolute triviality of tossing a cracker/piece of Jesus in the trash. No, the real lesson was that mobs of people will react with irrational freakish hysteria to the idea that other people don’t believe as they do.

The problem isn’t the desecrators. The problem is the people who have an unwarranted sense of privilege, that their beliefs will not be questioned or criticized, ever, by anyone. What I was saying was that it was crazy to believe a cracker turns into Jesus, and what all the outraged Catholics were doing is confirming to an awesome degree just how mad their beliefs were, with their prolonged and excessive outrage.

So I’m looking at this recent episode with Terry Jones — a fellow I don’t like at all, and I think he’s a fanatical goofball — and I see that the serious problem here isn’t Jones at all…it’s all the lunatics who are insisting that burning the Koran is a major international catastrophe.

It’s just a frackin’ book, people.

I am simply astounded at the catalog of high-ranking personages who are contributing to this new frenzy of foolishness.

US President Barack Obama says plans by a small church to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 are a “recruitment bonanza” for al-Qaeda.

Mr Obama said that if the Florida burning went ahead, it could endanger US military personnel serving in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Malaysia called it a heinous crime, while Indonesia said it would damage relations between Islam and the West.

In the UK, Downing Street said it would not condone the burning of any book.

“We would strongly oppose any attempt to offend any member of any religious or ethnic group. We are committed to religious tolerance,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron.

The plan has also sparked condemnation from Iran, the Vatican, Nato and the top US Afghan commander.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “disgraceful”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned that the burning could “provoke the reaction of all Muslims as well as that of the faithful of other religions”.

“American statesmen should carry out their obligations in providing the basic and fundamental rights of American Muslims and should prevent the promotion of such obscene and indecent plans,” the official Irna news agency quoted him as saying.

On Monday General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, had warned troops’ lives would be in danger if the church went ahead with its bonfire.

President Obama, you’re a damned fool.

What are you going to do, send in the national guard to prevent Terry Jones’ congregation from destroying their own private property? Will there be new legislation to list items that may not be treated disrespectfully? Shall we surrender a few more liberties because religious zealots are threatening us? Obama can do nothing and should do nothing; he accomplishes nothing by complaining about it, other than being part of the mob confirming the madness of the defenders of faith.

And to suggest that some guy burning a book in a remote land will incite more anti-American sentiment is absurd. We’ve got drones buzzing over Iraq and Afghanistan killing people with a push of a button; we’ve got an armed force occupying those countries; we have bombed their infrastructure into rubble. We’ve killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And now we’re to believe that their love of the West will be suddenly devastated by a video of paper burning on youtube? Get a grip, man.

The United States does have an obligation to protect the basic and fundamental rights of all Americans, and that includes allowing them to burn their own property, in addition to allowing them to practice the religion of their choice.

Here’s a hint for appropriate responses. When someone tells you it’s an outrage to burn a bible or a Koran, shrug your shoulders and say, “So what? It’s their own book.” When someone announces that they are going to riot and murder because they are offended, look at them like they’re insane, and explain that offending someone is not a capital crime.

The problem isn’t a few books being burned; that’s not a crime, and it doesn’t diminish anyone else’s personal freedoms. The problem is a whole fleet of deranged wackaloons, including the president of the USA in addition to raving fundamentalist fanatics, who think open, public criticism and disagreement ought to be forbidden, somehow.

And seriously, this whole silly contretemps would have evaporated if a few people learned to shrug their shoulders and react rationally instead of feeding the fury with Serious Pronouncements and Reprovals.