Pharyngula

Sunday Sacrilege: A funeral for folly

I will not respect a book of lies. I will not tolerate intolerance.

Lately, there has been considerable angst and fury over a bad book, the Koran. Terry Jones, a fundamentalist lackwit, gets called out by the American president, not for being a professional fool taking advantage of our lax laws that encourage the promulgation of religious inanity, but for being insufficiently sensitive and deferential to another gang of fools promoting a different brand of religious idiocy. Then six British racists got arrested, not for real crimes against their neighbors of a different ethnicity, but, again, for the sin of disrespect for a holy book. In both of these acts, the culprits are people for whom I have no respect, who I would not normally support, but they are guilty of ‘crimes’ that are not crimes. What we are witnessing are efforts by authorities to confer special secular and legal privilege on the intangible aura of sacredness — a figment of the imagination of deluded believers, which they insist all we non-believers must honor.

I refuse.

The insistence by the faithful that we all must treat their precioussses as magical and inviolable has convinced me to re-evaluate the books on my shelves, and I’ve decided that no, they aren’t worth keeping. These holy books have been influential, that’s for sure, but it’s been a pernicious kind of importance — that we hold these awful, terrible, ridiculous books aloft as the guiding ancient wisdom of our civilization doesn’t so much exalt the books as it demeans our culture. It is an unfortunate fact of human nature that if our forefathers had used a badly written fantasy novel like The Eye of Argon or The Book of Mormon to justify the existence of our tribe, people would be battling to silence the obvious and deserved criticisms of the sacred writ, instead of looking at them objectively and noticing that they are inexcusable bunkum. And then, of course, we secular, rational people would defend keeping them on our shelves because they were precious to others, because they shaped our history, because they are part of our culture.

We might as well mount some slave shackles on our walls, then, and keep decorative instruments of torture and war in our kitchens, or put a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on our coffee tables. I don’t think so. We should not forget the barbarous past (and barbarous present), but these horrors belong in libraries and museums, they should be taught as vile mistakes in our schools, but we should not be expected to honor them. The proper perspective is to repudiate them.

I feel no differently about the holy books of the world’s religions than I do about those ghastly relics, so why do I keep copies of the Bible and the Koran in my house? Given the hate the defense of their absurdity encourages, I don’t want them. I don’t need them. I must reject them.

And so I have. I have treated my copies of the Koran and the Bible with greater respect than they deserve.

Right now, the pages swell with moisture, the fibers separate and the chapters turn into pulpy masses. Bacteria bloom and their colonies expand; fungi flourish and their hyphae infiltrate and convert cellulose into spores. The ink runs as nematodes writhe over the surfaces, etching the words with slime and replacing the follies of dead men with the wisdom of worms. The roots of flowers and grasses will fumble downwards to embrace the decaying leaves, and the roots of trees will impale the volumes laterally. Given only a little time, the madness will be reduced to compost.

At every instant in this gradual process of degradation, the books are being improved and given greater value. And with my decision to discard the poisonous symbols of past ignorance, I became a little more free.