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No, Burning Books Is NOT Worthy of Respect

Book burning
Image by pcorreia via Flickr

The Fifth Column has a post titled On Burning Books (HT: Divine Ripples), referring specifically to the recent burning of a Qur’an. He concludes that:

It may not be prudent, it may not be useful, but it is a stand worthy of respect.

I disagree. Book burning is either the petulant reaction of fearful people looking for control, but lacking convincing arguments, or a way to gain undeserved attention.

The article cites a really bad reason why one might respect book burning: Church councils did it through the years. Wow! Lots of church people gathering together and doing something stupid! Who would have ever imagined it? It just proves that Christians are no more immune from stupidity and control issues than any other group of people.

Here’s a quote:

And it wasn’t just the Koran that burned. During the Middle Ages, the Talmud was frequently targeted for the fire by Church authorities precisely because of the numerous blasphemies concerning Christ and the Blessed Virgin that it contains. Throughout Europe, the book was formally put on trial and censored or burnt, in much the same way Terry Jones tried and burnt the Koran.

And this is somehow an example of a good idea?

I want to make clear her that I’m talking about we should do, what’s a good idea, and not what should be legal. I would never burn the American flag, even in protest, but I firmly believe it should be legal to do so. I would never burn a copy of the Qur’an, but I believe the action should be legal. Lots of stupid things are and should be legal. I do not believe the burning of the Qur’an justifies violent actions in response, just as I do not believe that any insult to Christianity, such as burning a Bible, would justify a violent response from Christians.

Now to be fair, the article does question both the prudence and effectiveness of the tactic. But nonetheless the author concludes that there is something here to be respected.

Our problem with Islam is not that we don’t get to say enough nasty things about Muslims, or that we can’t respond to Islam. We can and do respond respectfully on many occasions. But when someone burns a copy of the Qur’an it sends another message, not one of respectful disagreement, but one of hatred. It does nothing to stop even one act of terrorism. It does nothing to convince any radical Muslim that he is wrong, nor any Muslim, of course. It is the adult equivalent of a child’s temper tantrum.

I’m reminded of a time many years ago when I was in a group of young men. One person got angry at another and started swinging his arms in a sort of suggestion he was going to punch the other one out. He kept saying, “Hold me back! Hold me back!” But he never actually approached the other guy, who would doubtless have won any fight between them. Nobody tried to hold him back either, because we knew he was going to be ineffective. The one difference between this event and that one is that the purported target exercised restraint.

We don’t need to take our cues from the radicals. We don’t need to become like them. They are not concerned about who they kill. We should be. They are not making distinctions between one American and another. We should recognize distinctions in their camp. We should not let terrorism make us less than we are.

I fear, however, that it has already happened to some extent.


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  1. Aussiejohn says:


    I have, on several occasions, tried to put my thoughts on paper over this foolish, and utterly pointless act.
    I want to be angry at the message this fellow sends to the world about my Savior and His people, but, at the same time I find that I am overwhelmed with pity for him, for the great lack of spiritual understanding that his “look at me” behavior reveals, and for the spiritual danger the congregation, he leads, is under.
    Sadly, the man reveals that he is more of a lost soul than a saved one. (Gal. 5:20).

  2. Penny Saufley says:

    Sir, I totally agree with everything you said. In additional I would like to add that acts of hatred become how “we” are seen, just as when radical Muslims performs acts of hatred, some Christians blame all Muslims.

  3. Craig Benno says:

    It reminds me of the novel called the “Fireman” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fahrenheit_451

    There are many books that I don’t think is good for society, that I will never read myself. However; to ban them or burn them is not a good thing. Jesus told us not to give offence nor take it…

    Dave Black recently wrote something about missiology within our own cultural context… this guy needs a lesson in 101 about cross cultural mission and what Christianity is all about.

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