One reason many people have soured on religion is the collection of villains, thieves, scoundrels, and morons whose actions and comments demonstrate a perverted sense of its meaning and purpose, whether it's Sharron Angle claiming in a recent anti-abortion statement that "rape and incest are part of God's plan," or Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, asserting his belief that "President Obama is a Muslim because he was, in fact, born into that religion due to the 'seed of Islam' being passed to him through his father." Funny, I'd always assumed my sperm were non-denominational.
But for sheer gutter stupidity, you can't beat the Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., whose declared intent to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11 as a commemorative protest has the world in a snit. Claiming Islam is "of the Devil," Jones has been all over the media, including an interview with Chris Matthews, who, I'm sure, figured he'd let the guy hang himself with his own words. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and Jones' media presence has only become more ubiquitous, as we close in on a "will he or won't he burn the Quran" moment, rivaled only by our interest in whether Lindsay will or won't get herself straight. The tension has been building as we get closer to the day of reckoning to see what this idiot will do. And that is sad on several levels.
First off, the man is a clown. It is as juvenile to burn someone's holy book as it is primitive to think there's a man in the sky named God who's telling you to do it. And, and even if there were, which there isn't, don't you think that conversation might have been prefaced by God saying, "Ok, Reverend, I will anoint you to preach my message of protest to the world, but before I do, shave off that dumb-ass moustache. This isn't the 70s, and you're not playing for the Oakland Raiders." Why should anyone care about the actions of a dope? Even a religious dope.
Second is the media's complicity. I don't live in Gainesville, so why do I know about this? The media told me. Because someone deemed it newsworthy. And as sure as the sun will rise on September 11, they will be in Gainesville in full swarm, covering this non-event. Unfortunately when an idiot like this is taken seriously enough by the media, it conveys an unwarranted legitimacy on him and his actions. After all, in the minds of many, if he didn't matter, he wouldn't be on TV. If he were just some ordinary book-burning rube, no one would care. But because he calls himself "Reverend," suddenly he warrants the attention of the media, which transforms the actions of a local clod into a symbol of national protest. And, once it becomes a story, no news outlet can afford to ignore it. Such is the unhealthy symbiosis between the media and the media whore. Modern culture, if one can call it that, is drowning in non-talented "celebrities" who are famous for being famous, and the fact that the media treats them as celebrities only increases their fame. And this is fine, or at least tolerable, when confined to the world of entertainment. But now it's encroaching into reality.
And then there is the expected reaction of Muslims, conveyed by General Petraeus and others. An expectation of violent reprisals over this desecration of their holy book, along the lines of an attack on a Danish cartoonist for drawings of Mohammed. All these are symptoms of our primitive understanding of religion, which unfortunately pervades all traditions. Our devotion to symbols and books, as if they are holy in and of themselves, as opposed to repositories of meaning. Symbols represent an idea. They don't embody or contain it. Burning books is, and has always been, a thuggish activity by those who think they can wipe out an idea by burning a copy of a book that expresses it. Unfortunately, we've become more attached to symbols than the ideas they represent. Otherwise it would seem odd to commit violence against someone who burns a book that contains the mandate to "enjoin goodness and forbid evil in all aspects of life." It's a copy (or copies) of the Quran, not the Quran. People burn the U.S. flag all over the world, and it's seen as a form of protest, and most people don't have a coronary over it. The flag is a symbol. Fine, we get it. You're angry. So, burn it. The country won't evaporate. And we've got more flags.
I also doubt the Reverend understands that Islam is part of his own intellectual tradition. It's the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition. Exactly where did the devil get involved along the way? But this is part of this notion we've come to accept called "religious differences," which basically amounts to saying: "The things I do to be a kinder, more compassionate person are better than the things you do to be a kinder, more compassionate person. So I'm going to have to kill you."
The world is stuck in this cesspool of stupidity when it comes to religion, extending not just to the dumber individuals in various traditions, but to the media and government as well, where we're subjected to politicians who claim their candidacies are divinely sanctioned, goofball ministers who think they're striking a blow for God by burning books, and adherents ready to strike back with violence if their cherished book is burned. But for a moment, let's put the whole thing in perspective and drag it back to reality: Jones is just another American idiot who's going to pervert his own tradition with an action to protest activities that were based in the perversion of another. He's not a national figure. Not a scholar. Not a leader of any kind. Just a clod who doesn't understand his own religion, or anyone else's. The guy's a walking advertisement for atheism. He doesn't speak for all Christians. Or all Americans.
Religion, in its purest form, is a system of rites, rituals, and practices that can lead one to a deeper experience of life. It is there to encourage our better natures, not foment our baser instincts. And while it may be too much to expect the entire world to crawl out of the intellectual dark ages in its understanding of religion, how about decent, intelligent people of all religious or intellectual persuasions, including those in the media, making a commitment, as a means of worldwide counter protest, to come together on this sad anniversary and simply ignore this asshole?