Granted, given my efforts as the director of The Clergy Letter Project, a group dedicated to demonstrating that religion and modern evolutionary theory can comfortably coexist, I tend to see many things through the lens of evolution. Nonetheless, the latest despicable action proposed by the Dove World Outreach Center, ritual burning of Qurans on September 11, has many overtones similar to the way religious fanatics attack the science of evolution and those who promote evolutionary theory.
Terry Jones, senior pastor at Dove World Outreach Center, the person responsible for planning the book burning, has practiced Islamophobia for many years. He is, after all, the author of a book entitled Islam Is of the Devil, and he has posted a huge sign saying just that on the front lawn of the church.
As reprehensible as these actions are, they're not half as crazy as the explanation Jones offers for them. He claims that they are "a great act of love." Speaking specifically about the sign, he goes on to say, "It's an act of saying there is only one way, and that is actually what Christianity is about. It is about pointing the people in the right direction, and that right direction is Jesus and only Jesus. We feel the sign is an act of giving the people a chance."
Jones's sentiments bring to mind some of the inflammatory remarks of the Reverend T.T. Martin. Martin, the founder of the Anti-Evolution League, was the author of the anti-evolution screed Hell and the High School and, back in 1923, two years before the Scopes Trial, he said:
The German soldiers who killed Belgian and French children with poisoned candy were angels compared with the teachers and textbook writers who corrupted the souls of children with false teaching and thereby sentenced them to eternal death.
When Jones says that "there is only one way," he also sounds awfully much like what Ken Ham, president of the creationist group Answers in Genesis, had to say in his State of the Nation speech this year about the teaching of evolution in public schools (I won't even touch on the hubris Ham has to give an annual speech with that name):
From a biblical perspective we must understand something. The Bible says if you're not with me, you're against me. If you don't gather, you scatter, you walk in the light or you walk in darkness. There is no neutral position. You're either for or against. If the education system is not for Christ, it is what? Against, exactly. It is about time we woke up to this in this nation.
The Dove web site has a frightening page entitled "Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran" and the parallels with creationism abound. Reason three, for example, notes that Islam teaches paganism; similarly, Ken Ham, again in his State of the Nation speech, asserts that evolution is "the pagan religion of the age."
The Dove page also makes the bold claim that "the Koran is a lie." Similarly, Ham has published a book (The Lie: Evolution) making the same claim about evolution.
When Jones and his followers attack Islam and when Ham and his disciples attack evolution, they are doing so with the certainty that their way is the only way, that they are saving souls, and that all they need to know can be found in the Bible. In fact, regardless of their language, they are demonstrating the basest type of intolerance. They are unwilling to respect any person who has a different worldview and they use incendiary verbiage and outrageous actions to rally supporters to their cause.
Together, we must condemn the crass intolerance demonstrated by Terry Jones. And, because his intolerance is of the same sort practiced by the creationists, we must condemn those practices as well.
Follow Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mzclergyletter