Friday, September 10, 2010

A Dangerous and Childish Game

News just in says that Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has decided to cancel his plan to hold a "Koran-burning day" tomorrow. Thank God for that. But you must agree that he was remarkably successful at getting people's attention just by the mere suggestion of the intention to commit such an act. Everyone from the Whitehouse to the Vatican came out and publically pleaded with the man to reconsider. Mind you, there are places in the world where the pressure to "reconsider" his plans would have been applied rather less publically and rather more persuasively. But in the Good Ol' U. S. of A. Pastor Jones' right to go ahead with his plan of action was protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech.

My one observation to add to the whole mix is that the desecration of the Koran to a Muslim is rather more like the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament to a Catholic than the desecration of a Bible - although the latter would be shocking enough. To give an example, Catholics would have no difficulty with placing a bible on the floor (eg. next to your chair in a study room), but Muslims would never do such a thing to the Koran. We wouldn't do it to the Blessed Sacrament either. That's more the parallel here.

So what have we learned from all this? Probably not a lot. Pastor Jones was upset by the plans to build a Mosque at Ground Zero. He saw it as provocative. So he wanted to retaliate by doing something provocative in return. Despite the fact that the plans to build the Mosque at Ground Zero have become a source of contention, it was never the intention of the Imam who initially suggested it (whom I have met, by the way, on a visit to Melbourne a couple of years ago) that it should be. I can understand people thinking that his suggestion to locate a mosque at Ground Zero was not a wise one - for a raft of reasons - although it is sad that it should have been received by many as a point of provocation. Pastor Jones on the other hand had provocation as his major purpose in his plan to hold a Koran-burning day right from the start. He felt pain and wanted to cause pain in return to those whom he blamed for his pain.

Friends, this is silly. And dangerous. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows how these things escalate.
"Tommy broke my toy".
"It was an accident".
"Was not".
"Was too."
"Well, I going to break one of your toys."
"You *%^@#!!! Now you're really going to get it."

As Pope Benedict told the ambassador to the Holy See from Morocco in 2006: "Violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion."


At Friday, September 10, 2010 7:56:00 pm , Anonymous Paul said...

David, one observation about your comments in this well reasoned post. It has been my practice throughout my teaching career to make it classroom policy that the Bible is never put on the floor, or put under anything else. I see it at as a part of the process of inculturation to help them come to appreciate our Sacred Text as that - sacred. I know I have been relatively successful when I hear (sotto voce) "tell him to get his Bible off the floor - he'll [me] go ballistic!". It's taken years, but I think I/we in Catholic schools have made some headway in according the Bible a measure of public respect in how it is treated in the classroom and in the Chapel.

At Friday, September 10, 2010 8:43:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

From an Australian perspective, it's hard to understand how these guys survive, let alone thrive, as anything resembling a Christian perspective.

But Terry Jones is no dangerous, isolated nut (and nut he is), he is part of a continuum of right wing Christians that have significant numbers of US Citizens caught up in the their web of fear and ignorance.

From what I've read over the weeks:

- Muslims were killed in the World Trade Centre too (hundreds, by some estimates),
- Many more would have been victims if the Muslim Prayer room in the World Trade Centre had been open,
- There has been a Muslim Community Centre -- albeit much smaller -- in the area for decades.
- The proposed centre is to be built in a run-down area two blocks and out of site of Ground Zero and will provide community resources for all citizens.

The only thing wrong with this debate is that crackpots like this get air time.

At Friday, September 10, 2010 8:56:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

But it isn't only "crackpots" who had objections to the Mosque at Ground Zero. Abraham Foxman of the ADF (okay, some would say he is a crackpot, but we won't go there) opposed it, as did relatives of those who died at the scene. Foxman argued that the planned mosque was as inappropriate as setting up a convent in Auschwitz (okay, we won't go there either, but you can see his point). We walk on egg-shells and we live in glass houses.

At Friday, September 10, 2010 10:31:00 pm , Anonymous marcel said...

I was troubled by the Vatican's response.

The Pastor was being 'imprudent' and sensationalist. However, no desecration was involved. Catholics cannot consider the burning of a Koran as an act of desecration because the Koran is not sacred. It is not even right to say that there is a fundamental immorality to the act of burning it.

St Fancis Xavier burned 'sacred' idol statues and places of worship on his missions. There is a time and a place for such ceremonial cleansings of the false religions.

However, I agree with the military Generals in the US that the Pastor's actions would have had disastrous temporal consequences. We may only speak of temporal consequences and the Vatican, in my view of it, should not have raised this incident to the level of outrage on the grounds of 'rights' afforded to false religions. This is a direct fruit of Dignitatis Humanae and the whole episode has been instructive.

At Friday, September 10, 2010 10:46:00 pm , Anonymous Alfredo Watkins said...

While it is true that the Koran is not sacred to Catholics, this is no reason to offend others. I do not think that inciting others toward hatred is going to solve any problems. Nobody is going to want to be a Christian when all the Christians do is offend them, I believe.

At Friday, September 10, 2010 11:16:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

Whether the 'Pastor' is doing the right thing or not (I would say he could probably find better things to do with his time), labelling such people as 'crackpots' is not going to help the situation either.

The so-called religious right in America are simply millions of people like you and I that have deep-seated moral views and I am sure millions of Americans whilst not condoning this Pastor's intended actions would hold somesort of view on the contradictions between certain aspects of Islamic and western culture.

At Saturday, September 11, 2010 12:17:00 am , Anonymous Matthias said...

I think that this Pastor is an absolute anathema to one being a servant of Christ. St Paul 's handling of the Greeks at the Aeropagus ,shows how we should act . He respectfully presented the Gospel whilst this pastor is presenting ,offensively to both Christ and non Christians a Christamericanity-the wrapping up of Christianity in the American flag and culture.
But i do not accord Islam as being on the same level as Judaism

At Saturday, September 11, 2010 8:21:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

I agree with that.

At Saturday, September 11, 2010 8:24:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

the pastor is clearly a loony, but really, the only reason we know anything about him is b/c the media have made such a big song and dance about it. And why should we worry about the response of Muslims, if they are all reasonable people? Why did the Vatican and the US President feel obliged to make any remark at all? It's not like they say anything when Myers desecrates the Eucharist.

At Saturday, September 11, 2010 11:57:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

That's true. But, of course, the reason why Koran-burning is wrong is not really the risk it creates of retaliation. It would be wrong even if there were no risk of retaliation, wouldn't it?

At Saturday, September 11, 2010 5:06:00 pm , Anonymous Louise said...

would it?

At Saturday, September 11, 2010 7:19:00 pm , Anonymous marcel said...

Can you please clarify for me why it would be wrong?

Perhaps 'impolite' in this instance... however, 'wrong' is another matter. What makes the burning of a Koran immoral in its own right?

At Sunday, September 12, 2010 10:02:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Can we agree that to deliberately do something to offend another person (ie. to cause them distress or pain) is a sin? It doesn't make it less of a sin to protest "But I am defending truth!" Something about the relationship between Truth and Love (cf. Deus Caritas Est) might be relevant. There are ways of defending the truth that do not require taking deliberate pleasure in causing offence to others.

At Sunday, September 12, 2010 10:20:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

The Vatican and the Whitehouse clearly got involved because of a very real fear of retaliation from people who are NOT "reasonable". Only a fool would deny that there are a very large number of people out there in the world for whom "reasonable" would not be an accurate description. A lot of these people are people without very much education, people who belong to cultures in which the dominant paradigm is "honour and shame", people who believe that violence is acceptable if it will restore honour, people who have been formed in a certain world-view which contains a strong "us-them" divide, people who are under the influence of powerful and persuasive personalities who are taking advantage of them for their own purposes, people who have the resources to do a lot of damage to the rest of the world. The existence of such people in the world (in very great numbers) is a good reason in itself to try to avoid any action that might press their little red "detonate" buttons. That some of these people are Muslim should simply give us cause not to do something that might press THEIR particular button...

At Monday, September 13, 2010 5:35:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

what law do you mean?

At Monday, September 13, 2010 5:43:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

No, I actually can't agree entirely. I think it's only modern Westerners who obsess over "giving offense." I think there are probably times and places for the destruction of idols (which would certainly give offense). However, I will agree that in this instance, the pastor has threatened to do something foolish and possibly wrong. In fact, almost definitely wrong b/c *extremist* Muslims will probably work themselves into a murderous frenzy.

At Monday, September 13, 2010 11:44:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

The moral law which suggests that intentionally desacrating someone else's homage to God for the purpose of outraging them is gravely wrong.

At Monday, September 13, 2010 9:09:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

Where is that moral law written?

At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 1:38:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

"Sentirists". Good word! I think I will adopt it!

At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 3:28:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Well, I can't see any reason to burn the Koran at any time, but I was only pointing out that sometimes it can be appropriate to destroy things and that giving offense isn't necessarily a sin. In fact scripture tells us that we ought not *take* offense. As it happens, I agree that there is no reason to provoke Muslims in this way.

At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 11:37:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

If the public is Catholic, or Lutheran, or Muslim, the houses of worship will be too.

Also, a little further thinking on that -- the difference being, here in the U.S. we are permitted to openly have all three -- in Saudia Arabia you could get arrested for merely carrying a Bible, but I am aware of the historical reasons for that.

At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 11:56:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

"Here in the U.S. we are permitted to openly have all three"

Indeed. But we have to admit that there is nothing inherent in the nature of Christianity which requires this. For most of history in most Christian countries this was not the case.

Conversely there is nothing in Islam which requires Saudi-style repression, and it does not prevail in most Islamic countries.

At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 12:02:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

Indeed. But we have to admit that there is nothing inherent in the nature of Christianity which requires this. For most of history in most Christian countries this was not the case.

Yes, Peregrinus, "was" is the operative word. The shape of Christianity in societies which have the benefit of separation of church and state is quite different than what it was in the "old country."

Conversely there is nothing in Islam which requires Saudi-style repression, and it does not prevail in most Islamic countries. Which is why I go back to my statement above, it will be interesting to see how Islam evolves in democratic societies.

At Tuesday, September 14, 2010 12:24:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

As long as the porno magazines you burn are your own, I don't think it's going to bother the sex party.

At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:44:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

What I'm questioning, I think, is your assumption(?) that the comparatively healthy state of religion in the US (at least when measured by things like church attendance) is attributable to the separation of church and state. It's not difficult to find examples of places where church and state were on fairly, um, intimate terms and yet attendance was very healthy (Ireland), places where there was a rigorous separation of church and state and yet attendances were very low (France) and places where where church-state relations were really pretty hostile and attendance was very high (Poland) or very low (the Czech lands).

My suspicion is that in terms of church healthiness, church-state relations are a bit of a side-show. There doesn't seem to be any consistent pattern of how establishment/disestablishment relates to church attendance. If we want to explain the US's comparatively healthy church attendance figures, suspect we have to look elsewhere.

At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:17:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Peregrinus, I think precisely because the U.S. has never had an official state church (except perhaps for the favored status that the Anglicans held in the early years) and religious faith is something that is "chosen" it has played out differently here.

Once the state churches of Europe lost their legal status insofar as they could enforce their religious structures the dividing line between those who intentionally adhered to their faith and those for whom it was merely a social convention became very evident.

Very different from the Europe my parents grew up in where it was just assumed that one's familial religious affiliation was one's own. The choices were far more limited. In the small Bavarian town I grew up in that meant, for the most part, Catholic or Lutheran.

Of course, the U.S. scene is also changing considerably with the influx of non-European cultures and faith traditions and they will go through a similar process as they find themselves living in a society where one can choose to practice -- or not -- the faith of one's fathers.

At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:34:00 pm , Anonymous Jeff Tan said...

I agree that the Koran-burning stunt was foolish and wrong. However, concerning the Ground Zero mosque issue, there's a viewpoint I'd heard that I think deserves a bit of reflection. If the Koran-burning was dangerous because of how its adherents would react, there might be a similar problem with the Ground Zero mosque because of how militant Islamists would react. The same thing can be said about the dissonance between how certain Islamic countries do not tolerate even the smallest of Christian symbols and this mosque being built where Islamists see their greatest victory in the last decade. Perhaps this is a Regensburg moment, both as a teaching moment and an opportunity to take the dialogue with Islam up another level.

At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 1:37:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

Good observations, Jeff.

At Wednesday, September 15, 2010 9:52:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

The Tonster wants a mosque at Ground Zero - next he will want a swasticka at the synagogue.

Godwin's law - I couldn't resist.

At Thursday, September 16, 2010 10:46:00 am , Anonymous Jeff Tan said...

I wasn't actually comparing the Koran burning (which is foolish and wrong) and the building of that mosque (which is neither necessarily foolish nor wrong). I was only commenting on the effects. It would be nice if some Muslim groups would pick up on the disparity between what they expect in western countries (the freedom to worship) and what Christianity finds in Islamic countries. I wonder, if this proposed mosque's Imam would go out to condemn the Islamist notion of this mosque as a victory for Islamists, would that help the situation somewhat? Or if he were to challenge Islamic countries on how their people (and laws) treat Jews and Christians?


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