There, where they burn books, they will in the end burn people. – Heinrich Heine, 1821, referencing the burning of the Qur’an during the Spanish Inquisition

A small church in Gainesville, FL (home of the University of Florida, metro population of 260,000) is holding an “International Burn A Koran Day” on September 11. The event Facebook page has almost 4,600 “likes” (no one I know, thank goodness.) The event purpose:

… in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!

On Friday, Dove World Outreach Center pastor Terry Jones defended the event on FOXNews.

Things like 9-11, Fort Hood, and the honor killings… these are possibly not isolated incidents.. These are things that, if we don’t stand up now, they can increase… We have thought … about the danger in holding the controversial event, and we realize that whenever we made this step, that this kind of thing could happen. But we feel it’s that important, and the times call for some kind of radical measure in standing up.

We need to “stand up”? Stand up to what?

And how can anyone profess to be a “New Testament” church (one that, supposedly, rests on the teachings of Jesus Christ) and then turn around and teach hate? A quick refresher:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. – Matthew 5:38-40

And to him that smites you on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that takes away your cloak forbid not to take your coat also. – Luke 6:29

Couple this story with the rabid protests against a community center that is a remodeled Burlington Coat Factory store. But the center, which is two blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York City, happens to include a mosque. Never mind that it has a swimming pool, an auditorium and “other amenities that make it more akin to a YMCA than a dedicated house of worship.”

The so-called Ground Zero mosque … can no more be considered the “Ground Zero mosque” than, say, the existing New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club one more block away could be considered the “Ground Zero Gentlemen’s Club.”

However, if you’ve only caught headlines and soundbites, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a mosque was being erected on the site of the Twin Towers. That’s courtesy of Republicans Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani (all possible 2012 Presidential hopefuls), who have spoken often and have stated vehemently that the mosque is “an intolerable mistake on hallowed ground” (Palin, a little geographically challenged), “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum” (Gingrich, confusing state-supported terror with acts of terrorism) and is a “desecration” (Giuliani, also geographically challenged but without an excuse).

With rhetoric like that, perhaps the surprise should be that there is only one church leader calling for burning the Koran/Qur’an. The Dean of Duke Divinity School summarized the reasons for other religious leaders to “disavow” the event:

Burning Muslim books is contrary to America’s own ideals of freedom of speech and religion; such actions will exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims around the world; if Christians burn the Quran, we may soon see Muslims burning Bibles. (The last point seems to be a pragmatist permutation of the Golden Rule: Don’t do something bad to somebody else, because if you do, they may retaliate.)

Christians don’t have a monopoly on righteousness, and those who died on 9-11 encompassed more religious views than just Christianity. Yes, Muslims died that day. So did Jews. Moreover, those Republican leaders don’t have the moral high ground, either: Gingrich has been married three times (announcing one divorce when his wife was in the hospital with cancer). Ditto Giuliani. Palin’s daughter gave birth out of wedlock.*

And despite our claim to be a Christian nation, we seem pretty dismissive of the central message of the New Testament. When asked for the core of the law, Jesus told a Pharisee:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tell me, please, how to get from this message of acceptance to burning the sacred book of another religion (that happens to also be descended from Abraham)? Tell me, please, how to get from this message of love to the rhetoric of hate surrounding a New York City community center?

Sam Harris worries that we can’t “expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely.” I worry that too many blindly follow leaders who pervert the very teachings that they profess to honor. How else to explain this literal and figurative burning of the Qur’an?

* I do not condemn people who have divorced or who have had children without being married. But I haven’t run for President on a “family values” platform. Tip from Newsvine

KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst
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