Burn a Koran--Let's think again

Although the website for the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida lists ten reasons for burning the Koran, it basically comes down to one: the Koran is not the Bible and so it is not consistent with Christian teaching. Well...

In 1960, Stanley Kubrick directed a superb film entitled "Inherit the Wind". It is based on a 1955 play of the same name that fictionalizes the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925. The trial involved a high school teacher accused of teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in his science class contrary to Tennessee law.

The most dramatic scene in the film occurs when defense attorney, Henry Drummond, calls the prosecutor, Matthew Harrison Brady, to the stand. In one exchange, Drummond says the following: "The Bible is a book. It's a good book, but it is not the only book." Far from being a gratuitous comment (Drummond was not commenting on the mere existence of other literary volumes), his declaration attempts to identify that the Bible is not the only source of truth in our lives. This idea should be self-evident. After all, no new writings have been added to the Bible in almost 2000 years, yet new discoveries continue to impact human life on a regular basis. Nonetheless, it is still difficult for fundamentalist Christians to grasp this fundamental concept. It is far easier to reside in a simplistic world of easy answers to complex questions, especially if one can attribute those answers to God's revealed word. The fact that those who claim to interpret the Bible literally are, themselves, given to an interpretive process need not disturb the simple-minded.

The basic truth for such people is that any religion other than Christianity is false. In spite of the fact that Jesus was, himself, a Jew, even modern day Jews are expected to convert to Christianity or be damned. Recently, at a wedding reception for a Catholic who married a Buddhist, I sat next to a Missouri Synod Lutheran who blatantly told me that anyone who was not a Christian was going to hell. From this perspective, not only are other religions false, but it becomes an easy leap to claim that they are the work of the devil, as Dove World Outreach has claimed of Islam. Never mind that there is wonderful truth in Islam that is quite in keeping with the principles of Christianity or that there are millions of Muslims who coexist peacefully with non-Muslims.

One obvious problem is viewing Islam only as an Arab religion and identifying it only with the Middle East Even worse, is suggesting that Islam is coterminous with terrorism. As others have pointed out, the largest Islamic country in the world is Indonesia, half-way around the world from the Middle East, and in that country Muslims have coexisted with Christians, Buddhists and Hindus for generations. It is true that Islam does not acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, reducing him, as Christians would call it, to the stature of merely a prophet. Yet Islam traces its roots back to Abraham and the Koran teaches much of the same morality found in the Bible.

I suspect that Dove World Outreach and similar groups are not really afraid that Islam engenders and supports terrorism or even that it is the work of the devil. The real fear is that Islam challenges their Christian faith, a faith that is as superficial as it is bigoted. Having long ago surrendered their intellects to a literal interpretation of the Bible, they no longer have a reason to think and so have no response to people of other faiths. This uneducated and myopic vision of Christianity prevents them even from engaging in discussion and dialogue. Such fear of ideas eerily recalls the Nazis burning any books that did not adhere to the "German spirit" and the ideology of the Third Reich. Perhaps it is not so surprising that Dove Outreach should use the same strategy. And just as in the book-burning campaign of the Nazis, the press will dutifully be on hand to broadcast the Koran burning as if it were real news.

What concerns me most about Dove World Outreach and similar groups is not their fundamentalism, their ignorance nor even their bigotry. What concerns me most is that campaigns such as "Burn a Koran" take place in the United States, a country that was founded on religious freedom. These actions allow fear and ignorance to triumph over tolerance. Left unchallenged, they destroy the basic ideals of the American Constitution.