Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Burning the Qu'ran

I hate controversies like the one surrounding that idiot's desire to violate the Gainsville, FL fire code on the anniversary of 9/11. Unsurprisingly, that idiot displayed cultish tendencies in his last attempt to explain the divine nature of the Universe, making his sudden prominence in America life all the more depressing. It's not every day somebody ministering to a congregation roughly the size of one of my old discussion sections figures out a way to get condemned by the Secretary of State, the US Attorney General, and a wartime theater commander. I just want this guy and his stupid Grover Cleveland mustache to go away.

By injecting himself into the national -- and now international -- consciousness, the good minister rekindles tired old debates. Muslims around the world get to probe once again the unfathomable depths of their victimhood at the hands of disrespecting westerners. Americans debate whether such a fiery gesture is consistent with their ever-shifting standards of First Amendment rights. Essentially, that question is a debate about civil liberties by proxy since only a tiny fraction of Americans really care about the thing getting burned, unlike other objects like like the American Flag or the Bible. (Perhaps this is an inopportune time to recall Secretary Clinton's campaign-season support for the flag-burning amendment.) The rest of us can battle over the depths of our outrage over this affront to the nation's poorly-understood tradition of religious tolerance.

Some Americans don't feel outrage as much as smug satisfaction, pointing out that the act of burning the Qu'ran in many countries, even European ones, would be a criminal offense --never mind that the United States, too, has a long history of blasphemy law. Other conservatives have opposed to burning not because it will increase the very real threat of violence against Americans overseas but rather because it will heighten the very unlikely risk the nation faces from advocates of sharia law here.

It's true, conservative politicians so eager to condemn the "9/11 Mosque" have been reticent on the Qu'ran immolation. But let's not act so surprised. One of their media darlings just channeled Billy Graham, circa 1952, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, calling on America to return to a Judeo-Christian god that dispenses their natural rights. I've written before about how Newt Gingrich and Jim DeMint have said the exact same thing, a sentiment that has echoed through the conservative movement since before the Goldwater campaign of '64. This idea is not any less of a politicization of religion than sharia. Each sees human nature as inherently corrupt and try to limit individual behavior according in their own way. While differences in culture in our modern era make these limits remarkably dissimilar, the world view is nearly identical: a special relationship between god and man determined through a prophetic intermediary. Each see themselves as the one true faith, as a message that must conquer the world, and this verisimilitude drives the conflict of those obsessed with their own righteousness. For Christian conservatives, Islam is "of the devil" rather than Buddhism or Hinduism because it is on the same mission and it seems unencumbered by methods Christianity abandoned centuries ago -- because of the very same values they now say are theological in nature. The debate we should be having is not how to add one more religious faith into the national tolerance hopper but whether a divine conception of rights and obligations in any form are useful at all.  

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