13 September 2010

Burning questions

Okay, let's think about this.

A crazy Christian pastor in Florida wants to burn a Koran. This rises to the level of national security because doing so will "...inflame the sensibilities of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims" according to some. And such inflamed sensibilities will then put American servicemembers lives at risk. So President Obama and General Petraeus and various clergy members inveigh upon the nutbar - who is milking every second of his fifteen minutes of fame - to cease and desist. He does. Day saved.

Wait a minute.

First of all, why do we have to be so delicate about religious sensibilities? Burning books is odious - burning ANY book is odious - but really, if that isn't protected speech I can't think what is. If Rev. Shameless thinks that Islam (and Judaism and Hinduism and, and, and) is "of the devil," well, why not? It's all made up anyway, right? I mean the whole "My fake omnipotent creature in the sky who looks like me could beat up your fake omnipotent creature in the sky who looks like you" argument - well, it isn't. It doesn't even rise to the level of argument.

As a secularist and atheist who thinks the Constitution is about as close to "hallowed" as we get in this country, I think Rev. Lookatme absolutely had the right to burn the Koran, or the Bible or whatever. Over a billion people around the world would have been annoyed? Well... so? The only reason we care that those billion plus people would have been annoyed is because we don't have an energy policy in this country and therefore we have enriched a tiny fraction of those billion who have 12th century ideologies and 21st century weapons.

It's called "pluralism" - sometimes we're gonna disagree about stuff that makes us crazy. Grow up!

Don't like what one deranged nutbar in Florida thinks about your religion, so you're going to take to the streets in angry mobs and burn crap and shoot Americans? Really?

Okay, first, a.) if your god is so delicate that he (invariably he) is going to be umbraged by the burning of a book, I can't help you. Isn't he supposed to be omnipotent, etc.? You really think that he cares what one man - a man who isn't on board with his project ANYWAY - thinks about him and his book? Wow. That's a fragile god. Then b.) if you are so unhinged as to believe a.) to the point that you need to violate what the book itself says about how to behave to make a point on behalf of the book's alleged writer, how can we even have a conversation with you? Why the hell should we even care what you think, at that point?

Oh, we don't want to offend "deeply held religious beliefs." Why the hell not? Some people's "deeply held religious beliefs" teach them to think that humans and dinosaurs are contemporaries. As Lewis Black says, how can you even have a conversation with people who think that the Flintstones is a documentary!? You CAN'T! Deeply held religious beliefs can be just wrong. Just plain wrong. Women ought not to be covered head to toe. Or be kept from owning property. Or be kept as property. All of that is wrong, and just because someone's religion tells him it's right doesn't change that.

Personally, I think it's obnoxious to burn the Koran. I would think it similarly obnoxious for a practicing Muslim (or anyone) to put on a dress and fake a Mass. I think it's similarly obnoxious for tourists to get drunk, put on coconut bras and do fake hula. Mocking, appropriating, or denigrating someone's religious beliefs is juvenile and counterproductive, and it certainly doesn't rise to the level of discourse.

But just because we're fighting - for no good reason, by the way - a war in that part of the world doesn't mean that we need to sacrifice the gains of the Enlightenment and secularism so as not to offend "Deeply Held Religious Beliefs."

Where was this outrage when Muslims dynamited the beautiful Buddhas of Bamiyan? We can make more Korans - but statues that had stood for 1500 years and which were sacred to another religion, and which were a testament to human ingenuity, devotion, commitment and achievement, those can be dynamited because of deeply held religious beliefs? Wha...? Where is the balance? Unbelievable.

The liberal, secular West has lost its nerve. We are in danger of abandoning the values and progress of the Enlightenment. We are caving to thugs who have no sense of proportionality or regard for pluralism. We need to stand up to the bullies and psychopaths who scream at us not to burn the Koran or they'll take to the streets and kill us and not be afraid to say that they are craven, hypocritical and deranged. We need to say this exactly to the extent we need to stand up to nutbars who say you can't build an Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. Yes, you can.

It's all irrational, all this fear of sacrilege and talk of hallowedness, and we forget the wondrous intellectual legacy of the west - and its fiery commitment to reason, excellence, rationality, and discipline at its best - at our deep, deep peril.

And if your god is so delicate that he's offended by a burning book... how the hell does he get out of bed in the morning if he looks at Haiti?

What is hallowed is a school where girls can learn along with boys without getting acid thrown in their faces; what is sacrilege is women being stoned for adultery.

Now THAT would be a riot about sacrilege that I could get behind.