Book Burning: Should we be intolerant of such expressions of intolerance?

At Berlin’s Opernplatz, an SA man throws books into the flames at the public burning of books deemed “un-German.” Berlin, Germany, May 10, 1933. — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The online Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. defines the burning of books this way:  “‘Book burning'” refers to the ritual destruction by fire of books or other written materials. Usually carried out in a public context, the burning of books represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question.”

And so it is that, notwithstanding my concern with unsettled issues regarding the building of the mosque at Ground Zero; and given my immediate sentiment that it’s the wrong thing to do given those unsettled issues, I must nevertheless speak out against this pastor’s willingness to commit so incendiary an action as burning the Qur’an in a “ritual destruction by fire .”

I agree with yesterday’s USHMM press releases and its final paragraph:

On the day of book burnings in Germany, massive crowds march from New York’s Madison Square Garden to protest Nazi oppression and anti-Jewish persecution. New York City, United States, May 10, 1933. National Archives and Records Administration / USHMM #69040

“Perhaps for us today the most important aspect of the Nazi book burnings is not what the Germans did, but what others failed to do. ”

At the moment, I’m actually more concerned about the book burning than the building of the mosque.  The plan to build the mosque allows for further dialogue, while the burning of the Qu’ran cuts off dialogue tomorrow, moving toward the likelihood of widespread, violent international reaction in direct response to the little-known Dove World Outreach Center’s extreme, preemptive actions in Gainsville, Florida.  A whole host of questions whirl in my mind: Will publicly burning the Qu’ran attract people toward, or repulse people from the hope that Christianity projects into the world?  What will its effect be upon “moderate,” peace-loving Muslims in terms of their perspective of the rabbi from Nazareth as seen through the extreme behaviors of those claiming to be his followers?  God allows for free will and freedom of religion, if not without eternal consequences to be levied based upon one’s spiritual decisions.  Do the folks of Dove World Outreach Center? I can’t help but wonder.

Yet another case, perhaps, of modern Christian leadership being either ignorant of, or immune to, the evil legacy of such incendiary rituals of hatred as have occurred in the past – not the least of these sponsored by their Christian forebears.  Yet another reason to expose American Christianity to the lessons of the Holocaust and, perhaps most specifically,  to the medieval burnings of the Torah by the Church as imitated by the Nazi burning of books just last century.

As Helen Keller – an author who’s books were burned in Nazi Germany – wrote in an open letter to the thousands of college students who participated in the public book burnings throughout the Third Reich:

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.”

I offer this as my response to the intentions of the pastor and members of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Florida.  While praying – as news outlets report that the book burning has, or may have been, called off – that those involved with this “ritual act of destruction by fire” will come to their senses and burn the very idea of book burning that has taken up residence in their hearts and minds, in place of burning books in the spirit of religious oppression at the site of their local church.

Intolerance in the name of tolerance?  I’ll tolerate book burning as being within the right to freedom expression, I just won’t stand in complicit agreement with it, exercising my obligation to not remain silent as I act out my personal expression of that same right.


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