Richard Wade here, back to stir up more trouble.
Hemant’s recent post about his Christian friend who said he’d rather die than defile his Bible suggested for me that the larger issue there is about idolatry, and how even atheists can slip into it.
People create objects to symbolize concepts. Over time they can become emotionally attached to the object itself as well as the concept it symbolizes. In extreme cases the object takes on magical qualities in their minds, and their infatuation with its imagined power can begin to crowd out the concept and the principles that go with it. Thus a particular painted wood statue of Mary ends up being worshipped for some miraculous thing it’s supposed to do and the concept of the mother of God becomes secondary and diminished in importance. People who are willing to die or kill to protect the Bible or the Koran are raising that physical object above the value of human life, toward a god-like status. Even though both scriptures admonish the faithful to never worship anything other than God, those people are in a sense worshipping those stacks of paper instead of the God whom the pages describe.
I think most human beings including atheists are prone to at least a little of this attachment to their special objects. Another recent post is about a Catholic website that has used our beloved atheist red “A” to start the word Apologia, which links to anti-atheist literature. When you see that, do you feel just a little territorial? Is that our “A” and you want to take it back from them? Do you have just a teeny weeny primal urge to fight to somehow take back that symbol? Do you have one of the t-shirts with the defiant “A”? Or the coffee mug, or a button? Eventually someone will be selling a handsome red enamel “A” pendant you can hang around your neck. Caaaarefullll. you may be forming an attachment to your little fetish object. Remember this post about the goofy superstitious paraphernalia that Obama carries around in his pockets?
I think we should avoid symbols and special objects that evoke our affection as much as we possibly can. Although we may like to think that we’re above all that, we can end up magicalizing them and forming irrational attachments to them.
Do not cling to junk!