Who’s Up for Burning Some Bibles?

Who’s Up for Burning Some Bibles? September 24, 2011

Mulling several recent stories about burning or defacing “holy” books:

So why aren’t we atheists burning more Bibles? I mean, really, it would make the point that these books are non-holy, and the second point that we (and others) certainly have the freedom to do it.


Snapshot: A rowdy crowd surrounds a big bonfire, their faces lit from below with fierce glee. Bibles and Korans tossed from the surrounding darkness soar in arcs over the flames, and bright sparks rise up into the night sky. The words “Holy Bible,” scribed in gold letters on one soaring book, shine out at the camera with shocking clarity. One bold 8-year-old, in perfect mimickry of his nearby parents, stands mere feet from the flames, his face twisted with childish delight, as he makes a clumsy overhand throw. Off to one side, a young man dressed in worker’s clothes, obviously aware of the camera, grips his genitals and smirks for a future audience — “Yeah, I gotcha holy book right here!” Other mouths gape in the crowd, soundless in the photo but suggesting coarse laughter ringing out in the night, and a stacked table stands close by with hundreds of red-lit Bibles and Korans awaiting their turn in the flames.

I mean, hey, why not?

And yet, far as I know, no such scene has ever been recorded. Or ever will be.

I can think of several reasons.

1) They’ll kill us.

One part of me has a hard time imagining, in this modern era, that we really should have such a fear. Oh no, not from ORGANIZED religion. Yet another part, a part I actually have a little trouble admitting to, can imagine a lone-gunman type, or at least someone pretending to be so, acting with violence. Certainly such things have happened, and recently. I rate the likelihood as low, but still non-zero.

2) It would give “them” ammo against us, which is not in our strategic interest.

Better to keep a low profile, lull the Christian community into the false sense of security that we atheists are only a minor annoyance, until we can rise up in our massed millions and crush them in one triumphant night!


But seriously, it’s not our style. Besides, the point isn’t some sort of pitched battle in the streets ending in military-type victory, is it? It’s freedom for people’s minds, and a social apparatus that will allow that. Trying to achieve that by fighting is like trying to put out a fire by shoveling coal onto it.

The “battle” will be more like a lengthy slog through deep mud. There will be small failures and successes along the way, but steady progress (one hopes) until a majority of minds have gone through a slow educational, generational change, and then a likely tipping point that will nail down the victory.

3) The MAIN reason, the REAL reason:

Burning books? Eww. That’s just … sick.

From Nazis to middle-east Islamic protests, to Fahrenheit 451, to deep-south know-nothings burning sex-ed books and harmless novels, to brainless godders tossing the supposed witchery of Harry Potter into the flames, we all have these other pictures in our heads, such that we sort-of instinctively know: People who burn books are Bad People. Or at least stupid ones.

Even when the books are bad books, poisonous books, I’d wager extremely few of us would find it easy to destroy one.

Because we know what comes out of books: The voices of thinkers past and present, useful information and advice from experts in a thousand fields — books, to most of us, are knowledge itself. Not to mention an ever-flowing river of entertainment, stories handed across miles and ages for our happy diversion.

What we feel for books is not reverence in the religious sense. Not a faux love for a mythical supernatural superbeing. This is the real thing — the recognition that, if ever there was a thing you owed your life to, and the health and safety of all your loved ones, even the very existence of civilization, this is it.


Books ARE civilization. The foundation, the cornerstones, the windows and doors and protective walls that make it possible for us to exist in comfort and safety and freedom.

And for those few bad books – the Bible, the Koran, the other holy and misguiding and predatory books – the cure isn’t fire but …

More books. Better ones, truer ones.

Oh, by the way, the next time – the next hundred times! – you hear someone tell you to support the troops, because we owe them our freedom, take a moment to thank some people who have fought, in their own way and through the ages, to give us far more: Librarians.

(And, hey, speaking of books. And again: Ahem.)

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