Respect Across Religious Boundaries: Why I will never advocating burning anyone’s holy book.

Respect Across Religious Boundaries: Why I will never advocating burning anyone’s holy book. September 8, 2010

I am no fan of monotheism, whether it be Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. I could write at length on why I believe monotheisms are ill-considered however I’m not going to do that.  For the purpose of this article, it simply isn’t important. What is however, and what I’m going to focus on here is the idea of respect across religious traditions because in the end, I don’t have to agree with someone to acknowledge their right to worship their own Holy Powers unmolested.

In the United States we have a very important and emotionally charged anniversary coming up: the nine year anniversary of 9/11. The attacks that occurred on that day polarized relations not only between the U.S. and the Islamic world, but between Islam and Christianity as well and, at the time, our leaders played on this, on our fears, our terror, our ignorance. Such is, the cynic in me points out, par for the course in world politics and we are, as a nation, still coping with the repercussions of those attitudes and actions for better or for worse. Now, we have a religious leader, a supposed “holy man,” in Florida suggesting that we commemorate 9/11 by burning copies of the Koran.

Fundamentalist Pastor Terry Jones recently called for Christians to burn the Islamic holy book on 9/11. Jones, according to interviews, has no particular knowledge of Islam, Sharia, or the Koran. He participates in no interfaith forums. He knows no Muslims personally. But he believes he has to stand up for the “word of God” by burning the word of Allah.(1)

Many people have spoken out in outrage against this suggestion, including General Petraeus, who warned that such an action would only incite more violence.(2) Jones justifies his plan by the assertion that ‘sooner or later we’re going to have to say no to radical Islam.’ (3) Ok. But when are we going to say no to radical Christianity? Or Judaism? Or Paganism for that matter? When are we going to stop using religion as a weapon and learn a modicum of respect?

I am a very devout Heathen. I believe in many Gods and Goddesses. I follow a moral and ethical code derived from my service to those Gods and my understanding of what They want. I stand adamantly against monotheism. I believe fervently that we should take all necessary steps to prevent its spread, to prevent the indoctrination of our children even by the passive proxy of a monotheistic inculcated school culture, and to ensure that there is a broad and inviolable separation of Church and State. I do not, however, believe in burning anyone’s holy book or in any way desecrating any holy item or shrine. I may not be a fan of monotheism but there is a huge difference between objecting to a thing, an idea, a way of looking at the world and attacking the people who hold to this belief. Burning a holy item…that constitutes an incredibly charged, highly emotional, personal attack.

I fail to comprehend how anyone committed to his or her Gods could advocate desecrating something sacred to a Deity – any Deity. It is a violation, at an incredibly base level, of the piety that hopefully should underlie basic religious devotion regardless of the religion. I would go so far as to say that those of us who are polytheists or even pantheists have a greater responsibility to practice respect for each and every Deity we encounter. I may find some practices of certain monotheisms immensely offensive, but I do not deny the existence of Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah. That They are not my Gods, does not mean They are not Gods and thus, worthy at least of a modicum of the respect we as polytheists would show any other Holy Being as a matter of course. Billions of monotheists practice their religions without resorting to violence. If we wish to do our own Gods honor, I think that we can start by not harassing, slandering, or desecrating the Gods and practices of others.

Those of us who are Pagan or Wiccan or Heathen may well have experienced discrimination at some point due to our religious beliefs, maybe even outright harassment. In light of the growing fundamentalism running rampant in our country and our world, in light of the immensely damaging ignorance displayed by those setting themselves up as religious authorities, men like Terry Jones, or Pat Robertson, or Osama bin Laden for that matter, (and frankly, in my opinion, the only difference between them is the number of minions willing to act out violently on their behalf, all in the name of “God”) let us do what we can to stand against this ignorance. Let this be done as an act of devotion to our Gods, because we know better, because those of us struggling to restore religions destroyed by the forced spread of monotheism know all too well where such disrespect, violence, and violation may lead.

Words and exhortations have tremendous power to harm, to corrupt, to destroy. Let us stand against that fundamentalism in word, deed, and in prayer. Let us stand as Pagans, Wiccans, and Heathens against the words and actions of men like Terry Jones who would spit on a God and a religion not their own. One day, men like this may look in our direction. Let us behave in the way we would hope others will behave toward us should that time ever come.





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  • Cara

    The Pastor is an idiot and I have no sympathy for burning books (religious or otherwise). Desecration is not something that gives me warm fuzzies. It pisses me off, frankly.

    However – he’s an idiot with a First Amendment Right to do this. And others have a First Amendment Right to speak out against him.

    I have very, very strong suspicions that those in our community who are most loudly speaking against burning the Koran are pretty ok with burning the US flag, ‘art’ that is some dude pissing on an icon of the Virgin Mary and other things along these lines. I’m not talking about the author of this article…just our community in general. I just find our community’s reaction to the same general principles and issues but with different players interesting. And inconsistent.

  • Criticizing Christians for disrespecting someone else’s religion is like criticizing mosquitoes for being blood sucking insects that carry disease. And that comparison is an insult to mosquitoes and to all blood sucking insects that carry disease.

    The Christians and Muslims deserve each other — and their monotheistic infighting, in and of itself, has nothing to do with us.

    For that matter, individual religions do not automatically deserve respect. In a free society all religions, and all ideologies, are open to criticism, up to and including very harsh criticism and condemnation. Such criticism in no way violates anyone’s rights. It is up to those who adhere to any given ideology or religion to publicly defend it to the best of their ability — but no one has the “right” to be protected from scrutiny and criticism.

    The natural, default position for Heathens and Pagans is to respect all Goddesses and Gods and to show reverence for all Deities. But considering the well known histories of Christianity and Islam, we know better than to simply stick to this default position in their cases.

  • Jacquie Georges

    *Standing up, clapping, and giving an ovation to this piece* I’m just amazed by the sheer ignorance of certain individual “people of the book” They swear up and down that they know “God” and the history of the book. Yet, they don’t and this is an obvious example of their lack of knowledge. They speak of “Allah” as if it is not the same “God” of Abraham? Abraham the “father” of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They are all claimed “descendents” of him. I just don’t get how they aren’t aware of this. That El, Jehovah, Allah, and a thousand names for this one God. Actually “Allah” and “God” is a title, not a name (another thing most of them have no idea). Abraham and Sarah is the link to Christianity and Judaism: while Hager and Abraham is the link to Islam…basically it is sibling rivalry of “who is your favorite child”

    They are not only placing the troops in harms way but fellow Christians who reside in a predominately Muslim country that is not as secular. I’m sure there will be repercussion of innocent Christians in Muslim countries. Similar to how France banned Scientology- they may ban Christianity and force them underground. This pastor and his followers are truly self-centered in their practice. If they have issues with Muslims—fine, at least think of the troops and fellow Christian missionaries and worshippers that live elsewhere in the world (prime example is Egypt where Christians are being attacked).

  • Matt Gerlach

    Thank you for this article, it expresses my own opinions rather eloquently.

    @Apuleius – Although not all religions are equal, it’s best not to get involved (even as cheerleaders) between two factions with guns who are trying really hard to piss each other off. And although there are many monotheists who have not earned themselves any respect, there is a great value and power in giving a modicum of respect to the undeserving.

  • mary

    Matt, to observe the irony of one intolerant monotheism acting symbolically against another one is not cheerleading.

    The Portuguese, upon arrival in Goa, mounted a brutal campaign against the Hindus, and yes, burnt every single manuscript they could find. These hand-written, illustrated palm manuscripts had been handed from father to son for untold generations. The relegious content of remaining Sanskrit texts is a tiny percentage of the extant total – others held the knowledge of medicine, theater, literature, jokes, linguistics and more.

    My concern in the present situation is the destructive governmental power that both monotheisms command.

  • Cara

    @ Jacquie Georges – I find the general argument that persons shouldn’t do or say X,Y or Z because it will piss off Muslims and they will kill us to be total BS. Not that it couldn’t happen, but because allowing bullies to have their way encourages them to be more aggressive and violent. You have rewarded them and rewarded behavior is repeated behavior.

    Even if this Pastor and his congregation goes ahead with their plan to burn the Koran – this does not in any way justify the death threats they have already receive nor does it justify violence.

    That would be victim blaming. Just like I don’t blame raped women for wearing lipstick, walking alone after dark, or drinking to excess – if there are violent attacks on Christians or Americans by Muslims in reprisal I will not place the blame on this Pastor. I will blame the people who commit the violent acts.

  • “Billions of monotheists practice their religions without resorting to violence. If we wish to do our own Gods honor, I think that we can start by not harassing, slandering, or desecrating the Gods and practices of others.”

    I think these are two EXTREMELY important sentences. They imply first that we must be vigilant in understanding religions like Islam are not monoliths, but instead vast and complicated subjects. We must also remember something that has not been a trend in recent comments, that is that all monotheisms are not the same: There are far more monotheistic traditions than Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, even among pagans! (The theology of Gardnerian Wicca is thoroughly monotheistic, for example.)

    The second sentence I’ve quoted above reminds us to remember that there is a difference between worthwhile and thoughtful criticism of religious traditions and outright bigotry toward them. Yes, especially Islam and Christianity have caused great discord and strife the world over; this is simple fact. But we should remember that there is not one among us whose pagan practice is not grounded in the traditions of cultures that at some time were equally as brutal, if not as widespread.

  • There is more here, at least as far as I am concerned, that just cheering from the sidelines.

    Islam poses a very direct threat to three things that I hold quite dear: human equality, liberal democracy, and individual liberty. No one familiar with the history of Islam, or, for that matter, with Islam as it exists on earth today among its 1.5B adherents, most of whom live in societies that are predominantly Muslim and have been for centuries, can doubt Islam does pose such a threat.

    The United States is predominantly a Christian nation, therefore most Americans are going to respond to Islam as Christians. We have in the US, thank the Gods, placed strict limits on the power of Christianity — far more so than is the case in most other Western countries, in fact. We also have a much clearer statement of basic human rights than what is found in other Western nations, where freedom of speech and freedom of religion, for example, are not explicitly guaranteed in the way they are in the US. Also, as far as Europe itself goes, other than Britain the entirety of Europe has directly experienced totalitarianism — in the case of Russia and Eastern Europe this lasted right up to the end of the 20th century.

    So there are two very important things about the US. One is our unique position as a western nation that has firmly established traditions of democracy, equality and liberty. But we are still (and this is the other thing) predominantly Christian.

    A case like this stupid pastor in Florida is pathological. But what is not pathological is average American Christians who see Islam as a threat to freedom. They are absolutely right, despite the fact that they belong to a religion that also poses a threat to freedom.

    Most American Christians accept the basic principle of separation of church and state (although a frightening 40% do not). Most American Christians completely reject the idea of a state religion (although a still frightening 25% do not).

    So let’s forget about Pastor Numbnuts. Most Americans don’t feel any need to burn the Koran or otherwise commit acts of desecration against Islam. And they do not question Muslim American’s right to practice their religion freely. But they still have a very reasonable opposition to Islam and its spread in our society. All the yammering and hang-wringing about Islamophobia is just a very transparent attempt to demonize all criticism of Islam. It won’t work, though.

  • First off, I’m gonna note that Cara is correct. This man has the right to burn the Koran if he so chooses. As long as Muslims can build Mosques in New York, Christians can burn Korans in Florida.

    Also, I wish to point out that historically, Heathens and Pagans had no problems destroying holy relics. Indeed, the Vikings took great pride in doing this, one of the reasons some are putting for that the Viking Age was an attempt to preserve the Heathen ways against forced Christianization.

    Personally, I think this Pastor might know what he is talking about. I’ve seen him on tv, and he is a far cry from the usual, frothing, howling Christian Fundamentalist. I could be wrong, but he doesn’t seem stupid or insane, just dedicated. And who knows, maybe he is right about what his God wants. The Abrahamic god does love to make his followers in fight when they aren’t killing non-believers.

    I like him. He’s got guts. Any man that’s willing to tick off 1.5 BILLION people in a live broadcast has my admiration. I might not agree with his religion, but I am Heathen enough to admire scrappy people who take long odds. Even if he should come after my people and our ways, I will admire him. I’ll just end him too. He is like a worthy foe, I suppose.

    The simple fact is this man is taking a stand for something he believes, right or wrong. Islam is not some cuddly, minority religion like paganism. It has a history of even more blood and violence than Christianity, and still practices it to this day. It s the antithisis of Paganism/Heathenism. It’s Shariah law, of which I know a little, views women as second class citizens who are worth less than half a man and have no rights. It orders the deaths of homosexuals and non-believers. It say it is legal for men to marry girls ten years old or even younger (The Prophet Mohamed married his last wife when she was six and claimed her at nine, no joke). It demand theocratic government. There is much more to it as well.

    As a Heathen, it is my nature to say all peoples have a right to worship their gods as they please, so long as it doesn’t interfere with how I worship mine. America is great not because it is tolerant, but because it is free. The amendment reads Freedom of Religion, not Tolerance of Religion. We don’t have to Tolerate other religions, we just have to recognize the are Free to do as they want.

    If this man wants to burn a book, he is Free to do so.
    If the Muslims go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, they are free to do so (unless the cops decide to do their job and stop them.)
    And If it comes to it, I am free to fight off all foes to my people and ways, however I can, until such time as I go to the afterlife.

    This article was good, but there are things in play and motion that it doesn’t take into effect.

  • Jacquie Georges

    @ Cara: I totally appreciate and understand where you’re going with this. I’m not advocating on victim blaming, I’m advocating on self-realization and personal responsibility, and accountability. I’ve watched this pastor speaks and asked the question of if he would feel guilty if Al Qaeda or Taliban reacted by attacking innocent individuals. He, like you, made the remark on it is not is fault for he didn’t commit the action. Yet, personally-If I knew that my action may affect, innocent, others either I would say, “yes, I know but I’m going to do what I’m going to do” or what you stated, “yes, I know it most likely would. Yet, they are also responsible for themselves.” What ever happened to shared responsibility?

    Similar to when Tiller, the abortionist, was murdered Fox News (Bill O’Rielly) refused to humble himself and take personal responsibility for 1. repeating chanting “Tiller, Tiller the Baby Killer” and 2. posting Tillers address on his blogs. That is similar Cara if I knew someone wanted to bodily harm you and I gave them your address. Yes, if they committed a horrible act towards you it is really not me to blame for I didn’t harm you. However, I did give that person the address with the intent of knowing that they might or will harm you. It is not a legal responsibility but a moral responsibility.

    I recall during my cousin’s murder trial (she was 8 yrs old, raped, and killed by a 21 year old man) I heard this man’s childhood story. He was raped as a child and NOBODY was there for him nor sought treatment for him. Matter of fact his mom gave him up for she believed her boyfriend over him. He attempted suicide numerous of times. I’m sure how he felt inside was a reflection on what he did to my cousin. I blamed him for his action, his mother for abandoning him and believing the boyfriend, the system for failing him—one little ripple that happened to this man-child years ago—caught up years later to my cousin…interconnection. I honestly wanted his mother on trial and that man (the law ran out on him). I forgave the child that society failed but not the man. I forgave the man but not the monster that was awakening for that brief moment.

    What gets me is that the Pastor didn’t really thought about placing others in harms way. It was until people spoke up that it dawned him. Fine—at least admit that “yes, it is a possibility that my action may cause others harm” Just don’t DENY it. That’s all I’m saying.

  • Laura Patsouris

    Great article! Religious hegemony of any sort is a dangerous idea whose time has passed. Fanatics who seek to stamp out the Holy Books and religious expressions of other faiths are a hazard to humanity. Reasonable people of all religious backgrounds need to rise in unison and take back religion from the wing-nuts.