Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yelling 'Fire' In A Crowded Mosque 

On the anniversary of 9/11 it would undoubtedly be more profound to write about, well, 9/11, but hey, you go to war with the topics you have.

So what to say about Pastor Pyro, the mustachioed madman who may or may not have burned a Koran by now? As always, there are smarter people than me who speak of these things and I'll link them at the end. But the thing that jumps out at me most about this scandal du jour is that there's no one to root for or defend.

The pastor? As I said below, he seems to be an asshat. 50 member congregation? Geez, I could get that many followers. He wants his fifteen minutes of fame and he'll get them. I made my case for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which lots of people said was needlessly provocative, and I'll stand by that. There's no comparison between that and this.

Old media? Good grief. They wrung their hands over his horrific stunt even as they helped him along by giving him a zillion times more press than he warranted simply because he fit a narrative that they wanted to promote. MSNBC had the pastor on and didn't let him say one single word. Not even "Hello" or "Thanks for having me" just gave him a quick dose of bad theology and cut him off. When Newsweek knowingly ran a false story about Koran flushings it started real honest to goodness riots that got real people killed. They have more blood on their hands than this fool.

His critics on the left? Sorry, but when they can spare some of that outrage for the people burning bibles and flags and other people, then we'll talk. When they can get a little more worked up about the repression of women and the stoning of homosexuals then we'll talk. When they can do, say, half as many posts criticizing the absolute systemic rot that is the political norm for so many of these primitive barbaric muslim countries and start pleading with them for tolerance instead of assuming that it's us backwater Christians that are gonna start something, then we'll talk. I've been through 8 (well actually 10) years of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Eight years of seeing Bush and the American flag burned in effigy and nobody seemed too worried about how that extreme rhetoric was inciting people to violence.

The Muslim community (whatever that is)? Well the "vast majority of moderate Muslims" that we are always lectured about remain as elusive as Bigfoot. The rest of them seem intent on making the pastor's point for him. "Don't offend our religion of peace or we'll kill you!"

Nope, not much to be happy about all the way around.

The smarter folks are here, here, here, here, and here.

Burn Baby Burn (disco inferno) 

A friend had a facebook post (again with the friends and their facebook posts!) about the Asshat Pastor threatening to burn a Koran. He (the friend) pontificated that burning books has never ever ever resulted in anything good and that if you burn the Koran you're on the wrong side of history.

This brought back memories of a book I read just after college called "Why Knock Rock" written by two evangelical brothers. It was a fairly typical screed against rock music. It seems eye-rollingly quaint and repressed by todays standards. Heck it seemed quaint and repressed when I read it back then. It's easy to mock the puritanical standards that find sin in a Journey song about makin' love in the afternoon or some such.

But really, the principle was sound. Popular music is, for many kids, the single most important thing in their life. They look to it for validation, they find truth in the lyrics, they find glamour in the lifestyle, it brings them beauty and joy. And yet the most innocent sounding catchy little love song, when you actually stop and listen to it, is often about nothing more than casual sex or the glamorization of behavior that really ought not to be emulated.

What the brothers were exhorting their readers to do was examine their lifestyle choices and see if they were really consistent with their values and, if not, to decide what they wanted to do about it. What will you expose yourself to? What will you go out of your way to watch and listen to? What will you fund and support and endorse by those choices? Again, it's easy to mock any particular example but I think the principle is sound. And if you decide that the choices are unacceptable, what then?

This is where it gets interesting because the end result was a fire. The reasoning went like this: If you've decided to get rid of something in your life because you think it's harmful, you don't just pass it on to a friend or sell it to a stranger. They might be taken in by it as well. You could just throw it away but then there's always the possibility that it will find its way into someone's hands. So why not destroy it? And if you're going to destroy it, why not do so in a big, showy, public refutation? Why not have a bonfire? Which was exactly what they would do from time to time in whatever church or denomination they belonged to. They're not marching down to the library or Borders to demand that every copy of Harry Potter be turned over to them for the great conflagration. They're making personal decisions about their own property that they had already paid for and making a declaration in front of their peers.

Let me say, yet again, this all seems silly if you're talking about your vinyl record of the SmoothTones singing about gettin' it on in the grass with your foxy lady. But what about your stash of pornography? To put it in terms my friends on the Left might be sympathetic to, what about a private collection of books by Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter? Let's say I've been taken in by Scientology for years and have only now seen the error of my ways. The ideal way to answer the fraud that is Dianetics is to write a convincing rebuttal that can stand alongside it. But barring that, I'm not talking about burning the last copy of Dianetics. I'm not talking about burning your copy of Dianetics. I'm talking about burning my own copy of Dianetics. I don't see a big problem with that.

We associate burning books with the repression of ideas and the restriction of free speech and there are good reasons to do so. But those reasons are mostly historical.

Now I don't think this has much of anything to do with Pastor Zippo. There are different dynamics at work and that whole situation calls for a separate post. But if burning books is always bad because it sends the message that some ideas need to be repressed or eliminated, then it's a short walk to the fetishization of all ideas and the moral relativism that results.

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