AHA News |  

American Humanist Association Speaks out About "Burn a Koran Day" Controversy

By David Niose, President of the American Humanist Association

Terry Jones, the once-obscure Florida preacher, attained celebrity status with his painfully ignorant "International Burn A Koran Day," and during the uproar the American Humanist Association joined the chorus of condemnation. Like countless others, the AHA found the book-burning antics to be bigoted, ignorant and certain to cause emotional pain if not physical harm. In all respects, Jones was wrong, and it was good that in the end he backed down and canceled the event.

The fact that Americans of all races and religions spoke out against this attention-driven circus is an encouraging sign -- signifying, one hopes, a positive shift toward religious tolerance and inclusivity. Still, while Jones's planned book-burning was rightfully criticized with near unanimity, it is noteworthy that the feared outcome of his actions -- possible violent retaliation by some of those offended by it -- was not being commented upon.

After all, if we all agree that Jones wins a wing-nut award for calling for book burning, why are we so silent about those who would react violently to it?

It is common knowledge that mere items of personal property can have important meaning -- a flag, a photograph, a religious symbol. As such, with the Quran being the holy book of Islam, we can expect that some would take great offense to its burning, just as many Christians would take offense to Bible burning and Jews to Torah burning.

But, despite the rudeness of those who would torch the sacred scripture of others, most of us would expect the offended individuals to act in a civilized way, perhaps comforted by the fact that virtually all public opinion sympathizes with them and agrees that religious book burners are offensive. Regardless of the intolerance and bigotry of those who would burn religious texts, a violent response to book burning is unacceptable.

In an America with free speech as a fundamental constitutional right, tolerating rudeness is a way of life. We even allow religious nuts (and yes, that is the right word here) to picket outside the funerals of fallen soldiers, and we take only slight consolation in knowing that the offensiveness is itself testimony to the freedom for which the soldiers fought. It's a jagged pill to swallow, but a necessary one. Freedom means tolerating, with dignity, moronic behavior by loudmouths and publicity seekers.

Guided by reason, those offended by book burning need to remember that a book is only an item of personal property, and that it is senseless to react violently, regardless of one's religion, to the destruction of any text.

Indeed, we should question why we were so worried about a violent reaction. The answer, surely, is that we fear, perhaps justifiably, that there are large numbers of individuals out there who value their religious dogma more than their constitutional freedoms. Stated bluntly, there are some individuals who take their religion very seriously, more seriously than the values of tolerance and pluralism. Though many followers of traditional religion would not want to face this fact, they (and we) should realize that it indeed is a problem -- and a big one.

Humanists, unlike many who ascribe to traditional, revelation-based religion, are sensitive to religious freedom, but not willing to suggest, even implicitly, that a violent reaction to a symbolic religious offense is justifiable. While we realize that there were many religious liberals -- and even many religious conservatives -- who joined us in condemning Jones, we note that most of them were strangely silent in calling attention to the reason for the public outcry: the fear of violent reaction by religious extremists.

The AHA strives for a world where violence and fear are not the drivers of ideals and actions. While a fearful, emotional response to the pastor's actions is perhaps understandable, these emotions must be put into perspective. Perhaps it is rational to encounter the products of hate and respond with fear, but if so, we should be asking: Why must we fear violence in response to an offensive religious act or statement?

Jones crossed a line of basic decency, and his book-burning threats deserved great condemnation. But those who condemned the book burning should have spoken out just as loudly against the irrational passion that would cause people to react to it violently. The possibility of religious violence only highlights the need for the sober, post-theological worldview of humanism.

###

The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.

###

American Humanist Association

To some, Humanism and Hedonism are one in the same. Is that really all there is...

10 hours ago

American Humanist Association

This week's Humanist Hour Podcast features Bob Ready and Sarah Henry as they tal...

12 hours ago

American Humanist Association

Update to the football prayer controversy happening at a Gainesville, GA High Sc...

15 hours ago

American Humanist Association

Fred Edwords reports from this year's Colorado Secular Conference! Get TheHuman...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Two weeks ago, AHA's Maggie Ardiente and Roy Speckhardt traveled to Oxford, Engl...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

The United Coalition of Reason is a national non-profit organization that helps...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Is it really that "tragic and bizarre" to remove bibles from hotels rooms in ord...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Throwing some separation of church and state history at you!

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

Why does the media usually portray atheists as pretentious, white men? Time to c...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

The Fields Medal has been awarded to up to four mathematicians every four years...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

The nature of the backlash to our recent legal case concerning pray in public sc...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

Happy Friday!

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

Religious differences within the family unit can be difficult. How do you feel a...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

Here is an update to our on-going Carroll County, Maryland case involving prayer...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Back to school time! Let's take a look at the most and least religious colleges...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Anyone need a laugh? I sure do! Warning: Language!

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Should someone's religious belief allow them to do whatever they want? No! Get...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

In November, 2014, a new film is coming out about the life of Stephen Hawking. T...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

AHA legal director David Niose on football and Christian politics in Georgia.

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Yesterday, the beautiful and talented Lauren Bacall passed away. Just one of th...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

When the AHA, or similar organizations, take legal action in efforts to keep the...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

In this week's Humanist Hour Podcast Dr. Robert M. Price tells us 10 Things Ever...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Fox News chimes in on a letter recently sent form the AHA to a Georgia high scho...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Meet the newest staff member of the United Coalition of Reason, Jason Heap! Y...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Fan of Martin Scorsese's 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ? It looks like...

8 days ago