I’ve read your writing for years, and have generally admired it. While I haven’t always agreed with you, we’ve generally seen eye-to-eye on the big issues. It is out of my respect for you that I’d ask you to re-examine some of your thoughts about the recent non-burning of the Koran.
Of course it’s legal to burn anything (well, usually not cannabis). But speech has consequences. These consequences are not always apparent to people, who may be blinded by their own beliefs, by their own position of privilege, etc. Your careless response to the aborted Koran burning fails on many levels, but especially on the level of empathy.
I’ve already argued that burning books is a form of expression that carries a lot of baggage. You may feel like a despised minority due to your atheism, but I gotta tell you, from my perspective as an atheist and an ethnic minority, you’re full of shit on this one. Despite your atheism, you comes from a position of privilege that you are perhaps too incredulous to see. The first clue to this blindness comes early in your post:
People just aren’t getting it; they’re so blinded by an inappropriate attachment to magic relics that they’re missing the real issues.
Yeah, but no. The primary problem from the perspective of a white, male, employed atheist sitting in a house munching on lutefisk and aqvavit (don’t you love stereotypes) is that of people’s inappropriate attachment to objects. From the perspective of the poor, deluded people, it’s the threat implied by the action of destroying something sacred to them.
Perhaps you didn’t mean to erect such an enormous straw man to fight, but review this statement. Humor me.
The problem isn’t a few books being burned; that’s not a crime, and it doesn’t diminish anyone else’s personal freedoms. The problem is a whole fleet of deranged wackaloons, including the president of the USA in addition to raving fundamentalist fanatics, who think open, public criticism and disagreement ought to be forbidden, somehow.
And seriously, this whole silly contretemps would have evaporated if a few people learned to shrug their shoulders and react rationally instead of feeding the fury with Serious Pronouncements and Reprovals.
Paul, the problem isn’t the legality. It does diminish people’s personal freedoms. It diminishes their sense of safety and security. If I become afraid to practice my religion because of violent bigotry, I’m less free. To tell me to get over it is some seriously fucked up victim-blaming.
I’m tempted to ask you the following question, but also afraid to. If I could legally obtain a Torah for you, would you burn it? (I wouldn’t but it’s a thought experiment.)
If the answer is “no”, then you’re a hypocrite. If the answer is “yes”, then you have no understanding of history, of oppression, of fear.
Whether or not you think it appropriate, people imbue objects with meaning. Why else try to save your house from burning down? You have insurance, don’t you? But most people don’t want to lose a house and the objects it contains because they have meaning. Religious objects are no more or less irrationally revered than family photos. People give them meaning.
It’s appropriate to call out people on harmful beliefs, to criticize Catholic beliefs about homosexuality, Torah passages about rape, Koran suras about violence. But collecting and burning religious texts is not simple criticism, it is an attack on the people who hold these texts dear, no matter how irrational they are.
To ignore this is to betray a sense of bigotry, one to which you may be blind. Think of this as a gentle reminder.
In friendship and collegiality,