In September of 2010, we covered the controversy created by Pastor Terry Jones (of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida) when he threatened to burn a copy of the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. His threat received world wide coverage and was met with outrage by both domestically and internationally as well as by Muslims and Christians alike. When he failed to follow through with the act, we had a collective sigh of relief since we felt that he came to his senses. This turns out not to be the case.
On March 20, 2011, Jones followed through with his threat – burning a copy of the Koran (or Quran or Qur’an, depending on your choice of spelling) in a mock trial on “International Judge the Koran Day.” In this trial, Jones found the Koran guilty of inciting terroristic activities (and other charges) and sentenced the book to be destroyed by fire. Pastor Wayne Sapp, of the few members of the DWOC, set fire to the book for its crimes. Coverage of this trial was minimal, but word did reach the international media. In Afghanistan, the news was met with mass protests that resulted in at least nine people being killed as a result. This was our fear.
In the news coverage over this latest uproar in the Middle East, Bobby Ghosh of the Time Magazine was being interviewed on MSNBC’s program “Hardball” when he made the following comment:
The thing to keep in mind that’s very important here is that the Koran to Muslims, … it is not the same as the Bible to Christians. The Bible is a book written by men. It is acknowledged by Christians that it is written by men. It’s the story of Jesus. But the Koran, if you are a believer, if you’re a Muslim, the Koran is directly the word of God, not written by man. It is transcribed, is directly the word of God. That makes it sacred in a way that it’s hard to understand if you’re not Muslim. So the act of burning a Koran is … potentially much, much more inflammatory … than if you were to … burn a Bible.
First, a clarification – Christians believe that the Bible is God’s word, and that God inspired man to write it down. This is the same as with Muslims, since Allah inspired Muhammad to share his word to others as a Prophet. I’m not too sure where Ghosh came up with that idea, and I disagree with it. However, I do agree with him on his main point – Christians would not react in a similar fashion as some of the Muslims in Afghanistan has.
Christians, in general, do not believe in idols to represent God. (I say “in general” because some Christians do put emphasis on the symbol of the Cross as well as Catholics placing significant emphasis on holy relics.) Additionally, Christians don’t react negatively to depictions of Jesus or God. In fact, the generic representation of Jesus (Caucasian man with long brown hair and a beard) is widely recognized, and movie stars George Burns and Morgan Freeman have played the role of God in popular movies “Oh God” and “Bruce Almighty.” However, we have seen the fallout against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten when they printed a series of cartoons depicting Muhammad.
I can’t explain why modern Christians do not react negatively in ways some Muslims do when it comes to defending their beliefs. Part of me feels that it stems from the era of the Crusades. Back then, Crusaders felt that they needed to return to the Middle East and reestablish and/or defend the Holy Land. While power was the underlying factor in most wars, the Catholic Church also had placed a lot of emphasis on the physical connection with the foundation of the religion at the time.
The fallout of hundreds of years of combat left regions decimated in both wealth and human lives. Over time, Christians developed a focus more on the spiritual foundations of the faith – detaching the importance of the physical foundations. For whatever the reason, I feel that Ghosh is correct on the Christian response (or lack thereof) if a Bible were to be burned. After all, Bibles (and Korans for that matter) can always be reprinted.
Some Muslims Just Can’t Take a Joke – Capitol Commentary
Americans have burned politicians in effigy for as long as we’ve been a nation. We’ve burned flags, copies of the Constitution, crosses, and, most recently, bridges with our allies. Some people don’t like it but tough, it’s in our tradition to be rebels and challenge people. The fact that our society hasn’t exploded despite all the races and religions in our country shows that our way works… it builds tolerance because it reinforces our belief that people have a right to express themselves how they see fit. That’s why few crosses are burned anymore… the urge to set them alight has receded as we as a people have grown together by learning from each others’ differences.
Qur’an and the Muslims – Sic Semper Tryrannis
Christians believe that the Bible is a divinely inspired book, that it contains great truths, but they all (so far as I know) believe that the Bible was written by people. That is not the case with the Qur’an and the Muslims. They believe that the Qur’an descended from heaven and was transmitted by the angel Gabriel (Jibril) to the prophet Muhammad in the very words in which it had always existed as an aspect of God’s “mind.”
Terry Jones, Koran burning and Constitutional rights – Questions and Observations
One of the tough things about rights and freedoms is they also apply to actions we don’t like (as long as they don’t violate any caveats to those rights).