Although it is only September, I think it is safe to say that the “Burn a Koran” day is the pseudo-event of the year. Despite being completely insignificant, the fifty member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida has managed—thanks to the media—to get worldwide exposure for their book-burning. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, even weighed in, saying, “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”
Most reasonable people are probably wondering why we are talking about this stupid stunt, much less giving it so much attention. Like most Americans, I am opposed to making inflammatory gestures that serve only to irritate people of other religious faiths. Although we may have the right to do so, it doesn’t mean that we should.
But while I think we can agree that burning Korans is silly, I think we can also press the issue tolerance and respect for other religions a bit too far. A prime example is Peter Wehner’s recent post on Commentary magazine’s blog. Although I agree with almost all of it, his claims about how God would feel about the issue seem contrived and presumptuous:
Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.
Claiming that Jesus was a book lover is a bit of a stretch (and not just because codexes didn’t replace the scroll until the sixth century). It’s not particularly surprising that Christ loved the Hebrew Bible since the book is primarily about him (Luke 24:25-27).
I’m certainly not in a position to know what God would think about the issue. But I think it is safe to say that he isn’t as tolerant as we are (or at least in the same way). Pastor Phil Johnson recently pointed out a truth that should be apparent to anyone who has read the Old Testament:
Nothing is more offensive to God than false religion. The first two of the Ten Commandments underscore that truth. The order of the Commandments is significant. By ruling out false religion before forbidding murder, adultery, or stealing, Moses’ Law made clear that that false religion is the vilest of sins.
We have a tendency to regard all religion as inherently noble and honorable. We tend to think that a non-Christian who is devout in his or her religion is somehow morally superior to the wanton sinner who openly traffics in drugs or pornography or some other notorious sin.
But let’s be honest: that is not a proper biblical perspective. False religion is gross sin. The person who worships a false god is as abhorrent to the true God as a publican or a prostitute. And the person who worships YHWH in a false or hypocritical way is engaging in wanton sin just as surely as the thief or murderer.
Such a claim is a smack in the face to American Christians who, despite whatever denominational affiliation we claim, essentially act like good liberal Protestants.
We tend to assume that God has many of the same preferences that we do. If we are against book-burning (and make no mistake, I am and hope you are too) then we assume he is also. But is this necessarily true? If YHWH considers Islam a false religion, then it is unlikely that he has a great affection for the Koran. This is not to say he wants us to burn them. I certainly believe that he does not. But we should be hesitant to make claims that God is as opposed to censorship of religious texts as we are.
Yet another thought experiment: Imagine that you (a devout Christian, Jew, Mormon, Hindu, etc) are shown a button and are told that if you press it, all knowledge of the Koran will cease to exist. Every text version across the globe will instantly disappear and any passages that were memorized will be forgotten. Muslims will not otherwise be affected other than their having no recall of the words of Allah as collected by Mohamed.
Would you press the button? How would you justify your decision? Would your decision be different if you had to make it solely based on the teaching of your faith and not on received cultural assumptions?
Note: Although it should go without saying, I don’t think God is a conservative American evangelical either.