All Books Are Sacred

By Rob Patterson

Florida conservative pastor Terry Jones wanted to burn the Quran. But he changed his mind when, as far as I can tell, he got all the publicity he wanted. And I bet he would have been howling like a wounded banshee if Bibles were being burned in some Muslim nation.

It didn’t just offend me that someone who professes to be a man of God wanted to burn a sacred book. After all, to me, books are sacred as a matter of course.

They are my favorite form of entertainment even if I may spend more time watching movies and TV. I love the written word, and I can get lost in a book and transported to another dimension even more than I can from the most wonderful movie.

My home has stuffed bookshelves everywhere. I feel comforted by their presence. Sometimes I will pull out a book I read before and read it again, even though one of my most heartbreaking realizations as a child was when I realized that I would never live long enough to read all the books I wanted to read.

Guess that’s one good reason to hope for an eternal afterlife. I certainly hope if there is a heaven, Terry Jones — the minister, not the English Monty Python troupe member — won’t be there, because to me, burning books is a sin.

On the other hand, much as I respect religious texts, I don’t feel they are any more sacred than other books. Much as some feel the Bible is the inerrant word of God — despite massive contradictions in the four synoptic gospels that tell the story of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — it was written by humans, so it’s just another book.

Burning any book is an affront to the minds God gave us (or not, if you ascribe to the view that there is no God). Of course the act brings to mind the book-burning of the Nazis. And as offensive to me as that was, I also think of the (perhaps apocryphal) burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria (the eventual destruction of which is also attributed to the Roman Emperor Aurelian, a Coptic priest and Muslim conquerors). The loss of information from that repository is heartbreaking.

If knowledge is power, books are the power source. And burning any book, even one that offends you, is wrong. It’s one less source of information. Much as I find Sarah Palin offensive, I wouldn’t burn her book, as it could provide me with valuable information, though not what she intends.

Terry Jones would, I am sure, be in favor of burning the delightful book I am reading: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. As the title implies, some might call it heresy. Funnily enough, it was first highly recommended to me by a devout Episcopalian friend. And later just as fervently by a dear friend who does not believe in God (more agnostic than atheist as I perceive her viewpoint). I’m so glad that I did, as it’s delightful, witty, informative and inspirational.

And it brings me closer to the notion of Jesus, just as Man of Nazareth by Anthony Burgess, one of the greatest men of letters of the 20th century, also did. It’s another wonderfully funny yet wise book. Both of them humanize Jesus, but at the same time highlight what was divine about Jesus, at least to me. And they are written with a rare and, dare I say it, God-given brilliance and eloquence.

Pastor Jones would no doubt love a bonfire of both. But to my very outside-the-mainstream Christian beliefs, they’re works that my God (or at least notion of God) would heartily approve of. After all, the way I see it, one can’t look at the world and not think that God has one hell of a sense of humor. And both books can be enjoyed by (open-minded) believers as well as (also open-minded) non-believers.

Books are not the problem, even if they can be dangerous. It’s what people do with them and what they might get from them that can potentially be a problem. (By saying that I do not advocate burning people instead of books.) Books are simply more information. To my mind they’re the best entertainment.

Maybe instead of burning books Terry Jones should read more of them. I sent him an email via his church’s website expressing my disapproval of his plans to burn the Quran (the kind of thing I believe we progressives should do more of with those whose actions we object to). Maybe now I should send him a copy of Lamb. Perhaps if he opened his mind and actually does believe that when God created the earth in the mythical six days he saw that it was good, he just might enjoy it.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2010

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