Think Before Using

By Don Rollins

First he would. Then he wouldn’t. Then he might. But he didn’t. I’m talking, of course, about the Rev. Terry Jones, that heavily-mustachioed, zany preacher from down Gainesville way. The guy that was all set to shish kabob a couple dozen Qurans. The guy that, for three or four full news cycles, had the leader of the free world and his military brass by the short hairs. The guy that made Brett Favre look like a pillar of consistency.

Just blah, blah and more blah. And we bought it. We enabled a world-class manipulator on his way to his 15 shameless minutes of fame — 15 minutes that resulted in more Afghan religious riots and more American cultural saber-rattling, neither of which we particularly need right now. We are sheep, people.

But now that this thing has run its course — and, please, God, may it be so — my inner cynic says there are worse things than burning another fella’s bible. Every ancient text, by definition, has a fair amount of material that is unadulterated gibberish to the modern ear. Then there’s the sad fact that the Big Three (Hebrew scriptures, Christian Bible and Quran), when left to literalists, zealots and fundamentalists, have inflicted untold human suffering and planetary degradation. Blasphemy, I know; but there are worse things than burning books.

Let’s go there. (Blasphemy, that is.) Maybe humanity would stand a better chance of surviving itself if it were to place on the sacrificial table its misogynist, homophobic, bloodthirsty, hidebound idols. Just stop the madness, says the dark voice of the inner cynic. Fall prostrate before the Big Kahuna Upstairs, ask her to chuck the whole scripture trip and start over. Have her people take out full-page ads in all the papers, heralding a big Toyota-style recall for any religious texts you’d like to offer up. Recycle the buggers. Take away our paper pacifiers. Take away what we do to each other in the name of chapter and verse.

Wait a minute, you say. Those same books have been used for good, not just evil. All those great stories and beautiful language and wise counsel, you say. Were we to lose those canons, we would be the poorer, you say. Fair enough. So maybe we don’t start with the world’s largest recycling program. Maybe we go the Jeffersonian route.

Some two hundred years back, Tom Jefferson had had enough with the irrational and irrelevant stuff in the Gospels, so he sharpened up a razor and began cutting out the parts he judged non-essential. (Essential, to him meant understanding Jesus. A very human Jesus, that is.) Next up: arrange what’s left — the parables, the Sermon on the Mount, the cleansing of the temple — so as to make sense in his intelligentsia-driven, American version of the Enlightenment. Eighteenth-century cut-and-paste.

Serious, serious chutzpah, that. But what’s the point?

The point of the Jefferson story is not that everybody should gather after supper and start carving up the family Bible; the point is that, somewhere in the distant past of the evolution of theistic scripture, somebody started confusing the vessel (text on the page) with the spirit (fire in the belly). Then, à la Pastor Terry’s media circus, somebody else bought it. And now, millennia after the fact, the world is held religious, social and political hostage to the book-beating Terry Joneses of the world. People who compulsively anathematize everybody’s scrolls but their own.

I’m not holding my breath for the day when the human race comes to terms with how it uses scripture as moral cover for its sins. That’s a pipe dream afforded only to people like you and me, the world’s privileged. But maybe it’s time to attach a warning on the jacket of these religious books of ours. Something akin to those on tobacco products: Warning: History has determined that this product may be harmful to everybody and everything you can name. Think before using.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2010

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