Distressed by the bone-shaking condition of Iowa Highway 14 between the south city limits of Chariton and Pin Oak Marsh, I had planned to collect 200 Department of Transportation maps of the great state of Iowa and burn them publicly on Sept. 1.
Then Terry Jones down there in Florida decided to torch 200 copies of the Koran on Sept. 11, the anniversary of Islamic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, stealing all my thunder. Who would come to my modest bonfire when we’ve got the international conflagration that plan sparked to fuss about?
Burning things can seem like a good idea, I suppose. And if you think it through, what’s the big deal? The “holy” involved in any “holy book,” including the Bible, has nothing really to do with the paper it’s printed on.
On the other hand, few bother to think such symbolic gestures through and just get even madder than they were in the first place. Messing about with symbols that represent the sacred to other people always is a tricky business and generally a mistake.
Another difficulty with symbolic gestures like book-burning bonfires is that they tend to strengthen the resolve of the folks they were intended to show contempt for. I would not, for example, want my little red pickup to become a selective target this winter for large orange DOT snowplows --- “Let’s get that sucker who burned the maps.”
The really astonishing thing about Terry Jones and his little flock of fruitcakes down there in Florida is how big a blaze his little spark set off and how rapidly it spread. It may be that we’re entirely too interconnected for comfort in these digital days.
There is some good news here, however --- for Baptists. Back in the good old days any wingnut who decided to start a church automatically attached “Baptist” to its title. Consider Fred Phelps and his merry band at Westboro Baptist Church --- no more reflective of Baptist thought and practice than lutefisk is to a Lutheran (although many Lutherans do consume lutefisk).
The trend these days among new churches from mega to mini is to select odd and essentially meaningless names --- like Terry Jones’ “Dove World Outreach Center.” Doesn’t even mention Christian, thanks be to God. Now if he'd just take that cross down off the front of his building.