By Drew Hayden Taylor
Originally published in January 2011
What is it with white people and book burning? I realize that’s quite an inflammatory (pun intended) statement, but it deserves some exploration regarding recent events down in Florida where it seems lighter fluid, fundamentalism, and sun tan lotion go hand in hand.
But here’s something to ponder in the backdraft of the Florida bonfire enthusiasts’ now-fizzled threats to torch copies of the Koran. Looking at the burning of religious books objectively (if that’s possible), one could theoretically come to the conclusion that up here in Canada it would seem more logical to burn the Bible.
Before crucifying me for saying so, understand that I make this supposition on the sheer logic of history.
Examine how Native people have been treated in the more than 500 years of Christian colonization. I am, of course, speaking of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse perpetrated by Church-run residential schools, small pox carrying Jesuit missionaries, the banning of Sun Dances and potlatches because it turned Aboriginals away from Christianity. And the list goes on.
It seems to me far more damage has been done to the First Nations by people following the Gospels, than by any believing in the Koran.
To paraphrase Muslim boxer Mohammed Ali’s famous comment about refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, to better suit Native audiences: “I’ve got no quarrel with Muslims. No Muslim ever beat me up for speaking my own language.”
Yes, we understand there are numerous Muslim zealots out there committing unspeakable acts in the name of God, but it would be unfair for us to comment on them. We are only familiar with the Christian zealots here.
As a Native person, in fact, instances of insane book burning are reminiscent of the arrival of the Catholic Church into Central America in the mid 1500s. As the Spanish were slicing and dicing their way across the Yucatan, they made it a regular practice to burn all the Mayan manuscripts they came across saying they were the work of the Devil.
As a result, only a handful of so called “books” exist today. An entire cultural library willingly wiped out of existence in the name of God. Spoiler alert: I don’t actually think God had much to do with that decision.
If it’s the same God I was brought up to respect, in fact, it probably pissed Him off, as it likely does when Florida’s Pastor Terry Jones blames his bad behavior on Him. (Maybe I’ll go kick my lefthanded next door neighbor in the leg this afternoon and say God made me do it. After all, ignorant superstitious people used to think southpaws were evil too.)
I feel it should be mentioned that I’m not anti-Bible by any means. At home on my shelf I have a Bible (along with the Bhagavad Gita, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and several Beatles albums that survived the great “We’re bigger than Jesus” burning of 1966).
Some of my best friends and relatives are Christians. I have one that cleans my house twice a month. Jesus even made a cameo appearance in my last novel.
And the one thing I do remember from Sunday School was what I believe is called the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Great words. So if he believes so surely in the good book, I wonder if that means Pastor Jones also accepts the potential burning of Bibles. ‘A’ does seem to follow ‘B’ in that scenario. Do two wrongs make a right?
I am not exactly sure what he expected to achieve with his plan to burn a hundred Korans. From what I understand, God and the Bible is supposed to bring people together, not drive them apart. Most religious and secular leaders in the States and other countries have condemned this action, including soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe I misunderstood the bigger picture, sitting there between the pews.
I was always led to believe that books aren’t evil, people are. I guess it’s just more convenient to burn books. I read somewhere that burning people was recently outlawed, although of course there were a couple of centuries when it was a favorite Christian pastime.
I wonder if Pastor Jones has even read the Koran. Admittedly, I haven’t, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not that different from the Bible we know. Most religions teach essentially the same message. They just use different textbooks.
And by pretty much any of their guidelines, it’s guys like Rev. Jones who give God a bad name.