Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should, Or: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about that non-denominational pastor in Florida who is planning a Quran burning event.  If you haven’t, just Google “Quran burning” and you’ll find all sorts of articles about it.

All I can say is, “Really???”

I just don’t get people.  Does this man have a Constitutional right to burn the Quran?  Sure.  But is doing so the right thing?  Yeah, not so much.  It’s rather tacky, and what purpose does it serve?  It’s not like he’s going to rid the world of the Quran, so what does he think he’s accomplishing?  (For the record, I don’t think anybody should be trying to rid the world of the Quran).  He’s just thumbing his nose at Islam, and, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone with an I’m-sticking-my-tongue-out-at-you mentality should be leading a congregation.  But that’s just my opinion.  And you know, if he’d just held a quiet little book burning with his congregation?  Whatever.  But the fact that he seems to have made sure the media caught wind of it?  Really reinforces the idea that he’s being rude just for the sake of being rude.

I feel almost the same way about the whole mosque/community center/whatever-you-want-to-call-it at/near Ground Zero.  Do they have a right to build it?  Sure.  But is it the right thing to do?  Maybe not, given how offensive it is to so many people.  Are they purposely thumbing their Islamic noses at New York City and the United States in general?  I don’t know.  It is certainly possible they are.  I think it is equally possible they aren’t.  If they are, shame on them – it makes them no better than Pastor Whatthehellishethinking, even worse.  But if they aren’t?  Well, I’d say shame on America except I can understand why people would be a little wary at this point.  Unfortunately.

However, as much as I can sympathize with those who don’t want a mosque/Islamic community center/whatever-you-want-to-call-it at/near Ground Zero, I can’t add my voice to the opposition.  Likewise, as idiotic as I think it is for Pastor Whatthehellishethinking to have a big Quran burning, I like to think I would die defending the right of all Americans to burn whatever book they want (and, for the record, I find book burning, in general, to be a rather sophomoric practice).

Both cases are about the First Amendment, and I am all for the First Amendment.  The problem inherent in such freedoms, however, are that they leave stupid misguided people free to do stupid poorly thought out things; but that is something we have to be willing to live with if we want to retain our freedoms.

As much as I might think the religious leaders (using that term so loosely in the case of the Fla. guy) in both of the aforementioned situations should rethink their plans, I can’t attack them or their freedom to carry out said plans.

However, no matter how misguided you or I or anybody else may think their plans may be, that does not justify anger and violence and hatred from anyone.  If you are opposed to the mosque/community center/whatever it is in New York or the book burning in Florida, then by all means feel free to protest.  It is your right.  And if you want to be angry and hate-filled and violent, that is also your right, it is your choice.  But if you stoop to that?  If you make that choice?  If you protest or retaliate angrily or violently to the book burning or the building?  Then you are no better than the people you are protesting, and are, in fact, possibly worse.

(Let me be clear:  I’m not saying it is wrong to protest or speak out.  I am saying it is wrong to do so angrily or violently.  Especially violently.)

The book burning isn’t going to hurt anyone.  It will offend people who choose to be offended, but it isn’t going to inflict any physical or emotional harm.  The same goes for the building in NYC, assuming that the idea of it being a radical, militant training center is erroneous (and I’m just not going to take a side on that one because I. don’t. know.).

Yes, we have a right to be angry and violent, but is it the right thing to do?  Yeah, not so much.

I know a bit about angry, violent people and religious intolerance.  It never goes well.

I owe my faith to people who were beaten, tarred and feathered, raped and killed by angry mobs.  I owe the things I love most about my life to people who were the objects of a government issued extermination order, who were driven from state to state, forced to leave their towns and homes to cross the continent on foot through horrible weather and deplorable conditions.  They buried spouses, children and babies along the way so that they could find a place where they could worship unmolested – a place where they could grow and thrive as a religious community so that they could eventually share their beliefs with others.

Really, did you think the Mormons went to Utah just for the skiing?

And?  I know what it is like to have people lump my specific religion in with its various permutations and transmutations, to lump my Christianity in with people like Pastor Whatthehellishethinking, to have someone wave a knife in my face* as he angrily told me I am not a Christian, to have a relative ask if the ring my husband wears on his right hand is his other wedding ring from his other wife (and, by the way, where’s he hiding her anyway?), to have a protestant pastor tell my then-15-year-old sister she needed to get out of her church or she would go to hell, to be told that I am a member of a cult, etc. etc.

Sometimes I just want to stand at the top of the world and yell, “GET OVER IT!”

You worship the way you want to, you worship the way you want to, you worship the way you want to, you don’t worship at all if you don’t want to, and I’ll worship the way I want to.  And in the process, everybody just take a step back.  Stop using other people’s differences of opinion or faith, other people’s ignorance or stupidity, as justifications for your own anger, rudeness, violence or poorly thought out plans.  You are gauche. 

The fact of the matter is, if people would take the time to actually study different religions (which I had to do a bit of in college, you know, at Brigham Young University) (and just for clarification:  a Sunday School class in which your pastor/preacher/whatever tells you all about the evils of a different religion or sect does not actually count as studying that religion or sect) . . . where was I?  Oh, yes.  If people would take time to actually study different religions and read their various holy books, you would find that we all have quite a lot in common (and I’m not just talking Christian denominations).  If we would choose to focus on our similarities rather than obsess over our differences, what a much better place this world would be.

And George, if you’re out there . . .

*In his defense, we were working at an ice cream shop making banana splits.  I was scooping the ice cream and he was cutting the bananas, hence the knife.  However, that obviously doesn’t justify him pointing the knife towards my face and wagging it around as he informed me I am not a Christian.

14 thoughts on “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should, Or: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

  1. First I have to say was bent over in the “silent laugh” at the Utah and skiing sentence.
    Jokes aside, I agree with what you’ve said. It’s sad that this “pastor” is acting like an idiot and taking other people down with him! Yet, he has that right. I wish he could step back and see himself from our perpective. What he’s doing accomplishes nothing. And as a Christian, he is supposed to be “loving his neighbor as himself” and clearly he is only alienating and spreading hatred. Just wrong. That’s why people think so many Christians are crazy and hypocritical.


  2. Amen. (And snicker giggle snicker at the Utah/skiing thing).

    My fear is that by burning the books he will be a cog in a wheel that ultimately does hurt people…and considering that my secretary’s husband is about to deploy to a war zone, I’m more than a little bit worried about what effect (affect?) (I can never get that right) the actions of a crazy misguided man in Florida will have on some crazy misguided folks in that war zone…


  3. Actually, I was more like twelve or thirteen when that pastor told me I was going to hell. And a couple of years ago, a “friend” sent me anti-Mormon literature for an Easter “present” and told me that I was going to go to hell if I didn’t listen to what it said. And in the past couple of weeks, I have had a couple of conversations with a guy I went to school with (who is now a pastor) who informed me that it is his duty as a “good Christian” (actually, he made sure I knew he was a “historic Christian” although, interestingly, he isn’t a Catholic, which I would consider more historic than any protestant religion but, whatever) to warn me of the judgments of God that would reign down on me because of my beliefs. And he stuck to that even after I pointed out the whole “judge not” scripture in Matthew. (Interestingly, all three instances of being told I’m going from hell originate from the same religion.)

    Obviously, I agree that people should be allowed to worship how, where, or what they may. Although I do think that the rights of others can’t be trampled on in the process. That is why I have serious reservations about that mosque. There are serious questions about who is funding it (which can say a lot about its purpose). Also, the name speaks volumes. Read about the history of Islam in Cordoba. That name is a huge symbol of Islam conquering Christianity. The other concern is in what similar mosques have done in (if I’m remembering correctly) England, where they take the worship onto the streets and make it impossible for people to get through or go to surrounding businesses. There are legitimate issues to look at on that one. But you are correct, they should be explored rationally and legally and in a way that doesn’t make the people concerned look like butt heads.

    And the guy in Florida is definitely acting like a butt head. (And it is obviously a publicity stunt to bring attention to his church…His congregation only has 50 people.)


  4. RE LawMommy: Right, but the actual book burning itself isn’t what is going to hurt people. It is the people who are going to use the book burning as an excuse for their actions who are going to hurt people. So I agree with you, and I also worry that his book burning is going to provide an excuse for people being hurt/tortured/killed, but at the same time I think if we are going to assign blame, we need to assign the blame directly on the shoulders of those responsible. The Fla. guy is being stupid, especially if he knows (and how could he not) that people will use his actions as an excuse; however, ultimately, it is not his fault if they choose to use his actions as an excuse. That is their fault. His dumb actions do not justify violent ones, but they’d much rather see us all blaming people like the guy in Fla. than blaming them.


  5. I thought you were at the church singing in a high school choir concert. That is why mom went to the principal to have a little discussion about separation of church and state and how the teacher could require choir students to sing at a church on a Sunday as part of their grade.


  6. Christina

    The guy in florida should not be labled a Christian.. from what I understand he’s the leader of a 50 member cult and he won’t even let the members speak to their own families. WACKO is his name-o.

    The mosque imam said on CNN last night that if he moves the mosque it will make the radicals mad and cause them to attack us. Which, however nicely he tried to phrase that, sounded very much to me like a threat. Just yet another reason I would like for the Cordoba victory center to never see the light of day.


  7. You have your stories confused. There were a couple of different concerts that contributed to that discussion–one in a church on a weeknight (but with a sermon), and one in the school on Sunday that caused me to miss you giving a talk while you were home from school.

    I was in seventh grade when the “You poor child, we need to save you before you go to hell” comment was made. I had gone to a weeknight activity with someone from school, thinking that it would be something similar to mutual. Instead, it was a sermon where the pastor said some very negative and untrue things about our church. When the people I went with asked me what I thought of the sermon, I told them that I didn’t appreciate what he had said about my church (which they apparently hadn’t realized that I went to at that point). So they drug me up to the pastor and told him I was Mormon. Then he said it.


  8. lauren

    I agree with what you’ve said on all counts.
    However, as we all know, there are countries in this world where people don’t have access to information that is contrary to what their political and religious leaders would like for them to have. And what a golden opportunity this pastor is presenting for those who spew hatred towards America.
    As a spouse of a man whose job it is to protect our freedom in places where our country and everything it stands for is despised, the actions of this pastor disturb me deeply.
    What disturbs me even more is that in some of these countries, he will become the face of Christianity.


  9. Dianna

    Really, did you think the Mormons went to Utah just for the skiing?


    What a terrific post. I live in a town where a nutjob runs around telling people that God is punishing us with events like 9/11 because of our acceptance of homosexuality, so I know a little about ‘religions’ that really aren’t. The Florida guy has already done his damage, whether he ever burns a book or not. The media has already sent this story around the world, whether the idea will last much longer than the action.

    As for the mosque, if they were trying to build it on the site of the World Trade Center, I could see the fuss. But we’re talking a couple of blocks away. And frankly, I think they have the right to build whereever they want. Yes, it could be some sort of training center (although I think that’s a bit of a reach). But are we honestly saying that would be fine if they chose to build it somewhere else? So … I’m just a little fuzzy on the mosque issue.

    Personally, I’ve always been a little more ‘hey, any belief system is better than no belief system.’ In fact, I was rather shocked last night when our Lutheran pastor – at confirmation class orientation – said pretty much the exact same thing when a parent asked what the response should be if our children grow up and choose to go to a different church. Actually… way beyond rather shocked. I almost fell out of my chair and then contemplated the effect if I were to stand up and cheer.


  10. Well said.

    And I’m with you…people should take the time to really study other religions (their rites and doctrines, their history, and their beliefs) so that they can be more informed and understanding.


  11. Yep.

    And what Christina said: “The guy in Florida should not be labeled a Christian.. from what I understand he’s the leader of a 50 member cult and he won’t even let the members speak to their own families. WACKO is his name-o.”

    (At least I managed a comment, right? Even if I just copied and pasted? It’s more than I’ve capable of for a while now!)


  12. I think you said all of this so, so well. Really hit the nail on the head!

    Personally I feel that the Quran thing and the NYC Mosque thing are very separate issues, though you do point out some important similarities. I won’t get all wound up on the Mosque thing, but I guess part of what I keep asking myself is “how far away is far enough? Three blocks instead of two? A mile? A mile and a block?” I understand people being sensitive to it, I just do not agree with a lot of what is being said.

    I do appreciate reading your insight though, I think it is refreshing and inspiring sometimes to see where we all do still come together and agree, when so often these days it can seem hard to find common ground among all the different viewpoints.


  13. I think I need your PW. I tired the one I had from over two years ago and it doesn’t seem to work. 😉 Can you email it to me? ourvalentinesdaytreat (at) yahoo (dot) com


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