What is the Temperature at which Holy Scripture Burns?

2010 September 10
by Carl Watson

An article written by our friend, the atheist preacher, Reverend Roy Derien, seemed appropriate for this current confluence of many significant dates. It is the Jewish New Year, the end of Ramadan, the 9th anniversary of Sept 11th attacks, and I am sure some Christian Holiday is looming. There is controversy about Islamic Community Centers and the burning of holy books. Perhaps it is a good time to reflect upon holy words and the books that contain them. Pastor Terry Jones take note: the following story presents a message of freedom, love of humankind, and not of the ignorance born in the worship of false gods. The name of the protagonist has been withheld to insure his safety from the bigoted religious community.

What is the temperature at which holy scripture burns? Can the Word of God catch fire in the heat of the minds of those fed up with the direction this human race has taken towards self-immolation? This is the story of one man’s quest to determine the answers to such questions.His plan was to stage a terrorist act so extreme that no actual lives would be lost, no buildings would be destroyed, and yet the consequences would surpass that of any WMD or pre-emptive war. He considered it a bomb of sorts–a neuron bomb aimed at the spirit, a conflagration wherein only false hopes and bad excuses could be burned. Certainly a lot of people would be offended. But these people would be offended anyway, by someone, somewhere, someday. Many would condemn the instigator. A threat of holy war would hang over the act. But this threat would hopefully dissipate once it was acknowledged that, in fact, no holy scripture of any religion would be spared. All gods and their words and the words of their mouthpieces, the prophets and the pompous clergy would be welcome to these cleansing flames. He imagined a great pile of Holy Books as high as a five-story building, bigger then the pile of fish in Union Square used to trap Godzilla in the 1990’s remake, bigger even than Burning Man or the ruins of the WTC. He saw in his mind the vast pilgrimage of American families, walking hand in hand with their children and their picnic baskets as they sought to attend this great ceremony of peace and liberation. The gods themselves, if there were gods, would no doubt rejoice, knowing they could no longer be misquoted and used as an excuse for war or capital punishment. There were, of course, many questions:

How to remain unbiased?
Would it be possible to cover the entire spectrum of texts; i.e. all Bibles, Korans, Gitas, Upanishads, etc? How would they collect the numerous scrolls and papyruses, codexes and reproductions and rubbings of carved stones in order to claim total and unbiased inclusion in this great liberating purge? Surely someone would come up with some new holy book after it was over. And then the whole thing would have to start over.

And what location would suffice?
Times Square had an obvious symbolic resonance, being the self-proclaimed crossroads of the modern world. Union Square however had a more radical tradition, especially in the post- 911 world. Tompkins Square would bring back some nice memories for those anarchists still plying their politics in the cafes and dens of downtown. But there would be trees to worry about and the new playground for children and the dog run that was such a hot dating scene for young professionals.

And how to secure the permits?
The mayor, of course, would want nothing to do with it.  There would, of course, be demonstrations and he might have to announce martial law. The police chief will think it is a bad idea for numerous reasons. They might not have enough barricades to pen the population like cattle at a fast food beef farm. Religious leaders are another problem. But that is a good part of the reason to go ahead with it.

And what about the consequences to the participants?
They who wished to participate would need to be brave souls, willing to live condemned amongst their neighbors. These people would never be able to get a job again. They would be scorned by their landlords and likely evicted. They may even end up in prison. Therefore they would need to band together in their cause, to hold fast. They would need the strength of their convictions that humanity could indeed live free of arbitrary authority figures like Big Daddy, Big Mama, Our Father, Jahweh, Allah and their associated Jesuses and Moseses and Mohammeds.

And what sort of propellant should be used?
A small can of naptha would suffice as a starter, lighter fluid, charcoal starter, even gas. But something more symbolic seemed apropos—perhaps draft cards, flags or money. Some ironist has claimed that money was a bad idea because you couldn’t really burn money. That would be a redundant act. Money had become fire itself. It was an electric current traveling across wires and time and it was invisible and it moved too fast to be captured or destroyed.

And who should strike the match?
This person would surely be arrested and sent to prison, maybe extradited to a foreign culture for extreme rendition. Perhaps the lighting of the fire should be run like an execution with many executioners—then there is no one to blame because everyone is to blame. Many people could pull the trigger or flip the switch. Or like a Viking funeral pyre. The ship of the funeral of the Word of God would float to sea unmoored of its human harbor and the many flaming arrows would seek it from a safe anonymous distance.

And how should the story be told?
Should it be written as a novel or a history or a poem, a treatment or a full-blown Hollywood script. Should it be a play? Would it play off-off-off Broadway or in Midtown. Perhaps a serial drama or sitcom following the unique stories of various individuals as the fires consumed the foundations of their faiths. Should it be called art or politics? In which section of the paper should the announcement be posted? Should it occur only in the streets or also in the hearts of those who bear witness? Would Google be willing to host it? Would the networks cover it?

What about interpretation?
As the liberating flames tickle the night sky of Manhattan some will claim Satanism had taken over the land. Others may cite the Rapture. The Singularity too is likely to be discussed. There are those who will claim Totalitarianism. Others will talk about St. John and his vaunted apocalypse. Some will say a new Decadence is at hand. Debate will be healthy and fervent for sure.

Despite these difficulties our hero couldn’t stop imagining the possibilities. A roar might arise from the crowd as they cried in unison “Blasphemy is Freedom, Sacrilege is Truth!” knowing that the spark they each carried home in their hearts was the true dawn light of peace and an end to the Middle Ages and superstition. It would take some time to sort things out but perhaps the warriors could return home to their farms and families and the true progress of humanity could begin.  But the hope is that the majority of onlooker will simply laugh. Laugh like they had never been allowed to laugh before. And they will return then to their lives, their loved ones, their desks and their fields feeling that the first of many monstrous obstacles had at last been removed from the human psyche and the renewed possibility of hope for their children.

Of course the deep fear remained that the tale of the great conflagration would be recorded and later taken as yet another version of the very Word of God it had hoped to destroy. And that this would engage the philosophers for many years.

The end

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