Friday, February 24, 2012

Quran burning--Alma 14:8

"...and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire." (Alma 14:8)

I don't know if you've heard about the furor in Afghanistan over copies of the Quran which were burned at a U.S. military base.

The whole situation is very sad, and I think the primary lessons are that populations living under persistently vulnerable conditions are unusually prone to conspiracy-theory thinking and to letting their frustration erupt into counter-productive violence.

But I think it also provides an opportunity to talk about different ways people think about what's sacred.

For most American Mormons, a copy of the Bible or Book of Mormon should be treated with more respect than an ordinary book, but is hardly sacred as a physical object. When my grandparents were serving in India in the mid-'90s, though, my grandma would often remind the Elders that it's a bit shocking to local members to see missionaries just drop their scriptures down under a chair or something. Why? Because in Indian culture, numerous traditions reinforce the idea that you should care for a sacred book.

I wonder whether we're more casual because American culture developed after the advent of print. Whereas in the formative days of Judaism, early Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism, physically writing a book was a huge effort and a show of great craftsmanship. And relatively few people could afford to have a handwritten copy of a book, which made it even more special.

When I think about the sacred, I think about the temple. But before print, a physical book was probably viewed a little bit more like a temple in the sense of being the product of detailed work for God. And how would we feel if foreign soldiers raided our temples for suspicious items and burned them with the trash?

I don't think the soldiers who burned the books meant to be disrespectful. It sounds like they were genuinely concerned about whether handwritten annotations in the books were promoting violence. But I think I can see why, for people who are already upset and frustrated, the willful destruction of a holy book would feel like such a violation.


  1. As a Book-of-Mormon-dropping-Mormon (i.e., my copy is sitting on the floor next to the sofa right this minute) and knowing that I could round up $50 to buy another quad if something were to happen to this one, I would still take this gesture of "the willful burning of a HOLY book" burning FAR more seriously than you seem to.

  2. I have a friend who is Muslim, and she explained that the Qur'an should never be placed below the heart. She also said that if you write the name of God on a slip of paper, you must keep the paper.

    These seem to be in line with what you are saying about the importance of the written word, especially holy texts. I feel that you do take this issue seriously. However, it's more important that we take human life more seriously than the burning of any book.



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