[ by Charles Cameron — the perils of adding scriptures to scripture, tearing or burning them — and flags, paper money too ]
It may be that the last time you used the word abominable it was in relation to a snowman. It’s not a word that’s frequently on my tongue, I have to admit, but an Israeli MK apparently used it — or it’s Hebrew equivalent — to describe the New Testament, which he was in the process of ripping up.
Shades of Pastor Jones burning a copy of the Quran!
The thing is, when you have a sacred scripture it’s delimited, it’s hands-off! And if someone else comes along and adds a slim volume or two, it’s an abomination, almost by definition, sight unseen.
Thus the New Testament is an abomination to Knesset member Michael Ben Ari, according to YNet:
“This abominable book (the New Testament) galvanized the murder of millions of Jews during the Inquisition and during auto da fe instances,” Ben Ari said adding that “Sending the book to MK’s is a provocation. There is no doubt that this book and all it represents belongs in the garbage can of history.”
And please note, I am definitely not suggesting that Ben Ari is representative of all Jews — nor, for that matter, Pastor J. Grant Swank of all Christians. Yet from Swank’s perspective, the Tanakh and New Testament are scriptures, but, and I’m quote him:
Obama’s so-called holy writ is the abominable Koran.
The Qur’an is a later scripture, neh?
And Swank’s tirade gets better. Still speaking of the President of the United States, he continues:
His hope for eternity is unknown; but if he becomes a suicide bomber for Allah, he will be guaranteed pronto a score of virgins for everlasting. His hope for the present seems to be his reliance upon Islam’s Koran furthered by his clandestine support of Islam World Rule via czars and a shadow government given to overthrowing our Republic.
And then on the other side of the political aisle there’s Mitt Romney‘s Latter-day scripture, The Book of Mormon, which bills itself as Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It too has been considered an abomination.
I don’t know if people still use the word much when talking about the Book of Mormon, it’s considerably less controversial these days than the Qur’an — but abominable was what Arthur Cleveland Coxe called it in his 1855 Sermons on doctrine and duty, writing of Joseph Smith:
an obscure and illiterate individual, in our great West, was busily forging the abominable “Book of Mormon,” which, fourteen months later, he foisted into the world…
People really don’t like other people making add-ons to their scriptures, do they?
Scriptures — and flags.
Look, I weep for a religion some of whose adherents kill when their scripture is burned or defiled, and I am glad for a religion that condemns such killings. As you might expect, there are tearers and burners in all three Abrahamic religions, and all three religions have those who object to such tearings and burnings.
And yes, the ratios of religiously-provoked modes of destruction vary across religions and across centuries…
But what of flags?
I raise the issue because a fellow in Pakistan who manufactures flags for burning, Mamoon-ur-Rasheed, was in the news recently, and made this point:
Isn’t flag burning positive, compared to American atrocities? And also compared to the Taliban? We’re not attacking mosques. … We’re not targeting American embassies. We’re not killing anyone. Nor are we flying drones around, we’re just burning flags, mere pieces of cloth, and then we’re done. It’s over.
Setting aside Rasheed’s political opinion, Matthew Wallin at American Security Project asks the right questions in the security context:
Is it really over after the deed is done? Does anger against the United States dissipate? What do people do after they have gone home after a flag burning?
A key question to answer is: how much of these protests are translating into actual violence? This is an element that must be understood to determine if flag burning is simply a form of protest, or if those involved are planning more sinister actions. We must also seek to understand to what degree these protests endanger traditional diplomacy efforts and the challenges faced by members of the Pakistani government attempting to pursue diplomatic cooperation with the United States. If they are harmless expressions of anger and frustration, we have an obligation to understand this.
But that’s really just the beginning of a much wider-ranging discussion, philosophically speaking, which Rasheed’s comments also address:
what’s the relation of a symbolic object to the reality is symbolizes? If a flag is hurt, does it hurt the United States? If a Bible is burned, does it hurt Christianity? God?
If the word “spider” was an actual, live spider, arachnophobes couldn’t read the rest of this sentence… Is Picasso’s signature on a two dollar check worth as much as his signature on a check for a thousand bucks? Come to that, when paper money goes up in smoke when a house catches fire, where does the value go?
And yet, and yet, we are very attached to our flags, our scriptures — and our money.
The poet Coleridge in his Statesman’s Manual suggests:
On the other hand, a Symbol is characterized by a translucence of the Special in the Individual or of the General in the Especial or of the Universal in the General. Above all by the translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal. It always partakes of the Reality it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that Unity, of which it is the representative.
So. Do we find this translucence in our scriptures, in our flags, in our money, in our fellow humans — in the world around us?