Burn, Baby, Burn: We Believe, Help Thou Our Disbelief

I take no position on whether burning the Koran is a good or bad thing. Frankly, I am with Voltaire on the topic of organized religion: "Encrasez l'infame' he said of Christianity, "crush the infamous thing." Why not gather up all the holy books and have a bonfire? Burn Bibles, Korans and toss in a few holy men, too. These fools commandeer our deepest hopes and sometimes lead us headlong to destruction.

But burning Bibles won't quench the fire within. We all seek meaning in one way or another. Whatever the genetic legacy we share with our near relations on the evolutionary tree, we are, perhaps, best defined by our pursuit of meaning. Forget opposable thumbs, what defines us is how we reckon the meaning of time, confront the fact of death, and reconcile our desire for significance in the cold face of a world that seems simply to unfold, crushing all it confronts.

Today is the ninth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists spouting Islamic hate. Their hatred wasn't a necessary fruit of Islam. Lord knows we've plenty of Christian zealots who'd return the violence on Islamic people, if only they could muster the means and courage. We hate what we fear; and in a word of strangers there is plenty to fear. Wars and rumors of war are a constant; dreams of perpetual peace are sweet sounding conceits. We seek meaning because we cannot help but to hope; born, as we are to die, we struggle against the inevitable by means of myth, metaphor, doctrine and, finally, orthodoxy. But the sad truth remains that there are no winners in the end. It is appointed unto all men once to die.

We are stuck with religion and religious aspirations. We end up with vapid rhetoric of mumbling politicians trying to strike the right pose, but sounding like gushing teenagers preparing for a first date. Listen to Barack Obama trying to sound like a Christian. Listen to the grand rhetorician:

"And I will do everything that I can as long as I am president of the United States, to remind the American people that we are one nation, under God, And we may call that God different names, but we remain one nation. And, you know, as somebody who, you know, relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand, you know, the passions that religious faith can raise." Praise nothing and pass the tomato sauce.

These lines are the stunning confession of a man without beliefs of any real or abiding sort. His sad refrain of "you knows" sound identical to the sad lack of confidence of a young person punctuating their speech with sonar-like asides designed to assure himself that a listener he cannot really reach is still there. It was as if the president were to declare: "I am, you know, like, the president of the United States, you know what I'm saying?" When a man who rose to national prominence salts his speech with this sort of rhetorical gibberish, you know he's in trouble. Call him a political Christian, the bastard cousin of social the much maligned social Christian.

Pollsters reflect that plenty of Americans think Obama is a Moslem. The president wants us to think he is a Christian. My sense is that he is neither. Many of us belong to no community of faith, and wish nothing more than to stand on the sidelines of the dramatic struggle between conflicting, and mutually exclusive, world views. But it is the very nature of zealotry to concede that there is no sideline. We are all in all the time. What we are not for we are against. There is a mindset that requires commitments to things unseen.

One version of the American creed is we a nation of pluralists all committed to some overarching search for the good that is so denatured as to be meaningless. Your God and my God are different and yet somehow the same, we say. This is weak gruel for souls seeking nourishment in the dark nights of despair.

American exceptionalism dies hard. Today is a reminder of that. Just why we think we were granted immunity from the struggles that rend the rest of the world is a conceit I cannot fathom. We are not a city on a hill setting standards for the world. We were an affluent nation with room to spare; what we could not assimilate, we spread around the broad canvas of North America. The borders are closing in on us now. There is little room left to hide. Our discordant dreams collide and clash. And still we hope.

I was half disappointed that Korans weren't burned at the Dove World Outreach Church in Florida today. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because the passions the flames would have reflected seem somehow more real that, like, you know, the mealy mouthed rhetoric of, you know, a president who, you know, doesn't really know what he believes or why.

Comments: (2)

  • Tom Brady just signed for 72 million. We can all r...
    Tom Brady just signed for 72 million. We can all rejoice in that, Muslim or Christian, if you're from New England that is. Religion is obsolete, it really is. But somehow, we can't let it go. So maybe it's not obsolete enough?!?
    When the End comes, the cockroaches and bedbugs inherit the Earth. That's what it boils down to.
    I'm glad the Florida preacher pulled back; he did the right thing, you know, for the time-being, under the circumstances. You know, like man I believe Obama, you notice, is sounding more and more like George W. with each passing day? I kid you not; just cover your eyes and listen! How weird is that? (He 'means well'. He is trying very hard, and Michelle and Laura appearing in Shanksville was a superb gesture.)
    I don't think he's really as dyslexic as Bush #43, nor as retarded. His poll numbers are down, but he has plenty of time to recover. Some people worry about the Koran, I worry about Conan,... the Barbarian. Ha!
    Posted on September 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm by William Doriss
  • Very interesting blog entry. The only issue I hav...
    Very interesting blog entry. The only issue I have is the fact that you are so adamant against organised religion. There is a role and place for this in modern society and a lot of great social goods have come from it. It is true that some social evils have also come as well but this is true of ANY organization that is lead by people this side of heaven.
    The problem is not religion and the problem is not GOD. The problem is with our sinful human nature. Yes, I used the "S" word.
    Norm, you love books and the BIBLE is a great book - actually 66 books written over a period of two thousand years by various writers yet it has one common thread and theme. I will get off my soap box now before I sound like a preacher, you know!
    So before you throw that BIBLE in the fire, take the time to read it and you will be amazed at the fact that it is alive with real wisdom, much needed hope and fulfilling truth.
    Posted on September 11, 2010 at 4:29 pm by Anonymous

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