Fahrenheit 451: A Literary Global Warming

Because the First Amendment gives Florida’s Reverend Terry Jones the right to burn Qur’ans, it should, in the same vein, allow me to refer to him and those of his ilk as “bigoted, hate-filled, publicity-seeking scoundrels.”

This was the thought running through my mind as I left on a business trip before September 11, the day the threatened Qur’an burning was to take place. For whatever reasons, Jones did not strike a match, evidently satisfied with the emotions he had whipped up on both sides of the issue from Florida to Afghanistan.

I don’t really have an interest in thinking further about Jones, or, for that matter, ubiquitous pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). But my calling them both “bigoted, hate-filled, publicity-seeking scoundrels”—if I were to do so—raises some interesting questions concerning the careless handling of the powerful First Amendment.

Important to consider is that whatever is actually in the hearts of the pastors—which I am no more privy to than I am to the mind of God (gods, spirits, the divine indifference of the Universe)—would I be furthering any good or useful intention by calling them “bigoted, hate-filled, publicity-seeking scoundrels?”

To paraphrase the tag line of the old joke about the dog, should I call them “bigoted, hate-filled, publicity-seeking scoundrels” because I can, or should other considerations and constraints be self-imposed upon my freewheeling invocation of the First Amendment?

When the reverends turn deaf ears, would it at least make me feel better to label them “bigoted, hate-filled, publicity-seeking scoundrels?”

Or, is it never best to see how far the bar can be lowered, and therefore, when all is said and done, have to admit one was suckered into using the tactics of “bigoted, hate-filled, publicity-seeking scoundrels,” allowing them to win—game, set, and match?

Therefore, I will abjure name-calling at this time. That feels better.

As to book-burning, it has been around since there have been books: the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, Egypt; the burning of books and burying of scholars under China’s Qin Dynasty; Nazi conflagrations; and Muslims staging worldwide burnings of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in 1989. No age or country is immune.

Yet, knowledge inevitably emerges from the ashes. Much better than burning an unread Qur’an would be to buy a few in paperback, and read them together with the congregation. See what’s inside the covers—what’s more to cherish than burn.

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