09 September 2010

Burning Qurans and Flying Airplanes

September 11 is coming up. This is such an interesting date, that plenty of interesting events have occurred and will occur. 9 years ago, the world watched as several planes crashed into the Twin Towers and resulted in the most catastrophic terrorist act on record. I clearly remember where I was that time: we were unloading our shipment from Guam, as we have just moved back to Manila from Guam a month ago. So we had the truck parked in front of our house, and we were unloading the boxes, when friends just called us and told us what happened.

Nine years later, interesting things still are happening. An Islamic group wants to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero, and people are protesting it. Also, a Florida pastor wants to burn Qurans during September 11, and again, people are protesting it.

It makes me think, how absurd and ridiculous the notion of religion is. Religion is one such notion that would allow people to strap bombs on to their bodies and blow themselves up, it's a notion that would allow people to agree to pilot a plane and commit suicide by flying the plane on to a target, it's a notion that would make people gather books of a certain nature and publicly burn them, it's a notion that even dictates people what kind of cells one is allowed to do research on. Religion is simply put, mind-blowing.

But let's get back to the Quran burning issue. Hillary Clinton thinks that the act is disgraceful, while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks that it is okay.

I actually side with Bloomberg on this one. I agree that it is distasteful, but that Florida pastor has every right to burn a book, whether it is the Quran or not. I value freedom of speech and individual rights, so I am fine with this pastor burning Qurans, the same way as I am fine with Andres Serrano submerging a small plastic crucifix into a container of his own urine and taking a photo of it. I am fine with writers writing novels that feature alternative accounts on supposedly holy events, such as Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ, or Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. I do so because I place a higher value in self-determination and freedom of speech, as opposed to religion and the fear of offending someone else.

Granted, I agree that burning a Quran is distasteful. Submerging a Jesus icon in urine is also distasteful. But I wouldn't want someone to dictate to me that they are indeed distasteful or not. Because this is after all a subjective matter. If we start dictating to people what we can and cannot do, then the list will never stop. Pretty soon every movement we will make will be offensive to someone out there in the universe.

Religion is such a powerful element that it can stir people to do strange and irrational things. I wonder why people still think that religion is such a vital part of their lives, when there are so many data points pointing to the contrary. Perhaps the need to believe in something supernatural is just so strong that it trumps everything else. Perhaps, in a personal Utopian world of mine, the world would be so much better if religion simply did not exist. However, as much as I would like that world, I understand that I cannot dictate that to others, and others have the freedom to believe in anything they want to believe, even if it amounts to believing in a supernatural entity.

I saw a T-shirt once saying "Science flies people to the moon, Religion flies people into buildings." I know it refers to 9/11, and to some degree, I share the sentiment. I know that science can also be malefactive (atomic bombs for example), but at least science proceeds with empirical methods. Religion on the other hand can foster radical derivatives (such as suicide bombings) and these tend to be volatile, unexpected events, a decision that was the product not of empirical systematic reasoning, but of pure dogmatic guidance. And that is something that I have issues with.

It makes me think that Karl Marx was right, when he said that Die Religion... ist das Opium des Volkes. Feed your citizens the right poison, and they'll move according to your whim.

(Mud Gate, from my Pisac Series)


  1. This is one of the reasons why I'm agnostic. IMHO, a lot, if not all religions have their dogmas and annoying little things.

    Not to mention of course, that a lot of people have died because they were "defending" their religion.

    Opium of the masses? I agree.

  2. Prabster,

    I agree. The thing is, one cannot really "test" religion and see which one is right and wrong, and if one such religion is determined to be the right one, others don't just get easily debunked, unfortunately.

    If only religion were as the sciences. We've seen certain "scientific" beliefs get debunked, such as blood-letting and phrenology, due to empirical hypothesis-testing. Religion doesn't function that way it seems.

  3. This just crossed my mind as I was reading your reply: You don't need religion to believe in God. Religion only complicates things.

  4. Prabster,

    I think it depends on your definition of "religion". One can say that "religion" means organized religion, and so yes, you don't need organized religion to believe in God. Others might say that "religion" by definition means belief in God, so that would make it contradictory to say that you don't believe in religion and yet you believe in God, if by believing in a God entity entails believing in religion.

  5. Of course, as an atheist, the Quran has no meaning for me, nor that the Bible or any other religious book. I still don't think it's okay.

    Nazis burnt books. That alone is a strong symbolism that shouldn't be ignored. I can't support that.

  6. Yes, I meant "organized religion."

    I came across sect in the Las Pinas area some years ago. They weren't a "religion" per se, and I noticed that they had their own "spiritual" practices.

    I'm using "spiritual" here because they believe in God, and have their own ways, but they aren't a religion either.

  7. Zhu,

    I agree that the issue is tricky. I am not against burning books per se, as that act is protected by one's freedom of speech. After all, one has the right to protest. However, I would be against bigotry and discrimination, and if book-burning is a form of bigotry, then I am against that form of book-burning. Of course, this is a fine line that is worth exploring, as the boundaries between freedom of speech and hate speech and harassment are often very thin.

  8. Prabster,

    Fair enough. It reminds me of people who say that they are spiritual, but not religious. I guess they mean that they don't belong to organized religion, but they still believe in some form of the supernatural.