A couple of weeks ago, I was tempted to rush into print some commentary on the controversy surrounding the avowed intention of the Christian fanatic, the Reverend Terry Jones to burn a copy of the Koran in protest on the anniversary of the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. However, in the end, I decided to refrain from commentary on this bizarre situation. And as you are no doubt aware there was a lot of press about the issue.
Now that the situation has passed, and even though there has been extensive media coverage of it, I have decided to venture to share some thoughts with you on this strange and concerning phenomenon.
Most of us, I am sure, have no great ambition to burn copies of the Koran (or the Bible, the Torah, the Diamond Sutra, the Bhagavad Ghita etc – although I must confess I have been tempted to burn a copy of the Laws of Cricket.). It would be a tasteless and insensitive thing to do. So let’s make that plain to begin with.
We largely embrace a pluralistic society where people are entitled to their various religious beliefs and respect their right to practice such beliefs. If such societies are to survive they depend on tolerance and understanding.
In this particular case, I was greatly alarmed when the President of the United States intervened, pleading that the (doubtful) Reverend Jones shouldn’t burn copies of the Koran. I am sure that if some psychotic Imam in Iran had threatened to burn a bible, there would have been no press whatsoever, let alone an intervention by the head of state. Nor would there be any great outcry from the Western bastions of Christianity.
There seems to be a disproportionate blame in this occurrence. Surely it is insensitive and provocative to burn a Koran. But how much more blameworthy is it to take human lives in retribution for such a stupid act?
I am greatly concerned at the way we “pussy-foot” around the pathetic sensitivities of religious fundamentalists. Every time we do this we are shoring up the walls of intolerance rather than help to demonstrate to them that all the citizens of the world deserve our love and forgiveness, not only those of a particular fundamentalist belief.
How insecure can a person’s faith be if they could take offence by the burning of a book? Whoever or Whatever God (Allah) may be He/She can’t be so insecure as to take umbrage at the destruction of a book? Particularly when such books have been written by fallible human beings mistakenly believing or deluding themselves they are prophets! (It is worthwhile rereading Bruno’s commentary to my last blog in this regard.)
So how are we to proceed? If some fundamentalist of whatever religious persuasion suggests that they will be offended if we eat cabbage, drive on the left-hand side of the road or play music in minor keys, shall we refrain from doing so? Should our head of state intervene to advise us to do otherwise?
In my recent blog which I titled “Is Unhappiness a Mental Illness?” I documented the symptoms that the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) purported were indicators of depression.
What if I were to generate another set of symptoms, eg.
• Intolerance of other belief systems
• Conviction of knowing the only “right” way
• A belief in magic (believing that their particular God has intervened to overturn the laws of physics in favour of His/Her believers)
• Getting personal instructions from their particular deity
• An obsession about various forms of dress, dietary requirements, and religious protocols prescribed by their particular belief system
• A predisposition to taking themselves very seriously
• A belief in a vindictive and petulant deity
• A delusion that an all-knowing, omnipotent deity needs lavish praise and unthinking obedience
• That there exists special “chosen” people on this earth
• That access to paradise can be obtained by slaughtering fellow human beings
• That issues of gender and race can render some people as inferior under their particular religious dictates
• Taking spiritual instruction from doddery old men in dresses
Now, as a learned panel of one, I am going to propose that any human being who demonstrates four or five of the above traits for more than half an hour is mentally ill. Indeed I would purport that they are suffering from Fundamentalist Affective Dysfunction Syndrome (FADS) and should be immediately offered psychological counselling. (Note I am not recommending drugs!)