Condemn Terry Jones for what?

What are we supposed to condemn Terry Jones for? And, while we are at it, who is the “we”? Until … Continued

What are we supposed to condemn Terry Jones for? And, while we are at it, who is the “we”? Until there is clarity about those two questions, condemning the Koran-burning pastor is little more than an exercise in smug self-righteousness which make those of us who would condemn him feel good about being better than Jones.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not the slightest bit of sympathy with his actions. Burning books is a particularly ugly act – one which reflects a level of rage and contempt not only for the books which are burned, but for ideas in general, and often for any human beings who in any way identify with, or are identified with, the books being burned. In fact, book burning has historically been a pre-cursor to burning those very people. So there is nothing good, and much that is bad, about Jones’ stunt.

Condemning Jones however, in terms which are entirely meaningless to him and to whomever supports him, is almost as meaningless. If they believe that it really is the “Christian thing to do,” then some other Christian, let alone well-intentioned Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc., telling him/them otherwise, is not going to work. Not at least if the goal is to see fewer Koran burnings.

For starters, any claim that Jones is wrong based on what is “really” Christian, simply continues Jones’ dangerous game of seeking some essential truth which, if others would only learn, the world would be okay. Even if I like that truth better than Jones,’ it’s a very dangerous game. So as satisfying as it might be to play “whose side is God on,” it’s a game which ultimately makes losers of us all.

Also, for people like Jones — people who see themselves as the keepers of the “real truth” which is missed by the “misguided masses,” condemnations from the outside simply reinforce the notion that Jones and those like him are really correct, and once again the larger world “just can’t see the real dangers which are out there”.

The real challenge is not condemning Terry Jones, though I get that a certain amount of that may have some PR value. The real challenge is developing sufficient empathy for the terror and/or belief that drive him, so that he might come to see that he can still be himself and have alternatives to burning Korans.

If condemnation is really meant as more than a form of achieving cheap grace in the face of a genuine challenge, and our real goal is a culture which addresses its fears and angers with less violence, then this is as much a moment for conversation as it is for condemnation. Having spent time in conversation with versions of Terry Jones in a variety of traditions, and admittedly always eager for more, I know that is the only way to make real progress. It’s hard, and it rarely feels good, but I know that it can work.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.