What dismays me most about the circus show of news in the U.S. these past couple of weeks, with the Beckapalooza and the hoo-ha over the Manhattan Islamic Center/"Ground Zero Mosque" and the planned Burning of the Qu'ran, is how little the various parties involved seem to think of their belief systems.
Is Christianity really under any serious (or even non-serious) threat in the U.S.A., especially from a moderate-minded president who just managed to pass a watered-down health-care bill? Are American ideals and patriotism so fragile that they cannot withstand someone constructing a building a few minutes' walk from where the Twin Towers used to stand? Is the supposed creator of the Universe so thin-skinned that it can't handle a nutbar pastor/furniture salesman destroying copies of its book?
Strong philosophies would respond to these "affronts" with minimal, if any, concern. The religious and moral landscape of the U.S. has changed often, and sometimes radically, in that country's 234 years. But its bold experiment in building a free and diverse society has survived, and flourished. Neither the Manhattan attack of 9/11 nor the building of Cordoba House near where it happened should be able to usurp that. And would Islam not be a strong and durable religion if its adherents were easily able to brush off a silly stunt in Florida by saying, "Allah is too great to be bothered with that"?
(Okay, maybe the Tea Partiers do have something to worry about, but I don't think that the country their Founding Fathers envisaged is what's endangered.)
On the other hand, if a religion or a socio-political structure can't stand up to contrary ideas or blasphemies from non-adherents, I can't see how it should demand any respect at all.
Of course, you're right, Derek: People who are confident and serious about their philosophies/religions/world-views/whatever do not worry every time they are challenged. I am a Christian and do not have conniption fits anytime I read contrary thoughts posted by someone such as yourself. Some are clearly overreacting to the planned mosque near Ground Zero.
However, I think you're painting the wrong side as the "too-easily-offended party." Yes, many of us think that the respectful thing to do would be to not build it so close to GZ, but we're not bombing anything, rioting, nor advocating misuse of zoning laws, etc., to keep this "cultural center" from being built.
I think that the burning of Korans is insensitive, uncalled for, unnecessary and, ultimately, un-Christian, but that appears to the the worst of the worst, as far as reactions go.
Instead, we are all being chided to not do this (and it should NOT be done) because many Muslims (though not all, obviously) throughout the world will riot, step up their attacks against their perceived enemies, blow crap up, burn our flag, etc.
So, really, don't you have a double-standard in this area? I mean, you expect N. American Christians to chill out & take the high road (as we should), yet how high are you placing the bar for those who might be offended?
It seems to me that most people give radical Islam a pass in this area: "Of course you're going to be so offended that you freak out and harm yourselves and others; but we don't expect any better of you, so we'll just have to do our best to not offend you."
Is that a fair criticism of your point?
I follow your blog and do quite enjoy it, even when I disagree with the point you're making.
Derek, maybe my criticism of the Muslim rioters wasn't clear enough, but I'm tarring them with the same brush—more thickly, I hope—so it seems I agree with you. Their destruction and threats of death are the worst specimens of the kind of reaction I'm talking about. And I think it's ridiculous that a fear of violence should stifle what people say about topics on which they have potentially controversial opinions.
As an unrelated but illustrative example, back in the '60s some religious groups in the U.S. burned Beatles records after John Lennon's infamous "bigger than Jesus" comment. I think those bonfires were silly and pointless. But Beatlemaniacs didn't riot or threaten anybody with death in retaliation either (at least as far as I know!).
But there's another side too. Six months ago, there were bricks thrown through windows, other vandalism, and death threats made against legislators during the U.S. health care reform debate. Some Tea Party rallies, and protests against the Cordoba House in Manhattan, have included (thankfully few) threats of violence themselves ("We came unarmed—this time"). They certainly are full of epithets and straight-ahead falsehoods.
Riots are not debate, and neither are threats, slurs, and lies. Why engage in such behaviour unless your belief system feels fragile and in need of desperate defence? That's my point.
Here are a couple of other perspectives on the book burning specifically.