Archive for September, 2010

Burning books – symbolic or ridiculous?


I know this is really more of a mummy blog, but I wanted to write about this…

I was on my way to the supermarket this morning listening to a random radio show on a random channel (something BBC, not sure what as it was left on by Hubby) and it was various members of the public commenting on a current news story. I was getting more and more shocked before they recapped the news story and my jaw hit the floor.

I should probably preface this post by saying that I am not religious. I am an atheist but more relevantly, organised religion makes me uncomfortable. This quote from the film ‘Dogma’ sums up my feelings pretty well…I have no issues with the ideas other people have about higher powers or life after death, it’s when it becomes an organised belief structure and people start thinking their ideas are the right ones and everyone else is wrong.

Anyway, before I get into a huge debate (which I tend to), I’ll skip ahead a little and warn you that despite current appearances, this post isn’t going to be about religion…or maybe it’s about something that comes closest to being my religion…confused yet?!

So, I’m listening to the radio, in shock that some religious guy thinks burning another religion’s important book is a good idea. Quite obviously it’s not, and I think most of the commenters thought he was wrong, but one comment really made me think. I don’t remember it exactly, but someone said that if he wants to burn this book, he can…it’s ridiculous and pointless but at the end of the day, it’s just a book.

I actually think she had a point…technically speaking it is JUST a book….just a few hundred pieces of paper held together with a spine and a cover. On the other hand, I disagree completely. Vehemently in fact. The very idea of burning books makes me shudder, and frightens me in a way that isn’t entirely rational. I know I have a thing about books – I have shelves and shelves and shelves of them, in practically every room in my house, and several boxes of them in the loft, and I’ve recently begrudgingly given away eight large boxes of them to charity, and I am still surrounded by books. And I’m not the sort of person who can fold down a corner of a page or write my name in the front. I get edgy when people put my books down spread open (the spine could get damaged), or use them as coasters. All this despite loving second hand, well-read books with random notes from previous readers tucked inside. So I know I’m biased in favour of protecting the book…but still, I do feel that burning books is wrong.

The thing about books is that they contain things. Words. Thoughts. Ideas. And we’re not talking about someone destroying a book by accidentally dropping it in the bath; burning is symbolic. Hell, even shredding would be symbolic in this case. Destroying a book because of what it contains can never be right, because it’s not just destroying the paper it’s printed on, it’s saying that the words themselves ought not to be written, that they are so wrong that they should be destroyed.

That is censorship.

Don’t write anything I don’t agree with or I will destroy it, because what I think is right so everything else is wrong.

I don’t understand how anyone could be so arrogant as to think that way. The written word is precious. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything that’s written, but I do feel that it has value. At the very least it helps paint a picture (together with other books and other historical sources) of the time it was written in. It gives us an insight into the mind of the author and the minds of the people who agree with it…those who follow its teachings if it is a religious or political book. Isn’t it always a good idea to try to understand other cultures and belief systems? Because to me, destroying their words isn’t that many steps away from wanting to destroy their culture.

Burning a book in your own back garden with no witnesses and not telling anyone would, I agree, be faintly ridiculous, but to do it in front of anyone, to shout it out, is to say you are symbolically destroying the words, not just the paper.

Anyone else agree with me? Or the lady on the radio? Just burning paper? Or burning ideas?

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