This is just a pondering. It meanders a bit, and doesn’t have a clear conclusion. I’m sorry.
The burning of a symbol, whether it is religious, political, ideological, etc only holds as much power as we grant it. Those who are protesting the burning of the Quran have granted that Quran a certain amount of religious value – regardless of whether it is held by someone who feels it has that same religious value.
To my mind, the value of a symbol only goes as far as the belief that grants it that value, and we can as individuals choose NOT to grant it that value under certain circumstances. We as thinking beings choose to grant these symbols meaning. As such, in the hands of a non-believer, a symbol can simply turn into pieces of paper with ink on them. A Quran is possibly meaningless to a Christian; a Bible is a fond piece of fiction to a Taoist, so on and so forth.
Point is, I wonder if the power of the Quran, Bible, Old Testament, etc only exists when it is in my hands as a believer. It has meaning to me because I find meaning in the passages, religious, ideological, or political.
So thinking about this symbolic power, what has given the Florida zealot his massive power? Simply the fact that we’re paying attention to him. It is the fact that we choose to believe that he actually is doing something by burning some paper. If we to ignore him, choose not to grant him the attention he so clearly craves, take away the press coverage and the presidential begging and the political games – we would take away his power over us.
Of course, doing so requires a leap of faith. It requires from the faithful person the belief that their faith is stronger than the symbolism and trappings surrounding it. It challenges the faithful person to find and realize whether or not their faith is strong enough to go on WITHOUT the surrounding dogma that is used daily as a crutch to keep that person going.
You know what? Whatever your faith is, that’s a scary prospect. It means you are not going to have the easy route, the blind faith of just going on. It is however what will give your faith value.
Let us switching direction here – does the law allow the zealot down in Florida to burn the Quran? Here’s a counter question – does the law allow us to burn a Bible? An American flag? The flag of ANY country? How about a Cross? The Star of David? A statue of Buddha? How about a book? Does the law let me burn that?
It is a bit more of a trick when you swap the symbol that’s being burned, is it not? Where is the line drawn, and in whose favor?
Think of it this way – symbols have been burned for years without the type of outcry that we’re seeing now. We have argued about it in our own country, when we look at flag burning. Well here’s the thing – if someone is destroying their own property – do we have grounds to LEGALLY stop them? I don’t think we do.
However – when the person’s action infringe upon the rights of another person, then the whole game changes. Burn a flag? Go ahead! Burn it on MY property? Expect a beating. Burn a cross? Sure! Burn it on my LAWN? Now you’re not talking about freedom of speech, you’re talking about trespass and threatening action! Burn your Quran? It’s a piece of paper. Burn MY Quran – well that’s my property, and it has inherent value to me both as property and as a symbol!
As such, the factor of whether or not an action can continue lies in whether or not there’s an inherent infringement on our rights.
In the case of this Pastor – while his proposed actions may be legal – they are only legal as long as he is not infringing on someone else’s rights. In this case, there’s a pretty grey area. The truth of the matter is, we know his actions will have repercussions way out of scale compared to the action itself. That being said, if he’s solely on his own grounds, in the eyes of the law he is OK. If he were to be legally stopped, the correct question rises, what else is now legally unacceptable?
Then again, his permit for a protest was denied – and he continues to go forward. As such, if he brings into fruition a scenario that is blatantly unsafe, in this case inciting a worldwide riot – is he not therefore breaking the law? Ai ya. It is not an easy argument, nor is it simple, but perhaps legal action is called for. As a walking embodiment of an internet troll, the Pastor has proven that he probably will not listen to anything other than God himself tapping him in the chest and saying, “Sit down and shut up.”