When I worked at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, each morning before I went in, I’d visit this snack shop called Dave’s Table to get a cup of coffee to go. It was on the corner of Wilshire and Beverly. This was the early ’80s and I think it’s gone now. Anyway, I stopped in pretty much the same time every day, and there was another guy who would be there every day around the same time for the same thing. He was a bit past middle age, had white hair, wore thick black glasses, and rain or shine, hot or cold, it seemed he always wore white tennis shorts. He was Ray Bradbury, a writer, primarily of speculative fiction.
I guess he had an office around the corner. I never spoke to him. I wanted to, but you don’t do that in Beverly Hills. The first time I saw him in Dave’s Table, I happened to be reading one of his books, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which had just been turned into a film. What an coincidence. I was tempted to bring the book with me in the following days and ask him to sign it. But you don’t do that in Beverly Hills. It’s supposed to be like a safe haven. If you approach celebrities to ask for an autograph or even just to tell them what a big fan you are, people will give you strange looks. They’ll think that you’re a weirdo, or even worse, a tourist.
In 1966, the great French Director Francois Truffaut made a film from another of Bradbury’s novels, Fahrenheit 451. It’s about Guy Montag, a fireman who lives in a future society where all books have been banned. It’s Montage’s job to destroy them. Fahrenheit 451, he tells us, “is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.”
It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.
Guy Montag: Well, it’s a job just like any other. Good work with lots of variety. Monday, we burn Miller; Tuesday, Tolstoy; Wednesday, Walt Whitman; Friday, Faulkner; and Saturday and Sunday, Schopenhauer and Sartre. We burn them to ashes and then burn the ashes. That’s our official motto.
Burning books is a pretty radical thing to do and sometimes you need some encouragement.
The Captain: Go on, Montag, all this philosophy, let’s get rid of it. It’s even worse than the novels. Thinkers and philosophers, all of them saying exactly the same thing: “Only I am right! The others are all idiots!”
What’s wrong with books?
Guy Montag: Books make people unhappy, they make them anti-social.
Damn straight. Evil things, books.
Some months before the film of Fahrenheit 451 was released, John Lennon made his famous statement about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus. It was taken completely out of context, but an uproar was raised about it anyway. As a result, radio stations (mostly in the south) banned Beatles music and huge rallies held where young people stomped on Beatles records and Beatles merchandize were thrown into bonfires.
Which just goes to prove that stuff like burning books is really effective. Sure put an end to the Beatles, didn’t it?
In 1821, the German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine said, “Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.”
The Nazi’s started burning books in 1933. Shortly after that, they started burning Jews.
I don’t have very much interest in monotheistic religions, and there are some aspects of Islam, in particular, that I find extremely disagreeable. However, this idea to burn the Quran on Saturday is even more disagreeable, and I suspect that the most readers of this blog agree, so it’s not really necessary to list all the reasons why it’s wrong.
One thing I will point out is that in this country, Americans are free to burn almost anything they want. The problem is that sort of activity intrudes on another freedom, the one where we can read what we want and draw our own conclusions about the material. What’s needed is good judgment and an thorough understanding of the religious principles one is striving to uphold. It seems that this pastor in Florida is lacking in both those departments.
I have little patience for the national security mantra, which too often is used to promote fear and exploit certain situations. Now it has a new dimension. I also don’t believe that any religion is above being satirized or criticized. So, I have a concern, although I am not sure how real it is, that we may be entering a time when societies are coerced into certain things because of real or imagined threats to national security.
That cuts several different ways.