I had originally decided to keep my mouth shut on the Quran burning controversy until I came across an articel by Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington entitled "Burning the Quran is a Bad Idea and a Sin", which you can read here.
I can certainly understand arguments to the effect that burning Qurans publicly might be a bad idea in the sense that it could lead to violent backlashes against Americans abroad. I don't necessarily agree with this argument, but I can at least understand it. My thinking is that if a huge group of people is going to be riled up to commit murder and terrorism because their holy book was burned, then this only demonstrates the degree to which they have a problem. It is the same stupid argument from Regensburg: the Pope says Islam is violent and Muslims react violently against the accusation - and it is the Pope who has a problem with intolerance!
But to say that burning the Quran is a sin? A sin, really? On what grounds does Msgr. Pope suggest that burning the Quran may be "sinful'? On the grounds that, to quote his article, "Intentionally giving offense is wrong – I do not deny that there are problems in the Islamic world. But I also know that it is wrong to intentionally and grievously give offense to the religious traditions of others." So it is wrong to intentionally give offense to the religious traditions of others, according to Msgr. Pope.
This is troublesome to me because it seems that the entire religious tradition of Christianity is one that offends and gives scandal to those of other faiths; St. Peter calls Christ a "rock of offense" and a "stone of stumbling" (1 Pet. 2:8). How can we avoid giving offense to other religious traditions if we preach the Gospel message that Christ is the only way to salvation, that "there is no under name under heaven given whereby men might be saved? (Acts 4:12). How can Muslims, Buddhists and all the other pagans not be offended if we really believe and teach the words of Christ, Who said, "Amen, amen, I say to you: He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold but climbeth up another way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 1:10); yes, this means that Christians believe that you Muslims and Hindus, if you are trying to attain salvation in any other manner other than through Christ and His Church, you are a "thief and a robber" and your holy men are nothing other than false prophets.
In short, Christianity, by its exclusivity and its demand of universal allegiance, puts itself into a state of permanent antagonism with the world and with the false religions of the world, notwithstanding whatever John XXIII might have personally thought on the matter. We have it from the words of Sacred Scripture and of our Divine Saviour:
Wonder not, brethren, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)
If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15:18-19)
Know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world becometh an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
The Church is in a state of emnity with the world, and the world with it. Therefore, it is inescapable that the Truth will be offensive to the world. Now, I know that saying that the message of the Gospel will give offense if different from the offense giving from a Quran burning. Granted. But the question we are looking at it whether or not it is a sin to give offense, regardless of what the offense is over. Clearly, since Christianity's very existence presumes that offense will be given to the religions of non-believers, we cannot maintain that it is always a sin to offend people. We also must acknowledge that the default relation between the Church and the world is one of antagonism and enmity; in fact, it is a life or death struggle. It is not one of harmonious relation and mutual enrichment; when the world creeps in, the Church weakens and vice versa.
So it is not wrong to give offense, especially if the offense has to do with the Truth of the Gospel. But what about Msgr. Pope's assertiont hat giving offense to the religious traditions of others in particular is wrong? I guess someone better tell that to Gideon when he smashed the altar of Baal, to the offense and consternation of his neighbors (see here); somebody had better chastize King Jehu for slaying the worshipers of Baal and turning their temple into a latrine; I guess Elijah the prophet was wrong to intentionally mock and tease the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, insulting their false god for being unable to answer their prayers. What of St. Boniface's intolerant destruction of the sacred tree of the Germans? What of St. Benedict, who destroyed a pagan temple to Apollo that was still being frequented by worshipers of the heathen god? Shall we say the founder of western monasticism was committing a sin to so offend the followers of Apollo by destroying their shrine? Or shall we accuse Pope St. Gregory the Great of intolerance and sin when he commands Augustine to destroy the idols of the pagan Angli, though allowing him to retain the structure (here)? What of the greatest of all the missionary saints, holy Patrick of Ireland, who smashed the great idol of Crom Dubh with a hammer and destroyed the shrine of the demon, to the anger of the Irish pagans? Surely Patrick would not have acted so hastily if he would have had the benefit of reading some of our post-Conciliar literature! Well, you get the point; throughout Church history there are so many examples of saints and holy persons destroying the temples and idols of the heathens, even to their great offense, that we could say that the consensus of tradition outweighs the words of Msgr. Pope, unless the Monsignor will assert that Gideon, Elijah, Jehu, Boniface, Gregory, Patrick Benedict and all the saints acted sinfully and errantly in "intentionally giving offense to the religious traditions" of the pagans by destroying their shrines and idols.
Even book burning specifically has been given at least implicit sanction by the Scriptures and explicit sanction by the papacy. If we look to the book of Acts, we read the following:
And many of them that believed came, confessing and declaring their deeds. And many of them who had followed curious arts brought together their books and burnt them before all. And, counting the price of them, they found the money to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and was confirmed. (Acts 19:18-20).
The message here is that some "religious texts" are worthy only to be burned. Somebody might object that here, it was not Christians burning the books of another religious group but rather converts burning their own books. I don't see this makes much of a difference; would the Islamic world be any less upset if Pastor Jones had been a Christian convert from Islam?
Furthermore, if burning the books of other religious groups were always bad, how could Pope St. Pius X command that Protestant Bibles be burned? In the Catechism of St. Pius X, we see the following articles:
32 Q. What should a Christian do who has been given a Bible by a Protestant or by an agent of the Protestants?
A. A Christian to whom a Bible has been offered by a Protestant or an agent of the Protestants should reject it with disgust, because it is forbidden by the Church. If it was accepted by inadvertence, it must be burnt as soon as possible or handed in to the Parish Priest.
33 Q. Why does the Church forbid Protestant Bibles?
A. The Church forbids Protestant Bibles because, either they have been altered and contain errors, or not having her approbation and footnotes explaining the obscure meanings, they may be harmful to the Faith. It is for that same reason that the Church even forbids translations of the Holy Scriptures already approved by her which have been reprinted without the footnotes approved by her.
Note that the reason St. Pius X approves the burning of Protestant Bibles is because they contain things that may be 'harmful tot he Faith." If this applies to a Protestant edition of the Sacred Scriptures, how much more would it apply to the Quran?
Msgr. Pope goes on to say that burning the Quran is a scandal because it will lead others to sin, meaning the Muslims, who will be so aroused to anger by the Quran burning that they will commit the sin of anger. Notice, however, that like the liberal media, Msgr. Pope places all the blame for the potential Muslim backlash not on Muslims, but on Pastor Jones. He says:
"Knowing that there are violent tendencies in sectors of Islam, it is wrong to inflame those tendencies and draw others to anger and violence. In effect Pastor Jones is tempting others to sin. He may have a right to do this but it is not necessary for him to do this. This compounds the sinfulness of the planned book burning. It is also wrong to endanger the lives of others by reckless behavior. It is a strong likelihood that hundreds, possibly thousands may die if rioting occurs. It is easy for us to say, “Well they shouldn’t get so worked up about it….see the problem is theirs.” That is a debate for another time. But this action is sure to inflame passions."
How absurd! He admits freely that "thousands may die" in Islamic rioting, but if we question whether this may perhaps be a problem not with Pastor Jones but with Islam, Msgr. Pope brushes us aside by saying "That is a debate for another time." That's right! If Muslims threaten to riot and slay thousands, it is our problem, not theirs. We need to be more sensitive.
But let's go back to this issue of scandal. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that scandal consists not simply in leading one to sin, but in "something less rightly done or said, that occasions another's spiritual downfall" (STh II-II, Q. 43 Art. 1). Burning the Quran is a way of declaring that the book is full of falsehoods and is not worthy of the prestige Muslims assign to it, which is the truth. This is what Muslims need to hear; remember, these false religions are leading souls to hell daily and we have a duty to tell them the truth, even if that truth gives offense regarding their false religion. If anything, it would be scandalous to allow Muslims to go ahead believing that their book is full of valuable spiritual insights when in reality it is a Satanic deception. I would say that to not destroy the Quran when one has the means is scandalous.
We should also remember that scandal means one if led to spiritual ruin by the sin of another. So, to say that scandal occurs when our behavior leads another to sin is only a half-truth. Properly speaking, the sin of scandal occurs only when our sin leads another to sin. St. Thomas tells us that scandal can be of two kinds: active or passive. Active scandal occurs when one's sin leads another to sin. But passive scandal occurs when one is scandalized and led into sin by something other than sin. St. Thomas says that this can even occur with regards to a good deed:
Scandal is of two kinds, passive scandal in the person scandalized, and active scandal in the person who gives scandal, and so occasions a spiritual downfall. Accordingly passive scandal is always a sin in the person scandalized; for he is not scandalized except in so far as he succumbs to a spiritual downfall, and that is a sin. Yet there can be passive scandal, without sin on the part of the person whose action has occasioned the scandal, as for instance, when a person is scandalized at another's good deed. In like manner active scandal is always a sin in the person who gives scandal, since either what he does is a sin, or if it only have the appearance of sin, it should always be left undone out of that love for our neighbor which binds each one to be solicitous for his neighbor's spiritual welfare; so that if he persist in doing it he acts against charity (STh, II-II. Q. 43. Art. 2).
St. Thomas recognizes here that though sin may certainly scandalize (active scandal), it is possible for another to be scandalized and led into sin by something that is not sinful; Thomas gives the example of a good deed. In such a case (passive scandal), Thomas says that the one who causes the scandal is not guilty of the sin of scandal since the scandalizing action was not immoral. So, when the men of Gideon's village were outraged at him for destroying the idol of Baal, so angry that they wanted to kill him, it was not Gideon who was guilty of giving scandal but the Baal worshipers who were guilty of being scandalized by the truth.
If it is not objectively wrong to destroy Qurans (and based on what we have reviewed above from the Scriptures, the lives of the saints and the words of Pius X, there is no way it could be), then we must conclude that the ire aroused by the destruction of these books cannot be imputed to those Christians who burn them, but only to those Muslims who react hostilely to the burning of their false scriptures. I would go so far as to say that burning Qurans is a prudent thing to do (since the book is full of lies and blasphemies and leads souls to damnation) and that those Muslims who are angered at the burning of their book are actually guilty of sin.
We have to lose this softness of paganism and false religions: these religious systems hold people in spiritual (and sometimes political) bondage. They lead souls to hell. Mohammed is a false prophet, and to the degree that Mohammed was inspired he was inspired by a demon to mock and ape the true Faith. Am I saying we all need to go out and burn Qurans? That's up to you; if some fell into my hands I would probably destroy them, just like I do when I get a hold of a Book of Mormon or a New Kingdom version of the Bible (the Jehovah's Witnesses Bible). But let's not get all outraged with the liberal media about a Pastor who rightfully wants to make a stand against Islam, saying stupid things like Quran burning is a "sin." The Quran is an evil book and doesn't deserve respect. Period.
Please click here for Athanasius' post on the same subject.