Give the Holy Books a Resting Place September 26, 2010

Give the Holy Books a Resting Place

Why burn the Koran or desecrate the Bible when you can bury them with good reason?

Right now, the pages swell with moisture, the fibers separate and the chapters turn into pulpy masses. Bacteria bloom and their colonies expand; fungi flourish and their hyphae infiltrate and convert cellulose into spores. The ink runs as nematodes writhe over the surfaces, etching the words with slime and replacing the follies of dead men with the wisdom of worms. The roots of flowers and grasses will fumble downwards to embrace the decaying leaves, and the roots of trees will impale the volumes laterally. Given only a little time, the madness will be reduced to compost.

At every instant in this gradual process of degradation, the books are being improved and given greater value. And with my decision to discard the poisonous symbols of past ignorance, I became a little more free.

Side note: Does PZ Myers always wear a professorial sports jacket when he’s gardening?

(via Pharyngula)

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  • P

    …Implying you *don’t* wear a sports jacket while in the garden?
    Friendly Atheist, sure.
    But, Fashionable Atheist is just not a title I feel comfortable conferring on you anymore 😉

  • JD

    I’m surprised that quoted text wasn’t narrated in the video. Maybe that makes too much sense, two and a half minutes of some guy silently planting a flower on top books really wasn’t informative or interesting in my opinion.

  • Moky

    For some reason I am imagining the flowers smiling and laughing when he watered them.

  • Tony

    PZ always wears a sport coat. He’s a professor!

  • Peregrine

    When I first heard that PZ was going to “get rid” of his Koran, my first thought was “here we go again,” and immediately set about trying to decide whether to say something about it, or just ignore it. I’ve been kindof busy lately, so ignoring it has become a viable option.

    I figured he was going to burn it, or run it through a wood chipper, or a paper shredder, or something. Or drive a nail through it; why mess with tradition?

    Then I saw what he actually did. And about 2/3 of the way through the video, I thought “That’s it?” He didn’t destroy anything. He didn’t desecrate anything. It’s still there. Eventually, it might dissolve into an unrecognizable pulp, but that’s going to take a goddamned long time. For the time being, it’s still there. He might as well have left it at a bus stop.

    Perhaps PZ is familiar with the ancient Greek tales of “exposure”; a form of infanticide where an unwanted infant was left alone in the woods. It’s a recurring theme in Greek myths, where if a child was prophesied to overthrow their father, the father would need to find some way to get rid of the child without killing it. A notable example is Oedipus, who in addition to being exposed, also had a pin driven through his ankles.

    Of course to us, that would be a deplorable act. We would call it negligence, or abandonment. But to the ancient Greeks, it was better than murder. If you leave a child in the wilderness, exposed to the elements, and the child happens to die, to the ancient Greeks, it was a better alternative than murder. A sort of plausible deny-ability.

    These exposure myths also had a recurring theme in that the child inevitably survives, grows up, and comes back to fulfill the prophesy.

    Now, Muslims do have a cultural association with the ground, hence the whole shoe thing, but aside from that, it’s a pretty lackluster act of desecration.

    PZ didn’t destroy a Bible and a Koran. He just left them outside, exposing them to the elements, and absolving himself of any responsibility for their destruction. It’s not desecration. It’s at worst, negligence. I’ll grant him the benefit of the doubt that that particular interpretation didn’t occur to him at the time, but… come on, man! Even I thought that was a pretty boring show.

  • jose

    I’d like James Earl Jones to voice over the quote.

  • izam

    Peregrine – How is setting them in the ground to slowly decompose drastically different from setting them in a fire to burn? The only difference is that they are “exposed” at different rates. What PZ did isn’t any different than burning the books. The intention and the result are identical.

  • Finally let those old myths be laid to rest and put to some good use…as compost.

  • Catinthewall

    While the result is effectively the same whether you’re burning or burying a book, I find the symbolism behind the different acts very different.

    Burning destroys utterly and violently, it is a loud and public display, the same way religion does.

    Burying recycles it completely and peacefully, a personal act not known for crowds, and over time, nature eats away the pattern slowly the same way science has eaten away at superstition.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    I like the idea of making holy books worth something.

    The paper on both of them is very thin, plentiful and cheap, and its also a very convenient size. Here’s some things you can do with holy books:

    Smoke them! I personally use green tea, but you can use home grown tobacco or pot if you’re into that sort of thing(keep in mind tobacco is harmful and pot is illegal and socially harmful).

    Use them as toilet paper or paper towels! They’re the perfect size, and quite durable considering their thinness.

    Pet care-Your rodents will LOVE chewing on holy word of god. In addition, you can use it as litter box liner for your cats, or if you have a cage, line it with that.

    Holy books(hardback) make perfect bookends and paperweights, just drive a nail at an angle through the front cover(for a bookend) to prop it up.

    Be creative! That’s just the tip of the iceberg!

  • Alex

    PZ forgot to mix in a bit of manure. Oops, maybe thats what he buried.

  • gwen

    Alex, my thoughts exactly!!

  • J. J. Ramsey

    It makes about as much sense to use the Bible as compost on the grounds that Biblical religions are false as it does to use the Iliad as mulch because the Greek gods are mythical.

  • mark

    Am I the only one who thinks this is stupid? I receive all kinds of stupid junk in the mail every day (except Sundays and federal holidays). I am frequently handed tracts. I simply throw them away. I don’t even take the phone out of my pocket to take pictures of them.

    Setting up a camera, recording a ritualized disposal of some books, editing the recording and uploading it is going a bit overboard.

    They’re just paper and ink. They don’t have any special vibes (or chi or whatever) that will escape if they are just thrown away.

    Making a big deal about their disposal ascribes more significance to these books than they deserve.

  • Liokae

    PZ didn’t destroy a Bible and a Koran. He just left them outside, exposing them to the elements, and absolving himself of any responsibility for their destruction. It’s not desecration. It’s at worst, negligence. I’ll grant him the benefit of the doubt that that particular interpretation didn’t occur to him at the time, but… come on, man! Even I thought that was a pretty boring show.

    Did you not read the accompanying text, or his post over at his own blog? Part of the reason this was chosen is that, by this act, everything that happens to them from here is *bettering* them, ridding the world bit by bit of their poison, turning their destruction into creation. I think that’s the real symbolism, and a tremendous departure from his previous methods, one that I applaud wholeheartedly. It’s brilliant.

  • Evan

    Oh, please. He isn’t desecrating anything. He’s just trying to grow a burning bush is all. Don’t we all want our very own burning bush? Personally, I look forward to seeing the results of his sports jacket wearing gardening prowess.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    mark: “Am I the only one who thinks this is stupid?”

    Not at all, though I think we differ on the reasons for why it’s stupid. Practically speaking, the Bible is a mix of both good and bad. I doubt that the Song of Solomon is the best erotic poetry on the planet, but deriding it as mere lies and poison is a gross distortion of the facts. Some other parts of the Bible make for great soap opera, and still others are interesting as a record of humanity’s darker sides. In general, the Bible has value in about the same way that other ancient texts have value. Making a big show of disposing of such a text doesn’t say much good about the one disposing of it.

    Sorry, Mr. Mehta, but you dropped the ball on this one. Not only is this not friendly, but you don’t have the excuse of it being either good-natured needling or truth-telling.

  • Alex

    JJ I think you are really missing the point. This is about being able to speak freely without the threat of violence or being sanctioned. If religions did not possess that special privilege it seems to hold over society and of being immuned from critical review then there would be no need for any sort of freedom of speech demonstrations.

  • Did anyone else notice how nice that soil is!? Whatever he wears to garden, he’s either really diligent or very very lucky. It can take years to get dirt that looks that good and even then you sometimes never make it.

    Sorry, I know that this isn’t the point of the video, it’s just… that’s some really nice soil.

  • AxeGrrl

    Am I the only one who got the initial impression that that wasn’t water that was being sprayed on the buried books?

    As I was watching it, I thought ‘hmm, this isn’t up to Myers’ usual level of blasphemy‘…..

    I watched it a couple of times, listening intently for the sound of a zipper being unzipped (didn’t hear it).

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Alex: “JJ I think you are really missing the point. This is about being able to speak freely without the threat of violence or being sanctioned.”

    Myers is (I hope) perfectly capable of making a protest that doesn’t involve saying asinine things like, “At every instant in this gradual process of degradation, the books are being improved and given greater value.”

  • I think it’s important we don’t whitewash the symbolism.

    PZ Myers destroyed a Bible and a Koran. Videotaped the act. Put it on the Internet.

    But unlike recent Koran burnings, this was no act of hatred and prejudice toward other people. This was a peaceful dissent with ideas, ideas that cause real suffering in the world.

    And it was a protest of the cowardly demand by our President and other supposedly liberal world leaders that we honor the horrific.

    As a gardener, I can pass on that this soil had a very high content of compost, almost certainly composted manure. Brings a tear to any planter’s heart. And the method of watering seemed clearly intended to be ambiguous.

    The result will be healthy and lovely soil and flowers. Hate will give way to peace and beauty.

    I was deeply moved by his last sentence “And with my decision to discard the poisonous symbols of past ignorance, I became a little more free.”

    We all are. Thank you, PZ. Well done.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Bo Gardiner:

    I think it’s important we don’t whitewash the symbolism.

    You’re right. It’s important that we don’t whitewash that PZ Myers not only gave a hearty “fuck you” to myths and genocide, but extended the same “fuck you” to exhortations to love one’s neighbor and even, somewhat surprisingly, a celebration of sexuality. It’s important that we don’t whitewash that a book that is as much a mixed bag as many ancient texts was misleadingly and one-dimensionally dismissed as pure evil.

  • Maliknant

    All he left out was the wrapping cloth.

    So much for that controversy. Next.

  • fiddler

    @jj
    1) The myths and genocides aren’t anywhere near equal to the “love thy neighbour” crap later on.
    2) Telling people to do what they already will (like care for others) or they’ll burn in hell is repugnant, whether or not you personally love it.

    The only point you seem to raise is … offended troll is offended…

  • Maliknant

    J. J. Ramsey Says:

    It makes about as much sense to use the Bible as compost on the grounds that Biblical religions are false as it does to use the Iliad as mulch because the Greek gods are mythical.

    If human beings were being denied all sorts of human rights, being mutilated, and killed due to a large segment of the population believing that the Iliad was true, it’d be right there between those other two works of toxic fiction.

    Do you not see the difference?

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Maliknant:

    If human beings were being denied all sorts of human rights, being mutilated, and killed due to a large segment of the population believing that the Iliad was true, it’d be right there between those other two works of toxic fiction.

    In other words, you’d be willing to overlook the value of the Iliad under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

    fiddler:

    The myths and genocides aren’t anywhere near equal to the ‘love thy neighbour’ crap later on.

    It’s prominent enough in both testaments (especially when one counts the exhortations toward fair treatment of the poor in with the neighborly love stuff) that writing as if the Bible only contained lies and genocide is incredibly dishonest.

    Telling people to do what they already will (like care for others) or they’ll burn in hell is repugnant

    That is a complete non sequitur. It’s still dishonest to treat the Bible as pure evil.

    The only point you seem to raise is … offended troll is offended…

    If by “offended troll is offended,” you mean that I find it out of line that both the good and bad in a work are given the same treatment, with the good being ignored, then I guess so.

  • p.s.

    Well i suppose they make good fertilizer depending on how the paper is made…
    But this action and his blog post seem to be a bit conflicting:

    We should not forget the barbarous past (and barbarous present), but these horrors belong in libraries and museums, they should be taught as vile mistakes in our schools, but we should not be expected to honor them. The proper perspective is to repudiate them.

    Yes, they should be taught, understood, and debunked. They are an interesting slice of history, like any ancient work. Personally, I think these sensationalist acts give religious books too much importance and do nothing to take away that sense of importance from other people.

    So I guess I’m with JJ on this. If you ignore all the good parts of a book, you are just as guilty of cherry picking as those who ignore the bad parts.

  • Oh JJ, don’t be silly. Where does anyone say that every word in these texts is pure evil? That would be dishonest to say that, sure… and no one says it. Many of us have noted that the cut-and-pasted Jefferson Bible would have been a moral book. Unfortunately, that’s not the book we have. I’m sure there’s some nice sentiments in Mein Kampf, but that doesn’t mean it must be respected.

    As PZ says, these books have historical significance and belong in museums and libraries… but not on personal bookshelves as guides to living, or as sacred objects.

    Feel free to fertilize your garden with one of our books if it makes you feel better. You’ve overlooked the point that we should feel free to do so.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    fiddler:

    Where does anyone say that every word in these texts is pure evil?

    When the Bible is described in broad-brush terms as “lies”, “inexcusable bunkum,” “awful, terrible, ridiculous” and “follies of dead men,” and compared with slave shackles, torture instruments, and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I think it’s safe to say that it is being simplistically portrayed as evil.

    As PZ says, these books have historical significance and belong in museums and libraries… but not on personal bookshelves as guides to living, or as sacred objects.

    I agree that the Bible should no more be treated as sacred as the Iliad. As a guide to living, well, I’d take an approach similar to Thomas Jefferson’s, though I’d avoid the scissor work and leave the stories of slaughter as reminders of how depraved and callous we can be.

    As for the idea that it is somehow wrong to leave holy books on one’s personal bookshelves “because they were precious to others, because they shaped our history, because they are part of our culture,” that it is equivalent to mounting “some slave shackles on our walls,” I reject such an idea as dangerously anti-intellectual.

  • I’d like to think PZ meyers always wheres his professor-esq sports jacket, no matter if its in the shower, the shores of Tahiti or under a space suit at a Nasa camp.

  • You blatantly misrepresent our statements then attack your own constructed misrepresentations as dishonest. There is nothing remotely “intellectual” about that.

  • p.s.

    (sorry to jump into this argument, but this bothers me, so i’m throwing in my 2 cents)
    Bo, JJ was directly quoting PZ. Where did he misrepresent anyone?

    *sigh* well jj, I agree with you. This whole thing is ridiculous. It’s just a book, and it should be treated like a book. If you don’t like it, write a review/another book. All this ritualistic destruction of books gives them waaay more physical meaning than they should have.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Bo Gardiner:

    You blatantly misrepresent our statements

    Well, I accidentally attributed your words to fiddler. My mistake.

    However, it is obvious that Myers described the Bible in uniformly negative terms and compared it to another book commonly regarded as purely evil. Further, both you and Myers said that the books don’t belong on personal bookshelves. That’s clear enough from both of your words.

  • fiddler

    @jj
    “That is a complete non sequitur. It’s still dishonest to treat the Bible as pure evil.”

    No it isn’t. There is a punsihment promised for not doing right. Therefore it isn’t a passage of goodness or rightness, but is instead an act of threatening. Even the “good” parts of the bible and qu’ran are from ugly mental processes and don’t deserve reverence or protection.

    A racist book of diatribes that occasionally exhorts people to save drowning kittens or loan a neighbour a cup of sugar is no less a racist book of diatribes for having the occasional “good” verse.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    fiddler:

    Even the “good” parts of the bible and qu’ran are from ugly mental processes

    First, if you are going to make a claim like that, you need to show evidence. For example, you’d have to demonstrate that the Song of Solomon is “from ugly mental processes.” Second, you are committing the genetic fallacy; good things are still good regardless of source.

    Go read the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes, and then tell me that they’d be improved by becoming worm food.

  • I’m a little puzzled by this as a form of desecration. It may be because of my Jewish upbringing. But in Judaism if a holy book has been damaged beyond useability burying it is considered a respectful form of disposal (although generally an out of the way spot in a graveyard is used). I guess that shows how much cultural context matters for the same actions.

  • Maliknant

    Maliknant:
    If human beings were being denied all sorts of human rights, being mutilated, and killed due to a large segment of the population believing that the Iliad was true, it’d be right there between those other two works of toxic fiction.

    J. J. Ramsey Says:

    In other words, you’d be willing to overlook the value of the Iliad under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

    Hey! Now you’re getting it! I value human life and human rights more highly than some saucy poems or a cracking adventure story. Crazy, right?

    All this noise about losing the babble or the Iliad is just that anyway: noise. Nothing PZ did is going to stop anyone from reading any book they want to. Those books are absolutely everywhere, including free on the Net. You couldn’t suppress them if you tried. PZ just got tired of having that poison take up space in his personal library.

    JJ:
    Do you know what you should do? Move to Iran to enlighten them about the glories of Xtianity and the babble. Take plenty of copies. And tell everyone you meet how wonderful it all is. They’ll be sure to embrace you with their hearts full of love. They’d have to; they all follow one of those holy books you think so much of. I hear that one has some lovely poems too.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Maliknant:

    I value human life and human rights more highly than some saucy poems or a cracking adventure story.

    Right, because burying an Iliad would really be helpful in furthering human rights. Please.

    Do you know what you should do? Move to Iran to enlighten them about the glories of Xtianity and the babble.

    Ah, yes, the old bad move of mistaking partial defense for support, even though earlier posts of mine compared the Bible to a book of Greek myth and pointed out that the Bible is a mix of good and bad.

  • Hitch

    The notion here is not good and bad parts of any book. You can still use a book as mulch that you think has only awesome content.

    The problem to address is this notion of “holiness” or “sacred” or “this book matters more”.

    Using “holy” books as mulch makes the case that people are by no means obliged to accept this notion of holiness, and all the attempts to enforce respect for that notion of “sacred” by believers.

    Many advances of society had to go exactly through the sacred. People today are still killed simply for not respecting the sacred.

    There is nothing unfriendly about having the opinion that the sacred is an invalid notion and then act in a way that is OK for any book and ones personal property.

    So yes, burying a book to articulate the freedom to express does help create a society where this is more normal and less a subject of retriburtion.

    After all in many parts of the world blapshemy is still on the law-books, even worse there is both state and vigilante justice that is violent, and murderous on the matter.

    And by that very token it does relate to human rights. Namely the right to be safe from harm and fear for merely having an opinion.

    If a book was the best book ever written but people got killed for “disrepecting” it, we have to counter that latter notion. Bodily safety is a pre-condition for the market-place of ideas, not a conditional to some ideas.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Hitch:

    The notion here is not good and bad parts of any book.

    You’d be right … if only Myers hadn’t made repeated comments about the content of the book and used them as a rationale for burying it.

  • muggle

    All that bullshit should make excellent fertilizer! Only critique I have is that he should have planted pansies.