BAPTISM BY FIRE

NewYorkSocietyForTheSuppressionOfVice

If you’ve been following the excerpts from BAD FOR YOU at Tor.com, you might recall the name Anthony Comstock and the committee he founded back in 1873, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. That’s the group’s seal directly above, and the burning books in the picture should give you some idea of his approach toward the literature which he judged immoral. Reportedly, Comstock was responsible for the frying of over 15 tons of books, printing plates and photographs during the time he oversaw the organization. But book burning didn’t start with old Comstock and it certainly didn’t end with the final demise of the group in 1950. In fact, the year the committee disappeared fell right smack in the middle of a feverish period of torching, documented in today’s BFY Tor.com excerpt: the Comic Burning map, which highlights the hot spots of comic incineration in the U.S. from 1945-55.

Not surprising, religious leaders were some of the most vocal opponents to comics at the time – much as they have been against the Harry Potter books in more recent years. For instance, in 1949 a collection of crime comics were gathered by girl scouts in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and then handed over to students at St. Mary’s Catholic high school. “Following a script by the parish pastor, Rev. Theon Schoen,” David Hajdu writes in The Ten Cent Plague (a terrific book that served as source material for BFY’s map), “the students conducted a mock trial of four comic-book characters, portrayed by upperclassmen who pleaded guilty to ‘leading young people astray and building up false conceptions in the minds of youth.’” Following the trial, the great comic book campfire was set ablaze and Rev. Schoen “led the assembled group of more than four hundred students from St. Mary’s elementary and high schools in a…pledge to ‘neither read nor purchase objectionable publications and to stay away from retail establishments where such are sold.’”

While it might not seem unexpected that the Catholic Church would have some involvement with book burning, here at BAD FOR YOU we can’t help wondering how many readers are aware of the Church’s history of setting fire to copies of THE BIBLE!!! It sure shocked us when we found out that for centuries, the Bible has been a red-hot reminder of how books deemed unsuitable for burning can shift, depending on the winds of change, to become the fuel for censors’ bonfires. If one steps back to take in the big picture though, it’s easy to see how the smoldering smoke from these glowing flames have a way of blowing back into the faces of the folks who originally set them, illuminating a certain hypocrisy inherent in any act of book burning.

Hmm, have we stretched that metaphor a bit too far? Probably, so how about we just prove our point with a timely time line about the twisted logic of torching, which we have titled…

BURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY

1244
Before the Catholic Church started burning Bibles, the Pope warmed up with Talmud scrolls (a Jewish sacred text). Only four years earlier, the Talmud was put on trial in Paris for “being harmful to Christian society.” The text was declared guilty and condemned by the court of King Louis IX. Twenty-four cartloads of scrolls were scorched into ash. For his efforts, Louis IX was declared a saint in 1297. Plenty more public burnings of the Talmud by Popes followed, including: Innocent IV (1243–1254), Clement IV(1256–1268), John XXII (1316–1334), Paul IV (1555–1559), Pius V (1566–1572) and Clement VIII (1592–1605).

1490s
Hebrew Bibles (i.e. the Old Testament) were burned along with other Jewish texts during the Spanish Inquisition.

1624
Martin Luther, a religious leader who broke from the Church, had his German translation of the Bible burned in Catholic-dominated regions of Germany.

1640s
In Protestant-dominated England, it was Pope and other prominent Catholics who found themselves on the other side of the bonfire – or rather, in it…at least as effigies. Along with their writings and Bibles. Since the last person was burned at the stake for heresy in 1612, the public Hangman, who usually dispensed such “justice”, had switched to burning effigies and heretical texts instead.

1731
Once again it was Burnabout time as Protestant books and Bibles were burned by the Archbishop of Salzburg as he savagely persecuted followers of Martin Luther’s breakaway Christian sect living in rural regions of the country.

1933-1945
The world’s most famous book-burners, the Nazis, torched an estimated 100 million books throughout occupied Europe, including Torah scrolls. By burning and looting libraries and censoring “un-German” publications, the Nazis tried to eliminate all traces of Jewish culture (as well as the Jewish people – six million of them were systematically murdered). In his 1821 play, Almansor, German writer Heinrich Heine referred to the burning of the Koran (the key religious text of the Muslim religion) during the Spanish Inquisition: “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” The Nazis burned Heine’s books too.

1945-46
Adolf Hitler, Germany’s Chancellor and the head of the Nazi party, had his autobiography Mein Kampf (in a sense, the “Bible” of the Third Reich) burned when Allied forces invaded Germany at the end of World War II. The Allied Control Council issued a directive for the confiscation on all media that could contribute to militarism from German libraries as part of the “denazification” movement. Over 30,000 titles were destroyed. “The representative of the Military Directorate admitted that the order was in principle no different from the Nazi book burnings.” Even to this day, there are restrictions on Mein Kampf’s availability in parts of Europe.

1956
First the Fascists in Nazi German burned books…then the Allies burned the books of Fascists…then the U.S. government burned a book titled The Mass Psychology of Fascism written by noted psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prosecuted Reich in 1954 following an investigation of his device called the “orgone accumulator” (which the government dubbed quack science). In March 1960, six more tons of Reich’s books were incinerated.

1989
The Satanic Verses by British author Salman Rushdie is published and almost immediately branded as anti-Islamic by Iranian leader the Ayatollah Khomeini. A fatwā is issued against Rushdie – essentially a death sentence for blasphemy – and the novel is burned in protest in a number of cities in the United Kingdom. The Japanese translator of the book was murdered in 1991.

2008
American troops confiscate and burn Bibles written in the Pashto and Dari languages in Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Mark Wright told CNN “such religious outreach could endanger American troops and civilians because Afghanistan is ‘devoutly Muslim country.’” Using the Bibles to try to convert Afghans to Christianity directly violates the U.S. military rules against proselytizing religion in any country.

2008 (again)
Orthodox Jewish youths set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testaments in Or Yehuda, Israel after the city’s deputy mayor calls for a bonfire of the missionary-distributed material. The burning is staged next to the town’s synagogue. The deputy mayor said that “he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a commandment to burn materials that urge Jews to convert.”

2010
More modern variations of the original King James version of the Bible (which, it should be noted, is itself a translation of Greek and Latin texts), were originally planned to be set ablaze on Halloween 2009 by The Amazing Grace Baptist Church of Canton, North Carolina, headed by Pastor Marc Grizzard. But destruction of the so-called heretical texts had to be postponed until this later date due to protests, a state environmental protection law against open burning…and rain.

2011
A copy of the Koran is burned by Florida pastor Terry Jones in his Gainesville church and condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At lease 30 people are killed following protests in Afghanistan. Among the murdered were United Nations Assistance Mission employees, who were shot and decapitated (though not burned).

 

 

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