American Values?

The picture of burned and charred Korans outraged Afghan Muslims, in fact, Muslims all over the world.  It is not difficult to understand their anger.  Sadly, the anger turned to violence and the burning conducted by American military personnel last week has resulted in a number of deaths, including more than 40 killed during protests or in suicide bombings, and six U.S. military personnel murdered.  Reportedly, the Korans were mistakenly burned, sparking violent protests across Afghanistan.  The tragedy of someone burning holy books has led to the greater tragedy of so many lives lost.  Questions raised by Muslim friends include: “How could this happen?” “Do Americans have no respect for the sacred books and symbols of others?” “Where are our American values?”  There are many others who ask these same questions.  Not only Muslims, but all people of faith should be asking these questions.

How could the importance of the Koran be explained to American personnel in Afghanistan?  Should we compare the Koran to familiar American sacred symbols, for example the Bible, a crucifix or the American flag?  Even these have lost their significance to many.  Those young military men and women have grown up in modern America where these very symbols are abused in the name of freedom.  These military personnel are part of contemporary America where they see the dishonoring of Bibles as a legitimate exercise of freedom; where religious faith and religious symbols are routinely ridiculed by comedians, talk-show hosts, media announcers and the entertainment industry; where the crucifix can be displayed in a container of urine at a public gallery as art and where the United States flag, which shrouds the bodies of their dead colleagues, is burned as an acceptable act of free expression.

It is easy to see where someone might be tempted to say “What makes the Koran different from the Bible, the crucifix or the American flag?”  Actions such as the desecration of religious books, sacred symbols and the one symbol of our nation and its unity, the flag, unfortunately are seen by too many as a protected American freedom – a value.  While we need to oppose and reject the burning of the Koran and find it offensive, we need to make the same statement when it comes to the religious symbols of everyone else.

These young military men and women bravely serving in Afghanistan and, before that in Iraq, are told they are there to defend America and American values.  At home and abroad, those American values should include respect for the deeply held religious beliefs, and the cherished books and symbols, of all people.

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7 Responses to “American Values?”

  1. Desecration will be my word for today. It will be a reminder to me that some things are sacred, not profane, and to treat sacred objects and symbols reverently. I also think of The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” So, I need to appreciate what the religious symbols of others mean to them, and in charity be respectful.

  2. Excellent post Your Eminence. You and I were thinking along similar lines as my blog post today is also on the loss of the sense that anything is sacred. Thank you for this fine reflection, I have linked to it.

  3. Tim says:

    Dear Cardinal Wuerl,
    While I deplore those who desecrate the religious symbols of Islam or any other religion, the followers of Islam must recognize the rights of visitors to Islamic countries to bring, Bibles, crucifixes, rosaries, etc. with them. Right now most Islamic countries confiscate such things and do not provide any facilities for Christians to worship while visiting or living there. I know people who have suffered because of such restrictions. It is going to be difficult to ask Americans to respect Islamic beliefs until Islam starts respecting the rights of others such as Christians and Jews. Please tell your Islamic friends to think about that.


  4. Lyd K says:

    I agree with you. No religious symbol from any religion can be burned.

  5. taad says:

    I do not recall Catholics murdering people when certain “art” was displayed, such as a crucifix in urine, or Our Lady with animal droppings put on her. There is no justification for murdering people like this. Maybe we taught our people to do these things when we permitted such art in our own country.

  6. Deacon Bob Fargo says:

    I think that for Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox it is helpful to understand that in Islam their Holy Koran, especially written in Arabic, is the direct revelation from God. The bible does not represent that for us. It makes more sense to me to compare it to the Holy Eucharist. We believe that Jesus is truly present, body and blood, sou and l divinity in the Eucharist. The outrage we would experience if someone came into our worship space and desecrated the Blessed Sacrament helps me to understand outrage the followers of Islam experienced with the desecration of their Holy Koran.

  7. Thomas Masty says:

    The Catholic church used to burn bibles that were misleading or improperly printed. The Boy Scouts teach us to burn a flag that is ready to be retired from service.

    I don’t think burning is the problem…but rather the disrespect with which the Koran’s were burned… ie with the trash.