The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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Book Burning

The book is both the symbol and the main conveyor of rational thinking. Book burning is rooted in the Christian pysche. We find reference to book burning as early as the time of the apostles. Given below is how, according to Luke, some new Christian converts joyously celebrated their conversion to Christianity:

Acts 19:18-20
Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily.

The moment Christianity came into power in the fourth century, books that do not conform to its teaching were ferociously destroyed. Around 363-364, the Christian emperor Jovian, ordered the pagan library in Antioch to be burnt, leaving the helpless citizens watching the books go up in flames. [1]

Continuing this trend, around the year 372, the Christian emperor Valens (d.378), as part of his persecution of pagans, ordered the burning of non-Christian books in Antioch. (The main target were pagan books on divination and magic but most of the books burned were mainly on liberal arts and law). Fearful of the emperor, many provinces of the eastern empire burned their own libraries to avoid his wrath.[2]

Perhaps the greatest single intellectual loss of the classical world was the destruction of the library of Alexandria. At one time, it was reputed to house about 700,000 books on subjects ranging from literature and history to science and philosophy. In the year 391, the bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus (d.412), in his quest to destroy paganism, lead a group of crazed monks and laymen, destroyed all the books in the great library.

No other great libraries were spared by the Christians. Up to the fifth century many Greco Roman cities had libraries which housed more than 100,000 books. These were all destroyed by the Christians. Pope Gregory The Great (c.540-604) was the person responsible for destroying the last collection of older Roman works in the city. [3]

When the crusaders captured Tripoli in 1109, apart from butchering the defeated Muslims, they destroyed the Banu Ammar library, at that time, the finest Muslim library in the world. About 100,000 books of Muslim learning were cast into the flames. In the sack of Constantinople in 1204, the western crusaders destroyed the last surviving copies of classical works in Europe. [4]

The Inquisition was as equally devoted to destroying books as it was in destroying heretics. In one single auto de fe at Salamanca, towards the end of the fifteenth century, around 6000 books were burned. The official reason was that these books contained Judaic errors, witchcraft and magic. Doubtless many other types of books were among those thrown into the flames. The destruction of books was persistent. At Grenada, in the early sixteenth century, a total of 24,000 books were burned at the order of Cardinal Ximinez (1436-1517). [5] Ironically, Ximinez has gone down in Christian history as a "great patron of learning." [6]

This mindless destruction of books of not confined only to Europe. Christian missionaries exported this holy culture everywhere they went. That was the case when the Spanish conquered Mexico. The Mayas, who were natives of what is now part of southern Mexico, Guatemala and British Honduras, had a highly developed culture. They had great achievements in astronomy, mathematics and the calender. Their form of writing was also the most highly developed among the natives nations of the Americas. Their knowledge, culture and science were written into codices. After the conquest, the Christian bishop of Yucatan, Diego de Landa, ordered the destruction of all extant Mayan codices in 1562. The bishop was convinced of the rightness of his actions, as we can see from what he wrote: "We found a large number of books ... and they contained nothing in which there was not to be seen superstition and lies of the devil, so we burned them all ..." Today there are only three surviving Mayan codices. The reason why archaeologists know so little about the Mayas and their history is very largely due to the work of one man in the sixteenth century: Bishop Diego de Landa. [7]

Due to all this hatred of secular books, for a period of more than one thousand years, from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries, there was not a single library in Christian Europe that had more than 10,000 books. By comparison pagan Alexandria in the fourth century had a collection of 700,000 books and Muslim Cordoba, in the tenth century, had a collection of more than half a million books. [8]

Book burning, being a Christian cultural heritage, still occurs today. [9] However, the fundamentalist have also evolved more subtle methods of handling what to them are “undesirable” books. In 1988 a group of fundamentalists filed a lawsuit challenging the right of a school in Hawkins County, Tennessee to require their children to read such “undesirable books”. The disputed books included The Diary of Anne Frank and The Wizard of Oz. The only thing the fundamentalist could see in the former book is the statement in it that all religions are equal. It is not important to them that the book should serve as an important reminder of the Jewish holocaust and the evils of racial and religious hatred. As for The Wizard of Oz, the basis of their lawsuit was that the book contradicts the teaching of the Bible which states that all witches are bad. Luckily their lawsuit was finally thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. [10] This did not deter the fundamentalists however and further lawsuits on undesirable books followed. [11]

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1.Forbes, C. "Books for the Burning"Transactions of the American Philological Society 67 (1936): p114-25
2.Beckmann, History of Pi: p80
Forbes: p114-125
3.McCabe, Social Record of Christianity: p29,32
4.Beckmann, History of Pi: p80
Robertson, History of Christianity: p176
Johnson, A History of Christianity: p246
5.Ibid: p80
6.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p562
7.Benet, The Reader's Encyclopedia: p632
von Hagen, The Ancient Sun Kingdoms of the Americas: p220-222
8.McCabe, Social Record of Christianity: p33
9.Gilbert, Casting the First Stone: p5-6
10.Reuter, published in The Straits Times (Singapore) 24th February 1988
11.Gilbert, Casting the First Stone: p69

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