Burning Books, Burning Bibles


Pastor Marc Grizzard, of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, NC is back in the news this week, but I’m not really sure if it’s because of something he did or something that was dredged up online from a few years back and has just been regurgitated.

This week, a story in The Telegraph about Grizzard resurfaced on Facebook. But it’s from 2009, not dated 2013. I’m unable to find a contemporary reference that doesn’t refer back to the 2009 story. Mayhap it’s a hoax. But it’s fun and informative to revisit, anyway.

Back then, the Telegraph reported that Grizzard intended to burn books in his North Carolina church. Religious books in particular, especially those of a Christian nature, albeit just not his particular – and peculiar – Christian nature. Bibles, too:

Marc Grizzard, of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, says that the first King James translation of the Bible is the only true declaration of God’s word, and that all others are “satanic”.
Pastor Grizzard and 14 other members of the church plan to burn copies of the other “perversions” of Scripture on Halloween, 31 October.
The New Revised Version Bible, the American Standard Version Bible, and even the New King James Version are all pronounced to be works of the Devil by Pastor Grizzard and his followers.
Pastor Grizzard said: “I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God… for English-speaking people.

Grizzard also wanted to throw in books by Christian authors onto the flames as well:

…the pastor and his associates will be burning books by various Christian authors, as well as music of every genre.
“[We will be burning] books by a lot of different authors who we consider heretics, such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren… the list goes on and on,” Pastor Grizzard told reporters.
Mother Teresa is also on the list of Satanic authors.

Mother Teresa? Yeah – she was Catholic. Fundamentalists believe all Catholics are going to Hell. One fundie write says its because “Catholicism is a manmade religion.” Well, I thought they all were. I mean, do we have polar-bear-made religions? Spider-monkey-made religions? Dolphin-made religions? Jack-Russell-terrier-made religions? I don’t want to digress too much from the smoldering books, but this stuff is pretty wacky.

So you can’t be just any sort of Christian writer; Grizzard wants you to be one of his sort of Christian, which is apparently a pretty narrow field. Otherwise, anything you wrote is tossed into the flames (assuming the law lets them…). Which is, of course, merely a thin metaphor for burning someone at the stake, a favourite hobby of fundamentalists past.

The church actually published invitations to this book burning in 2009, writing:

Come celebrate Halloween by burning Satan’s bibles like the NIV, RSV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, etc. These are perversions of God’s Word the King James Bible.
We will also be burning Satan’s music such as country, rap, rock, pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, southern gospel, contempory Christian, jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc.
We will also be burning Satan’s popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort, Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, John McArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll, John Piper, Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart, Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham, Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joyce Myers, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa, The Pope, Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, etc.

They also served fried chicken to attendees, making it feel more festive than the rainy day really was. (One must wonder if they planned to cook the chicken over the flames of burning bibles…)

But, remarkably, they decided not to burn some older translations, like the Tyndale bible:

We are not burning Bibles written in other languages that are based on the TR. We are not burning the Wycliffe, Tyndale, Geneva or other translations that are based on the TR.

TR is an abbreviation for “Textus Receptus” – the “received text” – the Greek texts of the New Testament from which many subsequent translations were made, including Tyndale and Wycliffe. It doesn’t say whether they mean the original Greek or the 19th century back-translation of the bible into Greek, which is also sometimes called “textus receptus.”

I find this an odd inclusion because I suspect that not one in 100,000 people today have ever read any translation published before the KJV (1611). And not one in 100,000 of that select few have ever read a Greek version (how many fundamentalists do you know who speak ancient Greek?) let alone one in pre-Shakespearean English.

They didn’t actually mention my preferred translation, the New Jerusalem bible, but I can’t imagine they’d like it, even if it was derived from earlier linguistic sources. But I’ll come back to bibles later.*

In this week’s Facebook story and the subsequent reprints of it, Grizzard again stands accused of threatening to burn Bibles on Halloween like he did back in 2009 and 2010. **

Or sort-of did, because the outside burning was rained out; smirking protesters made them feel foolish, and the law said no, you can’t burn paper outdoors. The church had to cancel the burning and instead retreat inside and tear a few pages from books before chucking them into a waste bin. Woo-hoo. It’s a stirring YouTube video…

[W]hen the big day came around, a combination of rain, protesters, and a state law against burning paper all conspired against them.

Marc grizzardAlthough Grizzard’s miserable attempt at publicity backfired, Right Wing Watch gave them an award as the  “Worst Book Burning Ever.” Small consolation. Grizzard’s failure did not, it seems, entirely stop his campaign to burn books.***

The church burned books again in 2010. That event was an invitation-only book burning, probably after the mocking they got in 2009. Not sure if they served fried chicken again, though. But since the congregation is small, perhaps they shared a pizza.

The story from 2010 had a similar report:

Just a few of the “heretic” writings the church plans to purge include works by the Pope, Wescott & Horte, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Jimmy Swaggart, Jack Van Impe, Jerry Falwell, Elizabeth Elliot, C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia), Dan Brown (author of the Da Vinci Code), and many others. You can view the church’s heretic’s page here.

Other items included in the book burning include movies and music the church deems as satanic or ungodly.

So it was not simply a religious book burning (is that a libro auto-da-fe? or simply bibliocide? libricide?), it was a cultural one too. Satanic and ungodly can cover a wide range. Any council agenda that stretches past 50 pages might fit that category.

Bibles, in particular, are tossed into the flames. Which seems odd for a fundamentalist Christian to do. Not to mention he did it on Halloween, that crossover festival that mixes the pagan with the religious. One cannot help but think of the sacred, pagan Halloween bonfires these so-called Christians are mimicking:

Special bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them. Their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and were also used for divination. It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the “powers of growth” and holding back the decay and darkness of winter. 0

Or perhaps they are reaching back to some older, darker Christian ritual:

Christian minister Eddie J. Smith suggests that the bonfires were also used to scare witches of “their awaiting punishment in hell”.

I keep having scenes from The Wicker Man go through my head when I think of them burning books on Halloween (the 1973 original, not the absurd 2006 remake). But that’s just me, I suppose.

The church seems to have laid low during 2011 and 2012. All the reports about 2013 seem to point back to the earlier stories. So I’m not sure whether to treat this with any more seriousness.

Let’s take a break and look at this from a publisher’s perspective. Do these book burnings hurt? Nope. Consider the facts:

  1. Someone has to buy the books. That means the publisher gets paid, the authors get their royalties.
  2. After the first year, the congregation has to go out and buy the books again. See factoid number one.
  3. After the burnathon, there are now fewer copies of these books in print. That makes the remaining just a little rarer, a little more valuable. eBay and Amazon sellers rejoice because now they have buyers hunting the remaining copies.
  4. The congregation gets a list of all the naughty, heretical bad books du jour, which I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts some of them just have to sneak a peek at to try to understand what all the fuss is about. That’s how heresies get spread. I’ll bet a few folks end up buying a second copy to hide under their mattress so they can read it after the first one turns to ashes. More sales.
  5. The protesters and the media get that list too, and some of them start reading the books to see why they were burned. The books get listed in the media stories.  More sales. Publishers smile.
  6. Free publicity for all those books and authors. The public rushes to defend them. Libraries buy them as counter-protest. Sales soar.
  7. It’s just one more opportunity for the media to mock and disparage wacky fundamentalists and point fingers at the madness of religion. Great for slow news days.

See? It’s not all bad.

Personally, I wouldn’t rush out to buy any of the books they plan to burn, even  to protest their action. The list of authors looks more like a list of people whose success Grizzard is jealous about. None of whom I’d be likely to read, even if they burned the last copy on the planet.

Book burning is, however, generally considered a bad thing by politically correct standards, more because of its symbolism than its commercial or social effects.

It’s been done ever since people began writing on flammable material (and before that it, people smashed clay tablets or defaced stone engravings). It’s been with us since the dawn of writing. We tend to think of it done by fascist or dictatorial states like Nazi Germany of modern-day Iran, or fundamentalist religious groups like the Taliban and this church, but it’s been done by many, many others, including a lot of folks who profess to be Christian or educated. It’s more a theatrical act than anything else (the 1497 Bonfire of the Vanities was a lot bigger deal than a handful of right-wing fundamentalists torching a few mass-produced books, yet who really gives it much thought these days?).

Back to the bibles.

William Tyndale was strangled then his body burned at the stake as a heretic for his translation. Other translators of the time (like John Rogers) met similar fates. A few years later, Henry VIII who had authorized Tyndale’s death, used the translation as the source for another English-language bible he commissioned. Note the irony. My point here is that the versions these folk are saving from the flames were all declared heretical at some point. Who decides what is heresy?

The Geneva Bible was printed in 1560, compiled by Protestant scholars who fled England when the Catholic Mary took the throne. It has many differences with the text in the KJV, which came out in 1611. So if the KJV is the sole correct version, why allow these other versions with their clear differences survive? Because they were good tries? Not likely. It’s an opinion, a value judgement. And it’s shite, logically speaking.

I suspect there’s a more mercenary reason the Tyndale, Wycliffe and Geneva bibles, as well as the Greek versions, aren’t being immolated: cost. Just search on Amazon for them. These books cost a lot more than your average detective-thriller paperback (or even KJV version, unless you go for the leather binding…). Not sure how many in the congregation would want to shell out $40 or so for a book just to have it roasted. I’d be hiding it under the mattress with the other heretical books, to keep my investment safe. And maybe read it before I consigned it to the metaphorical netherworld.

Or maybe it’s because no one, aside from a few theological scholars, actually buys these books, so putting them on the list is a safe bet because not one in a 100,000 people owns one (and in the church’s small congregation, which seems to be fewer than 20 people total, it’s a pretty good bet they’d be off the Bell curve in this one).****

The Douay bible isn’t on the bibles-we-will-not-burn list, I notice. Aside from the fact it is Catholic, it was translated from Latin texts, not Greek. So one dead language is okay, but the other isn’t. Got that?

Nor did any story mention whether the church planned to incinerate (or not) any Aramaic or Hebrew texts. Dollars to doughnuts they didn’t think of them. After all there are a lot of translations and interpretations of the bible in print. Your Torah scrolls are safe. For the moment.

Personally, I don’t believe that, unless you’ve read the source documents in their original language, you haven’t read the “bible.” Just a translation of it, just someone’s opinion of how it should read. You’ve read an interpretation and it’s about as inspired as any translation can be. You trust that the translators didn’t impose their own morals, values and beliefs into their translations, but you never know for sure.

Anyway, back to the story. Is Marc Grizzard planning to burn bibles again this Halloween? I don’t know, but I don’t believe so.

Even if he does, it doesn’t matter. Not only will it not make any difference to anyone outside his little group, but it’s really no more news than Kim Kardashian’s cat or the royal baby’s name. It’s just fluff, a pseudo-event. Stupid, puerile activities get attention on slow news days. If the media wants to take a stand against this sort of stupidity, then they should ignore it. People will tire of doing things to get attention if the media (and the internet) stops giving it to them.


KJV - hard to read* While on the surface the church seems to be a KJV-only congregation, this list of older exceptions makes me wonder exactly what they stand for. Aside from burning books, I mean. But this KJV-only stance has its opponents, too, and has sparked debate and exposition. Like this site. But I have to wonder: do they use a replica KJV or one with modern typesetting (and thus potentially error-prone)? The former is tough to read in its Blackletter type (see the image, left). But how do you make sure the text is true to the original if it’s been reset into something modern and readable? And does it adhere to the original spelling? If not, it’s just another interpretation.

**  Keep in mind that I have no independent confirmation this is true (yet). I suspect it’s not… Despite this lack of evidence, that story got shared around the world pretty damned fast. I also note that the church’s website is gone, which makes me think this is untrue. Still, the original story remains an abject lesson for all of us.

*** I wonder if they’re doing this because  they feel their church is in competition with the Westboro Baptist Church for publicity in the media. Wingnuts get coverage, so why not join them? And if the media ignored them, they’d all probably evaporate. So they look for increasingly outrageous acts to get media attention.

**** I’m surprised they didn’t put the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili on the list too. It’s a pretty safe bet that about as many of the congregation have a copy of it as have a copy of the Tyndale bible. Okay, now I’ll be accused of being elitist for even knowing what the heck the HP is. And then to make a joke about it… I’m doubly damned. Curses… should I try to sell my copies on eBay?

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Ian Chadwick
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