'Pastor Terry Jones' is our latest hero for atheism.. '



Thank you Pastor Terry for advancing our cause. My occasional series, Heroes of Atheism, last time featured a Jew who resorts to extreme action to prevent innocents going abroad ''inappropriately'' on the Sabbath and Muslims who stone adulterers to death.

It’s time now to turn to the third of the Abrahamic trio, our Christian brethren. Pastor Terry is the Koran (almost) burning, gay vilifying, gobbledygook spouting minister from the Dove World Outreach Centre in the town of Gainsville, Florida, in the US. Despite its global name, his Pentecostal church has a rumoured congregation of about 50. He and his church suffer from the usual array of vices of these kinds of churches. There are allegations of personality cult, fines for false claims to be doctor of theology, tussles with the tax office and allegations of dodgy finances. His flock is numerically irrelevant. His antics essentially rely on putting obnoxious statements on a sign outside his church and letting the world’s media, myself now included, promote his profile around the world free of charge. Perhaps we are the real mugs in the Pastor Terry story. He should be just some anonymous freak with ugly views but he’s been anointed by the world media and is basking in the attention.

Advertisement: Story continues below
When the people of Gainsville elected a gay mayor, he erected a sign proclaiming, ''No Homo Mayors''. Pastor Terry is very active on the issue of homosexuality and he relies on Leviticus for this stance. Now Leviticus, the third book of the bible, is notorious for its appalling rules and prohibitions. Having just re-read it, Leviticus is just bizarre murderous drivel. I will blog on Leviticus another time for it is truly a friend of atheism. Homosexuals must be put to death according to God (Leviticus, 20:13). But then a little later, having a haircut, having sex during a woman’s period, inter-breeding your cattle or sowing the seeds of two plants in one field are all sinful. So start collecting the stones, hang around any farm or barber's shop for a good old stoning I say. I’m sorry, I digress.

The point is that Pastor Terry relies on the most ridiculous book in all of the literature of faith to damn gays and does so in offensive ways.

However, there is an important group called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU for short). AU has pointed out that a tax-deduction status has a precondition of no political use of funds. So Pastor Terry cut off the word ''Mayors'' and so it now reads merely ''No Homos''. The man is an inspiration of innovation. If you want to hear an illuminating and indeed excruciating BBC interview with Pastor Terry click here.

And now we come to his Koran burning proposal. You will know that this idea, designed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11, was roundly condemned and ultimately he drew back from the brink.

Pastor Terry seems to be quite phobic about Islam. He has written a book about his detestation of Islam - Islam is of the Devil. He has repeatedly spouted about the 10 reasons to burn the Koran and nominated September 11 as ''International Burn a Koran Day''. Pressure from within America led to his back down but his reversal must have been informed by the certain knowledge that other haters would step up to the breach. For hate begets hate and a flotilla of Koran burners left port on 9/11. The Koran was desecrated less publicly from Washington to Wyoming by fringe self-appointed ministers.

Well what is to be made of this opportunistic and reckless chancer? What does the Pastor Terry phenomenon tell us? Quite clearly, Pastor Terry has desecrated more than the Koran for he has desecrated the name of faith. His shonky church, his detestation of the other, be they Muslims or gays or Jews (for he is not a fan) pregnancy termination clinics (completely legal in my enlightened state of Victoria) and the financial allegations of his personality cult all fit the paradigm of the worst that faith has to offer the world.

This of course leads us to the eternal quandary, is Pastor Terry the tip of the iceberg or an irrelevant freak? Is he emblematic of the awfulness of belief or a peripheral straw man? Whatever, he is unintentionally a worthy foot soldier for atheism and I salute him accordingly. A grateful atheist hails this man who tars all people of faith with his misanthropic brush.

But there are other issues that Pastor Terry raises. First of all, why should atheists care if the various types of faith engage in warring banjos? Why would the godless care if a pastor in one faith (that we don’t believe in) insults another faith (that we also don’t believe in)? The critical word in that sentence is ''insults''. We should deplore any insult, even in the internecine wars of faith. The crusading movement is now almost a thousand years old. It has been revived in the past couple of decades and even if unbelievers don’t care for the underlying beliefs, any ratcheting up of the conflict is appalling for it adds to a millennium of killing.

The second issue is the serendipity of fate. Why did Pastor Terry achieve world infamy when there is a whole world of religious nutcases to vilify? It is something I continue to ponder in wonder. I have strived for such infamy my whole life and yet the gods of worldwide controversy have ignored me. What is his secret? It is luck or karma? I don’t believe in the latter so it has to be the former.

The final issue is this. The only question on which Pastor shows any coherence on is the issue of Islamic sensitivity. He quite correctly argues that Bibles and secular symbols such as flags are desecrated daily by Muslims. I deplore this. I deplore actions such as the artwork ''Piss Christ'', which mixed urine and an image of the crucifixion, understandably outraging Christians.

Pastor Terry marvels that while flags and Bibles are destroyed daily in Islamic countries, why couldn’t he do the same without attracting such bile and rancour. Indeed there is some sense that we are rewarding the inappropriate behaviour of a faith that appears eternally vengeful through its various fatwas, murders and desecrations by the Muslim equivalents of Pastor Terry. There is a tiny bit of truth to this but generally we must condemn those who trade in the currency of insults and hatred. And for this, Pastor Terry is embraced by a grateful atheist as a hero of the godless. Congratulations Pastor Terry, you are truly atheism’s latest hero.