My first father-in-law, James Griffin, was a self-made man. Although he never finished high school, he worked his way up the corporate ladder to the Vice-Presidency for Public Relations of Sears Roebuck and Co. Griffin was what I think of as a social Catholic. During the almost thirty years that I knew him, I never spotted in him the slightest suggestion of genuine religious belief or sentiment, but he had been made a Knight of Malta by the Pope for his fund-raising prowess, and was, at one point, head of the Catholic Boy Scouts of America. Since my plan to marry his daughter, Mary Cynthia, was a "scandal to the faithful" in Shaker Heights, where the Griffins lived, Cindy and I had to be married in Appleton Chapel in Harvard Yard by a compliant Episcopal priest. I still remember Jim Griffin, at the reception, chatting amiably with David Riesman as though he knew who Riesman was and shared his progressive view of the world.
Griffin was considered a "good Catholic," but of course he was really no sort of Catholic at all. That is to say, he did not take with life-altering seriousness the spiritual and doctrinal message of the Roman Catholic faith. In that way, he was as one with many other Americans whose Catholicism or Protestantism or Judaism does not interfere with their secular pursuits.
All of these essentially secular Americans, who turn up in Gallup Polls as church-goers and believers, stand in stark contrast to the smaller, but still enormous, number of Americans who take their religion really seriously, and actually attempt to live their lives as their faith teaches them to do. I have in mind the wacko preacher in Florida who conceived the brilliant idea of burning some Qu'rans, and the Senatorial candidate who is opposed to masturbation as "lust in one's heart," and the Creationist evolution-deniers, and the ever helpful American Protestants who have been encouraging their African co-religionists to kill homosexuals.
Book burning is, of course, an old Christian custom, not at all some weird Fascist aberration invented by over-enthusiastic Nazi Gauleiters. The Inquisition was as likely to burn a heretical book as a heretic, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, the Chinese, in this as in so much else, stole a march on the West. "Following the advice of minister Li Si, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of all philosophy books and history books from states other than Qin — beginning in 213 BC. This was followed by the live burial of a large number of intellectuals who did not comply with the state dogma."
We in the West look on in horror, and properly so, at the stoning to death of women in Iran. But they are here merely following the law laid down in Leviticus 24, a book which all good Muslims accept as prophetic. If, as scores of millions of Americans claim to believe, that Book is the Word of Almighty God, then it is for us to obey it, not to interpret it until it conforms to our modern sensibilities. Now, those with a smattering of biblical learning will of course quote Jesus, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." But let us recall that Jesus himself said, in Matthew 17, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."
The simple fact is that the religious beliefs of serious Jews, Christians, and Muslims are vile, absurd, and totally incompatible with even the least evolved secular moral sensibility. To excoriate the Reverend Terry Jones for his proposal to burn a collection of Qu'rans, and then insist indignantly that President Obama is a Christian, as though that were a quite acceptable thing for a modern man or women to be, is rank hypocrisy. It is the book burners, the woman stoners, the homosexual killers, who are truly religious. Theirs is the real face of religious faith.