When I wrote about the plans of a small, nondenominational "Christian" group in Florida to burn copies of the Koran, I never anticipated it would become the international event that it has. There are some important learnings from this ghastly story. But first, let me restate what I said before: This is an unChristlike activity (the theological term is sin) that betrays everything Christ taught. Because this little congregation is not affiliated with any denomination there is no one to hold Pastor Terry Jones accountable, but that does not change the facts.
Anyone who doubts that religion is still an important force in our world is ignoring the way this story about a very small, quasi-Christian group has engaged world leaders and the news media around the globe. There is strong evidence that religion is an even more powerful force that it was as short a time as five years ago. People (even if they deny it to themselves) have a strong spiritual dimension. Faith and values are core to what it means to be human. The current story simply reveals how people use religion to act out their deepest feelings, good and bad.
There have always been some religious people and organizations who use acts of violence and torture to display their beliefs in a twisted manner. The largest faiths and religious organizations on the globe have only to be honest with themselves about their history to find such events. The current story is really a micro-event perpetrated by a small-minded man compared to the long, bloody history associated with extreme factions in the major religions. Just search the term "holy war," which really makes as much sense as "chaste adultery" or "harmless poison."
The real tragedy is that God is not deceived. He knows that these actions are sin no matter how deeply Terry Jones and others like him may feel that they are doing God's will. Religion, after all, is a human invention; the actions toward God by fallen human beings. Divinity is not involved in the activities of religion, good or bad. Read Isaiah 58. God has clearly stated that He is not impressed by purely religious activities, but only by people who do His work in the world, compassion, social justice; creative, ethical and loving lives. A great many people will find in the Final Judgment that what they went to their graves thinking were righteous acts implementing God's will are actually evil in His sight. See Matthew 25.
The most important lesson from this tragic story, I think, is the importance of careful analysis of religious faith to make sure that what you believe is, in fact, based in Divine reality. This story teaches all of us that we need to carefully search for the right faith. We need to take sacred writings, theological reflections and historic study of religion seriously, even if we are among those who choose not to believe in any religion. Oops! Did I go to preaching an evangelistic sermon? Please forgive me.