Polish religious non-profit organization sets several books and other objects on fire in front of a Catholic Church in Gdańsk. According to priests, these “talismans” disturb living with God.
On Sunday, photos published by a Polish Catholic foundation SMS z Nieba went viral on Facebook, sparking nationwide controversy.
The pictures depict a pile of books and objects – among others, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyers, a traditional African mask, and one of Osho’s works – that are all set on fire by the priests and accompanying them young altar servers in front of a church in Gdańsk.
SMS z Nieba (eng. “SMS from Heaven”) is a non-profit Catholic organization based in Koszalin, Poland, that sends daily lessons to their subscribers through text messages. They have made headlines in the past for suggesting to “borrow” the 17 meter high cross from the Giewont massif in the Tatra Mountains and transport it to the National Stadium in Warsaw for a religious event.
In the description of the Facebook post, SMS z Nieba quotes excerpts from the Bible that supposedly explain the reasoning behind the burning of the books.
Priest Jan Kucharski, in an interview by a Polish news portal Onet, elaborates:
It is difficult to grasp the idea without the Holy Spirit. A person of the Holy Spirit sees, that it [i.e., the books and objects in the pile] harms, it disturbs living with God. And the people are mature enough to see it now.
According to Kucharski, the participants of the event brought the “talismans” themselves.
The event sparked controversy on multiple levels. Firstly, many people noted that the event disrespected other cultures and religions through burning symbols and figurines associated with, for instance, Hinduism, and some point out that desecration is a punishable offense.
The Facebook post has been commented on over five thousand times in less than a day, with the vast majority of the comments being highly negative. The majority of the comments sees parallels with Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, such as the quote:
“Do you ever read any of the books you burn?” He laughed. “That’s against the law!” “Oh. Of course.”
Bezprawnik, a Polish opinion blog, notes that books always show us a certain perspective on the world that we might not always agree with, but nonetheless should read – because, as the author points out, “every literary work, even that written by a criminal, has educational value, because if we want to understand how they think, we have to read their book.”
Many point out that some of the books burned by the organization, such as the Harry Potter series, focus primarily on teaching the readers the power of friendship and loyalty:
Harry Potter – a book that sparked a love for reading in the hearts of an entire generation of children. A book that taught these children what real friendship, courage and sacrifice in the name of higher values is. But go ahead, burn them […]!
Jarosław Gowin, Polish Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Science and Higher Education, commented on the situation:
We should respond to bad books not by censoring or burning them, but by writing good ones.
The Deputy Prime Minister has not explained whether he thinks Harry Potter is a bad book.
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