‘The follies of dead men and the wisdom of worms’

In 2010 a number of political and religious extremists made headlines around the world by publicly burning copies of the Koran. After Florida Pastor Terry Jones announced his intention to burn a Koran to mark the anniversary of the September 11th attacks he was publicly condemned by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and politicians around the world. While Jones later publicly called off his “International Burn a Koran Day”, six men in Gateshead in the north of England were arrested after filming themselves burning a Koran behind a pub (BBC 2010).


P.Z. Myers

In response to what he regarded as the creeping criminalization of blasphemy and religious dissent, the prominent atheist blogger and activist Professor P.Z. Myers called for the respect traditionally accorded to holy books of all kinds to be subjected to much harsher critique. Myers compared the commonplace ownership of different religious texts to mounting slave shackles on one’s walls, keeping torture equipment in the kitchen or a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion on one’s coffee table (Myers 2010). Reflecting on the fact that he owned copies of both the Koran and the Christian Bible, Myers recorded and posted a short film of himself burying the two books in his garden beneath a yellow flowering plant. As he wrote at the time:

Right now, the pages swell with moisture, the fibers separate and the chapters turn into pulpy masses. Bacteria bloom and their colonies expand; fungi flourish and their hyphae infiltrate and convert cellulose into spores. The ink runs as nematodes writhe over the surfaces, etching the words with slime and replacing the follies of dead men with the wisdom of worms. The roots of flowers and grasses will fumble downwards to embrace the decaying leaves, and the roots of trees will impale the volumes laterally. Given only a little time, the madness will be reduced to compost.

At every instant in this gradual process of degradation, the books are being improved and given greater value. And with my decision to discard the poisonous symbols of past ignorance, I became a little more free. (Myers 2010)

In the video Myers drops crumbled soil between the pages of the books before laying them quite gently at the bottom of the hole. He replaces the plant and loose soil before watering the plant and books and leaving them to grow.


BBC. 2010. Men arrested in Gateshead over suspected Koran burning

Myers, P.Z. 2010. Sunday Sacrilege: a funeral for folly.

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