Right now we have an example of humbug in Gainesville, Florida. There the pastor and members of a sectarian church are planning to burn copies of the Qu'ran on September 11, 2010.
Humbug is a contrivance to deceive and mislead. How is the planned action of Pastor Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center humbug?
Aren't they sincere, and so not intending to deceive and mislead anyone? I do not doubt that they are sincere. However, their plan to burn copies of the Qu'ran is a public act by a Christian community, and therefore it is intended to be a public witness of the church of Jesus Christ. The rest of the Christian community has a responsibility to judge this act as Christian witness. As an act of witness, it is humbug, for it sends a deceitful and misleading message about the Christian church.
This act would be a symbolic statement of contempt for the faith of Islam. The church of Jesus Christ does not hold other faiths in contempt. The church respects other faiths even as it makes its witness for God's revelation to Israel and in Jesus Christ and seeks opportunities to be in dialogue with other faiths. The church even receives converts to Jesus Christ from other faiths, but it does not treat other faiths with contempt.
This act by the Dove Center would also be misleading in that it violates the church's committment to freedom for the exercise of faith. Burning the Qu'ran is a symbolic act which connotes a desire to deny or suppress the freedom of Muslims to practice their faith. The church's committment to this freedom is absolute--not only in the context of the American Constitution, but also in the context of universal human rights--because this freedom protects the church's own right to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to protect our own freedom to proclaim the Gospel, the church of Jesus Christ is committed to protect the rights of all people to practice their own faith.
Moreover, this act would represent a failure of ethical discernment. The church's trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do what is right involves the task of discernment. Discernment involves consideration of all factors before determining whether or not any action is right. The plan of the Dove Center to burn copies of the Qu'ran on September 11th presupposes that the attack of that day was a decree of Islam when it was not; it was the action of a band of lawless terrorists who seek to use Islam as a religious justification for its wickedness. Furthermore, some of the people who were victims of that attack were Muslims. Just as importantly, American military leaders in Afghanistan warn of increased dangers of American troops if the planned burning takes place. The failure of the members of the Dove Center to perceive how these kinds of considerations render their plan ethically irreponsible and even dangerous is a mark of a sectarian mentality. People who come together in small or even large numbers without being accountable to the norms of the Christian tradition and the ecumenical Christian community, but who only take their own counsel, are extremely vulnerable to abuse of authority, heresy, and moral error--or, in a word, humbug.
Finally, over this whole business is the scent of "the flesh." The apostle Paul proclaimed that God has conquered the power of "the flesh" through the redemption of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-17). "The flesh" (or sarx) is not God's good creation, but the sinful distortion of it. It is the realm of unholy passions, including anger, quarrels, and dissensions (see Galatians 5:19-21). There is much exercise of "the flesh" in our society today, especially in attitudes toward Muslims. I think it is also manifest in the mass media, which seek out what is sensational and inflammatory; they try to excite "the flesh" for their profit. As the church of Jesus Christ we seek to walk in the way of God's Spirit. Whatever else that entails, it means that, as citizens, we seek to "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity" (I Timothy 2:2).