In the beginning was the word

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There was a time when book burning mattered.

Once upon a time, religions enforced dictates by burning books containing the wrong opinions. To be orthodox was, literally, to hold the right opinion. And just in case that didn’t work, heretics were burned at the stake for good measure.

At the end of the medieval era, things got a bit trickier. Laborious copying by hand was replaced by mechanical printing, so there were a lot more books to burn. In response, the Catholic church came up with a wheeze called the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the list of prohibited books the faithful were forbidden to read. Scientific treatises challenging the official view that the Sun orbited the Earth were a particular target.

That was then. The Catholic church gave up on the index in 1966, part of the reforms surrounding Vatican Two. A couple of years later, Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce started a company called Intel. In 1971, they introduced the world to the microprocessor.

Books are still with us. But today’s reader is as just likely to download a file to a kindle or ipad.

Burning a Koran may make Terry Jones feel better. But it won’t make a difference.

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By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.