If I Were a Dictator

Reynolds, Quentin James


  • Quentin Reynolds explains why he would first burn the Bible if he were a dictator: the Bible is the source of democracy and its stories tell of the power of individuality and non-conformity which make a dictatorship impossible, according to Reynolds.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. The latest Who’s Who lists him as an editor and author. Quentin Reynolds, who wrote Courtroom, the bestselling biography of Judge Samuel Leibowitz, is also a composer of movie scripts, a celebrity on television and an authority on the Brooklyn Dodgers and the hamburger sandwich. Moreover, he is one of the biggest, burliest, most soft-hearted Irishmen in the city of New York, and that covers a lot of Irishmen. He has an abiding affection for people, and he looks with a jaundiced eye on practically nobody except stuffed shirts and bullies. He saw Hitler's rise in Germany, watched the Nazi bombs fall on Britain, and has witnessed firsthand the way in which the Russians expanded
their dark power after the war. Here is Quentin Reynolds with his views on the things that mean most in the personal pattern of his life.
If I were a dictator, the first book I’d burn would be the Bible. I’d burn it because I’d realize that the whole concept of democracy came out of this book. Democracy is a Greek word, which means “ruled by the people.” But even at the height of its ancient glory, Athens was never a democracy. The Greeks gave us the word for it, but the Bible gave us the philosophy and the way of life, which we call democracy.
Remember the story of young David, the shepherd boy, as told in the Book of Samuel? David came to the
sorely pressed Army of Israel bringing supplies to his brothers. For forty days, the arrogant Goliath, champion of the Philistines, had challenged any single man of Israel to combat, but none had been able to prevail against him. Young David asked permission of King Saul to try his luck. There was no other volunteer, so Saul accepted his services, and Saul fitted David out in his own armor, his own coat of mail and helmet of brass, and gave him a huge, sharp sword.
But this heavy array of armor and weapons didn’t fit the shepherd boy, and he had the good sense to know it. He dropped the sword and slipped out of the heavy armor. The one weapon he knew how to use was the slingshot. So, choosing five smooth stones from a brook, he advanced upon Goliath and slew him.
David in Saul’s armor meant defeat. David fighting his own way, and with weapons he knew, meant victory.
Young David was an individualist—in a real sense, a non-conformer—for he refused to use the traditional weapons. And wise King Saul did not confuse conformity and loyalty. Nor did the Savior. When Jesus chose twelve men to be with him and to carry on his mission after he was gone, he didn’t select a group of rubber stamps. There was Peter the impetuous, Andrew the plotter, John the poet, Simon the fiery zealot, Thomas the melancholy. They were not stereotype “yes men.” He put a premium on their infinite variety. They were united by their very differences. He encouraged them to question his most
fundamental beliefs. In an open discussion, their doubts were resolved and their faith strengthened.
You don’t have to read political science or study Constitutional law to understand democracy. But to realize that when individuality is suppressed, society suffers; when originality is thwarted, progress is halted. You only have to read the Bible to properly understand democracy.
Let Saul have his heavy armor, if he wishes, and let David have his slingshot and his five smooth stones. Let each of us be as impetuous as Peter, or as slow and plodding as Andrew. From the viewpoint of a dictator, who can rule only as long as individual thoughts, ideas, and conduct are suppressed, these are dangerous thoughts to be lurking in the minds of men. Yes, if I were a dictator, the first
book I’d burn would be the Bible.
You have heard Quentin Reynolds, a reporter colleague of mine, who doesn’t like to see people pushed around and who has a liking, in this atomic age, for some good old-fashioned beliefs.