Banning and perhaps even burning books has been a popular pastime for some. I can only wonder if those motivated to embark upon this path have ever actually read Ray Bradbury‘s dystopian “Fahrenheit 451“. For those unfamiliar with that, it is a 1953 book about a future American society in which all books have been banned and Firemen exist to burn books. The title, as described in the book, is a reference to .. “the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns”.
The date, 1953, was during the McCarthy era, and so what was happening then very much inspired Bradbury.
So here we are today, almost 70 years later. We live in far more enlightened times … right?
Well, perhaps not.
What books are being challenged?
Books about Racism or LGTBQ are targets.
The American Library Association kicked off National Library week a few weeks ago (April 4th) with a list of the 10 most challenged books.
What is perhaps shocking about their statistics is that they also report that in 2021 there were more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. In their twenty-year history of tracking this, that is the new high water mark.
Bans By Popular Demand?
The issues being targeted are hot emotional buttons, yet despite that, the vast majority of people do not support banning books.
The ALA commissioned a poll last March, and via that we learn this …
Large majorities of voters (71%) oppose efforts to have books removed from their local public libraries, including majorities of Democrats (75%), independents (58%), and Republicans (70%).
Majorities of public school parents affirm that various types of books should be available in school libraries on an age-appropriate basis – This includes works about U.S. History that focus on the role of slavery and racism in shaping America today, such as the “1619 Project” (84%); works of literature that use racial slurs, such as “Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Of Mice and Men” (82%); novels for young adults that portray police violence against Black people, such as “Ghost Boys” and “The Hate U Give” (68%); fiction and non-fiction books about lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals, such as “George” and “This Day in June” (65%); and works of fiction that have sexually explicit content, including scenes of sexual violence, such as “Beloved” and “Looking for Alaska” (57%)
The really good news here is that banning books is widely opposed, and that remains true right across the political spectrum.
We might not agree on much, but when it comes to the idea of banning books, then here is something that most do agree is a bad idea.
Banning The Bible
What about the bible, has that ever been banned?
One of the famous English reformers, William Tyndell, was so appalled by the prevailing ignorance amongst clerics that he was motivated to translate the Bible into English so that everybody could read it. When challenged by a Church cleric about his desire to do this, Tyndell famously quipped, “if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!“.
Fleeing to Europe in 1524 he proceeded to translate it, and then taking advantage of the printing press, flooded England with his new english language version via smugglers.
Bishop Tunstall and Cardinal Wolsey responded by banning his translated bible and also declaring him a heretic. They also bought every copy they could get their hands on and then burned them in public. Tyndell was of course delighted to received the funds that the Bishop had paid for the books they burned. He used them to simply print more copies.
What Tyndall did was in many way, not simply a religious act, but was also a very political democratic act. By crafting this new window into the bible, he had enabled people to read it for themselves and make up their own minds. This freed them from the iron grasp of clerics who had up until then been telling them what to believe.
Nobody would seriously advocate for the Bible to be banned these days … right?
Without grasping the full implications of what they were calling for, this is exactly what the modern GOP has been doing.
Here is GOP candidate Pastor Ralph Rebandt being confronted by the implications of his demand for all pornographic books to be banned from schools …
Others have also been using the fact that the Bible is a book full of sexual imagery, extreme violence, and incest. If you get into the game of banning books that includes stuff like this, then you can’t exclude the Bible.
This is exactly the point being made by Chaz Stevens, an activist who uses tongue-in-cheek petitions to motivate officials to hit pause and start to think about what they propose. His latest petition in Florida asks …
districts to “immediately remove the Bible from the classroom, library, and any instructional material,” Stevens wrote in the documents, which were shared with NPR. “Additionally, I also seek the banishment of any book that references the Bible.”
His petitions cited a bill signed into law last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which lets parents object to educational materials. That bill came about after some parents complained about sexually explicit books being taught in Florida schools.
Stevens proceeded to question whether the Bible is age-appropriate, pointing to its “casual” references to murder, adultery, sexual immorality, and fornication. “Do we really want to teach our youth about drunken orgies?”
He also took issue with the many Biblical references to rape, bestiality, cannibalism and infanticide. “In the end, if Jimmy and Susie are curious about any of the above, they can do what everyone else does – get a room at the Motel Six and grab the Gideons,” he wrote.
Yes indeed, if Jimmy and Susie grab a room at Motel Six, then they will indeed make a beeline direct to the Gideons, that’s the only reason for them to get a room.
I confess that I do truly love how he uses their own weapons against them. All he does is deploy a volley of their own ammunition, then sits back and watches as the bureaucrats proceed to eat each other for lunch.
But you are not-religious, do you really encourage people to read the Bible?
Indeed yes, I love the poetry and beauty of the text. I also appreciate the cultural impact is has had historically. It’s not mandatory and so if it is not your cup of tea, then simply skip it.
It is not a text of literal truth, and that is a rather clear evidence-based fact. Instead, it gives us an insight into the beliefs and stories of the culture that originated it. Much of it is just religious PR. For example, the prevailing consensus of mainstream scholars is that the biblical Exodus account is not historical. If you disagree, then your argument is not with me, it is with the subject matter experts.
In a similar manner, I can also read stories of both Roman and Greek gods, love it all, and yet, (gasp!), I don’t leap to the conclusion that Zeus is real.
It can seriously be argued that what is perhaps the most effective means to inspire people to be non-religious is for them to read the full Biblical text, and understand what it actually says. It is one of life’s deep irony’s that many who have faith have not actually read what they believe to be the most important book cover to cover, but instead thrive on a strict diet of cherry-picked extracts of the sugary bits.
This “Good Book” is a text that contains explicit instructions on how to correctly beat your slaves. The deal is this, if they are still alive a few days after you have finished beating them, then that’s OK. Most, I hope, would reject that directive.
Should the Bible be banned because it contains explicit directives like this that most find to be immoral?
Nope, of course not.
A good knowledge of past beliefs is inspirational, it motivates us to do and be far better.
Getting Around the Book Bans
What can be done when extremists successfully get books removed, from school libraries, is there any way around this?
Actually, yes there is.
https://www.bklynlibrary.org/media/press/brooklyn-public-library-94The Brooklyn Public Library Offers now Free eCards to Teens Nationwide. Normally an out-of-state card will cost $50, but if teens send a note to [email protected], or via the Library’s s teen-run Instagram account, @bklynfuture, then that $50 fee will be waved.
More accurately, Yea the Librarians who initiated this.
They have announced that they will also make a selection of frequently challenged books available with no holds or wait times for all BPL cardholders. They will be available through the library’s online catalog or Libby app. The titles include:
- The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta,
- Tomboy by Liz Prince,
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison,
- The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones,
- Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera,
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
- Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
Their initiative is a response to what has been happening. They explain exactly why they are doing this …
In Texas, Matt Krause, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives General Investigating Committee, has called for public school libraries to “account” for 850 sexually explicit or racially preferential books. The list includes a wide range of titles from National Book Award winner How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi to John Irving’s bestselling Cider House Rules. Books which feature LBGQT characters; advice for dealing with bullies; and tips for teens on relationships are all included on the list, along with titles on historical events including the rise of the KKK, the Indian Removal Act and the election of Harvey Milk.
Book Riot reports that Moms for Liberty, a conservative group with 70,000 members nationwide has a new initiative titled Moms for Libraries which aims to have books exploring sexual identity and racial polarization removed from the shelves of local libraries.
In Tennessee, the McMinn County School Board voted to remove the reading of Maus, an award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the eighth-grade curriculum. In Llano County, Texas, a librarian was fired after she refused to follow instructions to remove books, including one about a teen who identified as transgender. Lawmakers in Indiana had been considering a bill that would allow librarians to be jailed for inappropriate content.
Locally, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) removed a tweet by the New York State Librarian after she recommended the book Gender Queer: A Memoir. NYSED said it was not aware of the graphic contents in the book.
“Brooklyn Public Library stands firmly against censorship and for the principles of intellectual freedom—the right of every individual to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction,” said Nick Higgins, Chief Librarian. “Limiting access or providing one-sided information is a threat to democracy itself.”
I have a Teen who is Interested, what now?
Age range is ages 13 to 21 nationwide.
The free electronic library card is valid for one year and provides readers access to the library’s archive of 350,000 e-books; 200,000 audiobooks and over 100 databases,
Simply start the ball rolling by sending a note to [email protected]
You do not need parental permission to apply for the card.
The actual application form is here.