Please. Don't Ban Books
August 3, 2022
When I went back to college in my late 40s, I remember walking through the libraries at Meredith and Duke talking to the books. I told them that I regretted that I likely would not be able to read all of them, but I thanked them for the knowledge they held, and I wished I could know what they knew.
The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, was the first church I knew about that banned books. I remember pictures of pyres and flames. Other churches fill the news today banning books, like Harry Potter and the Twilight series, because they lead people to the occult and maybe even to witchcraft. Ah, Sorcery. Let’s be afraid of imagination. It can be a dangerous thing. Something about this has the ring of the Salem Witch Trials. Burn them at the stake. That almost always works.
There may not be malice in book burning, but there certainly is harm. Most of the books banned today deal with issues of racism, gender differences, particularly LGBTQ and trans-gender issues, books about sexuality and reproduction. Also books about slavery, Racism, the Holocaust, Eugenics, Apartheid, and even the Wilmington Riots. Any difficult and embarrassing subject, however enlightening, that might make a few people uncomfortable (mostly straight, white, Christian Zealots who thrive on peddling fear) is fair game in the book banning arena. Funny we can rail for free speech until it challenges our notions of what is right and what is wrong.
People burn books because they are afraid. Afraid that a swath of readers will know first person slave narratives. First person experiences of sexual abuse. First person memoirs of transgender and bisexual and queer life experiences. There almost seems to be a “let’s keep the people ignorant of what is actually real in the world and in history, then we will be able to control them.” This is a dystopian philosophy at the least.
Do we really think that ignorance will make slavery and gender differences and climate change issues go away? In a June issue of The Washington Post, an article by Angela Haupt reports that “there were 1,586 individual books banned during the nine-month period from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022. Texas had the most bans, followed by Pennsylvania, Florida, then Oklahoma.” A recent report in the Wilmington Star News highlights how this book banning movement is reaching into New Hanover Schools now. People are showing up at school board meetings, and they are not necessarily parents of children in those schools. School board disruptions often make the news and most certainly Twitter feeds. People everywhere get riled up about something that shouldn’t be a problem in the first place.
Prohibitionists in the United States mobilized congress to pass the 18th Amendment which was ratified in 1919. The Temperance League, churches and other groups like the Anti-Saloon League fought to have “production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol banned.” The ban lasted from 1920 until 1933. Guess what happened during those years? Bootlegging. Speak Easys. Alcohol sales went underground. “Clandestine breweries” made sure alcohol flowed freely.
The same thing happened in South Africa with books that told the story of oppression and brutality happening every day to Native Peoples under the heavy hand of the South African Government. Uncomfortable truths must be dangerous when found out. Because when people know truth, they are empowered to make change, with justice and righteousness on their side. Too bad change scares so many people.
This seems like Parenting 101 to me. If I tell my child what he cannot do…. like, “Johnny, don’t touch the stove, it’s hot,” what is the first thing he is going to do? He touches the stove. So much for telling somebody they can’t do that, they can’t read that. In a world where social media is almost the wild, wild west and every kid in America has access to it, why are we concerned about books?
Age-appropriate books from across the spectrum of the human experience (sexuality included), from Science, Medicine, the Arts, Humanities, Literature, History, Theology, and everything in between should be read by all people who hope to grow into critical thinkers. Ignoring truth and history through the banning of books will lead us into a great Ignorance from which we may not recover. Re-think the book banning. Let’s not go down that path.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist Pastor, columnist, retreat leader and hosts www.avirtualchurch.com. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org