Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Banned Books Week and My High Horse

I wouldn't exactly call it a trend, though it's certainly been getting some press lately.  No, I've seen it for years.  To be honest, I've probably participated in it, though it was many years ago when I was a very different person.  In the circles I ran in, it was the way things were done.  There were angry whispers, shaken heads, hands thrown up in despair.  It was the end of the world.

Except it wasn't.  And people are still declaring the end of all things decent twenty, thirty years later. (And let's be real, this is a practice that has a much, much older history than my childhood.) What is this epidemic am I referring to?  The idea that we mere humans cannot withstand exposure to (and heaven forbid exploration of) beliefs, opinions, or lifestyles that differ from our own and that we need to weed out the problematic content.

Everywhere I look, there are people in a frenzied scramble to control/erase/hide all ideas that do not align with their personal worldview.  Parents are challenging library books, students are denouncing college courses or book assignments, citizens are protesting against whole ethnic/religious groups.  Somehow, in a country supposedly founded on ideals of free thought/speech and separation of church of state, we as a nation have decided that those rights only belong to the select few who think a certain way.

It's not a new problem.  It's not a problem that's going anywhere.  What disturbs me most, though, is the number of people who are basing these protests and challenges on their personal Christian beliefs.  

That show/movie/book shouldn't be allowed because there are gay people in it.  

That book doesn't belong in the school library because it's about Muslims.  

You know what news stories I'm talking about.  You've seen them too.

Now I know what the people who make these statements would say to me.  They would aim all their righteous indignation in my direction and insist that in addition to eternal damnation, I am risking tramping all over their right to freedom of religion.  That it's their right to believe those things are wrong/evil/whatever.

To which I would say, Exactly.

You have a right to believe anything you want.  You can believe it's wrong for a woman to leave the house or have a job or a blog where she rants incoherently while a large dog breathes down her neck and a kitten claws at her legs. (Too specific?)

What you don't have the right to do is to decide what others believe, or for that matter to decide what other are exposed to.  You don't want your kid to read/watch/see anything related to homosexuality?  Well, good luck with that.  But hey, it's your right to attempt it anyway.

But stop blaming it on Christianity.

Somehow, in the Bible Belt at least (where I live), it has become accepted that if you call yourself a Christian, you are automatically aligned with the ultra-conservative, ban-it-if-we-don't-believe-it crowd.  People I encounter and who know I call myself a Christian, feel I'd be psyched to hear about how some book should be eliminated from their kids' school for scatological humor.  (Yeah, they REALLY don't know me very well.)  It is assumed that I share their outrage over television/movie/book content.

So, here's the thing.  My God is bigger and more powerful and more full of love than anything I can imagine.  My God does not need my defense.  If he is too weak for questions and doubts and people with differing opinions, different religions, then he wouldn't be much of a God, would he?  I have read nothing in Scripture that suggests we were put on this earth to police anyone's behavior but our own.

If you feel morally conflicted about a television program?  Don't watch it.  Don't let your kids watch it.  If you cannot in good conscience read that book assigned for that new course?  Then let the professor know.  He or she will either make other arrangements for you, or they won't.  Suck it up and take the consequences.

But here's where you must draw the line: Don't insist that everyone else should adhere to your personal convictions.

That's it.  It's that simple.  You should absolutely follow the way you feel God is leading/convicting you.  What you should not do, is demand that everyone else is being led the same way and they just missed it.


And yet, I'm not finished.  Because I haven't alienated enough people, I'm going to take it one step further and encourage you to read that book about someone different from you.  Did I mention that my God is not threatened by the infinite variety of human beliefs?  He won't be contaminated by you reading about and trying to understand more about people of other faiths.  Regardless of your feelings/beliefs on homosexuality, reading/learning about people who are gay is only going to help you understand other people.

Because that's what we're talking about here.  Beneath all the labels -- Muslims, gays, minorities, Democrats (GASP!) -- we're still just talking about people.  And here's the thing:  Most people are trying to do the best they can with what they were given.  Yes, even that jerk who drives all the way to the end of the entrance ramp and then wants you to let him into standstill traffic like his time is more valuable than everyone else's.  (Grrr.)  Even that guy is probably not setting out to ruin your day, destroy your belief system, or bring down the American family.  (Well, maybe that guy is, but NOT Syrian refugees looking for asylum, or that professor teaching the class on different perspectives of 9/11, or that writer who published a picture book about gay penguins -- how have I not read that book yet?)

So, here's the challenge.  Read outside of your comfort zone (you'll notice I didn't say, "outside your conscience.")  Learn about people and beliefs and ideas that are different than your own.  And most importantly, don't be afraid.  God isn't frightened by a memoir about being a lesbian raised in a funeral home.  And Christians are not (or at least shouldn't be) a people of fear.

And that's my Banned Books Week Shout-out/Rant.  You may now go about your normal lives and not post annoying things in the comments.

(Note/Freebie: Seriously, if I hear one more news story about some ridiculous book or class challenge from the state of South Carolina, I'm going to start claiming one of the many other places I've lived as my "home state.")

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