A. Stupid people
B. Insane people
C. Frightened people
All of the above is scary, but I opt for “C”. I believe that the majority of chuckleheads who burn books are frightened people, and people who are scared act in very, very, very stupid and crazy ways. But what I cannot answer is, “but what are they afraid of?”
Okay, actually, I have some opinions. First, it helps to differentiate “stupidity” and “ignorance.” Ignorance is based in the trite cliche “I don’t know what I don’t know,” but if I simply don’t know something, I am ignorant. However, if I have every opportunity to address my ignorance and choose not to learn, then that is simply stupid. So, there is a lot of stupidity involved with book burning, but I think the deeper root is ignorance. New, unfamiliar, weird, or uncomfortable ideas make me, personally, curious and excited. I love new ideas, but new ideas and information mean change, and change is very threatening to a lot of people. Familiarity is comforting and safe. Ignorance is blissful, it is comfortable, and it offers all the benefits I feel I need. Learning is challenging. Learning can be hard. And all learning changes us in both subtle and significant ways. Many people have no desire to change.
Notice how similar the words “burning” and “banning” are. Banning books we don’t like is just another form of burning. Both are ways to make information and ideas we don’t want to hear go away. But banning finds its rational in the same fear and cowardice that burning does. Many adults are scared to death that their children might become smarter, more sophisticated, more worldly, more aware, and more – oh my God, no – liberal than they are. In this case, I mean liberal in the positive, intended, and accurate definition of “committed to freedom, compassion, honor, and truth.” (Just as I would use “conservative” in the favorable definition of “committed to tradition, achievement, security, and loyalty.”) It is impossible to fully understand what we are for without clarity of what all is out there.
Why is truth, factual history, or even fantasy fiction so frightening to so many people? Quite simply, ignorance that leads to a lack of certainty and faith. People of true faith have nothing to fear from counter-opinion, story, or argument. This whackdoodle in Nashville (I cannot remember who he is and don’t care to look him up) wanting to burn Harry Potter and Twilight books proved to the world that he believes Satan is more powerful than God and that evil is greater than good. I mean, come on – laugh at the devil and he will flee from you (and yes, I believe the devil is a dude, otherwise he would have gotten over himself a whole lot sooner…). Don’t give away your power. God is God, and people who actually believe in God would never in a million years burn a book. All that shows is that your fear is so much greater than your faith. Same with banning.
I remember the days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and was absolutely amazed at how political leaders exploited fear to cause an entire nation to support stupid and insane ideas. But none of us function well under fear. Fear impairs judgment, decisions, and the way we view and treat other people. At a time when our nation should have come together, many people turned to violence, racism, hate rhetoric, and shopping (remember how we were encouraged to teach those terrorists a lesson by shopping? Stupid, crazy, scared, or all of the above?)
The irrational thing for me is that anyone, anyone, anyone thinks motivation by fear is a good idea. Now, I confess that I am a bibliophile – I absolutely love reading and learning and find books to be good friends. I enjoyed Harry Potter and understood that they were what some people have called “a story.” At no time in reading these engaging fables did I feel the spawns of Satan trying to corrupt me, my family, and the human race. I tried to read the Twilight books but could not because I found them insipid, puerile, and poorly written. But you know what? I never thought they should be burned. I actually believe it is as important that we read bad books as it is that we read good books. Bad books can help us understand why good books are good! I have never feared a book. This is because I believe in God.
Yes, I am stating a correlation here: faith is okay with books, even those we disagree with and have every right and freedom in the world NOT to read. Fear and lack of faith hates books that scare us. One interesting correlation I note, that comes from a pretty sizable number of studies, should come as no surprise: people who support book burning are not readers. Nope, they don’t have time, they don’t enjoy it, they often can’t, but that doesn’t stop them from hating and judging what other people should be allowed to read. Fear based in ignorance = burning/banning.
And I note the rising tide of anti-intellectualism. In the recent controversy over Maus, two ideas caught my attention, though I do not have the exact quotations. First, Maus – a graphic novel – was selected because kids don’t really want to read “real” books. The other observation was made by a mother who said it scared her that her children both preferred reading to sports or television. She didn’t want her little darlings to be thought of as “arrogant egg-heads.” Is everyone who likes reading a) arrogant, and b) an egg-head?
I am a reader. I recommend a lot of books. I have been told by many that we are not “a reading culture,” and that people “don’t have time for or interest in reading.” This just boggles my mind. I cannot fathom a world without books and reading, so I am the oddball here. But the day banning and burning becomes acceptable is the day that evil wins, Satan prevails, and those who worship fear of “magic and witchcraft and the reality of the Holocaust (and Michelle Obama’s biography)” over God will finally prevail.
Thanks for sharing, Dan! Your interpretation of fear-based causation I found to be particularly insightful. It has been too easy for me to write off folks as chuckleheads when in fact they are operating out of fear. It’ like the controversy in Brookings, Oregon over feeding the homeless. The good citizens who live near the church are afraid of “those people” and that anxiety gets transferred to the town government. This anxiety result in trying to limit the good work of St. Timothy so that things “don’t get out of hand.” Everyone knows feeding the hungry is the right thing to do, but we don’t want to do too much of it or bad things will happen. This is fear. I need to be especially sensitive to the goodness of those who are afraid.
God bless you and your witness for Christ.
I was dismayed that a school district recently removed “To Kill a Mockingbird” from its school curriculum. They still have the book, but thought the book was “insensitive” and were removing the book from the English class reading list.
It is probably my favorite book. I had my daughter read it one summer in about 8th grade. She rolled her eyes when I asked her to read it and then sulked off. A short time later, I saw that she couldn’t put it down. The next day, she came to me with tears running down her face and thanked me for making her read it.
Books take you to another place, another time, and can provide the good, bad, and “other” of the world and your imagination.
While I do not believe in banning books, I do have concerns that books available in school libraries should be more selective. First of all, there is an assumption by the student that if the book was selected for the school library, then they (my teachers) want me to read it. I believe that school library books should be age-appropriate, and not include an abundance of obscene language, graphic sexual/ pornographic material or highly controversial ideology that the majority of parents would find unacceptable.
Children and teens have access to phones, computers, public libraries, magazines and other venues for reading what their parents may not find acceptable, but I do not believe that the school library should be one of those outlets.
Thimbs up. I agree.