Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ah, I love the smell of righteousness first thing in the morning.*

It is, undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get free publicity for your books: get banned.

Yes, the very top story from The Toronto Star headlines e-mailed to me this morning is the shocking revelation that ”School Board Pulls Anti-God Book: Halton's Catholic trustees and staff to review fantasy that is `apparently written by an atheist'

Yes, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass has been pulled from display in the library, and December scholastic flyers won’t be distributed because the book is available for sale.

Pullman’s work joins a reputed list of other works, most of which were only banned temporarily, including JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (because of witchcraft) and Timothy Findlay’s The Wars because of the rape of a Canadian soldier by other soldiers. In both of those cases, decisions were later rescinded.

I now feel fairly confident that if I could write an anti-Catholic book with witchcraft and a rape, I’d be a guaranteed bestseller. Okay, I’m not entirely serious about that, but this speaks to the issues so many people have with religion, the idea that the only way to stay strong in your beliefs is to plug your ears and close your eyes and avoid any influences that don’t support your belief system. If your faith is so fragile that reading one work of fiction can make it come tumbling down or make you start to question what you believe, you’ve got more serious problems.

Now, I don’t really want to make this a ‘pick on Catholics’ post, but there’s a part of me that isn’t surprised at the long-standing sexual abuses and other problems the church has faced when the attitude is still to shun what we don’t agree with, instead of discussing it. So this book is written by an atheist. So what? A lot of books on school shelves are. A lot of textbooks are written by atheists. And actually, so are a lot of religious texts. There are many people who pursue religious studies who support no particular religion.

But this kind of narrow-minded thinking goes to the heart of the problems that we live with on a day to day basis. Support ignorance instead of understanding. Support righteousness instead of acceptance.

If books like this were read and discussed it could actually expand a person’s understanding, both of their own faith and of the views others have. Instead of arming kids with reasoning that helps them have confidence in their beliefs the door is shut and now it’s taboo. Verboten. Hell, for kids in grades 5 and 6? You may as well slap a picture of a naked woman on the front with the headline “BOYS DON’T LOOK”. Kids will be sneaking the book home, passing it amongst friends, talking about it… and all without the benefit of adult input or discussion because for many, if they were discovered reading it, they’d get in trouble.

Which just contributes to the rift between child and parent. A secret that becomes part of a lie that drives a wedge between family members, that becomes the pebble in the shoe, the one you wear to Mass, that makes you just a bit uncomfortable every time you go there because you did something naughty.

If we ever want kids to grow into reasonable, mature adults we have to limit our knee-jerk reactions. Particularly when kids are entering the teen years. When you show your child you don’t trust them or accept their choices – before they even make them – you make them less likely to discuss their feelings or thoughts with you for fear of judgment or rejection.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have rules. You should. But this book has been out since 1995 and it’s being banned now. Perhaps the best question of all is why the school board doesn’t review all books before putting them in the library if they’re so concerned with censorship. Instead, they’ve given the book a front-page headline and made it a tempting source of rebellion for young people, whether they go to these schools or not.

One thing any person of faith should know is that the God of the Bible, who parted the waters for Moses, who made it rain for forty days and forty nights, who rose from the dead, can’t be killed by one little ol’ atheist with a pen. The very act of pulling the book suggests a faith so fragile people feel they have to protect God in order to keep Him alive.

Which doesn’t suggest any kind of God worth worshipping to me.

*I realize I’m posting in the afternoon, but I did see this in the morning, so I’m not taking liberties.


John R said...

Books written by atheists?!? Good grief! Those snivelling wretches are taking time out from thinking about the eternal damnation they're facing because of their godless ways and producing propaganda to lure our children into the fiery depths with them?! This will not stand, Canada. This will not stand at all!

That school may have banned that book, but there'll be more unless swift action is taken. Is chopping off the typing fingers of anyone who can't recite the words of 'Ave Maria' too strict? Some would say so, but I say it's a necessary act to preserve the sanctity of our children. And anyone who disagrees with me is a communist and a heretic.

I didn't even know atheists could write!

Anonymous said...

We can't - we use Ghost Writers.....

Sandra Ruttan said...

You guys are too funny.

JamesO said...

Great post, Sandra. I can't wait for the movie to come out - it's going to be such fun watching the moral majority get its knickers in a twist.

John R said...

We can't - we use Ghost Writers.....

Sorcery! Witchcraft! Blasphemy! You're only making it worse for yourself!

Sandra Ruttan said...

And it's only getting worse:
offense over anti-atheist descrimination is the talk of the day.

Something I probably should have pointed out is that Catholic schools are publicly funded here. Which is interesting, considering this isn't even a Christian nation, never mind a Catholic one. I don't expect Muslim schools to carry books that are anti-Muslim, but those people are paying for their private education.

Of course, the real issue is that the book has been on shelves for 12 years and there's a fuss now. There will always be someone who takes offense at the slightest thing.

Boy Kim said...

'First-thing-in-the-morning-smells' huh?

Won't be going there.

Ummm... Hi!

Boy Kim said...

And what's this 'blog owner approval' malarky?

Damn, it's like being married all over again.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Holy hell, it's Boy Kim! Clearly you haven't been around much lately - the comment moderating went on when a crazy person started preaching the love of Jesus and condemnation for all sinners posting here. Well, it's actually a much longer story...

I hope things are good with you - I was just thinking about you the other day. Wish I was going to Crimefest next year - that'll be practically in your back yard, won't it?

Boy Kim said...

Holy hell yourself my dear. It is indeed me.

I am well, as I hope you are too. I'm all the weller for knowing you were thinking about me. Perhaps that's what made me stop by to hassle you again. And there's me thinking you'd given up the voodoo.

Crimefest is in my backyard? Does that mean I have to get the garden vac out?

Oh and I suppose Bach was half-decent.

DesLily said...

Gee, wanna take a guess at what I am reading right now? heh.. yep The Golden Compass! And article or no, I WILL read all 3 books!

Doesn't it make you wonder why any religion is so afraid to let anyone "think" or "question"? Why are they all afraid you will leave their precious church? Could it be that even they know the bible REALLY IS OPEN TO INTERPETATION? ya think?

Have they banned Jim Butchers books yet because he's a wizard??

Sandra Ruttan said...

Boy Kim, if I were you I wouldn't worry about cleaning the garden for crimefest, I'd just lock everything down...

Deslily, good to see you too, and no, no surprise to me that's what you're reading. I completely agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Did you know Catholics aren't allowed to take birth control either!
Anyway, it's great publicity don't you think. Normally when the Catholic Church puts a stop on something it becomes a best seller.
I hadn't heard about this book before, the film looks cool. I will be viewing and more than likely reading.

I'm going to hell!
chel x

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Chel! Can't you just say a few Hail Mary's and be forgiven?

Ray said...

To be fair to the Catholics here, Pullman is a terribly outspoken atheist (it's what he's predominantly known for), and he's writing children's books. Children's books, by the way, which are a response to what Pullman sees as the Christian propaganda of the Narnia novels.

Obviously Catholic schools would rather have Catholic- or Christianity-based texts in their school library, so in the light of the movie coming out (which is why it's so much an issue now - kids will want to read the book the movie's based on), surely they have a right to see if any uncomfortable questions are going to be raised? Plus, I don't think the book's actually been banned, has it? I thought it had just been withdrawn from display. It's not as if the kids can't read the book if they want to.

So, y'know, while we're talking knee-jerk reactions - it seems to me we've got the media to blame for that. I have no doubt that the "controversy" surrounding Harry Potter helped shift a few extra copies, so why not have one in the run-up to the movie's release? Because if there's a religion that outweighs the Big Guy, it's got to be the Almighty fucking Dollar.

Sandra Ruttan said...

True enough about the dollar Ray, although it is interesting that they won't distribute the Scholastic flyers because they have the book in it. They'd rather prevent kids from buying any of the other books than take a chance they could order this one... that's been for sale for 12 years anyway? That's what really adds to it, because most kids probably won't notice a book pulled from display (unless they have a very, very small library) but they will notice that they aren't getting their Scholastic flyers (perhaps not something you guys do in the UK, but it's a part of routine school life for kids).

I'm a huge CS Lewis fan myself, but I have to say I don't know how many times I'd read the Narnia Chronicles before someone told me what they represented. And if people want to draw literal theology from them, the argument would be that they support predestination and the ability to lose your salvation. There's a debate to have. Chosen by God to service Him and then lose your salvation so you can't go to heaven. Isn't it then God's fault, so isn't he making you sin so then isn't he really responsible for the sin?

And hell, we don't need novels to have those arguments. I've sat through them too many times.

I think the real crux of the argument does come down to the fact that we're supposed to have separation of church and state, but Catholic schools are publicly funded, so yes, in a roundabout way my tax dollars go to pay for them to indoctrinate the next generation. What really bothers me is that they have a book on display for over a decade and now one person complains and they pull it. (Reminds me of my days in the Brethren - one man minority ruling the whole church.) If it's such an issue they should investigate every book before it gets put out.

And yeah, my own religious background probably has something to do with my response to this. I don't miss the preaching against secular music, movies, books and the encouragement to keep my business limited to the likeminded and only deal with 'Christians'.

But yes, the media is having some fun with this story. Probably the better question is, who leaked it?

And I thought you were in the US, so I've been holding off on e-mailing you...

Ray said...

And yeah, my own religious background probably has something to do with my response to this. I don't miss the preaching against secular music, movies, books and the encouragement to keep my business limited to the likeminded and only deal with 'Christians'.

Yeah, speaking as a lapsed Catholic (I can't be an atheist - Pascal's Wager is too tempting for my gambling mind, but I'm not about to bang any religious drum here), I can understand that POV, but it's probably more a case of the school not knowing the book's background before the complaint. While I'm certainly not advocating book banning in any form (and I will reiterate that this book isn't actually banned as far as I know), I can understand a Catholic school taking an apparently anti-Catholic book out of circulation because of one complaint. I have no doubt that they simply don't have the resources to investigate every book that comes their way, especially if they're publicly funded. So this complaint may have been their first warning that something weren't right.

And we all know "Christians" - I know many who call themselves that and wouldn't give you the steam off their piss. But this Catholic school board are reviewing a book, not burning it. It's hardly a revolution of the Religious Right.

That's for when John writes his kiddy book - SHOW ME ON THE DOLL (WHERE JESUS TOUCHED YOU).

(Oh, and while it may be the case that stereotypes are often true, the Catholic church don't have the monopoly on child abuse)

And yeah, I just got back - so you email away, Ruttan!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Can John skip the book and take that story straight to video?

Did you read the other article I linked to in the comments above? The atheists are having fun with this one.

I think we'll always have a problem balancing the religious rights of one vs respect for the rights of others.

Most certainly the Catholics don't have the monopoly on child abuse - in this country Native children were removed from their families and sent to 'Christian' schools and we're dealing with settlements now for prolonged abuse. I used to live on an island that shared ferry service with a Native reserve, and there was a man there who taught me what it was to be hated for the colour of my skin. I can't say I blamed him, when you think about what these people have suffered over the years.

But that's exactly why stuff like this bugs me. It perpetuated ignorance and judgment instead of reasoning and understanding. I mean, I used to be so critical of the IRA, couldn't imagine why they did what they did, until I read a lot about the history. Having a Catholic grandmother divorced from an Orangeman, I was essentially raised atheist. While I don't support the IRA's tactics, what I would say is that learning about the history gave me a different perspective on why they did what they did. It's easy to lump things as black or white, but the truth is more grey.

I'm a cynic about the Catholic schools anyway, because they operate on censorship or tighter controls about a lot of things. Back when I worked with groups that included Catholic school kids and "public" school kids, I saw how little they did to protect the youth. Sex ed is in grade 4 here in the public system (and parents have the right to opt their kids out if they don't think they're ready, just like JWs don't stay in the room for the national anthem and didn't back when we used to have the Lord's Prayer). The Catholic schools don't think the kids are ready for it, so they get it in grade 5. Except they don't - they just hear it from their public school friends when they're in grade 4 and getting the kid version first isn't always the best option. They'd be better hearing it at school from adults than laughing over the worksheets their public school friends are bringing home.

I actually think the education system is supposed to educate, not promote ignorance. And pulling a book over one complaint... heavens, did you know there are prostitutes in the Bible? Pull it now.

Back when I was working with that mix of kids, there was a five-year-old boy who attended the Catholic school who called someone bi-sexual. I said, "Joseph, it's probably not a good idea to use words unless you know what they mean." I thought I could get away without addressing that topic to a five-year-old from a Catholic school - I mean, parental complaint waiting to happen. He didn't even blink as he said, "But I do know what it means..." and went on to explain it to me in detail. Sort of reminded me of Superfudge.

So I said, "Where did you hear that?"

He said, "My brother."

Who happened to be in grade 4, at a Catholic school, but already knew and was educating a child in kindergarten.

The more time I spent working with kids, the more I leaned to handling things with a bit of maturity instead of avoidance. (In reality it's often more uncomfortable for the adults and by making such a big stink about it we contribute to discomfort with the subject and sexual hangups in the future.) It's just my philosophy, and I'd feel the same no matter who was having the uproar over a book. I mean, I don't have to tell you my opinion of the complete idiocy of people trying to ban Hackman Blues.

Although to prove myself a hypocrite, every now and again something offends me and I have opposition to it. Someone's doing a book that's basically a teenage Dexter, and I'm not crazy about that, without having read it. After watching several episodes of Dexter not only does it not portray a true sociopath, thus romanticizing something based on a flawed foundation of understanding, but it glamorizes killing in a way that's bothered me. Give me The Wire, give me Bruen, Guthrie, I can take violence. But I've actually shut Dexter off repulsed. If my niece wanted to read that book (about the teenager - I don't know who's writing it, I just saw the deal) I would be discussing it with her the whole way through.

Anonymous said...

I've believe a sinners prayers are always heard!
Really though, it's a bit like that time years ago when i was in primary school. Enid Blytons books were seen to be racist and a lot of the characters were changed.
Why did people not just explain the proper meanings of the words to their children? Then dicipline said children if they used those words in a rasist way? Nope, take away the words and sweet them under the carpet!