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 In both of those cases, decisions were later rescinded.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.