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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Take no prisoners, only kill

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Don't hand weapons to your critics.

A school board in southern Ontario has pulled The Golden Compass and the rest of the series out of its libraries after ten years of destroying faith, claiming that the books promote anti-Catholic values. (I imagine that their next step will be to ban Protestant churches.)

My other alter ego (actually, she's an "altar ego") wrote about this yesterday, but this is the sort of thing that Little Miss Know-it-All would normally write about, and I would not want to disappoint anyone. To anticipate a few readers' reactions: No, you do not have to apologise for the idiots on the Halton school board.

I have not read these books, but I certainly will now that I know they are so subversive that they could shake the faith of people who are otherwise secure in their belief in transubstantiation. All of my information about the series comes from the media.

I hear that the books include an evil organization called the Magisterium that controls the planet. Some Christians are furious. How dare anyone suggest that their religion tries to suppress speech it doesn't like? Ban that book immediately! Who cares about freedom of speech? Real freedom is freedom to censor!

I wish I was joking.

I'm going to hand out some free communications advice to anyone who is thinking about doing something similar:

  • First, please don't do it at all. It's just asking for trouble. You will be laughed at, and even people who share your religion will be embarrassed.

  • If you decide that you really have to clamp down on dissent, it's better if you're not doing it in the name of an organization that's already known for similar activities. For example, if you're a member of a religion that, say, used to burn people at the stake for having different ideas, don't say that your actions are being done in the name of the same religion.

  • If you can't stop yourself, do it quietly, for goodness sake. (And for God's sake.) Don't put out a press release that proudly announces that you are pulling books out of the library because they accuse your religion of trying to silence its critics.
The best reaction, of course, would be one or more of the following:
  • Laugh. These are NOVELS. It's great that kids are reading instead of playing video games. And you're secure enough in your beliefs that a novel's not going to change anything, right?

  • Teach kids to think critically. That way, they'll understand why your religion is right, right?

  • Just shut up. Why give extra exposure to books that you don't want kids to read?
I think what bugs me most about this is that these books were apparently fine until the last few months. Who cares that the author's an agnostic? Is the school board going to pull every agnostic author's books out of the libraries? Where does THAT stop?

I don't mind having specialised libraries with a focus on a particular topic. For example, my alma mater's library has a special focus on classics, theology and journalism, reflecting the classes that are taught at the school. But I don't recall any announcements from the board of governors that Galileo's writings were being banned because his understanding of motion challenged the Aristotelian Cosmos. (Perhaps this is because my school is not Catholic.) (HAHAHAHAHA. Just kidding.)


EduFAIRY said...

I am an educator.

It really saddens me to hear stuff like this. I work in a K-8 school and KNOW how difficult it is to get kids into reading, and for people/school boards to do this, is really disheartening. It's a novel for goodness sake, a freakin' novel.

I find it really interesting how people, when elected to seats of 'power' they think they are God and they know what is best for all. I wonder if ANY of those board members were/are educators. My advise is simple, allow children to read what they want AND teach them to think, and develop their own opinions based on evidence, values, & beliefs.

I assume that this board will be asking all families to throw out all video games, movies, dirty magazines that are just as "inappropriate."

Signed: An Angered, But Mostly Saddened EduFAIRY

Cin said...

I wouldn't introduce my kids to the Golden Compass or any of the His Dark Materials trilogy, because I basically think the books suck. I've read all three. I wasn't impressed.

But if they bring these books into my Catholic house, that's just fine. I'm glad I have read them and can discuss them with the kids and point out the many different ways the trilogy's Magisterium is fictional and is not the Catholic Church (or the Anglican Church, since the Magisterium in the series is headquartered in Great Britain.)

It's the same reason I read the Da Vinci Code. How can you debunk something if you've never read it?

However, about this "it's just fiction" argument: sorry, but that is a logical fallacy. Fictional writing can have a great impact on the way anyone views the world. Just because the details of a story are fictional doesn't mean the author isn't trying to espouse some greater truth or mistruth through the work.

Philip Pullman freely admits the His Dark Materials trilogy encourages the reader to reject belief in God. He is an atheist (and a devout one, lol). He firmly beleives atheism is the truth and wants others to see the light.

I respect his honesty. The reason I absolutely detest Dan Brown and his work is he is a liar. He claims his back story details in The DA Vinci Code are historical truth. Anyone in first year history in university could dispell almost every piee of his so-called "true" back story. In fact, historians from across the globe, including athesits, have debunked Brown's "true" back story.

OK, rant over. Thanks for this post, Megan. Banning books is patent nonsense.

Sharon said...

Thanks my wonderful niece for pointing out the absurdity of banning books.
Auntie Librarian

PS I liked the books.

Anonymous said...

I think the point of contention is in the fact that they are children's books. It's all well and good to say that we should let our kids reason things out for themselves, but we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that our kids are miniature philosophers. Children do not approach issues in a particularly rational fashion. For example, there's very little chance that a fat man could fit down your chimney tomorrow night, or any other night, but millions of children believe it. If they were to stop and think about it rationally, they would see that it's not possible. The fact that kids (or most kids - I'm aware some children do reject such things) do not challenge these types of beliefs shows that they do not have a sufficiently rational approach.

I'm not particularly in favor of brainwashing children, per se, but do you really think we should allow them to be completely free in this regard, knowing that their intellect is still quite underdeveloped? You wouldn't let your child play unsupervised in a chemistry lab, so why would you let them undertake philosophical forays unattended? I think the danger of a false worldview is far more urgent and more lasting than the danger of, say, a test tube on fire.

There is also a difference between believing yourself to be all-knowing and believing yourself to be more knowledgable than someone else. You do not have to be all-knowing to help someone out on thier philosophical paths - you just have to know a little bit more than they do. If this is true, then it is perfectly within your rights to attempt to teach the less knowledgable person. And I'm pretty sure that there are relatively few cases where a child knows more about the world than the parent. Since religion and philosophy are parts of the world, it is perfectly within your rights as a parent to teach your child about these things.

I myself am against the straight-up banning of books or their removal from libraries; however, I can certainly understand the motivations for doing so. A more reasonable solution would be to simply watch what your kids read - you may be able to supervise your child's development, but you can't tell me, for instance, that I can't read the book. Once you are satisfied that your child possesses an intellect which is capable of coming to the right conclusions even when mildly deluded (for example, deducing that there is no Santa Claus even though you say there is), then you should begin exposing them to "incorrect" ideas.

Basically, I agree that knowledge is a good thing. However, to present information that is false to someone who is without the facility to determine that it is false is nothing short of irresponsible. Your child is far better off not knowing what a handgun is than they are thinking that it's a lollipop.

-Mandal Man

Megan said...

Perhaps someone who has read the books can enlighten me: Is the evil Magisterium presented in a way that a child would recognise it as representing the church? Most kids don't even get the symbolism in the Narnia series.

I have a young child and have watched many others grow up. They typically do not think of storybooks as being philosophical forays, they think of them as cool stories.

I think this is a problem that has been created by adults. It reminds me of the Harry Potter nonsense.

Anonymous said...

I agree; the problem is created by adults, on both sides.
Probably the Catholic school board is over-reacting (I haven't read the books), but the characterization of their action as "banning books" or "censorship" is also an overreaction. The book in question has not been banned, or burned, or made illegal. This is not censorship.
All libraries select books, and when you select one book, you reject another one. No public library offers pornography, for one obvious example. Another example would be blatantly racist books, or books promoting cruelty to animals.
It's silly to expect a Catholic library to promote books that insult the Catholic Church.
Tolerance goes two ways.


Steve Dawe said...

Honestly, I'm surprised. As a Christian, I dislike "His Dark Materials" for the 3rd book, not the first. After all, it's in the 3rd book that they murder God, set up a republic of heaven to replace the kingdom thereof, and (if Pullman himself is to be believed) have two adolescents engage in some sexual understanding of one another in order to retell the Eden story.

Interestingly, these books were written to counter what Pullman saw as the patent nonsense (and lack of democracy)of the Narnia books.

As a person, I just dislike them because they aren't very good fantasy. Pullman is good, but he's no Tolkien.

Torq said...

I can't really get behind material which I find to be philosophically empty and I don't think that these books are ones which our children should be encouraged to read. That said, I don't think that we gaining anything by banning such books. The ideal situation would be one in which they are taught to think and are exposed to so much good literature that they are able to recognize for themselves what is trash and what is not. This is to be achieved by MORE reading, not less.

On the other hand, I do agree that schools should have control over what materials are age appropriate. Having never read the book, I have no specific opinions about its quality or appropriateness.

Karen said...

Tolkien is no Lewis