It’s a measure of how busy I am when Banned Book Week has started before I realize it. Most years I make it a point to read a banned book at this time, but my reading schedule is so crowded that I seem to have missed the opportunity this year—I didn’t see it coming. I’ve read a great number of the top 100 banned books over the years, and I’m sure I’ll read more. I’ve recently been reading about America’s troubled history with free expression. Probably due to a strong dose of Calvinism combined with Catholicism, many of the books challenged and banned, as well as prevented from ever seeing the light of day, have to do with bodily functions. Sex, especially. In American society, as freely as this is discussed, we still have a real problem when someone writes about it.
Why might that be so? Many religions recognize the privacy aspect of sexuality without condemning the phenomenon itself. The Bible (which is on the list of Banned Books) talks of the subject pretty openly and fairly often. Our hangups about it must be post-biblical, then. Much of it, I suspect, goes to Augustine of Hippo. Although he had a wild youth, Augustine decided that nobody else should be able to do so guilt free, and gave us the doctrine of original sin. Add to that the legalistic interpretation of Paul and his school, and soon the topic itself becomes difficult to address. Victorian values, obviously, played into this as well. Literature, which explores every aspect of being human, is naturally drawn to what is a universal human drive.
Banned Books also treat race—another topic that haunts America—or use coarse language. Some challenge religious holy grails, such as special creation or Christian superiority. It seems we fear our children being exposed to ideas. The wisdom of such banning is suspect. The publishing industry has many safeguards in place to create age-appropriate literature. Banning tends only to increase interest by casting the “forbidden” pall over something that is, in all likelihood, not news to our children. American self-righteousness tends to show itself in many ways, making much of the rest of the world wonder at us. We seem so advanced, but we fear a great number of rather innocuous books. The reasons are similar to those behind why we can support tax-cheating, womanizing, narcissists as leaders: our faith blinds us. I may be late in getting to my banned book this year, so I guess I’ll just have to read two next time.