Thursday, October 1, 2015

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week again! Every year, the American Library association celebrates "Banned Books Week," this year celebrated September 27-October 3. From the website:

Banned Books Week is the national book community's annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2015 celebration will be held September 27-October 3.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 311 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2014, and many more go unreported. 

Books are often banned or challenged by parents for their inclusion in curriculum, school libraries, or even public libraries. These books are often considered inappropriate based upon age-appropriateness, dealing with controversial themes, or critiques of religion or established social order.

A school district recently came under fire for putting a pro-life sticker over top of a portion of a textbook that spoke about various forms of contraception, including abortion. This is just one recent example of censorship. The Banned Books Week webpage I linked to above also includes a list of the ten most banned or challenged books of the past year.

I would like to emphasize the importance of Banned Books Week. I would also like to point out that many of the bans and challenges to books throughout history were by religious groups. I think of the burning of Galileo's books by the Catholic Church, Martin Luther's burning of the papal bull (which was reactionary to the Catholic Church's burning of his writings), and even a few years ago the Florida pastor who suggested the Qur'an be burned.

This says something about the power of the written word--the power to communicate ideas, to expand horizons, and challenge deeply held beliefs. This is why books are so threatening, but also why we need them. It is such a shame that religion, and particularly in this country, Christianity, has been so often used to ban books, when Christianity is itself a celebration of Logos--the word. Christianity got its start as a religion following the written-down stories of Jesus and the written advice and leadership of the apostles. With such a long-standing appreciation for the written word, why is Christianity so often used in banning the written word?

What if instead of banning what makes us uncomfortable,  challenges us, or disagrees with us, why don't we instead use it as an opportunity to challenge ourselves or have conversations with our children about our beliefs? We only can gain from that situation. And in avoiding those conversations, we lose.