As a response to a recent wave of book banning, Chaz Stevens wants to ban the Bible. He might have a point.
Banning books in the US isn't new. As far back 1637, well before US independence, the Puritans banned the book New English Canaan. Written by Thomas Morton, a minor-celebrity activist with a particular interest in protecting Native Americans, his 3 volume book caused outrage among the Puritanical governments for its criticism of their methods, ideology, and harsh treatment of the local native tribes. It's quite possible this was the first banned book in the New World, and in fact, great efforts were made to find and destroy it because it criticized and threatened local power structures, though a few survived in the Netherlands and was reprinted in 1883.
In the nearly 400 years since the first book was banned in the US, it seems not much has changed. The modern effort to ban books has been spearheaded by a handful of people who believe they have the moral high ground. For example, since the 1970s, Jerry Falwell has led, organized, and funded numerous book banning campaigns on both local and national scenes to, in his words, bring the country "back to basics, back to values, back to biblical morality, back to sensibility, and back to patriotism." Falwell's influence cannot be understated. Through these campaigns, as well as with his book Listen, America! and through his now defunct organization Moral Majority, Falwell was one of the main driving forces behind the Reagan era's sharp turn to conservative Christian values and subsequent efforts to remove books that allegedly threatened these values.
However, Falwell's efforts spawned significant opposition. A good example of this is the story of a small school district in Nassau County, New York. In 1975, a group known as the Parents of New York United submitted a list of books it wanted banned from the Island Trees School District. On their list were 11 books, including Black Boy by Richard Wright, Best Short Stories of Negro Writers edited by Langston Hughes, The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris, and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The schoolboard partly agreed and removed some of the recommended books from their shelves. Why? Because they were deemed as "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Sem[i]tic, and just plain filthy." The response was Steven Pico and 5 teenage students suing for violations of their First Amendment rights, bringing the fight to national attention. By 1982, the case known as Island Trees School District v. Pico was in front of the Supreme Court, with the final verdict being split 4/4 among the judges, with Justice White taking a step back and refusing to cast a vote.
Probably not by coincidence, around the same time as this Supreme Court case, librarian and activist Judith Krug and the Association of American Publishers created Banned Book Week. It's held every year on the last week of September, and its purpose is to draw attention to banned books, their persecuted authors, and the larger cultural struggle. They say that "the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week." Today, Banned Books Week includes banned websites, is supported by numerous organizations such Amnesty International, and is celebrated across the country.
Despite such efforts, book banning is still a regular occurrence in the US. In 2021 alone, 1597 books were targeted. Half of the top 10 most frequently under fire were because they included LGBT content. Other reasons include profanity, sexual depictions, and sending the wrong message, such as being biased against men or women, encouraging anti-police sentiments, etc.
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Activist Chaz Stevens
Stevens has described himself as an "an atheist activist who likes banana daquiris." He first made headlines in Tallahassee in 2013 when he insisted on having a 6-foot pole made of beer cans be put on public display. This was a reference to Frank Costanza's Festivus pole, an alternative to the Christmas tree, from "Seinfeld." His point was that displays of all religions need to be respected, not just those of Christianity, as stipulated by the First Amendment.
Stevens' fight now is against the new wave of book challenges, especially in conservative leaning states. In particular, he is pushing back against new legislation in Tennessee that makes it easier for public school boards to remove books they find objectionable. This is part of a national trend, including the banning of the book Maus for graphic depictions of the Holocaust, governors in Texas and South Carolina calling for the removal of obscene books from libraries, and school officials in states like Florida, Virginia, and Mississippi taking books off of the shelves due to complaints from parents.
To protest these events, Stevens has filed complaints with 62 school superintendents asking for the Bible to be banned. He argues that the Good Book includes equally or worse depictions of violence, sexuality, etc. than can be found in banned books.
What About the Bible?
In a letter to the superintendent of Leon County Public Schools in Florida, Stevens gives a handful of snarky and sarcastic examples for why the Bible shouldn't be read by children:
- Age Appropriateness (Matthew 15:19): "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." Here, Stevens is making the point that children shouldn't be taught about orgies, adultery, or what he refers to as "Date Night Friday Night."
- Bestiality and Rape (Leviticus 18:23): "Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion." Stevens is contending that Bible quotes like this are a violation of Florida law Statute Ch. 847.001 6(a,b,c), which gives a description of topics considered offensive to children.
- Wokeness (Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, VI, 5-7): "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." This is a direct response to the cultural and political debate over Critical Race Theory. Stevens is arguing that discussions of slavery could be damaging to children.
- Social-Emotional Learning (Genesis 2:18): "It is not good enough for man to be alone, therefore, encourage one another and build each other up!" Here, Stevens is saying that teaching empathy for one another is a slippery slope, in that children are "one giant step closer to getting their LGBTQ+ freak on."
Of course, Stevens' letter is meant to be ironic and rather humorous. But digging deeper into the Bible, we can find several more examples that help illustrate his point.
- Violence Against Babies (Psalm 137:8–9): "Happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks!"
- Condoning Sexual Assault (Isaiah 3:16–17): "Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts."
- Threatening Rape (Jeremiah 13:22): "And if you ask yourself, 'Why has this happened to me?'—it is because of your many sins that your skirts have been torn off and your body mistreated."
- Cannibalism (Leviticus 26:27–29): "I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters."
- Senseless Violence (Job 2:3): "Then the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.'”
- Condoning Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28–29): "If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her."
- Sexual Violence (Genesis 19:8): "I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please."
- Incestual Rape (Genesis 19:34-35): "'I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.' So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him."
And many, many other examples exist.
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Here's the Point
No body is legitimately trying to ban the Bible. The point is to demonstrate the hypocrisy of banning books. If libraries are pulling books off their shelves for certain reasons, then these same reasons apply to other books, including the Bible. And if, however, we've agreed to allow children to read the Bible because it has positive messages despite objectionable content, then we need to acknowledge that these banned books may have something positive to offer as well.
For example, one of the most frequently banned books is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee because of its use of profanity, depictions of rape, and racial slurs. However, the book is also celebrated for its discussions of racial inequality and the need for empathy and understanding. When it was banned, children were saved from objectionable material, sure, but they were also deprived of its many important lessons.
It's the same with many other banned books. Children are being deprived of the lessons of racial equality, prejudice, and social conditioning in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to protect them against the use of the n-word. What about 1984, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, The Kite Runner, etc.? All of these are banned, along with everything they can teach children.
Therefore, Chaz Stevens is simply pushing for consistency, in that some books and their important lessons shouldn't be banned for objectionable content, while we allow the same objectionable content to be read every Sunday because it contains important lessons.
Originally published at http://thehappyneuron.com on May 7, 2022.