Sunday 7 October 2007


Censorship is a topic that polarizes people. Most Christians believe in censorship, certainly for children, and also as part of their own self discipline. We try to avoid books and films (in fact anything) that we judge will make it harder to be "imitators of God" (Eph 5:1). Hence, over the years Christians have played their part in arguing for censorship of specific books, films, art, stage productions etc. Some have suggested that censorship was invented by Christians, but this is an overstatement. Censorship is an important topic and so Christians need to think about where they stand on such matters - for personal reasons, as parents (and teachers of any kind), and for apologetic reasons. The latter has many dimensions; people 'read' the way Christians challenge ideas, the way we pro-actively argue our position, the reasons we give in defense or attack and the manner in which we engage with public issues.

Parents and teachers will frequently face situations where they need to decide if a book is appropriate for their children. One of the most recent debates has concerned the book "The higher power of lucky" by Susan Patron (Simon & Schuster), with many parents and librarians wanting it banned. In a recent video interview the author provided an overview of the book and her reasons for writing it. In spite of some opposition, the book won the coveted Newbery Medal that is awarded each year to the book judged to be the best work of fiction for children in the USA.

The book tells the story of a 10 year old girl in Hard Pan (California) a town of just 43 people. She aspires one day to be a scientist and her curiosity leads her to eavesdrop on a group of people meeting in the local museum who share their life stories of addictions that were turned around with the help of a Higher Power. On the very first page Patron writes:

“Sammy told of the day when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked ’62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.”

While this is an unusual opening for a book written for 9-11 year old readers, would it lead you to stop your children reading it? I don't think it would lead me to remove the book from my child's reading list. But in reflecting on this, I wondered what things would lead me to consider censorship

What issues should lead me to challenge the appropriateness of specific titles on school reading lists? Or to suggest that my child should not read something? It is interesting to consider the American Library Association's list of the 100 most challenged books (1990-2000) for adults and children. This list contains some child and adolescent books that I certainly wouldn't challenge as a Christian if the books were read by the right age group. For example, "Bridge to Terabithia" and "The Great Gilly Hopkins" (both by Katherine Patterson). There are some that I would stop specific age groups reading (e.g. Judy Blume's "Forever"). What are the things that would excite me into action? And on what basis would I do it?

As a Christian I did censor some of the books that my children could have read. But as a parent of young children I always had more problems deciding about films, magazines and television programs. I'm sure parents today would add the Internet and electronic games to my list.

As well as dealing with such matters within the family, we will (at times) feel the need to enter public debate. The way we present ourselves to the world on such matters, is even more difficult. How do we take such stands, and on what authority do we do it (hopefully the Bible is the foundation informing our wisdom). When Christians enter public debate about censorship, our worldview is displayed and judgements are made about Christians and Christianity (rightly and wrongly).

Once again, should I be concerned about the use of the word "scrotum" on the first page of a book meant for upper primary children? I don't think so, I'd take it as an opportunity to teach some basic anatomy - well vocabulary, because at age 11 the terms 'penis' and 'vagina' would have been understood and discussed before. But I would get excited as a parent of young children when blasphemy was evident (e.g. in music video clips), when I saw immoral behaviour presented as acceptable, when texts sought to present as normal that which the Bible taught was not normal or was wrong, and when there was evidence of exploitation (e.g. the way women were portrayed).

This is a complex topic on which there are many views inside and outside the church, I'd be interested to know what others think about the various issues I have raised and how they have dealt with them at a personal level as well as in roles where you have had responsibility for children.

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