Disclaimer: I’m a Christian. I like to think I’m an open-minded, non-judgemental, nice person. Most people, when they hear I go to church, assume the opposite. Please don’t judge me before you know me because that is not nice :( I’m writing this post from the point of view of a 16-year-old brought up in a Christian family who thinks censoring books for religious reasons is stupid. Just in case that wasn’t clear enough by the end of it.
In my life, I’ve come across quite a few people who try and control what their children, friends, siblings, next-door neighbours, etc, read. Some will do this only occasionally – “Oh, I don’t think you’re quite old enough for that book yet. Try this one.” Others will basically censor the shelves of the local library before they’ll let their children near it.
One of my first experiences of this was when I was at primary school. A friend of mine was forbidden to read not only Harry Potter but also the Lord of the Rings, because of the magic in them. Her parents were rather strict Christians and had very strong ideas on what this would do for her overall spiritual health.
Er, hello? JRR Tolkien was a Catholic, and anyway the main point of both of those series is that they’re about good triumphing over evil, not the other way around. In my experience, those who stop people from reading Harry Potter for the reasons I’ve mentioned above haven’t usually read Harry Potter themselves, and so they’re basing this off hearsay and misinterpretations.
When I was seven I wanted to read the Lord of the Rings and my parents prevented me, or rather, they recommended that I didn’t. At the time, I was very angry about this. In fact, it still irritates me sometimes. It wasn’t because they thought it was unsuitable or anything – the reason given was “you’ll enjoy it more when you’re older.”
I read it when I was eight and loved it to pieces, and couldn’t understand why they’d kept it from me for several months. It was my favourite book for a solid two years.
I had a few incidents when I was given books for my birthday that my sister didn’t think were suitable for someone of my age and she used to tell me not to read them. Sometimes I listened, and waited a while, and then read them. With one or two I thought, “I don’t understand why I couldn’t read that last year.” With others I thought, “Okay, she was right. I was too young for that.”
But one thing I always ignore is “Guidance: adult content.” I mean, come on. Slapping that on a YA book and expecting a voracious 12-year-old reader not to pick it up is like insulting Darth Vader and expecting him not to force choke you. Stupid.
My sister had one of those, on her shelves. I waited until she went to university, a couple of months before I turned thirteen, and then read it. And yeah, I was probably too young, but it’s a great book and was a big influence on my writing, and I don’t regret reading it then.
People also warned me against the His Dark Materials books. As I’m from a Christian family, they weren’t at all sure about some of Philip Pullman’s ideas about God, but it can’t be denied that they’re well-written books and so no one stopped me from reading them. They just warned me to be careful.
I was eleven and it went straight over my head. All of it. “Dodgy ideas about God?” I said to my mum when I finished it. “What dodgy ideas about God?”
(When I was fifteen, I read them through again and thought back to that opinion … “Oh.” Okay, in case any of you guys missed it like eleven-year-old me, God dies. Also, they have sex at the end. They’re like, twelve. That’s weird.)
Even though I now see the aspects of those books that contradict what I believe, that doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of them. To me, they’re just another fantasy series, and I don’t expect books to believe what I do. If they did, that’d be boring. I’d never have learned to think about things. They’re well-written, so I like them. Books that go out of their way to be shocking and to insult the Christian faith – those are the ones that bother me. Not children’s books that don’t have a Christian moral.
I always preferred the ones without morals anyway. Much more fun.
But the thing about all of these books is that no one stopped me from reading them, hid them from me, took them away … they just said, “I don’t think you should read that now.” Or, “I won’t buy that book for you until you’re older.” If I wanted to read it regardless, I could.
I saw a post on Tumblr a while back where a student asked if she was doing the right thing running an illegal library out of a spare locker in her strict Catholic school which had banned a lot of books, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams), Mort (Terry Pratchett) and Sabriel (Garth Nix). All of these are books I have read multiple times and enjoyed. Why were they banned? Because their ideas about death and the afterlife (Mort and Sabriel) or about God and creation (Hitchhiker’s Guide) contradicted the religious ethos of the school.
You shouldn’t stop people reading books because they contradict your beliefs. For a start, people don’t automatically start imitating the life choices of characters, or I’d be a complete psychopath by now. And people need a challenge to the beliefs they’ve been brought up in so that they can make their own mind up about what they believe.
If they never hear another opinion, how are they ever going to assert their faith as their own rather than their parents’ or guardians’?
Books shouldn’t be censored. It’s not up to parents to decide what their children believe, and reading books that broaden your worldview is only going to make you a better, more open-minded person. If they really believe something, it’s not going to be shaken by a humorously blasphemous book like Good Omens (that doesn’t insult anyone and only gently pokes fun at Christianity). Also, if you’re going to stop someone reading a book because you think it’s theologically dodgy or whatever, read it first.
Please. The next person that tells me Harry Potter is advocating black magic and will turn their children into Satanists will be locked in a room with the series and forced to read it. Possibly at wand-point.