Thank you for David James Duncan’s balanced, lucid and thoughtful essay on fundamentalist censorship (“Toxins in the Mother Tongue,” Jan. 23). His experience highlights the need to protect our educational system from demagogues of all stripes. Our schools and communities must not be persecuted for “thought crime.”
Perhaps, along with national standards designed to raise the academic levels of all students, regardless of background, we need a national policy of inclusion for all cultural traditions and political viewpoints. Rather than relegating the study of our fellow beings to a few optional humanities credits, let understanding of all shades of the human condition be our schools’ overriding covenant.
I was reared in the Virginia Bible Belt as a Southern Baptist, and my parents rammed Christian fundamentalism down my throat, starting with grace before my first bottle. When I was 20, my father and I heard a radio newscast of an anti-abortion demonstration at a clinic. He asked me if I agreed with the protesters. I said no, that I believed in choice, and he flew into a rage, screaming: “We didn’t raise you to believe in abortion.”
My parents automatically label all knowledge as either “Christian” or “non-Christian.” As most literature falls into the latter category, fundamentalists will always censor in the name of God. Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that Duncan’s young readers were allowed to actually read his book (albeit censored); my parents had offending titles removed from my elementary school library.
Duncan’s thoughtful response to the censor’s marker evaded a “fundamental” point. The battle over his work did not take place in public libraries or bookstores but in public schools, where freedom of expression is not always welcome (i.e. the recent PC squabble on college campuses). Fundamentalists are not ogres. Parents only want to avoid adult language being forced upon their children. Yes, literature should be experienced by everyone--but not all literature by every age group.
Reading Duncan’s scathing literary essay, I could not help but think: What if he is wrong? What if the God of the Bible is the Lord, God and creator of the universe? What if there is a moral standard where right and wrong exist, and that information has been made available to all people--a user’s manual of sorts? How impish and self-righteous then become Duncan’s accusations and slanderous statements of “cult,” “pollution,” “Christofascism” and the like.
While the mainstream press in the United States has, of late, frequently been criticized for its tabloid inclinations and sleaze, the real tragedy has been the spinelessness that has characterized it for so long. Those who say you have been too easy on Bill Clinton should remember the eight-year honeymoon Ronald Reagan enjoyed. If you had pressed harder on Iran-Contra, for example, you could have changed the course of American history: George Bush would not have been elected President, and Oliver North would surely not be campaigning to become a senator from Virginia.
So you are, I suppose, to be applauded for allowing Duncan to take on the American fundamentalists, a target worthy of such a witty, damaging attack. One wonders, however, if you would have printed so effective an attack against that other group of fascistic censors, those who would also take away the right of creative (though perhaps sometimes threatening) expression and thought--those arguing for speech and behavior codes as well as politically correct curricula on college campuses.
Editor’s Note: We call to your attention Barry Siegel’s “Speak No Evil,” (March 28, 1993) about the University of Wisconsin’s attempt to outlaw hate speech.
Fundamentalist Christians are not interested in being censors. They are, in fact, finding themselves in a desperate fight to keep works of fiction or nonfiction that have even a slight reference to Christian thinking from being removed from the shelves and reading lists of schools and libraries. This has even included the Bible itself.
On the other hand, those responsible members of our culture, regardless of political or religious persuasion, who would hope that we can improve the moral and ethical climate in the United States seem to be coming to a point of agreement. Freedom of any kind must be accompanied by responsibility and accountability.
On reading Duncan’s article, Joe Sixpack exclaimed “Wha?” and the rest of us giggled with relief in the realization that educated common sense still exists--even with a poetic twist. Now, how do we get our public schools to produce and nurture more Duncans?