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  • Reverend James Squire

My New Favorite History Book Would Get Banned

Updated: Apr 24, 2023




Book Bans in school libraries supported by conservative Republican legislators rose nearly 30% last semester (1479) according to Pen America. That is more than those banned in the first semester. (1477) I do hope that people are keeping a close eye on what is happening in Missouri regarding this issue. If banned books are used by anyone in Missouri, they have passed a new law that carries a punishment of up to one year in prison. These folks have no shame or do they. I will get to the issue of shame later. But if the progression of policy among Republican dominated states regarding abortion is a predictor of actions, we can look at other states adopting this policy of jail time.


What Pen America has noticed is, “That it is a set of ideas, it’s themes, it’s identities, it’s the knowledge of our country that are being banned.” It’s time to post that classic statement of Pastor Martin Niemoller regarding the apathy of the German population during Hitler’s rise to power which has been used in many public addresses as well as it is seen as a key warning at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. In it is a helpful caution to us when he wrote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out for I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out for I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”


All one should fear is a little bit of our history. In the 50’s, there was a far-right politician, Joe McCarthy, who went about a political scourge against anyone that he thought was a communist. He ruined careers particularly in Hollywood. He seemed to think that there was a communist under every rock. When challenged on his anti-American point of view, he simply said, “At least I didn’t ban books.” Even for someone as radical as him, he would not ban books which was seen as the ultimate demonic gesture. President Eisenhower dealt with his approach by saying that all books should present both sides of an issue. Look how back we have gone. Even as young student, I remember the aphorism that “he who does not know our history, will be bound to repeat it.”


But let’s get into the shoes of the book banners. What has motivated them. Is it purely a grab for power and the belief that our history is pure of any causes for concern. The governor of Alabama recently banned a childhood education book vetted by a national organization. Her head of childhood education was just fired from her job for her belief that inclusivity and diversity should be taught as many families are not traditional in nature. She believed in this 800- pages book of guidelines for educators for the very young from this recognized national organization that recommends topics that should be taught.


I think the answer to why books are banned is not totally political in nature. We have missed something that Oscar Wilde, of all people, hit on part of the answer when he said, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show its own shame.” All parents want their children to grow up safe and too many underestimate their teacher’s ability to discern what is good for them. They use to be called hothouse parents keeping any bad news or ideas from them. They are also referred to today as helicopter parents hovering over every aspect of their children’s lives. Their actions rest in the wisdom of Wilde. Parents don’t want to feel two emotions that they have felt in life themselves perhaps and are guarding these emotions like walls around a fort preventing them to reach their children. We have all felt guilt which is defined as “I did something wrong.” That is relatively easy to process although it is an emotion that we all conduct our lives to avoid along with vulnerability and rejection. But what we avoid at any cost is to feel shame which is defined as “I am something wrong.”


From a psychological perspective their fervor for banning anything that would make their children feel bad as in guilt or worse, shame is part of the basis for their actions.


But here is the hard reality. Our reality if we stick to the facts and not opinion contains much to feel guilty and worse shameful about how our history developed over time. They don’t know that the origin of the term woke means to awaken to injustice that groups of people have faced.


I have written blogs about Isabel Wilkinson’s book Caste which Oprah sent to captains of industry and owners of sports teams because it was the best book that she ever read. The title summarizes the theme which is that America has always needed a group of people to look down on. Hence the reference to the caste system in India. The book focuses on race. It supports Dr. Paul Farmer, world class physician, who said, “That the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” A core of my own belief system.


But I have read, and I will re-read, a book that is more encompassing than Caste. It is How the South Won the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of history at Boston College who has a blog that has an enormous following linking daily events to history. She is brilliant, and brings her insights to the common man and woman. She brings the ivory tower to main street. She is USA Today’s Woman of the Year. The book is, in my opinion, for our moment in history because it deals with race but also includes its cousins in injustice which are class and the oppression of women. It would scare the book banners as well as DeSantis who I don’t think that he believes half of what he says. He had to learn something at Harvard and Yale. The book takes seriously that you can have your opinions but not your facts. You will see how history does repeat itself in shameful ways.


Lincoln with republican ideology freed the slaves against the democrats largely in the south and west, but what happened that the republican ideology has become that of the Democrats. It has been a complete reversal. How and why? Read this book and you will find out.


My mantra in life has always been that “we tolerate (meaning move forward) that which we understand. It is important to remember that book banning may be to spare children guilt and shame. Those are the emotions that parents are attempting to ban for their children for we as human beings set up our lives to never feel guilt, shame, rejection, and vulnerability.

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