Per the Guardian, a hilarious spectacle has occurred at a Catholic school in Tennessee. The school decided to remove Harry Potter books from the library, citing the presence of “actual curses and spells, which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits.” The pastor was driven to this conclusion upon consulting exorcists who had recommended he purge the library of demonic literature, lest the hapless students provided a gateway to the evil spirits apparently inhabiting these books.
Harry Potter has long terrorized some self-declared saints and literalists because, to them, its narrative suggests magic can be a force of both “good and evil.” A Polish priest thought something similar when he resolved to burn the popular novels to avoid an eschatological catastrophe.
These occurrences add to the catalogue of episodes in which the credulity of an “enlightened authority” have undermined the ability of others to decide for themselves what are good and bad ideas. They are one with the conventional wisdom that says that society must safeguard people from forms of expression that are deemed contaminated by such authority. And as usual, both the pastor and priest were operating with a preconceived conclusion and only pursued information they knew would affirm it.
Indeed, the actions taken to erase an imagined demonic presence are comparable to those taken to erase imagined white supremacy on college campuses. And much of it involves “exorcising the demon” in its infant stages by curtailing free inquiry in order to mold the correct thoughts. One distinction to be made, however, is that these fundamentalists are now mostly working in private institutions and have the religious freedom to humiliate themselves. Whereas, their social justice counterparts have tried to infiltrate society’s vital institutions and insisted we indulge them.
The question posed by Christopher Hitchens in his best-selling collection of fundamentalist misdeeds, God is not Great, is fitting here: “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by compulsory inculcation of faith?”
To what would surely be Hitchens’ consternation, the hope to “practice upon the unformed and undefended minds of the young” in order to disseminate the “religious dreams and visions” isn’t just a habit of the religious fundamentalist. It’s also a preoccupation of the social justice faction that replaces Jesus, God, and the Bible with Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, and the Communist Manifesto.
In the case of the Christian fundamentalist, the “hope” has historically been to the detriment of the young people under their tutelage. In this respect, the Scopes Monkey trial comes to mind, which is the infamous clash in the 1920s between modernists and literalists that forced John Scopes to make his case for teaching evolution in schools. William Jennings Bryan, a Christian literalist who desired to stifle Scopes’ teachings, expressed worry over the moral education of the youth if Darwinism prevailed. Getting to the heart of his concern, he said: “Science is a magnificent force, but it’s not a teacher of morals.” Petrified about science’s ability to destroy civilization, he thought that only God’s teachings could solve the world’s problems. So, out of panic, academic freedom must be trampled and the other side should remain hidden, since it could raise questions that might be enticing to a student. Co-existence between two different ideas in an academic setting is therefore impossible.
Though obviously perpetrated through a different ideological lens, the same ethic animates the social justice faith. New public school curriculums emphasizing “diversity and social justice” are being established. The contents of which promote the idea that gender is a social construct, and that their country is to be understood as a duel within the “hierarchy of oppressions,” with the white man as the irredeemable antagonist. It seeks to breed a new generation of socially aware citizens who can inculcate these same moral sensibilities in others.
To protect the unanimity required to maintain cultish environments, any “problematic” ideas that might upset the orthodoxy are to be thrown in the dustbin. One method in the recent past to extinguish such materials has been to classify libraries as “white” institutions that need reform because the writings they offer by eighteenth-century men are most definitely sinful. Another is to stop selling a book because a few sensitive loudmouths disapprove of the author’s public utterances. Or the academic freedom of one individual who offered a course on conservative thought is repudiated because the course content wasn’t in line with the diversity- obsessed. Justifications for this are deluded and usually as follows: exposure to such ideas will perturb the downtrodden and may galvanize the white supremacist hellhounds.
Or, in reality, they’re afraid such exposure to ideas may be the catalyst for the genuinely curious to release themselves from the clutches of the overbearing ideology. Since, to quote Hitchens once again, “faith is helping to choke free inquiry and the emancipating consequences that it might bring.”
All that said, the core difference between these two faiths is that one is currently in fashion, while the other has mostly been driven to the fringe, only to show up sometimes so we can have a good laugh at its expense. Between the aspiring theocrat and the post-modern Marxist type, I’m inclined to say that the materialization of Margaret Atwood’s fascist theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale is not the event we should be fretting over.