It sounds like a stupid question, and it is! But apparently not too stupid to be taken seriously by Fox News. The August 29 radio conversation between Dan Gainor, vice president of the conservative Media Research Center, and Fox News host, Todd Starnes, began with a current topic of interest—Confederate symbols. Gainor and Starnes were angry and alarmed because a Memphis Theater that had shown Gone with the Wind for 34 consecutive years decided not to show it this year. Now reasonable people can disagree about whether a theater should show a classic movie that glorifies slavery, but this conversation quickly moved to crazy.
Gainor and Starnes claimed that the U.S. can’t survive if liberals erase history, whatever that means. From not showing a movie, the Fox conversation went to the practice of banning books—which is not high on any liberal agenda. In fact, of the top ten banned and challenged books last year, nine were challenged mostly by religious conservatives because of sexual content and fair treatment (in my opinion) of LGBT and transgender people. Little Bill, the tenth book, was challenged by some because its author, Bill Cosby, has been accused of criminal sexual activities.
The conversation then moved from the government banning books (which the government hasn’t done) to warnings about banning the Bible because “anything that the left and the media don’t like will be gone and it will fully finish their plan to remake what we are.” The government banning the Bible would be silly enough, but how exactly could that be done? Most of us these days are more likely to read biblical passages on the Internet than in hardcopy. Are Gainor and Starnes suggesting that liberals are seeking government assistance to censor and control the Internet?
Speaking as a liberal atheist, I encourage people to read the Bible. Prolific science writer Isaac Asimov said, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” It certainly worked for me. In fact, a Pew Survey showed that atheists know more about religion than believers do.
If conservative Christians were to read the Bible meticulously, instead of selectively, perhaps they would want to ban parts of it. They rarely mention stories about incest, rape, child abuse and sacrifice, adultery, genocides, virgins as spoils of war, David’s proud display of 200 foreskins, Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 mistresses, God’s command to the prophet Hosea that he marry a whore, Tamar disguising herself as a prostitute to have sex with her father-in-law, and much more. See, for instance, the X-rated Bible or Forbidden Tales of the Bible.
While we shouldn’t try to censor the Bible, I’m troubled by harmful effects on our educational system and quality of life when we uncritically treat the Bible as an infallible document deserving of utmost respect. We must fight attempts by religious conservatives to eliminate or water down the teaching of evolution and other evidence-based scientific and social views that conflict with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
I don’t try to “convert” anyone to atheism, but I do encourage people to examine and think critically about what they believe and how those beliefs might affect others. For better or worse, the Bible and the many religions it spawned have deeply influenced our culture and the world. For that reason alone, the Bible is worth reading. When I’m in discussions or debates with theists who try to make their points by quoting biblical passages, I can often provide a lesser-known passage that contradicts the Scripture quoted.
And finally, should Gone with the Wind be shown in theaters? It’s entirely up to the theater. When I moved to South Carolina in 1976, I went out of my way to see the movie and learn more about how some Southerners viewed their history. I enjoyed conversations with my fellow Charlestonians about how and why we differed on important historical events. I even saw the 1915 American movie classic, Birth of a Nation, a horribly racist film that portrayed Ku Klux Klan members as heroes. There was, however, a heartrending two-word caption in this silent movie that stayed with me. At the end of the Civil War, the camera pans thousands of graves. Then appear these simple words: “War’s Peace.” What a poignant anti-war statement.
Bottom Line: Let’s not censor books or movies. Instead, let’s think critically while evaluating what we read, hear, or see. We can learn valuable lessons from racist movies, the Bible, and other mythologies. And though it might sometimes be difficult, we must try to separate the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3:12).