Monday, August 1, 2011

To Censor or Not to Censor: That is the Question

Millie writes:
One of the best things about Facebook and other social media is that it allows us to chat about interesting and controversial topics with people all over the world. (This is also one of the WORST things about Facebook and other social media, but that’s a different entry altogether.)

Last week my friend Beth posted a YouTube link to a video entitled, “Letter From Ex-Witch Regarding Harry Potter.” (The link is below, if you’re interested; like Beth, I recommend you mute the sound and just read the scrolled text; there’s just someone reading the words and her voice is rushed and distracting.) She wanted to know what other people thought about it, because her 12-year-old son is interested in reading the books and – since Beth is a Christian mother – she’s trying to make up her mind whether a series that features witchcraft will undermine the values that she and her husband are instilling in their children.

As you can imagine, her friends had strong opinions. Here’s what I wrote:

I usually stay out of discussions like this because most people are just looking for ammo to bolster the opinion they've already formed. Since I've read the Harry Potter series to all my kids once (and most of them re-read it on their own) and the Narnia series several times, obviously I don't feel either one of them is harmful to children. Where I think the trouble comes in is when someone decides, "Well, I can certainly understand metaphor, simile, fantasy and the difference between fact and fiction, but then most people aren't as intelligent and socially conscious as I. Why, what if someone plays a game of Dungeons and Dragons, for example, and suddenly they can't distinguish between their friendly mail carrier and an Orc? I think I read about that happening somewhere, sometime! This menace must be stopped! Think of the children!"

I don't think it is ever necessary to let someone else do all of one's thinking for one - not even (or maybe especially) in the case of one's children. Parents naturally want to protect their children from harm, but I don't think ideas or concepts are harmful in themselves. I think that by segregating some themes or concepts into a great "We Do Not Discuss It" pile, we not only confer upon those subjects the irresistible cachet of "forbidden knowledge" - we deprive ourselves of a natural springboard to discussing our own ideals and beliefs. Of course, it is possible to live in a manner that excludes all fiction or entertainment as lies and frivolity, and some extremist religious or political sects do just that. I don't think this approach armors children to live in today's world, but then - they're not my children, it's not my business.

In short, I don't think reading Harry Potter - or The Necronomicon, or Spell Casting for Dummies - will turn someone into a witch or a Satanist, any more than reading Arnold Schwarzenegger's biography will turn someone into a body-builder. Ideas and beliefs are not mental land-mines, quiescent until they're stepped on by the unwary and explode with soul-destroying reverberations. If a child understands poetic license - and they all do, otherwise every sponge in the U.S. would be wearing pants - they will know fiction for what it is. I think the important thing is that the child knows what his parents believe, and how the world fits into that viewpoint. "Of course we know there's no such thing as The Easter Bunny/ black magic/ talking trees, but it's fun to think about" seems a lot less damaging to me than "OMIGOD YOU READ A CHILDREN'S BOOK AND NOW YOU'LL BURN IN HELL." So many people don't give their kids credit for any sense, when most children have a pretty good grasp of what's real and what isn't even if it's not something tangible. If a person grows up to become a mass-murderer, there was a lot more going wrong in his life than his choice of childhood reading material.

This is what we think, the decisions we've made for our children.

What do you think? I’m really askin’.


  1. Thanks for posting this for me, Maggie! Folks, I just could NOT get the blog to work so Maggie posted it on my behalf. If you disagree violently, don't blame her - blame me!

    Then leave a note! ;)

  2. As a Christian mama, I have my own reservations. I admit I have yet to read any of the Harry Potter books, but do enjoy fantasy novels in general. Books hold great power in them--whatever power you give them. If you believe something to be true--as I do the Bible--the words contained in the books are truly powerful.

    If you read a book with the mindset that "This is all a bunch of bunk!" then it won't affect you nearly as deeply. Read a self-help book with that attitude, and you may as well not open it, right?

    There are so many great works of fiction out there. As parents, we are called to give our children the tools to handle as much of what the world throws at them as we can. If your child is more susceptible to the power of "spells" and such, perhaps Harry Potter is not the right series to give just yet. On the other hand, if your child has a good head on his shoulders and can differentiate between fact and fantasy, I don't know that there is a problem.

    One other thing to consider. My faith leads me to believe that "Out of the heart, the mouth speaks." In other words, "Junk in, junk out." There are many things we have choices over. One of those things would be pleasure reading. Just like when pickling cucumbers, they take on the flavor of whatever they are pickled in, we need to be careful what we're "pickling" in. Are we, as believers, able to read whatever we want? Sure, but not all things are beneficial to our souls.

    And when it comes down to it, it's a soul issue. What are we feeding our hearts and minds? I refuse to read romance novels, because it leads to false expectations and repugnant images filling my mind. For the same reason, I don't watch certain television programs. But I'm an adult. I know where my weakness lies. I know what I am interested in pickling in.

    Our children need our guidance. They need our protection. Until they have a better understanding of what it is they are taking in, I choose to censor.

  3. My fence sitting self thinks both of you make compelling arguments, and I am no more clear where I stand upon it then I was before.

  4. Glad we were able to help. ;) Really, though.. you know your son better than we do. His age is arbitrary: it is his maturity level and thought process you need to be concerned with. Will he enjoy the fiction and leave it at that, or will it, perhaps, open a door you'd rather leave shut?

  5. Interesting. We've been discussing whether to let the 8 year old in our house read HP. His ability to read is good enough, but we wonder whether he's emotionally/academically ready for the material, to appreciate and follow the whole thing. It never occurred to me that there was anything sinister about the subject material. I don't generally support censorship for the sake of moral development.

  6. We started reading the series aloud as a bedtime story (a chapter a night) when the youngest were in the first grade. There is no question they followed and appreciated it - in fact, I think "The Sorcerer's Stone" was what got Sassy well and truly hooked into reading.

    Oh, and . . . so far, none of the six are showing much tendency to moral decay.

  7. This is an age old discussion. Harry Potter just happens to be the latest. I have a friend that refuses to read fairy tales or let her children watch Disney Movies because they are not "real". I think there is a loss of self thought and make believe. My 7 year old nieces parents are both "math" people. I had to teach her to be silly and creative and that it was okay to make believe. The greatest men and women of any generation now or before us were dreamers. The real lessons of Harry Potter are friends stick together, it's okay not to like the bully, competition is okay when it's done fairly, the odd ducks are our friends too, we may not like a teacher but they do have our backs "snape". It is all in how you prepare your children. It's all about that open door. The door that opens to all conversation topics even the ones as adults we cringe at when we hear our children ask them.



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