Many public schools already use The Chronicles of Narnia in their reading curriculum. But after Florida governor Jeb Bush started promoting The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in a statewide reading contest called "Just Read, Florida," the critics are wanting to ban that book.
C.S. Lewis' classic, set to premiere as a major motion picture Dec. 9, has a clear Christian message, culminating in the Christ-figure, Aslan the Lion, giving himself to the devil figure, the White Witch, to die in the place of the rotten little kid, Edmund. Then Aslan rises from the dead, which brings salvation to Narnia.
Such a clear gospel message, according to some civil libertarians, has no place in the public schools. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, says, "This whole contest is just totally inappropriate because of the themes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ."
Ironically, those comments came out a week after Banned Books Week, celebrating books people have tried to censor. (According to the Banned Books Resource Guide from the American Library Association, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is on the list. So is the Bible.)
And Mr. Lynn earlier denounced an Alabama school board for choosing not to use certain textbooks because of their anti-Christian bias, considering that to be "censorship," which at that time for those books, he opposed: "We are very much concerned that this will unleash a tidal wave of new censorship efforts by a variety of religious groups seeking to impose their sectarian viewpoints on all of the students in America's public schools."
If it should be unlawful to have students read books that have a Christian theme, the problem is even worse than civil libertarians realize. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is not the only book with a Christ figure who gives his life to save others.
We'll also need to ban Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, Herman Melville's Billy Budd, and William Faulkner's Light in August.
And we can't stop there. Nearly everything written before the 18th century has a strong Christian content. Shakespeare's comedies have some bawdy stuff that we might permit, but their plots tend to involve some sin, discord, and a death sentence resolved only with some sort of death, resurrection, and forgiveness. In the tragedies, Hamlet worries about hell, Macbeth yearns to be cleansed of guilt, and Lear-evoking the Christian Right conspiracy-resolves to be "God's spy."
In the second tier of the greatest English authors, we have Milton, with his epic poem on Adam, Eve, and the Fall (explicitly biblical and creationist); Spenser, with his combination of fantasy and Christian allegory (that influenced the banned Lewis); and Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales include some dirty ones we could use, but what if students read the tales of the Pardoner, the Franklin, or the Parson?
We'll need to ban metaphysical poetry, in which John Donne, George Herbert, and the others write explicitly about their relationship with Christ. Even post-Enlightenment, we've got problems. Jonathan Swift was a minister, whose Gulliver's Travels ridicules human depravity. Hawthorne too writes about original sin, a Christian belief that might interfere with children's self-esteem.
We could do as the colleges are doing, change the canon of books considered great. But when we replace the white males with women writers, it gets even worse! Anne Bradstreet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Christina Rossetti, and Flannery O'Connor are even more explicitly Christian. So are many of the classic black authors, such as Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass.
Erasing Christianity from the culture that it shaped will leave nothing left. We had better ban all literature, along with our whole contaminated culture.
Oh, never mind. We are already doing that.