I think we all agree; book burning is a terrible idea. Pretty much anywhere, any time.
We are horrified at the piles of literature blazed by the Nazis, the loss of the library of Alexandria, the burning of the Mayan codices.
These rituals of rejection show an inability to reason. A fear of content. A fear of ideas.
Today, some communities passionate about good things live in fear of book titles, and popular characters. They burn and cancel right and left. These trigger responses are the actions of well-meaning, ill-prepared minds, of simple souls. But, we can’t live that way any more.
Seasoned intellectuals don’t fear to wrestle with ideas, to engage and understand new things.
‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ – Aristotle
Before I took the mission of the modern CatholicAuthor seriously, I fed into a lot of the hysteria around popular fiction. We encouraged each other to purge our environments, to live in fear of even touching certain books or ideas. We built up walls and rejected people who were ‘seduced by the dark side.’
But then more problems arose.
‘Purist culture’ is a scabby, scandalous, and scrupulous beast. It is never satisfied. It is an itch we can’t even truly scratch, because it comes from deep in the human psyche. Starved of awareness, it shifts around in our souls, hunting new targets. So we turn on each other, create unrealistic expectations, and tar anything remotely uncomfortable.
When I found people willing to trash world mythology, demonize ‘Lord of the Rings’, burn ‘Harry Potter’, and outright condemn ‘Game of Thrones,’ I realized there’s a bigger issue we need to address.
We don’t have a capacity for mature resilience. We are terrified of the ‘near occasion of sin’, forgetting that these ‘occasions’ are an occupational hazard of being alive.
The problem is not so much the sin. The problem is me, you, and us.
That’s why anyone who says ‘you can’t read that!’ is really saying something else. What they’re really saying is ‘I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the questions or changes that you’ll have.’
If we can respect ancient pagans like Aristotle, then we can engage with and appreciate any atheist or academic today.
A while ago this story idea came to me. Something like ‘Fantastic Monsters and Why We Cage Them.’ Maybe I’ll write it one day. But here you go:
Imagine a museum of monsters, rows and ranks of barred cages, filled with dragons and rancors and slimy, shadowy nightmares. All are carefully penned, carefully studied by an ancient Society. The neophytes and adepts of this order are wrapped in heavy leathers and safeguarded by sigils, tasked with controlling the beasts. They must enter the cages, inspect their biology and fantastic powers, and emerge unharmed.
There’s a reason why this museum is protected.
The general public is allowed in to see these horrors from a distance. The reason is this; killing a beast makes it disappear back into the magic of the world, like a wraith. And then, it reappears to ravage a new place, haunt havoc on an unexpected country, or sifts into the silence between homes and leaves and plants its poisons.
But a fundamentalist group rages against this museum. Rages that these ‘things’ are allowed to exist at all in polite society. Like the High Sparrow, they push in and rampage through the cells, and destroy each beast. To the horror of the holy academics, these intruders believe they’re doing the world a service.
Instead, they only release these things back into the wild.
It’s all a parable, or metaphor, as you can imagine. I see universities, and Catholic authors, in a similar role.
It is our job to function like doctors, or surgeons. We head into the wilds, into dark and bright hearts, into the messy spaces between difficult ideas. We get comfortable with them, because our characters wrestle with them.
We can’t kill and ignore and hide from difficult ideas. All that happens is that we are inept at handling them. Unprepared. Unseasoned.
We can’t condone the temptation of fanatical purity, to stamp out every imperfect thing. That’s what the disciples wanted to do when they found the wheat struggling with weeds. Christ said to leave it; let the good actions and the bad moments all grow together. In the end, God will separate and sift and save. It’s not a parable about people, because no person is all good or all bad. Its about the good and bad within every person and situation.
When we ‘kill’ and throw out all the ‘scary’ and dangerous ideas, they never truly die.
How can they? They are ideas. They will re-emerge in a new time, in a new place. Some of them bubble up from the deeps of the human condition. And sure, some of them come from Screwtape.
We need to inoculate ourselves, not immaculate our environments.
This is how modern Catholic authors live. We celebrate the true, the good, and the beautiful, wherever we find it. We don’t give in to a terror of contagion, and consign weak books or misunderstood novels or conflicted ideas to the fire.
We don’t agree with witch hunts, and book burnings.
We build up resilience, because we have a responsibility to understand. At the very least, we need a working knowledge of what is popular, even if it isn’t our cup of tea. At the very best, we need the resilience and awareness to de-escalate, discern, and discuss.
That’s why we respect freedom and fandoms in CatholicAuthor, and the individual working out of sincere faith.
Accompaniment is very different to ‘accommodation’. We understand sin and its impact. We can’t condone it, but we can understand it. We understand how it appeals, why it is popular, and that many are devoted to it. But we are not given the role to sit in judgement and condemn the world. We are called to be the 10 who could have saved Sodom. We are called to judge with right judgement, and realize that our own eyes sprout beams like beanstalks.
We who have been given the grace of a clearer truth are held to a higher standard, and a more urgent call to look below the surface, to nurture the mystical ‘God-view’ of life. We are even more connected to people and creation, a greater communion. The universal call to holiness does not set us apart. It pushes and pulls and brings us together – but we are asked to be a cleaner salt, a more joy-filled and discerning witness.
And this is why we devote an entire bonus lesson in ‘How to be a Catholic Author’ to quotes from St Basil, as early as the 4th century, guiding his students to discern between sacred and mundane/secular writings:
“It is incumbent upon us… to trace, as it were, the silhouette of virtue in the [secular] authors…
“Into the life eternal the Holy Scriptures lead us, which teach us through divine words. But so long as our immaturity forbids our understanding their deep thought, we exercise our spiritual perceptions upon [mundane] writings, which are not altogether different, and in which we perceive the truth as it were in shadows and in mirrors…
“Consequently we must be conversant with poets, with historians, with orators, indeed with all men who may further our soul’s salvation. Just as dyers prepare the cloth before they apply the dye, be it purple or any other color, so indeed must we also, if we would preserve indelible the idea of the true virtue, become first initiated in the [secular] lore, then at length give special heed to the sacred and divine teachings, even as we first accustom ourselves to the sun’s reflection in the water, and then become able to turn our eyes upon the very sun itself.”
So you will see fandoms in our community. Probably lots of it. I’m a Gryffindor, who wishes he was a Ravenclaw, and throughly enjoyed ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Golden Compass.’ Plus a ton more.
Disagree? That’s your call.
But we will not cancel or burn books because we fear them, or disagree with them.
And we will do that even less to people.