What do you think of when you read the words “book” and “burning” together?
You probably envision a huge pyre of books, flames consuming them, encircled by giant flags emblazoned with swastikas on them right? You’d certainly be right to have that vision, as we have scads of archival footage of Nazis burning books. But what about a question in a science test about whether or not the universe was set in motion by a divine creator? Is that the same as burning a book?
The answer to that question is undeniably, “Yes.”
Book burnings did not start with Hitler. He just borrowed a page out of the “Closed Society Handbook.” Throughout history, when those in power have felt threatened by the creeping influence of knowledge and enlightenment, they have sought to purge society of said knowledge and enlightenment. This idea doesn’t just pertain to knowledge and enlightenment from scholarly fields, we’ve even seen Southern Christians burning Beatles records after John Lennon dared to make the wholly accurate observation that more teenagers were listening to Beatles records than were attending church every Sunday.
One of the things that makes this country so unique, or rather at least one thing that made us unique when we wrote our Constitution, was the idea of the freedom of thought. This was not a widely-held paradigm at the time. France was still years away from their own revolt, and all over the world knowledge and enlightenment were still being rationed, if not completely barred from the populace at large.
In a way, it sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if you simply incinerate or otherwise purge humanity of the thoughts and philosophies that challenge your own singular vision, no one will know what they’ve missed by a generation or two. This is why books have burned from the very beginning of the written word. There is something truly powerful about letters strung together to form words; they are immortal. This immortality of thought frightens those who are easily scared by new ideas, and so they strike the match and light the fuse.
There is no difference in theory between Hitler ordering all the books that ran counter to his views burned and an evangelical Christian somewhere in the country deciding it’s time to ram creationism into a science classroom. The idea is to force the knowledge out. By making creationism seem in any way equal to or even appropriate to be discussed in a science class, conservative Christians are sending the signal to their kids that a spiritual, metaphysical ideology is the same as a rigorous, standardized unbiased examination of the world around us.
There could not be two ideas more antithetical to each other than creationism and science. One tells you flat-out in a centuries-old book that has been translated, re-translated, redacted and changed numerous times that there is no need to question anything further than an almighty, omnipotent and omnipresent invisible deity. The other tells you to question everything and find natural answers to the supernatural questions. Obviously this is what scares the piss out of the religious right because even though Jesus Christ himself didn’t turn his back on Doubting Thomas, to modern day religious conservatives, questioning your world means questioning God himself which means you are a sinning asshole who needs to knock that off and just swallow the Gospel whole hog.
Maybe conservative Christians aren’t rounding up text books that teach evolution, yet. But they are doing the very next worse thing. They are intentionally retarding the scientific growth of their children, and greatly jeopardizing their children’s scientific literacy. I don’t know astrophysics, and I’m not a chemist. But I understand that our sun is one of but billions and billions of stars in the galaxy, and I know that I am made primary of water. Perhaps these things don’t seem important at first, but that’s the thing about scientific knowledge, its necessity will just sneak up right on you when you least expect it.
I’m not prepared to make an argument that all religion should be banned from being taught to our children. I actually think starting classes in philosophy and mysticism earlier might be good for kids, provided curriculum correctly teaches there is essentially no difference between the Greek and Roman Gods and the Abrahamic deities. What I am prepared to argue is that in no way, shape or form does creationism and religion belong being taught side-by-side as an “alternative theory” in science classes. Religion and creationism isn’t an alternate theory; it is religion and spirituality. It’s the blind acceptance on faith of what you’re told; the complete and utter antithesis of science as a practice.
When conservatives push for religion being presented side-by-side with evolution, they are not doing so with academic debate in mind. They may say they want to “teach the controversy,” but I can assure you they do not. How do I know? Because I grew up in a house where evolution was scorned. I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk rail against those evil liberals for daring to teach only science in a science class. Why it never donned on me to ask my parents why they loved the Constitution but were also — along with millions of their fellow conservatives — to subvert one of its first and most binding principles?
The separation of church and state keeps us from sliding off the edge of sanity into full-blown theocracy, and the fundamentalists know this. So they need to find a way to purge society of the knowledge that might cause their kids to question, let alone doubt their religious teachings. Burning books doesn’t play very well anymore, so they’ve moved the battle field indoors, into the classroom itself. It started with the Scopes trial, and it will not stop, perhaps ever. They won’t stop until evolution is forced out of classrooms entirely. Even though it is scientifically proven, undeniable fact, they cannot have it in their field of view, so they burn it as best they can by reinforcing in their kids that the Bible is every bit as trustworthy a source of information on the beginning of time and the origins of life as say, a book on astronomy or biology.
If they can get their kids to think of science and creationism as intellectual equals, they can create another generation of willfully ignorant scientific illiterates. This allows them to count on another generation of voters that will put people in power that gut education, cram theocratic nonsense into classrooms, slash EPA and other business regulations, and generally hold fast to the enlightened, old fashioned, dare we say it, antiquated belief structures that religion depends on to thrive and survive, at least as the religious right sees fit.
So the next time you hear a conservative arguing that they don’t want to stop evolution from being taught, call them liars. The next time you hear one tell you that they just want to teach the controversy, call them damned liars. And the next time you hear a conservative Christian arguing that their “theory” holds just as much weight and deserves just as much time in their children lives as evolution and science does, tell them they’re absolutely, positively right.
…and then direct them to their nearest church, where all the non-scientific stuff belongs.