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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Gordon S. Jackson: Please ban my books

By Gordon S. Jackson

By Gordon S. Jackson

Where’s Cardinal Richelieu now that I need him? He once said, “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” Surely he’d be able to find in the 18 books I’ve written or compiled an abundance of hanging offenses.

Of course, I’d prefer he reduced the severity of the sentence. I’d settle for him just pointing out example after example to those ultra-eager parents who’d be terrified that my books might find their way into their children’s school libraries. My books would then join taboo lists around the land, as parents shared the danger with each other. Social media would buzz with the iniquities and moral hazards embedded in my writing. This would occur mostly on the political right, but some on the left as well; Richelieu’s ruthless standards are nonpartisan. School and public librarians would find themselves wearily defending free expression and contorting themselves as they tried to keep my books accessible while simultaneously protecting vulnerable children from their parents’ worst fears.

No, wait – hardly any of my books have ever made it to library status. Sales have typically either limped along, or fallen flat on their face immediately on a book’s release. Which is precisely why I’d welcome the help of this French cleric and statesman. He died in 1642, but his challenge lives on. Getting any of my books banned is the best publicity I can imagine. Being among the 99% of authors who can’t afford huge advertising or marketing budgets for their books, I’d take whatever exposure Richelieu, or his intellectual successors in the “gotcha” tradition, could generate for me.

Two examples: Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” has a long history of making banned lists. Historian Arthur Schlesinger pointed out that the board of trustees of the Concord Public Library did just that in March 1885. Schlesinger says that when “Twain heard what the Concord Public Library had done, he remarked, ‘That will sell 25,000 copies for us, sure.’ ”

Then, shifting to the medium of film, we have the example of a John Waters film, “Pink Flamingoes,” which was described in a review in Variety as “one of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made.” When the filmmaker was charged with obscenity in Orlando, Florida, Waters wrote an “open letter to the censors.” It began: “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Censor: Just a short note to thank you for all the extra profits you’ve helped me to make …. Money couldn’t buy all the free publicity and notoriety you’ve given me over the years.”

Oh, what I’d give for even a smidgen of the kind of attention Twain and Waters received. Surely among the religious right there are self-appointed watchdogs aplenty who could find elements in my religious fiction and nonfiction to snarl at? And undoubtedly there’s equally offensive material for the woke crowd to chew on in my novel satirizing political correctness on a college campus, “Never Say ‘Moist’ at Wyndover College.”

Despite my religious convictions, when it comes to the sales of my books, the sin of envy taints my spiritual walk. Why won’t they ban or blacklist my books? It’s just not fair. And it seems all the more unfair given how I’ve long been opposed to almost all censorship. Growing up in South Africa, during the apartheid era, I experienced firsthand the stifling effects of that country’s morality police, whose focus included anything politically sensitive as the white minority government defined it. As a college professor I taught a class on censorship to highlight for my students the price a society pays when it curbs free expression. Doesn’t karma demand that I in turn should be the victim of censorship?

In 2015, my book titled “Christians, Censorship and the Common Good” appeared. It was a scholarly book that blended the two themes most important to me: my faith and my commitment to free expression. It sold barely 100 copies. Same for my book of Christian satires, “Jesus Does Stand Up.” Surely these two volumes contained examples aplenty that would offend, if not outrage, delicate souls? But no, not even a whisper of criticism, let alone calls for book burning or library bans of these titles, or anything else I’ve written. No U.S. equivalent of a fatwa for me.

So, all you aspiring book burners and banners out there, please expand your horizons. Don’t overlook the boundless potential for censor-worthy material in thus-far little-known books like mine. Why not follow Richelieu’s lead and start the “Give-Me-Six-Lines” militia? Your motto could be, “Read and condemn.” Richelieu would approve. And I, along with the other writers whose work you’d condemn, would be so, so grateful for the attention.

Gordon S. Jackson is an author and retired journalism professor, who resides in Spokane. His most recent book is The God Who Blesses (Kharis Publishing).

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