A priest friend of mine sent out, via e-mail, a link to the Golden Compass, Rotten Tomato post.
You may recall that in that longish philippic, the children's author, Mr. Pullman, was informed that he was a liar, and that his books were full of lies.
You may also recall that readers were not instructed to burn his books or to demonstrate in front of theaters playing his movie.
And yet, soon after my friend sent out the post, he received a bracing reply. It was from a corporate executive who pulls down a six-figure salary and who takes pride in being educated and having educated offspring at the best of state universities.
I cannot quote the response to my friend (and to me, the malefactor who was responsible for the executive's anxiety in the first place). It was written in the quasi-English tribal corporate-speak that Orwell predicted so accurately. After suffering a few moments from the linguistic violence of the message, I was able to prize out this summary:
First, neither my friend nor should any priest presume to suggest that something should not be read, viewed or experienced.
Second, any critique of popular culture or daily life by a priest constitutes censorship. This is because we priests should stay confined in the cultus, and should never intrude upon the agora, the marketplace or the public square.
Third, censorship is bad because it deprives the adult, youth or child of full exposure to the social elements. Any attempt to shelter the young (or the immature in faith) is just "sticking your head in the sand."
This "sticking of one's head in the sand" must be a horrible thing. The executive lashed my friend for trying to handicap his parishioners from being able to respond to "other ideas." He/she (I'll use the androgynous slash to protect the guilty) schoolmarmishly informed the priest that he will meet other people who have beliefs that differ from his own (my friend is senior to me, and being in his sixties probably realized that there are other such people at least a year ago, if not earlier).
If one had his head in the sand, then he will not be able to ... well, what will he not be able to do? Have his head outside the sand, I suppose? Will he be unable to talk intelligently, to converse about important things?
I wonder how the vice-president-of-poobah-something-pom-pom-tiddly-tum defines the condition of having one's head in the sand, or -- as I like to put it -- "sand-headedness"? I am assuming, without much evidence, that Poobah cares about the business of definition at all, but we'll let that go.
It seems that our non-liberally-arted executive is concerned that the bleak condition of sand-headedness comes from not keeping up with box office hits, the best-seller list, and kiddie-lit that ticks off old-fashioned people. Poobah listed in the e-mail message three "works" that define non-sand-headedness: Philip Pullman's "Dark Materials" (I am vastly entertained by the drooling irony of the trilogy title); Harry Potter (of course, and I'm scared to even bring him up again); and that Great Book of the Western World that Mortimer Adler Failed to Include in His Canon, The DaVinci Code.
My friend's interlocutor then closed the cyber-missive, which was mostly a soapbox encomium for the virtue of exposing oneself to new ideas, with this surprising (and comically self-incriminating) conclusion: "Besides, Father, these books are just fiction anyways."
What? I was led to believe from the argument that we were supposed to read these books so that we could lift our heads of the sand and be exposed to new ideas, the beliefs of "others." Now, I am told in the send-off, that I shouldn't be so mean and nasty about these books because, after all, they're just fiction?
I'm going to dismiss that non sequitur, and pretend it didn't happen. Hopefully, Poobah had an off day, or maybe his/her forgotten single core curriculum course in the liberal arts had relegated logic to the Church's corner on obsolescence.
I won't even mention the possibility that a hermetically isolated child -- i.e., one who doesn't attend a state school, who doesn't watch TV, DVDs, play Wii, manage a MySpace soft-porn site but who reads Austen, Virgil, Euclid and Shakespeare -- might be even better equipped to deal with "other beliefs." How have we allowed ourselves to be so utterly convinced that secular exposure is so necessary for our children's healthy development? Was there some subliminal message sneakily broadcast during Hazel and My Favorite Martian that said something like "Watch us and be cool ... join us or be square/nerd/fundamentalist/sand-headed"?
What remains clear is an unexpected corollary to the executive's wish to not have his/her head in the sand.
What remains clear, and scary, is that this powerful (and well-paid) product of our university system cannot tolerate a religious critique of popular culture. It is clear also (and this is the uber-creepy part) that ignorance is now defined as a lack of popular knowledge (especially popular evolutionary science), not -- as it used to be -- a paucity of real ideas.
He/she wanted complete freedom to expose oneself not to "ideas," but to an ever widening menu of entertainment and distraction.
Neither I nor my friend desire any shelter from the accurate, fully-disclosed discussion of ideas. Let's discuss Hume, Wilde, Heidegger, Darwin, Johnson, Freud, and Rousseau -- even in Junior High. Why not? But let's talk about them as ideas, not camouflaged as axioms in the soviet-style curricula now in vogue, or slipped in like a Mickey in the precincts of story.
I'll give our executive some credit. He/she managed to throw in a line from Aristotle that is found in every single anti-censorship script: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
The tragedy of that statement lies in the sad fact that our materially rich -- but philosophically impoverished -- correspondent cannot even entertain thoughts from a priest, much less be guided by them.
We don't really censor. In the deathworks, we're not even allowed to criticize.
Now that's censorship, and holding one's head in the sand.