And the Winner Is…A Clockwork Orange?
Since Janie Cheaney and I founded this website back in 2011, one of the top three posts has consistently been an early post on A Clockwork Orange. I don’t think the post is especially perceptive or well-written; it’s part of a series that needs a lot of rewriting. And I admit, it’s possible there is some weird spam-related reason the post ranks so high. Maybe it’s a technical glitch in the software we use to count visitors.
But there’s also another possibility. A possibility that I’ve come to take more seriously over the years. Maybe moms and dads as well as teens themselves are actually interested in a Christian view of the book. A Clockwork Orange is considered a classic by many, and as such, it often appears on high school and college reading lists. Yet it contains a rape scene, gang fights, emotional brutality, and much, much more. Maybe parents who are concerned about the book have come to our site for help.
While I can’t say for sure why my post has been so relatively popular, it is certainly true that I have heard from many parents and educators over the years who are concerned about the books their kids are reading. And for all the scrutiny I’ve given Hunger Games and Harry Potter, the reality is that the problematic material in these books pales in comparison to the books I was asked to read in high school. Native Son by Richard Wright is a book I remember quite vividly having to read in my public high school, and it is basically the tale of a young black man who kills someone, stuffs her in a furnace, and leaves the scene of the crime. Oh, it resonates, and has lots of noble themes about the suffering of main character, but it’s also a really gruesome tale of an evil act done by an evil man who has suffered at the hands of other evil men.
I could list other books I remember–The Red Badge of Courage, A Scarlett Letter, etc.–that had very disturbing, problematic content. But the point is, my mom knew I was reading these books. She was concerned that the messages of the stories didn’t reflect her values, and she put the time in to actually read ALL of them along with me. But she still didn’t know how to counteract them, other than to say, “That’s not what we do,” and “That’s not what I think.”
Books aren’t like guns or machetes. When their victims leave the scene of the crime, they don’t usually leave a bloody trail. Compared to doing drugs, or viewing pornography, or being in a gang, or going to frat parties (all of which I have done, save the gang part), they just don’t seem that bad. I mean, if we can’t even get people to agree that killing babies in the womb is wrong, how can we expect people to believe that sitting quietly in a room, snuggled under a Hello Kitty blanket and simply READING about killing babies is a problem.
And yet, it is. It’s not the only problem teens face, certainly. And I don’t believe the answer is book burnings or government censorship. But just because there isn’t a simple solution doesn’t mean we should deny the problem. And the reality is, one of the major reasons I felt it was ok to get plastered at frat parties, laugh at my roommate’s porn use, do drugs, and do any number of other foolish things I did before I was saved was this: the books I trusted, and that were given to me by trusted adults, said it was. All those external sins were birthed by my disordered heart, which had itself been shaped in large part by the books I read:
21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. (Mark 7:21-22)
We do, as a society, at least keep some tabs on the violence and problematic material of movies. We have a ratings system–however flawed–for movies, video games, and music. We put labels on coffee telling us it is hot. But books? They are vocabulary builders. They ennoble us and develop empathy. And we can leave those to the professionals, can’t we?
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ve invited a number of people to join me as we look at school book lists–in both Christian and secular schools. We will look at how they have impacted families like Paul and Karen Austin. (You can read a little about their son Nathan’s experience with books in this article I wrote for World Magazine.) We’ll hear short quotes from Christian leaders like Gene E. Veith and Tony Reinke about one book list in particular. In addition, I’ve asked my fellow RR writer, Betsy Farquhar, a real-life librarian and Christian literature teacher, about where our book lists are headed. And Lord willing, we’ll also look at what Christian families can do to protect their children who are in public and Christian schools. (Believe it or not, book burning didn’t make the list!)
SEND US YOUR LISTS!
In the meantime, I am going to make an offer. If you are a parent, grandparent, friend, etc who is concerned about the books a child or teen you know is being asked to read this year, please let us know below. We can’t possibly review the book lists of all our readers, but we can do one or two. Let us know the books you’re worried about, and we’ll do our best to give you an honest appraisal of them, as well as suggestions for how you can handle them.
I’m also going to ask on the front end that you all be praying for this series. It’s a topic I think I can very easily be misunderstood, and I do not want to come across as calling for censorship or government intervention on any of these books. But the books our kids are reading are, I believe, greatly impacting the church as well as those outside it, and I am praying that the Lord will keep me focused and help me convey both my burden AND my hope on the subject for all who have ears to hear.