Sunday, March 27, 2011

Controversial Literature & the Bible

Flashback to the past:  10th grade. Honors English class.  The book list included a title that had controversially inappropriate segments.  I chose to read the alternate book instead.  One night as I was babysitting, I was doing my homework and was shocked to find that the alternate book had parts that were graphically worse than anything I had heard might be in the first book choice I was given.  I was so upset I complained to the teacher, had a meeting with my parents, the English department, and the principal, and an article was even written in the newspaper about this situation...the photographer wouldn't let me smile in the picture, which I didn't understand.  In the crux of the most overloaded and overwhelming schedule of my entire high school career, the English department told me that if I wanted any changes made on the book list, that I would have to research and find a more appropriate title to replace the book I read (which was something I was not able to do--that year I had not the time, resources, or experience to qualify me to be able to read several other novels as options for a cultural study and then select one to replace the title I had been assigned to read).  In the meeting I was also told that I needed to "broaden [my] horizons."  And that was it.  The controversial literature is still on the list.  They won. 
Fast forward to the present:  I have read all of the books of scripture more than once, except for the Old Testament.  I have never read the entire Old Testament and am currently working on completing it (before this sounds too self-serving, the goal to read the whole book of scripture coincidentally started when I was in 10th grade as well...I'm on the ssslllloooooooww track for completing this goal).  I was most worried about reading the book of Isaiah and found that it wasn't as hard to understand as everyone says it is.  I found the book of Jeremiah equally as difficult to study as the book of Isaiah, and by the time I got to the book of Ezekiel, I was SEARCHING for a disclaimer similar to the note on the Song of Solomon that says it's not inspired scripture, because I didn't want to keep reading it.  As a "critic", I would segment the Book of Ezekiel into about 3 sections.  Part 1 includes a chunk of chapters about a wild dream--harder for me to interpret than ANYTHING I ever read in Isaiah.  Part 2 consists of what I would call the controversial chapters I never dreamed would be in the Bible, including sexual metaphors, and Part 3 is the part of Ezekiel that I think redeemed it's value enough to get it included in the Bible (chapters 33-37).  Sometimes I wonder if the book of Ezekiel was included in the Bible, solely for purpose that we needed the prophecy about the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph--scripture master scripture: Ezek. 37:15-19. 

At any rate, I'm not trying to speak sacrilegiously or be disrespectful, but I've had a hard time deciphering how I feel about some of the things I've read in the Old Testament, especially considering the way I've been taught to speak up and take a stand for things I believe in (even at a young age).  I'm getting really tired about reading about circumcision, women in travail, and most recently finding the sexual metaphors that surprised me.  Part of me feels like it was such a different world back then, and part of me feels like it was exactly the same as today (part of me also feels there's more uplifting moments to be found in the book of Numbers than in the book of Ezekiel, ha ha!).  Maybe those things have to be in there, though, and we have to talk so directly because our society is so degraded.  I don't know.  What I do know, though is that I can definitely say that reading the Bible has broadened my horizons...it looks like those English teachers have won again.  : )  

For a while I wondered if reading the book of Ezekiel before that experience would have changed my stance in 10th grade.  That thought really bothered me.  But I now believe that I would have made the same choice, because just this past week, I was reading a novel that looked cute by the cover and after skimming the notes on the back, I thought it would be worth reading.  Only 8 pages in I realized the author was going to take the novel in a direction I had no desire to read--she being crass and crude.  I quit reading and recycled the book.  So I've reconciled my conscience & still stand by my 10th grade choice, believing that I did what was right in the only way I knew how to do it.

My older self now understands that you simply cannot and should not ban all literature that seems controversial (and I can see where the English teachers were coming from).  I understand that while reading, you will inevitably find topics that you don't like--even in the Bible.   However, I still believe it's an essential practice to seek after and promote wholesome entertainment & literature.  I would rather err on the conservative side...that's my favorite choice.

What are your thoughts?