Monday, August 11, 2008

Censurious Prudes: A Response

I'm a big fan of Shannon A's board game reviews over on RPGnet and have enjoyed following the adventures of his life as a writer on his blog. I even had the privilege of playing games with him a year or so ago when I was in the Bay Area... we spent a delightful afternoon with Runebound & then he taught me Fairy Tale at Endgame before I had to head out to the airport.

This morning, he posted a very angry post that I felt compelled to respond to. What follows is his post, edited so that it won't jam up some of my readers spam filters. (Yes, I realize the irony of editing the coarse language out of a post that is about censorship, but I want to make sure you can fully understand what I'm responding to... if you'd like to read the post unedited, it's right here.)

Shannon wrote:
I've been reading a library copy of The Vanished by Bill Pronzini, and was aghast to find that some little s**t had defaced the book because they disagreed with the content.

It's a 1973 mystery novel, and it went into the collection of the Berkeley Public Library back in 1973, so I can at least presume that someone defaced the book a long time ago. But, nonetheless, they did. They thoroughly crossed out all the "blasphemy" in the book. I first noted it when I saw the word "g*dd**n" crossed out and then a few pages later when a "Christ" (used as an expletive) got crossed out.

I guess I'm always astounded to believe that there are such self-centered censurious prudes in the world, especially in Berkeley. That someone crosses out words in a public book because they offend their personal beliefs, with no regard for anyone else who might read the book (and probably purposefully, because they think other people shouldn't read those words) just shows off to me one of the big aspects of what's wrong with religion: that people believe everyone else should abide by their personal morals.

So g*dd**n you, you little self-centered piece of crap, and g*dd**n the people who brought you up in that way, be they parents or priests.

I'm bothered that you made the (il)logical leap that someone who was offended by the language in a book and chose the stupid & insensitive way of dealing with that (crossing out the offensive words) somehow makes the case that "religion" automatically demands that everyone else should abide by their personal morals choices.

While I understand your anger, you've allowed it to cloud your thinking. You are bound up in a number of assumptions:
  1. that someone who crosses out references they consider blasphemous is personally religous or has some religious background (granted, this assumption is probably correct... but it is still an assumption)
  2. that someone who crosses out references they consider blasphemous is doing to so to purposefully keep others from reading those words (a bigger stretch, as you have no way of knowing their motive)
  3. that, even granting the first two assumptions (I'm feeling charitable this morning), their particular action leads automatically to the assumption that religion in general demands adherence to a particular moral code not only of its followers but also of the entire society
There are people & religious (and or irreligious) systems who have chosen to do just what you imply... they have made it their mission to enforce their particular beliefs upon societies - certain chapters in the history of the Roman Catholic church spring to mind, as well as the Taliban and the communist governments of the U.S.S.R. and Red China. We would all agree (or at least most of us would) that those were & are bad things.

But the graceless & destructive behavior of some in no way means that you can paint all religious adherents with the same brush. It's like me saying that those who believe that Christianity is a crock are all as antagonistic & combative as Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. That's a weak argument... and as smart a guy as you are, you know it.

Finally, you end that portion of your post with an invective-laced tirade, using words that you (by implication) don't even believe have power but know will offend someone who does find them blasphemous. Shannon, you're a better writer and a more intelligent person than that... you've allowed your anger to overwhelm both your writing & reasoning skills.

Please consider stating what you believe in a way that doesn't undermine your very point.


mark jackson

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