Warning! Children reading classic books!

news30 3aFriends, I ask you to read the following news lead and tell answer this question: Is it from The Onion, or what?

No! It’s from The Palm Beach Post. But before you read on, ask yourself this question: How much money does someone like David Geffen give to progressive political causes? How about other members of the Hollywood elite? And do they have every right to do so? Of course.

Now check this out:

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Jeb Bush is encouraging Florida schoolchildren to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a parable of the New Testament gospels, for a contest timed with the release of the movie version by a company owned by a prominent Republican donor. …

The movie is being co-produced by Disney and Walden Media, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire. Anschutz, his family, his foundation and his company have donated nearly $100,000 to Republican candidates and causes in the past three elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Now we are, of course, talking about a book that has been read for decades by schoolchildren across the nation and in many, many parts of the world. The Narnia books are classics — unless they have been banned in schools and libraries lately and I missed that headline.

Anschutz gave $100,000 in the space of three elections? Shocking! You mean some brand of conservative owns any kind of Hollywood studio? Shocking! And now he is working with that fundamentalist outfit called Disney?

It turns out that the usual suspects are, indeed, afraid that Narnia — book and movie — is an attack on the wall between church and state. You just know who the Post is going to quote, don’t you?

“This whole contest is just totally inappropriate because of the themes of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ.”

I am afraid the conspiracy may go back further than that.

Last night, to test this theory, I got out a DVD of another right-wing flick by this same Walden outfit — a movie called Holes, based on a novel by Louis Sachar that — gasp! — was also read and enjoyed by millions of unprotected school children. In their own classrooms! And libraries! Some children may even have read this book without the permission of their Unitarian parents!

This movie was packed with moral absolutes and even strong religious symbols. The word “sinner” was sung in an appropriate context. There was sacramental symbolism involving water and what could only be seen as an act of God.

Enough is enough. Let’s all thank the Post for raising this crucial issue. Reading books of this kind must be stopped. What’s next? Little House on the Prairie, in the original editions?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    Should the governor be encouraging children to read a religiously-focused book as part of a contest run by a billionare who is trying to push his movie???

    It’s not the book. It’s the fact that governor–who is likely trolling for future donations for himself or his famiily–is encouraging kids to read a book that will result in them going to see a movie funded by a politlcal operative who also runs a network of right-wing newspapers.

    Can you name a liberal governor encouraging a contest to read a book that could translate into additoinal revenues for a wealty political funder’s movie who also operates newspapers?

  • Kristine

    As an educator, I wish the press focused more on the breadth of literature children are being encouraged to read, and the obvious benefits of reading books written by well-educated authors. As a teacher, I’m not particularly thrilled by anything a Bush encourages in the name of education. (NCLB – 100% of children at a proficient or advanced level in all core subjects by 2013. Yeah, right.) However, this is such a hysterical response to a normal part of teaching, (ie: get the kids reading by tying literature in with a media event) that I almost have to side with a Bush on this one.

    By the way, this book which WAS on our district’s sixth grade ‘core literature’ list for many years was taken off of that list two years ago. I had assumed it was part of a normal rotation of titles, but perhaps I need to get slightly hysterical and work on finding an ulterior motive for the removal. Maybe it’s part of a plot to begin banning books that have any references to Christianity.

    It’s all silliness, really. I wish people who have to get their opinions published, or their agendas (agendi?) passed on education would come into the schools and WORK with the kids for two months before they’re allowed to spew their nonsensical views over everyone. In the meantime, ‘They say Aslan’s on the move.”

  • Karen B.

    Ah Terry, it’s great to see you still fisking the Palm Beach Post even though you’ve now moved to the D.C. area. Thanks!

  • tmatt

    Michael, Michael…..

    The interactions between Hollywood and DC are so overwhelming that Ronald Brownstein wrote a whole book on it. Kristine is right: The easy part of this to overlook is that modern schools hardly DO ANYTHING that does not have a movie tie in. That’s a great hook for a larger story!


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  • Michael

    I know that evengelicals and pop culture is one of yoru favorite issues, but I think you are missing the larger point.

    The administration has twice sought out Anschutz’s company to organize contests, while rejecting other books with move tie-ins because they weren’t partipcating in Bush’s program (i.e., looking for poltiical favors).

    How many beter books were pased over to pimp a polical funder’s and conservative activist’s efforts TWICE? That schools are already doing things with move tie ins doesn’t get the governor (and brother of the president) off the hook for handing out political favors.

  • David

    Interesting. Was there this same political outcry when children were encouraged to read the Harry Potter books (with all of the movie/product tie-ins)? Who runs the studio that produced those movies? What political contributions do THEY make? Hmm. I don’t know the answers to those questions. Is it because they weren’t reported on (in the same way as this particular case)? C. S. Lewis STILL wouldn’t be reading newspapers if he were alive today.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com Bob Smietana

    Question — does Barry Lynn do anything but talk to reporters and get his name in the papers? And what does his criticism have to do with the point of the story–which the selection of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was politically motivated? Where’s the teacher’s union president or parent’s group that’s outraged by this? Or at least a Democrat who’s mad.

    It appears, from the outside, that since the reporter couldn’t find a real conflict, he tossed in a church/state conflict to spice things out, whether it applied to the story or not.

    The other book selected, Carl Hiaasen’s children’s book, Hoot, doesn’t fit the religion profile, undermining the story.

    One more question– has Lynn ever said that he likes anything?

  • Michael

    But the Hiassen book was also put out by Anschutz’s outfit. This isn’t necessarily all about religion, but about the political favors angle.

    Anschutz is a rich guy and maybe he’s no different from Geffen. That Bush, however, is helping is new film company by sponsoring contests–while rejecting books and films from people who don’t sit on his reading committee–smacks of questions worth being asked by a newspaper.

    And Narnia is different. It is being touted as the next big film targetted at social conservatives because of its religious themes. That’s fine, until you are the governor of the state who walks a thinner line regarding church/state.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Lewis himself reported that he was informed that a girl had been expelled from school for having THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS in her posession. When he asked if the school was fundamentalist or Catholic or what, he was told “No, it was a SELECT school.”

    And “Michael”, do you find it even conceivable that many people might disagree with your opinion on what books are “better”?

  • Mark

    Question — does Barry Lynn do anything but talk to reporters and get his name in the papers?

    Answer – He’s the head of a Washington thinktank. That’s his JOB.

  • Tom Breen

    I think it was Jeff Sharlet who once raised the provocative possibility that Jim Wallis is a golem created by the media to supply “balance” in stories about politically active evangelical Christians. I think it’s time we consider the very real possibility that the media has given unnatural life to yet another creation, this one named Barry Lynn.

  • Harris

    If Hiassen is part of the package, it seems hard to argue that this is a mad conservative plot. Hiassen’s book (Hoot) as well as his books for adults (e.g. Skinny Dip) are steeped in a love of Florida and especially for preserving the Florida ecosystem from developers. (Hoot is about saving a piece of land that is home to some owls).

    Of course, thinking of movie tie-ins, who could forget the 10 Commandment monuments put up at courthouses across the country to promote, yup, The Ten Commandments (the movie)?

    An old stunt, and I for one, am shocked, just shocked.

  • Scott

    Politicians doing favors for businessmen? Stop the presses.

  • Michael

    Barry Lynn is self-promoting. As self-promoting as . . . Judge Moore, Dobson, Sekulow, and all the other forces who are trying to erase the line between church and state. He’s the go-to guy because he’s a minister and he runs an organization committed to those issues. And he gives great interviews.

    When reporters are dialing-for-quote (and let’s face it, we’ve all got dial-a-quote people in our Rolodexes) he’s the perfect choice.

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    This nation was built by men who were escaping forced Catholisism. They weren’t escaping God. They wanted freedom to worship God. As long as they sent their taxes to England, the king didn’t care what they did. I always hear, separation of church and state, and I wonder if that phrase has been interpreted correctly. It is no suprise that our society is becoming so immoral. We, as a nation, keep pushing God out of school, courthouses, government, etc.

    I personally do not want my kids told they must read a book that I find offensive, such as Harry Potter. Whitchcraft and sorcery is not of God. Are these kids being forced to read a book that parallels the Bible (Narnia books)? We are in such a state that it seems almost illegal to offend anyone. That wouldn’t be American. (sarcasm)

    Anyway, my point is that no one is forcing kids to say the pledge, pray in school, or read books that speak of religion.

    Why not let us continue to be a Christian nation (80% or more of Americans say they are Christian). What would happen if I went into India and said that their form of worship offended me? They would tell me too bad. Why are we so afraid to say the same?

  • Michael

    Because, unlike India which was built on a caste system where the most powerful caste has historically told the lower castes and untouchables how to lead their lives, we live in a country where we respect the rights of minorities not to oppressed by the majority.

    I am a go-to-church every Sunday, devout Lutheran who absolutely does not want praying to take place in school or religious books taught or required. I don’t want the Ten Commandments in the public square and believe my tax dollars shouldn’t pay for creches during Christmas. I worry that the Christian majority will foist its beliefs on minority religions, who deserve respect and freedom. I don’t want a 10 year old Jewish kiid or Muslim asked why he doesn’t believe in Jesus and refuses to pray when all the other little kids are praying.

    We can look all around the world (and in our own counry’s history) to see what happens when the majority religion bullies its way into the public sphere and acts to oppress and silence minority religions.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Matt

    My wife and I recently read the Little House books aloud to each other. I was pleasently surprised to find them loaded to the gills with John Locke’s property theory. Given that they are so full of sensible ideas, I would be surprised to learn they are being read in public schools.

    As for protection of religious minorities, well, I am an Orthodox Christian. The canons of my church forbid me to pray with non-Orthodox. (Likewise, we don’t burn incense in front of statues of emperors.) If the culture around us wants to pray, that’s fine with us. In a way, I’m kind of happy for them, at least the society is acknowleding that there is a God. But that doesn’t mean we can pray with them. We just stand there and observe while everyone around us does their thing. No biggie…. unless we are forced to pray with them. Then I guess we find out if we are Saints or not.

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  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Matt

    Oh. I guess the whole Jeb Bush and TLTWATW thing doesn’t bother me because Clive was a crypto-Orthodox, and this came through in much of his writing. For example, many of the particulars (diet, housing, asceticism as a way to combat the demonic powers, etc.) of the Puddleglum character in CoN:TSC come from Orthodox monastic practice. And, of course, there is the obvious Icon thing in CoN:VotDT. That wasn’t very Anglican, was it?

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com Bob Smietana


    Is the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a religious children’s book, or a classic children’s book with religious themes. Barry Lynn seems to be objecting to be objecting to even the religious themes in the books. So is any book that has religious themes taboo now.

    And if this is a story about political donors being rewarded with an unfair advantage in a reading contest, what’s Lynn doing in the story in the first place?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    “This nation was built by men who were escaping forced Catholisism.”
    What DO they teach them in these schools? This assertion makes as much sense as claiming that refugees from the Third Reich were “fleeing forced Judaism”, or another… person’s claim that “the papacy” backed the Orangeist invasion of Ireland. English colonists “fleeing forced Catholicism”, at a time when “papist” priests were being jailed and tortured for saying mass? I guess you learned that the “Gunpowder Plot” was a conspiracy of fanatical Protestants to destroy the oppressive Catholic Parliament? (See Clarendon Code, Richard Topcliffe, Forty Martyrs, St. Oliver Plunkett…. or ask any Irishman about “the penal laws”. If you have a week free.) And what were the settlers of Maryland “fleeing”?
    Or is “Catholisism” something different from Catholicism?
    As a certain Slayer would say, does the phrase “give me a break” mean anything to you?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Actually, the men who founded the United States waxed indignant about the menace of PERMITTED Catholicism in Quebec… and then could not understand why the Quebecois did not rise to greet Arnold’s army as liberators. (See “Quebec Act”).

  • pml

    What I find hypocritically funny is all the hoopla about “separation between church and state” always referring to Judeo-Christian associations, but I never hear anything about the continued and growing state and government sponsorships/fundings of “new age” type religions and “Eastern” religion … sheesh, up in Canada film feastivals & art shows are being supported by tax dollars that promote spiritualism etc …. even the UN is helping out w/the dough …. sign of the times …..

  • Judy Warner

    I read some of the Narnia books as a young atheist. I had no idea they were religious books — I just thought they were fantastic stories. People are getting bent out of shape because there is religious symbolism in the stories, but the stories themselves are great on literary grounds. Unless their parents point it out, most kids will not see this as a religious story. The Narnia books are so superior to most of the stuff published nowadays for children that it is a crime to deprive children of them for any reason.


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