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Jeb Bush's Reading With Jesus In Florida Public Schools
From a Tucker Carlson transcript:

CARLSON: Welcome back. “The Passion of the Christ” was a huge box office hit. Odds are, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” based on the stories of influential Christian writer C.S. Lewis will do pretty well too, but the first book in the series is hitting some resistance.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State wants the state of Florida to stop pushing “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” in its state-wide reading contest. The group says the state should only permit nonreligious books in reading programs.

Here to defend the group‘s position, executive director, Barry Lynn, who joins us live tonight from Denver, Colorado.

Barry, thanks for coming on.

BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS UNITED FOR THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE:

Nice to be back.

CARLSON: Thanks. So you spend your life fighting against religious fundamentalism, and here you find yourself trying to ban a book. You have become what you despise, have you not?

LYNN: No, I have not, because I‘m not trying to censor this book. I‘m not trying to take “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” out of any library or classroom in the state of Florida.

I‘m just trying to figure out why it was that Governor Jeb Bush chose this obviously Christian-themed book to be the sole book for his state-wide reading contest that goes from elementary to high school up to high school. All we were asking him to do this year was to come up with an alternative along with this book. I mean, it could have been the book you wrote, Tucker. That would have been an alternative.

CARLSON: I think it would have helped sales. But look, you‘re trying

so you‘re not trying to prevent kids from reading this book in the reading contest?

LYNN: Absolutely not. I love this book. I‘m going to see the movie, but it is inappropriate for the state of Florida to use an obviously Christian themed book. C.S. Lewis, the guy who wrote...

CARLSON: Wait a second.

LYNN: ... the book said that the whole purpose of the Narnia series was to discuss Christ.

CARLSON: Well, as you know...

LYNN: That‘s what he said.

CARLSON: Hold on. Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. As you know, and I can tell you, as a book author, authors have all sorts of intentions that don‘t sort of permeate through the book and trickle down to the people who read the book.

People have no idea why books are written, and in a lot of cases it doesn‘t matter. I had no idea this was a Christian allegory when I was little, any more than I knew “Scooby-Doo” was about smoking pot. I had no clue at all. So why do you expect kids to see this as an allegory?

LYNN: Well, let me tell you what could have given you a clue. I‘m not blaming you for not having a clue. It‘s just that here is the Aslan the lion. He is the savior of this world called Narnia.

But in order to be the savior of the world, he has to be tortured and die. Even though he could have prevented his own death, he chose not to do that. And then he is resurrected.

And then we learn, just in case there needed to be a capper, that Aslan the lion is also the creator of the world of Narnia. I mean, how many more analogous elements to the Christ story do you need?

Just another bit of (supposedly) benign religion intervention in public life.

via EvolutionBlog

Posted by aalkon at November 21, 2005 8:36 AM

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Comments

So - where is the outrage about The Matrix? I actually know someone who wouldn't go to the movie because "it's blasphemous". Zion is the refuge of humanity, and "The One" appears to save everyone.

Posted by: Radwaste at November 21, 2005 2:24 AM

Rad, the outrage isn't about the work itself (the New Testament is the biggest promoter of Christianity), but the fact that it's recommended by the state.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 21, 2005 5:27 AM

Tucker is right on here. Just as Harry Potter is not about Satanism, Narnia was not an attemp to convert everyone to Christianity. I read those books as a kid and loved them. They were pure imagination.

The books I loved as a young teenager contained words like "motherfucker" (Vonnegut)and "nigger" (Twain/Harper Lee), but they allowed my young conscience to wonder about these words and put them into a meaningful context. Even back then someone wanted to "protect" me from those masterpieces.

If a book contains a noble lion that sacrifices himself, I hope the young reader will take away with him the lessons of noble sacrifice. If he then makes the connection to Jesus (I don't remember back then if I did), then good for him.

The problem isn't what is being read, but the scope of the books you do not allow yourself or others to read.

Posted by: Eric at November 21, 2005 9:31 AM

The issue of religious undertones aside...

"Governor Jeb Bush chose this obviously Christian-themed book to be the sole book for his state-wide reading contest that goes from elementary to high school up to high school."

In my household, we read the Chronicles of Narnia before age ten. Why would the government recommend one and only one book for a state-wide reading initiative for children in an age range of ten years? Hasn't Governor Bush heard of reading lists? Aside from the reading-level issue (I'd like to think many high-schoolers are long past the Narnia age), maybe some kids wouldn't be into fantasy. Perhaps they'd prefer mysteries or an historical novel. Why should they be excluded for wanting to diversify their reading experience?

Posted by: Sheila at November 21, 2005 9:36 AM

Good point Sheila- I missed the "sole book" aspect.

Posted by: Eric at November 21, 2005 10:07 AM

That was my problem with it, too. What a coincidence that the only book they recommend is Christian-themed. Also, I don't know about Jeb Bush, but if George Bush's reading aloud is any example of the English skills in that family, my 7-year-old friend Sophie reads better than both of them.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 21, 2005 10:35 AM

I would suggest that Jeb's Narnia contest has much more to do with the upcoming Disney hype machine than any subversive scheme to Christianize Florida's youth. A quick look at the contest's prizes (http://www.justreadflorida.com/CurrentEvents/narnia-prizes.asp) reveals heavy corporate sponsorship for this competition: "Private Movie Screening and Award Ceremony at MGM Studios;
3 days/2 nights stay at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort, etc."

Its not like the Governor is sending the winners Mel Gibson-autographed bibles.

Posted by: snakeman99 at November 21, 2005 10:39 AM

How unfortunate that Mark Twain wasn't able to arrange any movie tie-ins prior to his death.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 21, 2005 10:59 AM

. . . the reports of which have been "greatly exaggerated."

Groan. Apologies. Couldn't resist.

Posted by: snakeman99 at November 21, 2005 11:01 AM

I'm generally opposed to the religious right. I refused to play on "The Messiah" at my public high school Christmas concert because I felt that went over the churh-state line, and refused to say the pledge of allegience for the same reason. (Yes, these attitudes made me really popular in Central Florida during the Reagan 80s, especially when I wrote an editorial for the high school newspaper about this).

BUT.

Using Christian allegory in a novel is NOT the same thing as prosteletizing. There's WAY too much literature that uses iconography from the old and new testaments to think one should really have to consider it taboo for state promotion (assuming you think the government should be wasting our money by recommending books in the first place). We read "Light in August" in my AP English class, which is infused throughout with Christ imagery and allegory, though the book is hardly about promoting the Christian church. My life would be much poorer for it if we hadn't read it.

And besides, do you think a Bush could really understand the concept of allegory? I think it's a safer bet that Jeb likes the book about the furry lion.

On a related note, Penn Jillette discusses atheism here.

Posted by: frank at November 21, 2005 1:14 PM

I'm as hardcore atheist as they come. And yeah, I suspect that religion played into Jeb's decision. But compared to all of the #$%* that the Religious Right try to pull, this is insignificant. Also, I read the book when I was little and didn't pick up on the Christ thing at all. Anyway, though atheist I am, I don't mind religious themes - just another form of fiction to me. I only draw the line at the overt stuff, like Passion of the Christ or Left Behind.

Posted by: Jason Ginsburg at November 21, 2005 1:30 PM

Why do I think there is a hidden meaning behind #$96* ?

Trivia: Kurt Vonnegut signs everything with an "*". Anyone wanna guess what the "*" stands for?

Posted by: eric at November 21, 2005 4:10 PM

When agnostics, atheists or non-Christians complain about something as insignificant as children reading a book that has even the slightest Christian theme, we play right into the hands of the Dobsons and the Bauers who erroneously claim that Christianity is under grave attack from secularists.

We need to figure out what matters and what doesn't. Harriet Miers allegedly qualified for a supreme court position because she's very Christian? Problem. The word 'God' on money (right next to the symbol for Ra)? Not a problem. Government attempting to take spousal rights from a husband to make a political statement about euthanasia (and ultimately abortion)? Disturbing. Encouraging kids to read C.S. Lewis? Insignificant.

We shouldn't make idiots look right.


>I would suggest that Jeb's Narnia contest has much more to do with the upcoming Disney hype machine than any subversive scheme to Christianize Florida's youth.

I tend to think this might be more applicable to the situation. What is it Tom Delay said about money in politics? Something about it not being the root of all evil in politics, but rather it's lifeblood and salvation?

Good point, snake.

Posted by: little Ted at November 21, 2005 5:00 PM

you have to admit, the narnia series, as a work of fiction, is a much better read than the bible. maybe that's why they chose it.

i remember reading the series way back when. i don't think i picked up on any religious undertones until the last few books. by then the stories were so queer i thought that c.s. lewis was dropping acid.

Posted by: g*mart at November 22, 2005 1:37 AM

Eric: Does it stand for "Too self important and possibly senile to write my whole name"?

Sheila: It's not a "Reading contest". It's an essay/illustration/videomaking contest based on the book. I don't know about you, but widening that to even three books would rather make judging that much more difficult, wouldn't it? Should they deliberately avoid a very good book that is both enduringly popular and hyped at the moment, because it's also a Christian allegory at a level not generally obvious to the age-ranges reading it?

(Check out their holiday reading list for reason to believe there's no Secret Christan Agenda here. "Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah", perhaps? "Ramadan"? "Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story"? "It’s Thanksgiving"?)

Like most anything from AUSCS, it's a tempest in a teapot. And I say this as someone who's never not been an atheist; I just see no possible violation of the Establishment clause here, nor any violation of any general non-Constiutional principle I subscribe to as an Old Whig/Libertarian.

Posted by: Sigivald at November 22, 2005 4:14 PM

So Tucker had no idea it was Christian-themed? Shit, I read it when I was seven or eight, and I figured that out right away. What an idiot.

Posted by: rebecca at November 23, 2005 4:49 PM

That anyone could know what an allegory is before learning cursive is a bit hard for me to swallow, but I'll take your word for it.

However, the suggestion that an eight-year-old should know that a story about a talking Lion in an ice kingdom is an allegory designed to promote Christianity (or else he/she is stupid) is silly.

Posted by: little Ted at November 24, 2005 12:46 AM

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