The American Public Demented

Phillip Pullman has a nice, succinct little essay up at the Guardian about book censorship today to celebrate Banned Books Month. His essay deals with the Catholic League’s boycotting of the movie version of his novel, The Golden Compass, and how delighted he was that even though the box office bombed, book sales went through the roof.

I think it’s unfair to see his books as a direct criticism of religion, or god. More than that, I think he’s criticizing undue religious influence in our personal and political lives, and how religious power, just like any other power, is so corrosive.

In fact, when it comes to banning books, religion is the worst reason of the lot. Religion, uncontaminated by power, can be the source of a great deal of private solace, artistic inspiration, and moral wisdom. But when it gets its hands on the levers of political or social authority, it goes rotten very quickly indeed. The rank stench of oppression wafts from every authoritarian church, chapel, temple, mosque, or synagogue – from every place of worship where the priests have the power to meddle in the social and intellectual lives of their flocks, from every presidential palace or prime ministerial office where civil leaders have to pander to religious ones.

My basic objection to religion is not that it isn’t true; I like plenty of things that aren’t true. It’s that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.

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