Christians: the one group you can safely stereotype

I am not usually that sensitive, but this post ticked me off. Michael Schaub over at Booslut takes a NYT story about a school wrestling with how to deal with student’s and parent’s complaints about the reading list and uses it to stereotype and mock Christians. Brittany Hunsicker didn’t like reading a book that contained passages about boys becoming sexually aroused and so complained to her teacher and, when her teacher was unwilling to help, the school board. This launched a process where the school board voted to take the book off the reading list, not ban in from the school, voted to put it back on, and eventually set up a system to let parents no what is on the reading list.

Because Brittany didn’t like the book and because she is a Christian Mr. Schaub makes a snide comment about how “lucky Brittany gets to tote her seven bitter children to Bible study class.” Now I realize that this is just a smart ass comment likely offered of the cuff, but is nonetheless indicative of the kind of sentiment one runs into frequently. Christians who object to aspects of popular cultures are stupid unenlightened hicks likely to end up with large “bitter” families. Christians, particularly southern ones, are one of the last remaining groups you can feel free to mock and stereotype.

And Mr. Schaub can take this kind of pot shot because he knows all of his liberal, hip, urban friends will laugh at it and nod in agreement: aren’t those Christians stupid (and dangerous). As I noted above, this post originally ticked me off. But in the big picture it isn’t that big of a deal. What I do find sad is that Schaub took a interesting story where a community is trying to work out these issues in a fair and democratic way and all he can do is mock a girl he doesn’t know because she thinks differently than him. Nice work.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. With all due respect, I think there is a bigger issue at stake here. You say, “Because Brittany didn’t like the book and because she is a Christian Mr. Schaub makes a snide comment […]”

    People are entitled to their opinions–although I cannot speak for him, I doubt Mr. Schaub would deny that. But when you begin to deprive others of choices, that’s when it gets dicey. Banning books is a dangerous precedent to set–esp. by Christians, who should know better.

    You say, “Christians who object to aspects of popular cultures are [perceived as] stupid unenlightened hicks”. No, what’s worrisome is not the rejection of “aspects of popular culture,” but the rejection of the reality lived by those less fortunate. A book about life inside a juvenile detention center is not going to be all ponies and rainbows. By rejecting glimpses into harsher realities, Christians risk closing themselves off to the very world they are supposed to care about.

    Yes, I am a Christian–and I mean no disrespect. But I think Christians need to listen to the motives behind such criticisms rather than simply reacting to things a face value.

    According to the NY Times article, “‘No one is more critical of literature than English teachers,’ Stacia Richmond, a colleague of Ms. Goldstan’s, told the board. ‘Do you really think we as educators choose literature in terms of its titillation? Do you not realize we are battling the same immorality you are?'”

    I think this gets to the heart of the matter.

  2. I would have had no objections had Mr. Schaub made an argument about banning books or depriving others of books, but he didn’t in fact do so. He simply stereotyped two high schoolers based on their closeness to his views. One goes onto success the other to seven bitter children and bible study.

    And as to your larger point, Brittany didn’t ban the book she simply raised a complaint to her teacher and to the school board. The proper authorities discussed the issue in great depth and made their multiple decisions. The book was never banned from the school and the article clearly states that anyone who wanted to read it could do so.

    The question is not whether I agree with Brittany’s choices or her parents’ or the school board’s. The question is why does Schaub feel the need to insult Brittany and those like her? Why is it okay to mock her faith and life because she didn’t want to read a book she found offensive?

  3. I may be presuming too much here, but I’ll wager that you’re aware of the dangers of legalism–and yes, it can lead to “seven bitter children.” Sadly, this isn’t hyperbole. I know too many people that actually live this way. You may say he’s judging them based on personal views. Maybe so. I say that when you call a book “junk” because of “questionable” content, you risk narrowing your view of reality, and thus your life.

    The book was banned, largely as a result of her complaint to the school board–all copies were “collected” and stored in the principal’s office by the next morning (para. 5). Yes, things shifted a bit–mistakes were admitted. But “In any case, Mr. Anthony [chairman of the English Dept.] said, ‘”The Buffalo Tree” isn’t coming back anytime soon.'” Doesn’t sound like much of a victory to me. (And the article repeatedly uses the word “ban” in its reference to the book’s removal from the curriculum. That may not be the true meaning of the word, but it’s there. As for the “synopsis” solution, I think everyone would be better served if the parents actually *read* the books for themselves.)

    Regardless, the whole point of my initial comment was concern over Christians’ “rejection of the reality lived by those less fortunate” (*not* the “banning” issue). If you hear nothing else I say, please hear this: “By rejecting glimpses into harsher realities, Christians risk closing themselves off to the very world they are supposed to care about.”

    Your point: “Why is it okay to mock her faith and life because she didn’t want to read a book she found offensive?” I’ve already stated why it’s not as simple as this, but I’ll try something else.

    Why are Christians so offended by the views of those who do not share their beliefs to begin with? Why is this surprising or offensive?

  4. With all due respect, you seem comfortable judging people rather quickly as well.

    In some abstract way I agree with you that Christians shouldn’t cut themselves off from the world. But again that is a separate issue. Schaub felt comfortable judging a young women simply because she didn’t like her reading assignment and complained about it. Was that a good idea? Should it have been taken that far? I don’t know I haven’t read the book. But I know one thing for sure, I wouldn’t want to be judged on something like this from my high school years.

    The idea that you can extrapolate about a persons life from a newspaper article like this is absurd. I know plenty of people raised in very strict Christian homes who group up to be successful, well read, tolerant people. And I know people who grew up in non-Christian, liberal, educated households who grew up to have lots of children, no job, were bitter, etc. Legalism can be a theological and spiritual problem but it has nothing to do with making fun of people.

    But again, the whole point of my post was that Schaub was taking a pot shot at Christians because of the way he stereotypes them and that he was unlikely to make fun of any other group in that same way. I don’t really care how complicated you want to make it, he was mocking her for her beliefs.

  5. You’re probably right, Kevin, and I think Schaub’s joke about questioning authority shows his blind spot. How many books are not on the reading list in this school or assigned reading as this protested book is? Why are those books being banned from the students? And if a local school board makes book decisions, why are the rejected books more likely to be called ‘banned’ than those rejected by teachers? If this book had been on the list 2000 and taken off in 2001 by the same teacher, would it be ‘banned’ then?

    The message from the ALA, as I hear it, is clearly “Don’t question authority.” If a teacher rejects a book, fine. If a student, parent, or school board member rejects it, man the fire extinquishers because those fanatical book-banners will be burning down the whole library next!

  6. No–I judge ideas, not people.

    Again, why is it surprising or offensive that someone who does not share your faith takes “a pot shot at Christians”? You’re expecting people who do not share your values to act as if they live by them.

    Stuff like this just comes with the territory.

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