The harder reality is that we and our children are constantly bombarded by a slew of undesirable traits online, at the movies, on billboards, TV advertising posters and music videos.
Recently, a seemingly uncontroversial institution, the National Library Board, found itself under the harsh glare of public
discourse. It had removed two children’s books from its shelves because of complaints that they were not “pro-family”.
Removing titles is something that the Library typically does without attracting too much public attention. This time round, protests rolled in fast and furious – letters to the press, and online posts. Well-known literary figures withdrew their support and patronage from related committees, and there was even a small demonstration.
Protestors objected to the books being removed because alternatives to what make up a “traditional family” were presented. One of the books was a true story about a same-sex pair of penguins that were given an egg to hatch and subsequently a baby penguin to raise.
At hand were several issues, which I may not do justice by summarising here, but these include: Who has the right to decide what information a child can be exposed to, and what is appropriate information? Should children be given exposure only to family types which fit the traditional model, though this may be declining in many developed countries, or will it be too confusing for their young minds to comprehend if other family models are presented?
Supporters of the ban may feel that what’s at stake is the undermining and erosion of family values, particularly among the young. The Church, too, was drawn into this debate with several leaders and groups speaking out for and against the ban.
The Church is not unfamiliar with nor immune to controversies like this.
The Harry Potter fiction series experienced such controversy. Would the book’s hero, Harry, a wizard in training, draw children into dabbling in witchcraft and sorcery? The overall presentation of Harry Potter and his adventures was attractive, and Christian parents were warned about allowing their children to read the books or watch the movies.
I am happy to observe that though the Harry Potter franchise was a huge commercial success, there have been no known cases of children attempting to fly on broomsticks or putting spells on each other.
The Lord of the Rings fantasy series also saw controversy. Parents objected to J. R. R. Tolkien’s books and the subsequent movies, fearing their portrayal of magic and wizards. Never mind the fact that Tolkien,
a great scholar, was the one who introduced his good friend C. S. Lewis to Christianity.
Both of these earlier controversies were met with little defence or justification by the publishers and movie studios. In fact, they were probably welcomed as they generated greater public interest and sales.
However, this recent controversy has polarised the faith community into two camps: those sympathetic to the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transvestite community, and those against the portrayal or suggestion of alternative sexual orientations and lifestyles.
The downside? The world is seeing the Church in a state of confusion and even worse, strife.
Yet one good outcome is the increased interest in what our young are – and will be – exposed to. It is almost ironic that in today’s digital age, the battle is over two hard copy children’s books. The harder reality is that we and our children are constantly bombarded by a slew of undesirable traits online, at the movies, on billboards, TV advertising posters and music videos.
Subtle and overt messages of over-sexualisation, flirting, illicit relationships, addictions and so forth are conveyed in these different media.
Our young are constantly exposed to these influences. This entire episode is a sober reminder to parents, and not just institutions like a library, to be vigilant about the myriad negative elements that may influence our young.
After all, we cannot put blinkers on our children, and expect them to develop a moral compass. Our responsibility should not be limited to debating about the books our libraries carry – but should instead focus on inculcating God’s values and standards in our children, so that they may stand better equipped to discern what is wrong and what is right, when faced with the many undesirable practices in society today.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.