An informed populace makes it easier to challenge authority. That’s why they’re banning books.

Books locked up
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One year after the passage of Florida’s draconian so-called Don’t Say Gay law, Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 496. The law bans went into effect on July 1 and bans lessons and discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-6. It orders administrators to inform parents if students ask to use pronouns or names that do not align with their sex assigned at birth and mandates that all library materials are “age appropriate.” The law also does not allow any books that describe or contain depictions of sex.

A K-12 Iowa school district, used artificial intelligence to determine which books to remove from school libraries in an attempt to comply with the law.

Mason City, Iowa schools employed the unique method of determining which books needed to be removed without actually reading them. Entering data into the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT, the school administration generated instant responses after asking it to come up with books that contained depictions of sex.

The bot created a list of 42 entries, including such classics as Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, plus Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H. G. Bissinger, Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, and many others.

Increasing numbers of school districts across the country are clamping down on students’ access to books and other resources on topics like sexuality, gender identity, race, and the “hard” history of the United States. And what is happening conforms directly with major foundational principles of patriarchal white Christian nationalism.

During a progressive December 2022 panel in Denver on white Christian nationalism in the United States, speakers spoke of major components of Christian nationalism, specifically the “innocence” in history, and the “purity culture.”

During the panel discussion, which was titled “Straight White American Jesus”, Sara Moslener, a lecturer in religion at Central Michigan University, asserted that concepts of “innocence” and “purity culture” are often located in white Christian nationalism, stemming from colonial history when whiteness was coupled with freedom and innocence.

“The innocence that is connected to white racial identity has been a… delusion that has worked really well in giving white people a sense of specialness, a sense of ‘we have something in common with one another,’” she said. “There is this sense that we are innocent of all of these things, and white Christian nationalism says: Well, this was all part of God’s plan.”

So, bringing up some of the “hard” history of the United States, for example, white supremacy and racism, challenges this notion of “white innocence,” while restricting or banning these discussions in schools and businesses theoretically avoids a potential narcissistic injury to white people.

Moslener continued by explaining the concept of “purity culture,” taken from conservative evangelical Christianity, which opposes abortion rights and homosexuality and adheres to traditional gender roles and sexual abstinence before marriage for women. She claimed that this is also foundational to Christian nationalism. This “purity culture,” is mainly about “evangelicals gaining political power.”

“White Christian Nationalism is steeped in myths of national innocence and this idea that the founding of the United States was a God-anointed beginning,” Moslener said. And this is connected as a movement by a unified commitment to a social order of a shared theology of family and a shared perception of gender roles, sexuality, and gender expression.

Panelist Katherine Stewart, an investigative journalist and author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, said of Christian nationalism: “It’s not a single religion, it’s both an ideology – a set of ideas — and it’s also a political movement – an organized quest for power.”

“Many politicians have tried to ally themselves with this ideology to promote it,” Stewart said, citing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), who identified himself with this ideology to gain votes in his political campaigns, and apparently now in his quest for the White House.

So, while DeSantis, Gov. Reynolds, and the growing number of politicians and state and national conservative caucuses are pushing for similar anti-“WOKE”, anti-“Critical Race Theory,” and anti-LGBTQ+ (Don’t Say Gay) regulations and laws in schools, as well restrictions on diversity, equity, and inclusion discussions in businesses, their not-so-hidden agenda is intended to bring the nation closer to the patriarchal white Christian nationalist ideals attempted in other Fascist movements.

Power-hungry autocrats understand that an informed, awake populace increases the chances of mass challenges to their authority, as history has clearly shown. But if the white Christian power structure can severely restrict and downgrade the education of people they deem outside this structure – people of color, non-Christians, non-cisgender, and non-heteronormative individuals – then they believe their domination will be assured.   

Allowing free and age-appropriate discussions, however, of the “hard” history connected to race and racism unmasks this Christian nationalist myth of “white innocence.” And free and age-appropriate discussions of topics around sexuality and gender knocks out of the water the propagation of their invention of some sort of Christian “purity culture” destined by God.

These laws are nothing less than the means to the goal of further establishing a patriarchal Christian nationalist power structure in the United States.

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