I just read today in the NY Times that all federal prisons are being ordered to clear their shelves of all unapproved religious books, audio, and video. The rationale? The war on terrorism. In an effort to prevent prisons from becoming recruiting grounds for terrorism, all materials that are deemed to “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize” are being removed.
Among the many thoughts I have, the thing that strike me most is this effort to “domesticate” religion in America. It’s not that I think that we ought to become terrorists or that we ought not respect one another in this multi-everything society. But to jump back in history a bit, whenever ancient Judaism or Christianity was persecuted, it was rarely because the state didn’t want them to be Jewish or Christian per se, but rather because they failed to recognize the gods of the state in the addition to their own (which explains why Jews and Christians were often accused of atheism). In other words, they were persecuted because they refused to conform (not abandon) their faith to the demands of the state.
I’m not prophesying a future of doom, because governments are always wanting to control everything, not the least of which what people believe. But this official action worries me nonetheless.