California Assembly Bill 2943 aims at making unlawful the sale of material (books, pamphlets, advertisements) and services that promote the Christian view on human sexuality. The Bill states:

Courts, including in California, have recognized the practice of sexual orientation change efforts as a commercial service, and service. Therefore, claims that sexual orientation change efforts are effective in changing an individual’s sexual orientation, may constitute unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business practices under state consumer protection laws.

You can use your imagination what “services” and materials for those services would become unlawful. Mostly pastors and therapists holding to a Christian worldview would be affected, but with this line of thinking, I don’t think it is far removed from California enacting legislation similar to Canada’s that makes it unlawful for homeschools or private schools to teach that homosexuality is a sin and gives the state the power to take children from their parents who don’t comply

This impending legislation reminded me of the only fictional book I remember enjoying in high school; Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The book is about a dystopian future in which books are illegal, and a firefighter’s responsibility is not to put out fires (because all buildings have been completely fire-proofed), but rather, to burn books! Bradbury’s novel was supposed to be a warning about censoring ideas and destroying knowledge and how mass media reduces the interest for literature; and it seems that now (at least in California), those warnings have not been heeded.

I wanted to remember just how Bradbury describes the descent into a society of book burners, so I re-read a few chapters and it seems that Bradbury described more of the future than I think he intended to. The middle of the book contains a conversation between the main character (Montag, who is himself a fireman) and his Captain (Beatty) who explains the history of book burning. The conversation takes place after Montag is on a call where a woman was voluntarily burned with her books and Montag, being so moved by her commitment, takes one of the books home.

Mass Media and the Diminishing Intellect

Captain Beatty’s explains that it all started with the rise in technology and mass media. He says:

“… motion picture in the early twentieth century. Radio. Television. Things began to have mass. … And because they had mass, they became simpler… classics cut to fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column… Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes!

This is a very accurate description of our modern world. With the technologies available, all competing for our attention, the quickest and more palatable media gets most of it. Feeding our innate path-of-least-resistance, we have made sources like Twitter, which has a 140 character limit per Tweet, a primary source for information. It is undeniable that our trajectory towards less work in building our minds has hurt our collective intellects. Do we stop and think that if we have a diminishing collective intellect, we will make bad decision when it comes to important things like religion, politics, and worldview?

But this is the world we live in. Which is why we here at PCE hold education as a primary facet of the Christian life. But without building our intellects, banning certain books in California can just slide through our legislators without knowing that it is not really protecting anyone, but rather encouraging the suppression of ideas.

Growing Population and Many Minorities

As in Fahrenheit 451, globalization in our era has forced many people of different backgrounds to live increasingly integrated with each other. Naturally, this leads to cautions being taken so as to live together peacefully. But with our minds set solely on peace (and perhaps in the eyes of big companies,  their eyes on profits), we now have a political correct and victim culture, where everyone is offended at the slightest difference of others. Beatty continues:

Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico… The bigger your market,… the less you handle controversy.

This is a funny line that really represents the PC and victim culture today:

All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean.

And then comes the suppression of ideas:

Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did.

Spinning Happily

The crux of the matter is then explained by Captain Beatty, and I think it is fitting for today:

Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No winder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive… It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressures carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or the trade journals.

Later, Beatty says:

You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.

The real cause is the human desire for constant and immediate pleasure. Technology allows us to have pleasures all the time. Our lack of knowledge and understanding makes us simple people that can see no other purpose in life but to experience pleasure. With a diminishing collective intellect, we have become less equipped to live with people of differing opinions and backgrounds; so to reduce conflict and keep our pleasured lifestyle continually on full throttle, we outlaw all conflict and differing of opinions; such as certain books in California, and all books in Bradbury’s future.

Custodians of our Peace of Mind

Beatty then explains how the role of firefighters changed to removing knowledge through burning books. This is because of the desire for everyone to be happy by not feeling different or being offended. Again, this is much like our PC and victim culture, but is also seen in modern parenting where many parents tell their children that they are all special, all winners, all perfect, all good at everything, so as to be their friend and not offend them. Individualism creeps up and shows that even in Bradbury’s day, each wanted to throw off the shackles of religion and systems of belief so they could believe, do, and be whatever they wanted without having to feel inferior:

They (firefighters) were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior.

We at Post-Christian Era are calling Christians to radically reject our culture because it is detrimental to the Church and it is antithetical to the Christian Faith. When we go along with legislation, or minority pressures for Christians to change (think LGBT), or buy into ideas maintaining a happy life above all else, we allow things other than Christ to be the Custodians of our Peace of Mind. In Christ alone do we find true peace, joy, and contentment with our place in life and in the world.

Although our culture is headed in the direction of Ray Bradbury’s world, as California’s proposed legislation makes us more aware of this, we don’t have to let our Christian communities follow. We Christian communities should have different goals in mind (not “happiness at all costs”) and lean on Christ-centered methods of obtaining our goals.

Chris Saenz
Chris Saenz is the founder of Post-Christian Era. He has a Master's Degree in Biblical Studies and more than a decade of church work in teaching, worship, and discipleship across many church settings and denominations. He and his wife and three children live in the Los Angeles area (Covina, CA).