The following story is part a new feature, a fictional work by our columnist Wayne Weedon, Why I am Going to School. Wayne is a brilliant writer whose style consists of simple declarative statements that stick in your mind as he leads you through an intricate web of circumstances to reach the lesson he set out to teach.


Why I am Going to School

Pregnant and deserted by her lover, a young girl moves in with her grandfather. When the baby boy is born, the grandfather agrees to look after him so his granddaughter may go to work. Despite the age difference, the relationship between the boy and his great-grandfather was more like two siblings than that of an adult and child. As this boy grew into a young man, he loved to look back and tell stories about his great-grandfather, whom he always called “Pops”.

Pops never intended to send me to school. He eventually gave in after months of me begging. I was envious of my friend Ralph who was telling me how much fun he was having at school with his new friends.

The principal suggested I should begin in kindergarten because I would be behind the other children. Pops handed me a primary reader, asking me to read it out loud, which I did, with no difficulty. The principal conceded to enrol me in the first grade.

Pops continued with my lessons at home, telling me, “You need to keep one step ahead of the others or you may begin to fall behind, and if you start falling behind, it can be very difficult to catch up.”

Pops had always advised me to not let my schooling get in the way of my education. “School is not designed to educate; real education takes place outside of school.” Over the years, I could clearly understand, what Pops was teaching me at home was vastly different from what I was learning in school.

A few weeks ago, I told Pops about a substitute teacher who told us, several Christian churches in a Southern state made a request to ban Huckleberry Finn.

Pops thoughtfully looked at me and asked, “Did this teacher tell you why the churches want this book banned?”

I told Pops, the only reason this teacher gave was because the author had used the word “nigger” two-hundred and twelve times.

Pops stated there would be another reason, “Whenever someone puts on the appearance of helping someone, or righting a wrong, you will always find there is a hidden agenda. Do-gooders often come across as being selfless and altruistic, but, with a bit of research, you will find a selfish and greedy reason why they are “helping” someone.”


Mark Twain: Mark Twain Stained Glass Window in, of all places, a church. Photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress.

When I admitted I had not read this book, Pops quickly retrieved a copy from his bookshelf. Pops explained, “Quakers abhorred slavery and called for slavery to be abolished. However, during Mark Twain’s time, not only did most religious institutions condone slavery, but they also owned slaves, and profited from the slave trade. Christians owned millions of slaves throughout the world. Mark Twain wrote satire, and, in this book, he is pointing out the hypocrisy which Christians have. Huckleberry Finn was fretting because he believed what Christian people had been telling him, his helping this runaway slave was akin to stealing someone’s property, and because he was committing this sin, he would be spending an eternity in hell. Huckleberry lamented, if he had only taken religion seriously, he would not be in the pickle he was in.”

Pops began to read, telling me, Huckleberry is speaking to himself:

There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire. It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie — I found that out.

“Using satire, this author is pointing out, it wasn’t Huckleberry Finn who was “playing double”, it was the Christian institutions who were telling Huckleberry that he would be condemned to hell for his sin of helping Jim, a runaway slave. He is also trying to have the reader understand that while Jim is physically a slave, Huckleberry Finn, because of his religious beliefs, is more of a slave, he is a mental slave who believes he is free. Like Shakespeare, Twain is trying to get his point across in an indirect manner, believing this to be the only way he can get the reader to understand and accept the truth. Mark Twain’s method is much different than his friend, Robert Green Ingersoll, who, in his writings, comes right out and directly states that religion is a form of slavery, and all religious people, because of fear, are in fact slaves. Ingersoll did not mince words, he openly declared, there are no gods, and there is no heaven nor hell.”

I was beginning to understand what Pops was talking about. When we were reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Pops told me that the author was using the wizard as a metaphor for God whom he showed to be false. The author was in fact an atheist, but he did not directly denounce Christianity like Ingersoll did. I asked Pops if he believed Frank Baum could be compared to Mark Twain.

“In his fiction, yes, but when he was serious, he sounded much like Robert Ingersoll. Listen to this, ‘When the priests acknowledge their fallibility; when they abolish superstition, intolerance and bigotry; when they abhor the thought of a vindictive and revengeful God; when they are able to reconcile reason and religion, and fear not to let the people think for themselves, then, and then only, will the church regain its old power and be able to draw to its pulpits the whole people.’ Wouldn’t you say Baum is more direct when he wrote that? He was revealing what his real beliefs were. Don’t forget, when these men were alive, there were laws against blasphemy and by openly questioning religion they could have gotten into BIG TROUBLE. Rather than ignoring the truth, schools should be teaching how Ingersoll exposed religion in his defence of Charles Reynolds who, in 1887, was convicted in a New Jersey court of committing blasphemy.

Pops continued, “All people, including Christians, must come to understand, Yesterday, physical slavery was accepted as normal, today, physical slavery is not accepted but mental slavery is not only accepted, it is encouraged. We should be questioning what we are doing today. Our actions today may be viewed as being sinful acts in the future. We accept that the normal customs of today are good, but normal customs are continually changing. People who think for themselves, using rational common sense, usually do not follow the customs of the day. They do what they believe is the proper thing to do and, they do not follow a herd of sheep. Huckleberry Finn believed this runaway slave, who had become his friend and companion, should be free, but Huckleberry had been taught by Christians that slaves are someone’s property and must be returned to their rightful owner.”

“I see what you mean. But, what about the use of offensive words?”

“If you delete things that offend someone you are trying to erase history. A lot of history has been already erased and we should be trying to resurrect the truth which is hidden rather than trying to hide more. The same people who are trying to hide this book are the same ones who are falsifying history. These same people are telling us that religious organisations never owned slaves, and Adolf Hitler was an atheist, that he was never a Christian, even though Hitler’s baptismal certificate and his confirmation certificate tell us a different story. We are being told, Christians are good, and atheists are bad, even though true history is telling us a different story. The history being taught in schools has been sanitized just like many of Shakespeare’s plays have been sanitized for students. There are also edited, revised, and sanitized versions of Huckleberry Finn. I suggest you read the original edition which Ernest Hemmingway stated is the best book ever written.”

The next day I found our regular teacher was back. Nobody mentioned the subject of banning books. Other than me, I wondered if anyone else even cared whether books were being banned or not.


Wayne Douglas Weedon is a Manitoba author who writes a combination of fictional and factual stories, essays, and novels.

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