Contrary thinking is not too popular or tolerated in the Bible Belt. Up front, I believe in freedom of religion, as well as freedom from it. And I despise censorship.
But thank God for the Garland County Library and Director John Wells. He believes in the First Amendment and even allows the Hot Springs Freethinkers to meet there. This is a discussion group of (gasp! cover your ears) skeptics, atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers.
I have a “soft spot” for this library because my first step toward “enlightenment” began there in 1955. I wanted to find out about reincarnation, using hypnosis to remember past lives. I found a book that led me down many paths. Then, thirty years ago, Cupcake and I moved to Arkansas, after 22 years of working in and living near that den of Congressional iniquity known as Washington, D.C. Living in the proximity of political sin can take its toll, and I will admit the only people I ever really wanted to do away with were members of Congress. That hasn’t changed.
I was glad to be back, but for Cupcake, my New Jersey wife who had never lived here, it was cultural shock. Especially, when one evening there was a knock on our door by two strangers. One of the two solemn-faced men bellowed: “If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?”
Instead of answering, “It’s none of your business,” Cupcake just smiled and politely left the room. But I had more answers to the question, than the two gentlemen wanted to hear. I’ve always despised the “fear” approach to Christianity as opposed to the “love” taught by Jesus. They left never to return.
Cupcake laughed and shook her head. I told her it was a “Southern thang” that never changes. Fortunately, I had. Soon, I became a member of one of the local Hot Springs poetry groups. It was a delightful bunch of good writers—mostly women. Poetry seems not to be that much of a male thing, but I as my sister says, “I’ve always been a little strange.” We met each week hoping to improve our writing.
Then, the Garland County Library provided a display case where the groups’ poems could be read by the public for a couple of weeks each year. Each of us presented our poem to be displayed to a selection committee. The first year mine passed muster, barely. The second year, my poem was the only rejection—not because of the writing— but because of content. It didn’t pass what I called “Bible Belt Box” review. I tend to write outside that box.
“John Wells wouldn’t allow this to be displayed,” said the committee chairwoman. Censorship!
“Really?” I thought. “We will see.” I took the nonconforming document to Director Wells and told him the story. He read my poem and said he couldn’t find anything wrong with it. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “the library’s board of directors meet in a couple of days. I’ll take it to the meeting and ask them to read it.”
Wow! I thought, wouldn’t that make a story, if they turned it down? I was halfway hoping they would. I could see the headline: “Garland County Library Board of Directors violates 1st Amendment; censures poet.” But that didn’t happen.
As it turned out, I was the only poet with a poem pre-approved by the Garland County Library Board of Directors. But I withdrew it and resigned from the group. Not that it matters, but I can’t remember which of my poems caused the controversy. If you’re interested, the Freethinker web site is:
As for me, I have attended some meetings, yet I’m not much of a “joiner.” But I was “born again” (once was enough) as a United States Marine. This entitled me to go to Korea and kill people for God and country and cured me of joining much of anything. But I do thank God, for the Garland County Library and Director John Wells.
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