by Charles S. Garabedian
The Texas State Board of Education (TSBOE), which is nationally famous for being dominated by Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical nutjobs, just voted to take Helen Keller off the list of famous Americans Texas students need to learn about in their American history classes. For those of you who are too young to be aware of it, Helen Keller was one of the most beloved and revered people in American history throughout the 20th century.
When I was growing up, just mentioning the name “Helen Keller” around adult Americans—any adult Americans—elicited this kind of reaction:
If you have never heard or read anything about Helen Keller, you may do so here:
There is also the famous “Helen Keller Moment,” one of the greatest and most memorable personal epiphanies in all of American history—a breakthrough moment—a hail Mary touchdown—that led to greatly improved lives for millions of Americans. You may watch a re-enactment of that important moment here:
Young Helen Was Blind, Deaf, and Unable to Talk
In recent years, American conservatives and fundies, like those on the TSBOE, have begun trying to write Helen Keller out of American history with the accusation that she was an evil socialist—or even an evil communist—with all the blood-dripping gulag imagery such accusations usually imply.
The truth is—Helen Keller did have strong socialist tendencies, and she was even an admirer of famous communist leader Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. However, the things today’s rabid, nutjob conservatives always conveniently fail to mention is the fact that socialism and communism were not necessarily seen as universal evils by the American people in the early 20th century. Even though socialism and communism were 1800s intellectual ideas from Europe, they were fairly new ideas to most ordinary Americans in the early 20th century. Among many American young people, it was even “hip” to have a socialist or communist point of view. For a short time, even Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame was a member of the American Communist Party in the early 20th century. Why? I think it was because fledgling socialism and communism in the United States appeared (on the surface) to present a Jesus-like perspective on how people should be treated kindly, equally, and fairly deep in the pits of the very abusive American Industrial Revolution.
Karl Marx famously remarked that the following Bible verse about early Christians in Judea was one of his key inspirations for writing his famous paper The Communist Manifesto:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had (Acts 4:32).
Only later in the 20th century, after the evil deeds of people like Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, and Fidel Castro, did innocent-minded Americans like Helen Keller and Lucille Ball awaken to understand that fully implementing true socialism and true communism could be such an extreme, evil, and bloody affair that would bring out the worst in human beings rather than their best.
Sadly, in the United States today, many American conservatives, as well as Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, have been lured to the far opposite extreme from socialism and communism. If a person thinks sharing a loaf of bread with their hungry neighbors is a Christ-like thing to do, these conservative and fundie nutjobs immediately try to label them as a socialist or a communist—and the next thing you know (like poor Helen Keller)—they are smearing their name and trying to write them out of the history books—claiming they are not a Christian at all. Just for the record, Helen Keller was a Christian and a member of the New Church, a church founded on the ideas of Swedish Christian theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg.
Why do I think many American conservatives, Christian fundamentalists, and conservative evangelicals hate Helen Keller so much today? I see two reasons in the Helen Keller quotations below. I think it is because both Jesus Christ and Helen Keller knew their kind of human being far better than they know themselves. Take a look at these two famous Helen Keller quotations, which illustrate it perfectly:
Trouble is—before you can feel those things in the heart—the absolute prerequisite is that you must first have a heart. I am not thoroughly convinced that many American conservatives and fundies do. The way these nutjobs think, I would not be too surprised to one day see some of them trying to write Jesus out of the Bible because he gave Karl Marx some ideas that led to writing The Communist Manifesto. Before you know it, they might even be trying to accuse Jesus of being the first Marxist-Leninist. Who will be next on their list of innocent people to smear for no good reason? Be careful. It might be you or one of your children!!!