Censorship on the basis of spirituality frequently involves banning poets’ entire canons or excluding whole movements. Censors target as pagan poetry that recalls or relies on Greek or Roman mythology; such poetry does not uphold Christian values. This argument extends to other mythological constructs, including the occultist work of W. B. Yeats and the Transcendental poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Poems by Emerson (a Christian minister) and others have been found especially objectionable by some because of the Eastern ideas upon which they are based.
Yet more ironic is censorship aimed at the poetry of Christian poets who struggle with the precepts of the Christian religion in order to come to terms with issues of personal faith. John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), for example, which states that it seeks “to justify the ways of God to man,” may be denounced as portraying sin and disbelief, because in the poem, Adam and Eve sin and Satan rebels. Although Milton’s book is considered quite conservative by most, the very presence of spiritual doubt and speculation about the mercy of the Christian God is sufficient cause for others to push for its exclusion from high school curricula.
People who resist any questioning of religious faith especially object to many works of the late Victorian and early modern periods. Thomas Hardy (who was educated with an eye to the priesthood) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (an ordained Jesuit priest) are two British poets who express the despair that resulted from a society’s theological underpinning being thrown into doubt by scientific advances. The kind of spiritual agony that Hopkins depicts in his “terrible sonnets,” for example, is anathema to some censors. Those who argue for the inclusion of this sort of poetry in high school curricula claim that the very intensity of Hopkins’ questioning indicates a mature spirituality—one not based on naïve acceptance of what a person has been taught to believe. Hardy, in addition to his open expression of religious doubt, makes fun of Victorian, Christian sexual mores in his poetry. Furthermore, some of the poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne, for example, would likely draw criticism at even the most liberal high school.