Book Banning Hasn’t Accomplished Anything For Six Hundred Years

"Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects. The books which have been burned are a loss to the whole people." Jan Hus

“Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects. The books which have been burned are a loss to the whole people.” Jan Hus

This is Banned Books Week, described as:

… an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. (Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, American Library Association.)

I completely agree, even when it comes to books which “some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” It may seem promiscuous, but if so I am in good company since John Milton (one of the great 17th c. English Christian thinkers) advocated nothing less than promiscuous reading. As Karen Swallow Prior noted, Milton’s “approach is still both the means and the mark of the intellectually – and spiritually – mature person.”

Getting Your Head Into Books Is Godly

There’s a lot to be said for learning new things, because there is much to learn about this world God has created and the people he has put in it.

Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
    guard it well, for it is your life. (Proverbs 4:13.)

The point is not to seek out junk, of course. Noble thoughts are the goal.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8.)

God has not left you groping in the dark when seeking these wise and noble thoughts. Jesus said you have a much more powerful guide than your own intellect and reasoning. You have the Holy Spirit.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:3.)

No matter what you read or who you listen to, always compare their words to the word that has come from God. That is how you know whether it is worth holding on to.

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 4:13.)

But why allow books that run counter to God’s word? For that matter, why go even further and encourage they be allowed to remain in existence? Because you won’t know what is worth holding on to and what is to be rejected until you test it.

Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22.)

Don’t be afraid of reading something you’re not yet sure of. Just make sure you read it under the proper light. As Louis Brandeis said:

Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.(Other People’s Money – and How Bankers Use It (1914), quoted at Wikipedia.)

If a book’s ideas are not worth paying attention to, the way to show it is by bringing those ideas into the light. We have the best light of all to see them with, too:

God’s word,

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105.)

and the Word of God, Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:1, 4.)

Banning Books Never Accomplished Anything

Jan Hus got it right when he described those who seek to control thought by banning books:

Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects. The books which have been burned are a loss to the whole people. (Quoted in To Build a Fire, John Fudge, Christian History No. 68.)

Burning of Jan Hus at the stake, Diebold Schilling the Older, Spiezer Chronik (1485) Wikimedia

Burning of Jan Hus at the stake, Diebold Schilling the Older, Spiezer Chronik (1485)

He said those words as his own books were condemned to the fire, and soon after so was he. Hus died at the stake in 1415, labeled a heretic for teaching that the Bible has greater authority than the teachings and traditions of the church. A century later, Martin Luther looked on him as an example of steadfast faith in God and reliance on his word.

Banning books isn’t worth it. Reading prolifically and promiscuously is a much better way to discern God’s truth.


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7 Responses to Book Banning Hasn’t Accomplished Anything For Six Hundred Years

  1. Tara says:

    We work our salvation with fear and trembling. New and different ideas can spark fear and trembling and this included new and different ideas about the Bible. The Bereans were described as of more noble character in Acts because they questions and challenged the apostles and is therefore noble to search, question and even challenge the scriptures. If they are true, they will continue to stand the challenge.

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    When sharing my faith with a semi hostile but polite grou, I emphasize these points:
    -Jesus Christ and the Constitution have a simlar perspective when it ocmes to who He is
    -I (we who believe) have the right and the responsibility to share what i/we beleive about who He is and why
    -You have the responsibility toi accept to rject for yourself based on what you and do not believe, please take time to reach this decision
    -PLEASE do not believe based on what I just said, take some time you will be gald you did.

    Many have remained friends for life, while avoiding certain “other” Christians.

    I share this becasue I saw parrellel thoughts in your writing above.

  3. “Fire does not consume truth” — great quote, and I really appreciate this whole post, Tim.

  4. Alice says:

    I’m never sure what to do about some books which I feel personally will bother me/rock my faith. I’m happy for other people to read them and don’t want them banned – but I haven’t worked out yet how to read things with an objective mindset so I don’t get bothered by what’s written.
    In the long term I’ll work it out, but it’s a hassle if I have several weeks doubting my faith because of something. I think my faith needs an upgrade, but I don’t know how to do that either!

    • Tim says:

      One way I’ve come to handle it is that I finally learned how to put down a book that isn’t right for me, whether because it bothers me or because the writing style is not to my taste. When it comes to books that might rock my faith, I try to compare them to scripture and then make a conscious choice to rely on what God says. That takes some effort, I admit.

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