Banning Books Never Accomplished Anything

[An archived post for Banned Books Week.]

This is Banned Books Week, which:

…  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.)

He said those words as his own books were condemned to the fire, and soon after so was he.

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

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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