Fig Tree Logo

Censoring books is counterproductive


This column offers one word of unsolicited advice to those indignant Christians caught up in the current wave of seeking school library censorship: Stop.

I'm talking about an outright ban on books, not the sensible arrangement where librarians and concerned parents come to an agreement that a child needs permission to access a controversial book. Achieving such an arrangement is a smart way to move forward. It addresses the concern to protect a child from what someone believes is unsuitable material, while also honoring the rights of those who view things differently.

Pushing for outright bans on books is a bad idea. It's one Christians and all of society should resist and reject.

Here are five reasons why seeking to ban books from school libraries is counterproductive.

First, with few exceptions, such as the need to protect national security secrets, an aversion to censorship is ingrained in this country's political DNA for good reason. The U.S. is passionately committed to freedom in various forms, especially freedom of expression. We live in a plural democracy, alongside people whose political, social, economic and religious views differ from our own.

A key principle of our life together is that we honor each other's freedoms. Christians are not exempt from that civic responsibility.

 Given the benefits that come from free expression, Christians should be upholding, not undermining, it.

Second, there's the payback danger. If someone packs a school board with like-minded Christians, seeking to ensure the school district's libraries will be free from what offends them, it may work only until the next election turns them out of office in a few years.

Based on their censorship, they cannot count on successors to have a forgiving spirit. They may choose to strip anything Christian from library bookshelves.

A third reason is that the book one finds offensive today may be regarded tomorrow as excellent literature that our children will without qualms read to our grandchildren. There are countless examples of once-banned books that are now regarded as cultural treasures.

The reasons given so far apply to anyone seeking to play censor, but number four applies specifically to Christians.

Far from serving the cause of Christ by seeking to ban material that offends them, they are more likely to reinforce the stereotype secular neighbors may have of Christians as killjoys, curmudgeons or bigots.

Rather than coming across to the public as noble champions for morality, a Christian who seeks to ban books may be seen as a narrow-minded reactionary, not as courageous or faithful.

Finally, censorship efforts will almost certainly lead to a "backfire" problem. Seeking to ban a particular book will likely further, not hinder, its reach. For example, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" has a long history of making banned lists. Historian Arthur Schlesinger pointed out that Concord Public Library banned it in March 1885. When Twain heard what the library had done, he remarked, "That will sell 25,000 copies for us."

Censorship should be the last resort of a free and open society, reflecting a move that has broad support—such as the need to protect this country's national security information. For censorship generally, it may be that even God has limits. As Josephus Daniels, an early 1900s newspaper editor, said, "God never made a man [or woman] who was wise enough to be a censor." Or a Christian.

Gordon Jackson, Retired journalism professor
Compiler or author of 18 books, the most recent being "The God Who Blesses"

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December 2022