I saw at 5 Minutes For Books yesterday that September 27 – October 4 is National Banned Book Awareness week as deemed by the American Library Association. I left some comments there, but I’ve been thinking about it a good bit since then and wanted to expand on the topic.
In thinking about whether banning books is ever justified, my first thought was, “Yes!” I wish someone had banned things like Pl*yboy (though that is a magazine and not a book) and its ilk when it first came out, though that kind of thing is probably too ingrained in our society now to root it out. Honestly, has that kind of publication ever done anyone any good except to increase the finances of those involved in producing it?
There are two major problems with banning, however: 1) Who is doing the banning and what are their standards? After all, the Bible has been banned in certain times and places. And 2) Just the fact that a book has been banned will attract some people to it to see what it is all about.
Some have suggested a rating system like what the film industry uses. I think I like that idea. Though it is not a perfect system, it helps forewarn that there might be a problem and the reader can then research a bit to see whether the book would violate their own standards. It is not hard to look up a book or film on the Internet these days to learn more about it.
I do agree that questionable books need to be kept away from children’s areas in bookstores and libraries and kept off of required reading lists in schools.
Some would suggest that even that measure is an indication that parents want the government or library system or whomever to “do their work for them.” I disagree. I do believe it is the parents’ responsibility to set the standards and evaluate what their children read and discuss it with them, and keeping questionable books out of the way supplements rather than replaces their role.
The world’s view is that “anything goes” in the name of intellectual freedom. But what should the Christian view be? Should we censor ourselves?
Sometimes when a controversial book is making the rounds of discussion, some Christians will say exasperatedly, “It’s just a book.” But books are powerful things. What we read affects how we think. Jesus told stories to illustrate spiritual truth, and I have often said that the best of Christian fiction is like an extended parable or illustration of truth. A principle I have read in a story takes root and stays with me much longer than when I read it in an instructional format. But the same power than can be used for good can also be used for evil. I regret to say that off-color things I read in an unsaved home as a young person have also stayed with me much longer than I would have liked, often popping into mind at the most inopportune times, like while trying to pray or listen to a sermon.
A few guiding principles are here:
Philippians 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
I Corinthians 6:12: All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
I Corinthians 10:23: All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
The Philippians passage focuses on the positive things we should be filling our minds with. The two verses from I Corinthians indicate that while all things are “lawful,” some things are not expedient (“tending to promote some proposed or desired object; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances” according to Dictionary.com), I shouldn’t allow things to exercise more power over me than they should, and some things are not edifying. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” and chapters 6-8 go on to describe the battle between and spiritual and fleshly natures. It is going to be even more of a battle if we’re feeding our fleshly natures. II Corinthians 10:5 says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
I don’t think that necessarily means we should read only Christian books. Truth and beauty can be illustrated even in secular works. And I don’t think it means everything we read should have a “Pollyanna” viewpoint. Even the Bible deals with sexuality, but not in a way that inspires lust. It also contains violent encounters, but David says in Psalm 11:5, “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” — gratuitous violence is different from a battle scene. It discusses different philosophies, but not in a way that leaves you confused about what’s right.
It is honestly hard to know exactly where to draw the lines sometimes, as I mentioned when I discussed To Kill a Mockingbird. There are books I might read for information that I would not endorse wholeheartedly. Wisdom and discernment are needed when reading Christian books as well as secular ones: not everything that calls itself Christian accurately reflects Biblical truth.
Of course, the world will not have the same standards in most instances, and we can’t fence off every area of temptation and evil influence. Ultimately what people need are hearts changed by the gospel. While we try to take some kind of stand lest explicit books become ever more blatant, we need to remember out main purpose as Christians is to share Christ both in our lifestyles and character as well as with our verbal testimony.