two-hands-holding-a-pair-of-booksMichial Farmer and Nathan Gilmour talk about banned books and the history of censorship.

10 thoughts on “The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #155.1: Banned Books”
  1. How about Knitting for Anarchists?  Should I get that one?

    (It won’t help you turn wool into pipe bombs but is about understanding how a sweater or sock (for instance) is constructed so you aren’t so dependent on patterns.)

    Anyway, I was taking some seminary classes a few years ago at a pretty normal evangelical seminary nearby.  In the intro tour of the library, the librarian said that the books about sex were kept behind the counter, not in the stacks, because of course they couldn’t just be out and about.  Children come into the library sometimes!  But they’re important for the counselling students so they’re tucked away back there.  Given that I really doubt they have Hustler back there, I was quite taken aback.

  2. Good discussion.

    Three points of contact for me on the topic:

    1.  I grew up in Kern County, CA, where Grapes of Wrath was banned and reviled (and was still absent from my high school library as late as the early nineties when I was there) and had two Okie grandmothers who lived what Steinbeck wrote.  I’m strongly inclined toward Nate’s distributivist/Porcher answer but have to admit that my witnessing the potential for the abuse of power gives me pause.

    2.  I tweak my librarian friend at each year’s banned book week display asking, “Where’s Mein Kampf and The Protocols?”  I thought his head was going to explode the first time.  The lack of complexity in BBW’s narrative is (perhaps) understandable at public libraries but it’s embarrassing to see at a college library.

    3.  At this year’s BBW display I couldn’t help but notice a large advertisement for a faculty forum on the appropriateness of trigger warnings displayed on an easel just outside the BBW’s room.  It’s interesting (and confusing) that so many of those who want institutional speech to cater to individual sensitivities also define freedom of speech with the ability of individuals to say anything without consequence.

  3. Thinking about censorship generally, for a while TBS was running edited-for-basic-cable versions of some HBO shows.  For some this seemed fine (I saw Six Feet Under this way and didn’t seem like I was missing much).   But they tried it a bit with The Sopranos — with results that almost seemed like self-satire.  The characters still killed each other on a regular basis, but the four-letter words were all edited out in the process.  Wow.  Ya can’t make this stuff up.

  4. p { margin-bottom: 0.1in; line-height: 120%; }

    Its always a treat
    when Protestants try to understand Catholics in a non-polemical way.

    I don’t know the
    precise reason why the Index was not incorporated into the CDF, but
    the practicality is simply something one cannot disregard: even way
    before VII even textbooks used in seminaries were producing modernist
    stuff, and the Imprimatur system today is a complete joke, as we have
    more and more lenient bishops.
    But the list still
    maintains its moral force: writing or selling some books is simply
    gravely sinful, either because they distort the soul or propagate
    error (which I guess its a sort of distortion of the soul also).
    Reading them might not be a sin if one is strong enough to know that
    they do not represent a near occasion for sin.

    I guess I’m not a
    free speech absolutist in any way. My sentiments are very much those
    of Hart, expressed in one of his articles, Freedom and Decency. In
    the end, though, a viable system of censorship is unattainable. I
    guess I only disagree with Gilmour’s final solution that the local
    community should be the one watchful with what it consumes in that he
    seems to grant to people propagating error or immorality a right,
    when this is actually a dysfunction of society.

  5. frater I don’t disagree that some books present ideas that good thinkers should oppose.  My departure from the Index’s approach is that I’m more inclined to let the process of open, serious deliberation dispatch the bad ideas rather than to put them in the dark, where they tend to grow.

    So yes, I do think of publication as a civil right, but ethically, to say that something is a right doesn’t mean that it’s good.  So I think that folks have a right to publish that which is bad, not because the publication of bad is good but because I’m more confident in open exchange than I am in censorship when it comes to the means by which communities get rid of bad ideas.  I realize that my insistence on such a distinction makes me a liberal of sorts, and I’ve come to live with that.

  6. RobertPankey To be fair, I didn’t call myself a Porcher; Michial did.  And I’m inclined to think of county governments as still too big to do this sort of work–I’m interested in something like MacIntyre’s new–and no doubt very different–Benedict than I am in folks elected in county-government voting.  I’m not sure what that looks like, but I’m inclined to say that county governments are less like monasteries than they are like empires.

  7. ngilmour RobertPankey Michial had so much fun calling you a Porcher I thought I’d give it a go.  😉  You know that label fits me quite a bit better than it does you.

    I’m not sure we’re in disagreement.  Just pointing to the tension between powers inherent to subsidiarity.  I’ll take the difficulties of negotiation and struggle any day over the top-down imposition of Narrative.

  8. Hey kids! Nice work with all the Jesus talking and whatnot. I thought, as an uneducated Hollywood type, that I would share my favorite banned book story.

    There was a bookstore in Chelsea that got tired of telling people that HP Lovecraft’s Necronomicon was a work of fiction so they just wrote it. How did the end up getting in trouble? By posing as CIA Agents trying to shut down their fake book. It goes to what Milton was saying about banned ideas getting more traction. Apparently, they also sell occult books like crazy.

  9. I think what is best for our current “historical moment” in American is Nathan’s “put everything out there” approach and let debate and discussion weed out the bad ideas and what is false and promote the good ideas and truth. We need to hear all the voices – both majority and minority opinions.  Although my ecclesiastical tradition is part of the Magisterial Reformation, I am so very thankful that Anabaptists had their voice and place to push back in important ways.  Today I personally benefit from their minority voice – especially politically and theologically with the de-coupling of church and state authorities, for example.

    Preserving a free marketplace for ideas – especially to challenge the majority’s “case closed” attitudes – is vital to human flourishing.  Six years of podcasts from the Christian Humanist Radio Network has convinced me of this. It must be such a strong temptation to censor and silence dissent to the established power structure.  The American Academy of Sciences say the debate is over on the veracity of Darwinian Evolution.  Really?  There is no place to question that paradigm?  Dude.  Or the LGBTQ lobby saying that to say someone is born biologically male or female is now considered “hate speech” and such speech must be surveyed and censored.  Give me a break.

    This article reminds me that in our historical moment in America, I want the plurality of voices to be able to speak up on an issue without the powerful and the “elite class” deciding ahead of time what we can say and think.

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