If you want to read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy, now is the perfect time to start. Last week was National Banned Books Week, designated to promote these and other books once or currently banned from libraries around the country.
Sounds like a good idea, right? Oh, and others on the list include Hang-ups, Hook-ups, and Holding Out: Stuff You Need to Know about Your Body, Sex, and Dating,Sex for Busy People: The Art of the Quickie for Lovers on the Go, and other publications of questionable literary merit but attention-grabbing content.
Still, all things considered, celebrating freedom of speech with Banned Books Week seems like a no-brainer to this journalist and English major. A week to celebrate works of great literature rejected by the uncultured masses who don't understand them? Sign me up. And if, as one Christian philosopher once wrote, "All truth is God's truth," we have nothing to fear. Once the dust settles from the resulting collision of ideas, the truth will still be standing.
But amid the hullabaloo about John Steinbeck and Harper Lee, maybe we're missing something. It's easy to support a week celebrating banned high school books; it's a little harder to put your money where your mouth is when safety and sanctity are on the line.
The Danish cartoon fiasco is one example. The cartoons caricaturing Muhammad created an uproar four years ago when artists received death threats for creating them. Last month, Yale University Press omitted the cartoons from an upcoming book, The Cartoons That Shook the World (H/T to Mollie Ziegler Hemingway at GetReligion for pointing that out).
Yale's reason for cutting the cartoon — "There existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims" — seems plausible, given recent history. But, as Hemingway points out, it's a little bit scary that book publishers would be cowed by it.
Al Mohler took note of International Blasphemy Day a few weeks ago, created in response to the Danish cartoon controversy. The goal? "To expose all religious beliefs to the same level of inquiry, discussion and criticism to which other areas of intellectual interest are subjected." The day's organizers asked participants to video-record themselves damning themselves by rejecting the Holy Spirit and post the video online.
That might hit a little closer to home for Christians. A week designated to celebrate esteemed literature sounds like a good idea. A day in honor of mocking all that we hold worthy of reverence crosses the line, right?
Maybe. But maybe not. Christians like to defend God; whole strands of apologetics are devoted to getting better at it. Maybe we can step back once in a while, and, to quote U2, "Stop helping God across the street like a little old lady." If we are going to get up in arms (rightly, I would argue) about banning things that are offensive to others, we at times have to be willing to take criticism and swallow offense ourselves. If all truth really is God's truth, well, the truth can set us free, if we let it.