A collection of banned books

Supporters of banning books argue that we need to protect people (and children especially) from offensive, inaccurate or obscene content.


At the end of September, libraries and bookstores everywhere will be celebrating “Banned Books Week.” This got us thinking: why do people ban books (or, in extreme cases, burn them)? Literature is such a fundamental part of human life, and yet time and time again throughout history there have been concerted efforts to suppress or destroy certain books.

These days, when we talk about banned books, titles such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” usually come to mind. However, let’s not forget that one of the most commonly banned books worldwide is not some provocative piece of modern literature, it’s the Bible. Today, owning a Bible in certain countries is downright dangerous and can lead to arrest, assault, or worse.

Book Burning Throughout History

At the same time, it’s worth noting that censorship is nothing new when it comes to political and religious texts. Almost every country or religion has experienced some form of book burning. In 213 B.C, a Chinese Emperor burned philosophy and history books from states other than Qin, because the books did not comply with his dogma. Torah and Talmud scrolls have been burned since the early days of Christianity up until the Holocaust. Catholic priests burned Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible during the Reformation.

A Harry Potter book is burned.

Copies of Harry Potter books have frequently been targeted for burning.

Even Harry Potter is Not Safe

Unfortunately, book burning remains in fashion even to this day. Perhaps the most well-known modern example involves the popular “Harry Potter” book. J.K. Rowling’s now-famous stories have been frequently criticized by religious figures for romanticizing the occult and promoting devil worship. Some pastors, claiming the books were harmful to children, went as far as to hold public book burnings in an attempt to rid the Earth of the “ungodly” themes of wizardry promoted within.

Then again, book burning is not nearly as common as it once was. These days books deemed too offensive to read in school are put on the “Banned Books” list. Many school libraries throughout the U.S. continue to block students from reading certain supposedly-dangerous texts.

Censorship in Religion

Religious leaders often choose to stifle ideas that don’t align with the core teachings of their faith. For example, Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species” is rarely welcome during discussions about creation among people of faith. But isn’t there value in understanding ideas that contradict your own? Without reading the evidence behind evolution, how could a Christian successfully defend his/her belief in Creationism?

Great literature is worth reading and discussing, whether we believe with the point-of-view of the author or not. If a person is not strong enough in their own beliefs to stand against an opposing viewpoint, then censorship is the inevitable outcome. But is it the right one?

Words censored on a page.Why Ban Books?

Supporters of banning books argue that we need to protect people (and children especially) from offensive, inaccurate or obscene printed content. Critics, on the other hand, insist that all readers – even younger ones – deserve access to the written word, no matter how controversial it might be.

Now, parents may have good reasons to prevent their child from reading a particular book, but that’s hardly the point. Parents are well within their rights to make that decision. Issues arise, however, when censorship of ideas come from the top down – say, from a church or a school district.

In writing on this topic, we were reminded of a famous quote by Potter Stewart, a former member of the Supreme Court: “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.”

Where do you stand? Does censorship serve to protect, or to harm?

 

36 comments

  1. James says:

    Simply enough. Weak foundations, ignorance, fear. The same reason small groups of people get together and tear down historical things. They firmly believe their ideas are the only ideas.

    1. Rev paul collins says:

      There is enough censorship already I agree it’s out of this type of people’s ignorance that this happens

    2. Pat Williams says:

      What group are you talking about, why do they have to be small, who’s historical things are they, did it ( the historical thing) benefit all of Gods people?
      We all are children of God and when we start trying to eliminate them it shows that we a fearful of Gods work.
      I know I’m a child of God says I, now who are you is the question I ask others when they hang, beat, shoot or destroy Gods child Who Are You? That’s not a part of my Father, God protects and loves.

  2. Jeri says:

    By banning books, the “authorities” who do this are saying the people in their community are not worthy of independent thinking and decision making. That is very dangerous, not to mention scary.

  3. Guairdean says:

    Remember, some of the most vocal book (and music) burners were the evangelists in America’s past. Any book that didn’t conform to the proper Christian viewpoint was subject to a bonfire. There are nations where Christianity is a dangerous belief, and those nations must advance before their viewpoint will change. Sadly, while America has made a small advance, we haven’t advance far enough. There are still powerful groups that want to control what we can read, and even think. http://airshipdaily.com/blog/03032014-modern-day-book-burning

    1. Doug Barron says:

      I wonder..
      Do Islamists burn books?
      The Romans destroyed the great library at Alexandria.
      Book burning is definitely not limited to horn rimmed bible thumping preachers!
      Ask any devout athiest what he would use the bible for if he owned an outhouse.

      1. Guairdean says:

        The first burning of the library was when Romans set fire to their fleet to keep it from being captured, the fire spread to the city and to the library. It wasn’t an intentional book burning. Jews, Muslims, and Christians all had a hand in the destruction of the library, just at different times in history. The library was a focal point of warring factions for many years. So much was lost, and rewritten by the victors, that little consensus can be found on even the simplest parts of the story. One story says that the library was burned by Muslims, but that wasn’t written down for a couple of hundred years after the fact. Another story says that Christians dragged Hypatia (a librarian and scholar) through the streets and stripped her skin off with seashells when they burned the library. She was, after all, a Pagan.

        As for a devout atheist (an odd oxymoron, actually) using the Bible in his outhouse. Think about it for a minute. The book has no significance in the eyes of an atheist. It’s no more or less that a Sears catalog. I personally would advise against that use, but not because it’s some kind of sacred text. It’s because most Bibles have the same paper feel as the shiny pages in the old Sears catalogs, and anyone who’s used an outhouse and a catalog will tell you to avoid the shiny pages.

  4. Dr. R.G. Rivera says:

    A TOTALLY IGNORANT DECISION
    WHOSE ACTION REVEALS
    THE VERY IGNORANCE GIVING RISE TO IT.
    THEIR GOD OR POLITICAL IS A FOOL.
    EMBARRASSINGLY DUMB.

  5. Minister Dave says:

    You can burn 📚 the mind of the author?

    1. Guairdean says:

      It has long been the policy of dictators to “Burn the books and bury the scholars”. Chairman Mao was quite proud of his accomplishments in this area. http://www.chinafile.com/reporting-opinion/viewpoint/burn-books-bury-scholars

  6. Tom says:

    Potter Stewart was right…as i have commented before, there should be no censorship…

  7. Alicia says:

    No book should be banned! We can all learn something from every book…we even learn what NOT to do! Do people not realize that most of these banned books are FICTION???? Even To Kill a Mockingbird sends a message as does its sequel Go Set a Watchman. Instead of finding offense in the language and content, use it to TEACH! Let the new readers know that those were the terms used in that era of history, but that is not how things should be. It saddens me to think that so many people will not be able to enjoy Gone with the Wind (both book and movie) because someone finds it offensive. Are the words pretty? No…not at all, but that’s the way it was. We grew from that.

    Stop trying to erase history. Stop banning books. There are books I don’t like, so I don’t read them. Is that so difficult a concept?

    1. angel722 says:

      If it’s at school, then YES, there needs to be banned books, 5 year olds have no business reading inappropriate books like 50 shades of grey! Public places such as libraries should use desecration and should ban books that promote terrorism, how to build bombs and such extreme material that promotes violence against other people. I also believe if the material is questionable, libraries should have a section designated for adults only and this should NOT include porn! Porn should not be allowed at all! Freedom of speech is important, but we also must live together as a society and some things simply have no buissness being in public buildings that are being paid for by the local taxpayer!

      1. Julianna Okike says:

        This is exactly why I had said criteria. It is understood that by age 13 one or most individuals know right from wrong here in the United States. If for some reason one does not practice or have an understanding could it be a cultural differences or religious views that impacts decision making with regard to behaviorisms children tend to mirror their parental units in their environment. Then we also have to take accountability for people who have been deemed with lower intelligences they too are child like because they do not understand at the rate average individuals do. This doesn’t mean they are not capable it means they may have bloomed a little later than most others. Across the board because some folks bloomed later in other areas of life. Then as time permits you see change from environment to environment. If there is no structure/balance in the home how does one learn to be orderly and disciplined. How does one recognize the role of their own self? Most people in my era grew up in single parent homes. This is why it is important a strong foundation from the start.

      2. Guairdean says:

        No, there should be no banned books, there should be responsible parents. If a child is found reading a book that is felt to be inappropriate, the parents should be consulted and their opinion should be final. The child should never be punished for reading.

      3. JOHN MAHER says:

        YES ANGEL722 EXACTLY, the SEPERATION of PERVERTS and PEOPLE, DUMP the ORANGUtRUMP SPEAKING of PORNMOUTHING……………..

    2. Julianna Okike says:

      Good morning: After having read this I began to think back to a time when I had the same question. I was on a quest for knowledge about the things that were unknown to me only to discover that if I look more closely the answers were right in front of my own face. Nothing is really hidden and nothing should be banned. I believe with a wealth of information comes great responsibility. I believe that there should be limited access instead of banning and burning things maybe it should be reserved for special use. An example could be if someone has a question about a subject matter and wanted tangible evidence or a valid reason some form of justification of a lifes event or story. I bought a banned book once just to see what all the big deal was about. To my surprise it was very interesting to start. I found it in a local thrift shop for about 2 dollars. The odessy I read some I didn’t get to finish since I books I was supposed to read for class. If one is choosing to ban something maybe their should be a set criteria almost like how they rate movie content. Ie. Pg, pg13 etc.

  8. Tom says:

    Alicia…i agree…Tom

  9. angel722 says:

    Kids still read books??

  10. John Owens says:

    Book-burning by a society or movement has ALWAYS been an obvious sign of ignorance and intolerance, and usually a precursor to tyranny. It is certainly not a sign of enlightenment.

    1. JOHN MAHER says:

      WELL SAID Mr. OWENS, BRAVO, DUMP the ORANGUtRUMP !!!

  11. Tom says:

    John…agreed…Tom

  12. Rev. T. King says:

    There is no point in banning or censoring literature “to protect the children” if we are not also banning TV and Internet for the same reasons. If protecting young minds from adult thoughts is the reason, they are worse.

    1. Minister Dave says:

      Right. The point is still disturbing. Ban all or none.

  13. Rev. Ned says:

    Banning books gives them free, valuable, advertising.

  14. CDawson says:

    I believe that this is where parenting must come into play. Books are freedom of speech! Parents must talk to their children about the literature they are reading. For too long, parenting in this country has gotten weaker. Young parents are expecting the schools and government to tell them what to do, read, act, etc. Get back to parenting! Banning and burning books is fascism, aka NAZI scum, and not a part of the America that I love and protect with my own blood, sweat, and tears. God Bless!

  15. Fr. Omnius et Nihilus says:

    The pic at the top with the books wrapped in chain I have read them all by age 15. I’m still wondering what was so bad about those books, obviously the book burners has read Fahrenheit 451 and the giver. Those two books, along with 1984, showed me that the U.S. was and is like that.

  16. Deraak says:

    Who remembers the movie Footloose when they were sitting and talking about the books they wanted to ban or burn. Keven Bacon who was the lead said that those books were great books his family looked at him thinking what the heck really. I even heard they wanted to ban Winnie the Pooh books. I don’t understand y school library would have books that a 5 yr old would even know what it is. I read 1984, it was a book my dad who was a teacher had the senior class read. The books that think should be baned is someone’s opion. I also believe parents need to be parents.

  17. Johnny Doeseph says:

    No book should ever be censored

  18. Ed says:

    I think some books should probably be considered “mature” and perhaps should not be read by children, but where does one draw that line? I have known some children that I felt to be more mature than some adults, if one is basing that strictly on age.

    I think parents should get back into the habit of RAISING their children and, if the child is reading a book that concerns the parent, then the parent should discuss that book with the child.

    I know that when I was a child, if I was told explicitly NOT to read something, it just made me more determined to read it so I could see what all the fuss was about.

    If people want badly enough to read a book, they’ll find it and read it. Burning/banning books may make that a little more difficult but isn’t going to accomplish anything in the long run, in my opinion.

  19. Bill Fox says:

    I had to read most of these for book reports in public school in the 1960s. I don’t remember that much about them. I wouldn’t have read them had they not been a school assignment. I’m not going to read them today, to find out what the hoopla is about. I don’t think the books should be banned, and I have no problem with parents caring about what their children read. I am really in favor of home schooling and limiting internet time for children who live at home, including the 30 somethings living in the basement. If they don’t like the policy, they can move someplace more friendly, like the street. Not really. I didn’t allow my children to live in my house past age 18.

  20. Amber Fry says:

    Ignorance is never a good protective measure. Besides, if you tell a kid don’t they automatically want to if for no other reason than to understand why. What’s worse is that those who ban certain books don’t even read the books to find out what they are banning which only adds to the ignorance. A better choice would be to read it, see if the subject matter is really as offensive as they think and then discuss it like a reasonable person with your child so they understand why you think it so objectionable.
    The real reason for banning things isn’t to protect children but to protect the squeamish from difficult conversations with the children. They will grow up and eventually become adults, often much sooner than we expect. Keeping them ignorant is only going to hand them a much more difficult life with a tragic lack of information to guide them when they really need it. Read it first, let them read it, then discuss what is wrong rather than avoid.

    1. JOHN MAHER says:

      NICELY POSTED AMBER FRY, DUMP the ORANGUtRUMP !!!

  21. Jim says:

    I am glad to see most people posting here are against book banning and burning and censorship of any kind. It doesn’t mean we let little Johnny take out “Fifty Shades of Grey.” There are children’s sections in libraries appropriate for them.

    To those of you that indicated some amount of book banning should be done, I have a question: Who decides? You? In your mind the criteria is clear cut. But if you’re not the one that gets to decide, are you going to have an issue with the books that are banned? That’s why book banning never works out. There is no book that everyone wants to ban universally. Therefore, all books must exist.

    Thus endeth the lesson.

  22. Wendy says:

    Books should never be banned because of content. However, some self-published books should absolutely be banned because the authors mangled the English language beyond all recognition and never bothered to attempt to have them edited. However, unbanning should be allowed after a good editing.

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