Sometimes I think of that moment in the story of Adam and Eve, when they both become aware of good and evil and what that must have felt like. Their sense of innocence was gone and they were keenly aware that they are naked, exposed, and were immersed in a world of sin. And then, I remember a line from the Easter liturgy that says: “Oh happy fault of Adam which gained for us so great a Savior” So, while none of us ate a bite of that damn apple, sin is in the world, its consequences glaringly apparent (at least to those who aren’t blind, metaphorically speaking). The good news is that we are not without hope, without help, without guidance; we were blessed with such a Savior. Which is why I’m confounded to think that there are those who think that sin isn’t their problem and that if they simply sanitize what they see and hear in the world then some how that becomes an acceptable response in dealing with its ugliness. Sin is here, that ship has sailed. It’s presence and legacy is unavoidable and is something we all have to deal with, even our youngest and most innocent. With the interconnections and expanse of social media, we are literally running out of places to sweep things we don’t want to see and hear under the rug. I also am acutely aware that one person’s definition of what is unconscionable is vastly different than another’s. And while accepting the gift of grace by following Christ has opened my eyes and ears, it doesn’t make me any less of a sinner or any less susceptible to its temptations. I think the Gospels lay out pretty clear criteria on how to go about dealing with sin. There is a clear conversation, though, about why Jesus teaches the way he does through parables:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it
Jesus used story telling as a mechanism to teach us about sin, love, sacrifice, and who God is. It is clear from Jesus’ perspective that many people wouldn’t get it, because they refused to be open to it, even the Pharisees. So from where I stand, I do not believe that book burning, or banning is the answer. I must admit, on a list of banned books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Wrinkle in Time” are why I am a reader…and I read them when I was 11…and was not tainted by them in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, I learned a lot about the horrors of the world without needing direct experience in how to face or understand those horrors. I also learned a lot about standing in someone else’s shoes and more often than not I was left hopeful. Sometimes, though, I learned very hard lessons about myself, that changed the way I moved and behaved in the world. Regardless of the discomfort one may feel reading a book like “Lord of the Flies”, which I hated and yet still learned a great deal about bullies and the nature of power, I learned about sin and what havoc it can create in this world, and what can happen even in the most unexpected circumstances. I think books like the ones I mentioned are necessary, not as an approval of, but as an awareness of the destruction that evil and sin have brought into the world without having to have first hand experience. Utilizing our eyes and ears and exercising what hopefully are evolving ethics and humanity in a safe environment are a way to contain the sin that need not be perpetuated as an inevitable result of being human.
I am in no way saying that any parents don’t have the right to guide their child’s education, but I am clearly saying that burning books or banning them in righteous indignation could also mean that you are afraid to see and hear uncomfortable truths about the world. Sin affects not just those who commit bad acts, but those who are victims of it as well. And most importantly ignorance of the sin is never an excuse to say you can never be responsible for it. I’m not saying this cavalierly at all. Reading a book like “Schindler’s List” was devastating for me, but knowing atrocities like the holocaust happened, opened my eyes and ears to a kind of hatred that designates a whole people as unworthy. That’s why there are those out there who would have you believe that none of these atrocities are real, and to block that knowledge so ignorance may abound and the sin can continue. I have also spent much of my lifetime working among righteous Christians who were wonderful reflections of Christ and at the same time, in the same environment Christians who were the worst kind of sinners. Hypocrisy abounds among those who believe they are above the decay of sin and refuse to acknowledge their own sin and portray themselves like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Claiming moral superiority about how to address the nature of sin is the kind of hubris that Jesus despised. He hated the kind of hypocrisy that existed in the temple at the time of those who proclaimed a moral superiority but spent much less time living as God expected all of us to. You don’t have to like a book to appreciate it and understand its value, or believe that the very act of reading a banned book is a tacit approval of its content. There are many great books that simply depict, honestly, albeit sometimes harshly, and horrifically the character of our sinful world…but to pretend that somehow you and yours simply by the act of knowing about a sin, will be tainted by it somehow suggests you can remain free from its corruption magically in the first place. Like I said at the beginning, that ship has sailed. We are in the same boat. I will leave you with the man born blind who Jesus healed, and was booted out of the temple for being a sinner. Thinking you see, doesn’t necessarily make it so
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ” Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he”. He said, ” I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came to this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind”. Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have not sin; but now your are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.