Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Making a "Case" for the Reconstitution of Srila Prabhupada's "Mission"
Rasing Our Spiritual Standards

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Chapter 15
Censorship and Brahminical Society

Part 7

“What About the Fate of Banned Books and Their Authors?”

This is an interesting question. Historically, the censors, with the possible exception of pornography, have always been seen as the oppressors, as inflicting tyranny in the realm of thought. Socrates was one of the earliest on record to be censored. He was lucky in that he was formally charged and tried. At his trial he argued that he was seeking the truth by critically examining things and practices around him. This made the people of Athens uneasy, but they could not silence him just for criticizing them. That would not pass muster with their conscience. A better solution was to charge him with “corrupting the youth of Athens and offending the gods”. This was, of course, a rationalization. The penalty for this charge was death—censorship in the extreme.

Then we have Christ. He, too, had to die. Confucius was also censored. Today however, like Socrates and Christ, his ideas have survived the intervening centuries. History has more or less forgotten their censors. This is the pattern in many cases of censorship. Ideas that were at first new, unorthodox, and unpopular were initially censored, but in the course of time they re-emerged as true and their advocates were vindicated. Copernicus is an example of this, as is Galileo. He was forced to withdraw his belief that the Earth revolved around the sun because it went against Church doctrine. Today his idea prevails. Indeed, as a result of such historical precedents, some consider book banning a kind of certification that the ideas being censored will eventually prevail. 

One author, upon learning that his book was banned, wrote to thank the person responsible and ended his letter, “By the way, I have another book on the market right now. If there is anything you can do about getting that one banned too, I’d really appreciate it.” 

Religious conviction, like political conviction, has the ability to incite men to rash acts without compunction. This is especially true when a majority view clashes with an unpopular minority view. Mob psychology can take over. Once vilification and ostracization is accepted as a necessary evil it begins to seem more and more necessary and less and less evil. The result is that evil is enacted with conviction and good cheer. Consider the words of Pascal:

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Given the historical precedent that the unpopular view often makes a comeback, it seems that prudence at the onset would be a wiser option than attempting to penalize out of hand those who hold different views from us. A bit of moderation and tolerance would offset the later regret that hindsight may provide. This is a lesson we can learn from History.

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