Coat of Arms of the Medici Popes

500 years ago today the Fifth Lateran Council convened, lasting five years. After the Tenth Session Pope Leo X published Inter Sollicitudines (“among the concerns” my translator says), on this day in 1515.

This document began the official censorship of books. In order to be printed a book had to carry imprimatur, the official seal of approval. A book without this, if printed, would lead to excommunication, the arrogance of the church saying such a person couldn’t go to heaven. All churches practice this even if they do not have such language. Denominations and congregations make decisions about who is acceptable. Membership can be withheld or revoked. That’s excommunication. Some go even further, condemning those who aren’t even members.

Church Boards and Councils will censor a preacher. Preachers censor Sunday School teachers. Bible Colleges censor instructors. I do not know if it is true or not, but at my college we were all led to believe a professor was relieved for teaching what someone deemed an unacceptable theory of how part of the Bible reached its final form. Since the whole student body accepted this it, at least, demonstrates evangelical Christians consider such activity as plausible.

My own experience suggests religious powers censor what they do not like, whether or not the writing contains truth or not.

This happens on a personal level, too. People get in a real twist about homosexuality, condemned as it is in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13). Blinders go up about everything else that this section in Leviticus commands, however. Don’t wear clothes of mixed material, don’t crossbreed animals, don’t eat rabbit, do not eat meat cooked rare, priests must not have a disability, and treat foreigners well list only some of the laws which people ignore in chapters 11-21.

One explanation of such control and censorship only heightens my dismay. “We don’t want to confuse people.” What!? Alternatives to the official party line must rule out any other view just so the powers in power can keep control without any accountability. This kind of non-Christian attitude cannot find support in Scripture, or common decency for that matter.

For instance, Richard Kearney, author of the recent book, “Anatheism: Returning to God after God” tells of one of his educational experiences with the Dominicans. The teacher gave them a list of readings by atheists and philosophers that try to refute that God is real. The assignment involved reading these, and if anyone still believed in God come back and the lessons on Christian theology would begin. Such an act trusts the Spirit, Paraclete, and holds the orthodox position to account. Really tough, but fits living for a God who has created a universe precisely with freewill built into the fabric of it.

I challenge censorship practised by religion, even though it has a long tradition. Personalized censorship of the Bible sends shivers up and down my spines (physical and spiritual). Spiritual maturity means a move toward a more and more radical submission to the authority of God in Jesus, and a move away from human demand to submit to worldly religious power instead.

So, will you censor this or engage with it?