Monday, January 21, 2013

The Dangers of Censorship

Close your eyes, cover your ears, shut your mouth, and keep your hands in your pockets. This is the essence of Christian censorship. Logically, censorship seems to make perfect sense. It stands to reason that the best way to combat sin is to avoid all temptation. As a result, parents forbid their children from watching movies with a rating higher than "G;" teenagers are forbidden from dancing out of fear that this "debaucherous" activity will lead to wild promiscuity; and books like Every Man's Battle encourage men to not so much as glance at a beautiful woman.

How can we describe the outcome of censorship? In a word: failure. Contrary to what logic suggests, censorship accomplishes exactly the opposite of what it is intended to accomplish. The failure of censorship is so extreme that it has become comical. The rebellious nature of many pastors' kids, for example, has become so commonplace that they are now jokingly referred to as "PK"s. 

But why is censorship so unsuccessful? How can complete avoidance of what's wrong lead to a life completely filled with wrongdoing? In order to answer this question, we must first understand one foundational truth: it is impossible to accept that Christ has freed us (Gal. 5:1) and to be at peace when we place ourselves in self-made bondage. 

The old adage, "Curiosity killed the cat," doesn't apply to felines only. When people are entirely forbidden from something, they become obsessed with it. Look no further than the beginning of creation to find a perfect example of this fact. Adam and Eve were given permission to eat the fruit of every tree in the Garden of Eden except that of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They were given an endless array of choices which provided more than enough options to satisfy their needs, but they obsessed over the one tree that was deemed off-limits. Ultimately, their obsession led to disobedience of what should have been a simple rule and the entrance of death into the world! Logically, one would conclude that Adam and Eve should have easily been able to follow one simple rule when they were free to partake in so much else; but reality defied logic and the results were devastating.

David is another great biblical example of how forbiddance leads to obsession and wrongdoing. David's obsession with Bathsheba was due not only to her beauty, but to the fact that she already belonged to another man. Unlike David's existing wives and many of the other beautiful women in the kingdom, Bathsheba was off-limits. Obsessed with having what he couldn't have, David used his authority as king to ensure the death of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, in battle. Like Adam and Eve, David should have been content with the endless supply of women God had given him, but his obsession with Bathsheba as an unattainable prize led him to commit murder!

In addition to biblical evidence, we see the outcome of strict prohibition in our daily lives. The beginning of each year is marked by resolutions to eat better, exercise more and lead a healthier lifestyle. Numerous studies have shown that the people who completely forbid themselves from eating their favorite foods tend to give up on their diets much earlier than those who limit their favorite foods but don't forbid them entirely. The woman who refuses to eat any chocolate becomes so obsessed with it that she gives up after a few days and eats an entire bag. On the other hand, her friend who commits to eating one small piece of chocolate a day remains content with her decreased allowance and sticks to her plan. When we commit to dieting, we immediately obsess over the foods we can't have, to the point where we can think of hardly anything else. Just thinking of the word "diet" induces panic. We sink into a state of perpetual worry and stress and soon realize that the only way to end our worry is to overindulge in what was previously not allowed.

When I was a teenager, two brothers from the church my family attended stayed the night at our home. The parents of these brothers were incredibly strict and forbid their sons from all forms of worldly pleasure which they deemed inappropriate. While watching a movie, a brief scene came on the screen in which a woman was dancing topless on a bar. The brothers (who were in their mid-teens at the time) said that the brief, three second clip was "the most they had ever seen." I will spare the reader the details, but suffice it to say, what happened next was shocking. Had these boys been taught to appreciate the beauty of the female form as God's crowning creative achievement, they would certainly not have responded to a brief movie scene in such an animalistic fashion. Their instinctive reaction was the inevitable result of being told their entire lives that sexuality and female beauty were evil and to be avoided.

Many Christian spouses - especially wives - have a very difficult time viewing marital sex as a God-given blessing that is to be enjoyed. After being told their entire lives that sex is dirty and evil, it is almost impossible for them to recognize that making love to their spouse is anything but wrong. As a result, a large percentage of divorces that occur in the first few years of marriage are due to sexual frustration.

Ultimately, the dangers of censorship are rooted in a lack of knowledge. While Adam and David serve as good models for how forbiddance leads to obsession and sin, these men were not prohibited from understanding the consequences of their actions. When parents prohibit their children from even knowing about the things they view as harmful, their children will experience obsession to a much greater degree when they become acquainted with those things down the road. This is why children who are strictly sheltered tend to be very rebellious when they get older. The best parenting model, therefore, is one that exposes a child to all things but teaches him what is expedient versus harmful.

It is a shame that most Christians miss out entirely on the many blessings God provides. Christ died to free us, not to keep us in bondage. The effort to avoid sin through censorship may seem logical, but in reality it only causes us to obsess over what we view as forbidden and to increase the likelihood that we will do the opposite of what we should. If you don't want your husband to obsess over other women, allow him to admire the beauty of other women. If you want to lose weight, allow yourself to occasionally eat your favorite foods. If you don't want your children reacting wildly to a three-second movie scene or to have marital problems in the future, teach them about sexuality.

Knowledge of all things is necessary for righteous living. Censorship, which prevents knowledge of what is supposedly wrong, accomplishes the exact opposite of what its adherents hope it will. Forsake censorship and commit, instead, to knowing all things so that you may determine what is expedient and what is detrimental.

© 2013 by Stephen Hill

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