Thursday, 29 December 2011

Mormon Librorum Prohibitorum: What “They” Don’t Want You to Know

What do the following have in common and which is the odd one out?

Nicolas Copernicus, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, André Gide, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal, Hugo Grotius, Saint Faustina Kowalska and Adolf Hitler.

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

In response to the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press and the mass production of books governments and church made every effort to control and regulate printing.  Presses were licenced, the right to print restricted to approved publishers.

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, or List of Prohibited Books, was a list of publications prohibited by the Catholic Church, first published by Pope Paul IV in 1559. The aim of the list was to protect the faith but its effect was to prohibit the dissemination of knowledge, limiting freedom of inquiry. The index was last updated for the 1948, 40th edition and was abolished on 14 June 1966. You can read about it here.

The people listed were all at one time on the list of prohibited books. The odd one out? Adolf Hitler. Ironic that the work of the man who effected a revolution in the way we saw the universe was prohibited while the man who almost destroyed our world in the name of his struggle (Mein Kampf) was free to publish his poison.

The next time such lengths were gone to to combat the development of technology has been, well, today. With the advent of the Internet, the explosion of information, the dissemination of ideas, another Gutenberg moment is on us.

China is enjoying some success in restricting the kind of information available within its borders. Visitors to North Korea have to surrender all technology at the border as they enter a communication black spot with no contact with the outside world. For certain governments, organisations and individuals all over the world it is increasingly a game of damage control as they try and put their own spin on their history, purpose and activities.

Where the flow of ideas is free both sides of the story can be heard. If your story is misrepresented you can correct it, if it is challenged you can meet the challenge on equal terms, if there is controversy it can be dealt with openly and informed people have the opportunity to make up their own minds.

Of course, that is the one thing the censors don’t want. Freedom of information, the sharing of ideas all wrestle control from them and controlling information is the goal today. I am no anarchist, but on so many levels we must be free to know, to understand the world in which we live so that we can engage with it intelligently and make informed decisions.

Mormon Librorum Prohibitorum

What has this to do with Mormonism? Mormons put out this burnished image of a saintly Joseph Smith, a courageous history and a godly people offering the world a restored gospel in place of an apostate Christianity. Its all pretty damning stuff if you’re one of those Christians they describe as  apostate, corrupt and abominable (Joseph Smith, History, 1:19)

Others with a different view and experience of Mormonism seek to redress this sanitised account with inconvenient facts, awkward questions and clear Bible teaching that challenges Mormon claims. Mormons, in their turn, seek to refute the critics’ claims. All this is as it should be in this new world of ideas without frontiers; but for some it isn’t enough.

For some nothing but absolute control of the conversation will do. For some the way to deal with all criticism and dissent is to shut it down. In the absence of the absolute power of state, they approach Internet services with stories of imagined “offences” with the aim of having those critics banned; as though there is such a thing as a right to not be offended. They spread rumours and lies about critics with the aim of discrediting them; as though they alone have the monopoly in virtue. Then they carefully burnish again the image so recently tarnished by nothing more sinister than a different viewpoint; a viewpoint banned on the Mormon Librorum Prohibitorum

Such efforts are minor irritants in the main, and successes are usually short-lived. But it gives an insight into the psyche of those who go to such lengths to ensure only they are heard. There is something of the folie de grandeur about people who believe theirs is the only voice deserving of an audience. But the truth, as the old adage goes, can surely bear a little scrutiny in the rough and tumble world of ideas. For some, not so it seems.