Not long after he began his pastorate in Amsterdam in 1587, Jacob Arminius was asked to refute a pamphlet attacking the doctrine of predestination. Arminius read the document, but instead of producing the expected scathing reply, he found himself drawn to the pamphleteer's position.

John Milton, an avid pamphleteer himself, lamented 57 years later that "the acute and distinct Arminius was perverted merely by the perusing of a nameless discourse written at Delft, which at first he took in hand to confute." Yet when the British Parliament sought to censor printing, Milton argued passionately that ideas—even heretical ones—needed to be exchanged.

"That infection which is from books of controversy in religion is more doubtful and dangerous to the learned than to the ignorant," Milton wrote in his 1644 tract Areopagitica, "and yet those books must be permitted untouched by the licenser."

The advent of fast, cheap printing technologies around the time of the Reformation transformed theological discourse. But ideas had always found ways to spill out of narrow, approved channels—and they still do.

In the first major Supreme Court decision related to the Internet, Reno v. aclu in 1997, justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority that, "Through the use of chat rooms, any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox. Through the use of Web pages, mail exploders [listservs], and newsgroups, the same individual can become a pamphleteer."

Since that decision, scholars have explored the effects of the Internet on commerce, politics, and numerous First Amendment concerns. But how does the Internet ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

May
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
Whole Lot of Clicking Going On Subscriber Access Only
Some results of the Pew Internet and American Life Project
RecommendedHow Do I Explain Easter to My Children?
How Do I Explain Easter to My Children?Subscriber Access Only
The reality of a human raised from the dead is hard enough for adults to understand, much less kids. But here are some approaches I've taken.
TrendingForgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Editor's PickWhatever Is Pure: Cedarville Requires Professors to Apply Philippians 4:8
Whatever Is Pure: Cedarville Requires Professors to Apply Philippians 4:8
Faculty push back against stricter standards keeping curse words, R-rated movies, and sexual content out of their curricula.
Christianity Today
Open Debate in the Openness Debate
hide thisFebruary 19 February 19

In the Magazine

February 19, 2001

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.