A reporter for the National Enquirer began research for a story early one morning by carting off five bags of trash that had been placed outside the Washington home of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. His gleanings from the garbage probably sold a lot of newspapers. The information explosion of modern times, far from quenching people’s thirst for new data, seems only to foster it. The unknown, the unrevealed, the undiscovered shine with promise.

The garbage caper brings to mind once again the age-old controversy over censorship and the right to know. To what extent must freedom of expression be limited? Who is to say what can be made public knowledge? How do we decide what information is harmful?

The problem is especially knotty in a pluralistic and democratic society. We might get everyone to agree that what is generally injurious should be suppressed. But it is impossible to get a consensus on what is generally injurious. As early as the first century B.C. Lucretius was saying that “what is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.”

The Church needs to become much more concerned with the problem of censorship. It is not just “a matter of taste,” as the Christian Century recently characterized it. Unless there is liberty to preach the Gospel, the Church will not be able to carry on its mission. But beyond any consideration of self-interest is the fact that to be true to Scripture, the people of God must strive for justice, and censorship can easily entail injustice.

We are often reminded that the Church has repeatedly tried to play censor. But the Church has also been on the receiving end, as Encyclopaedia Britannica notes:

It seems that historically religious ideas were the first target of censorship, through persecution ...
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