Fantasy/sci-fi author Ursula LeGuin (The Telling, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dispossessed) spoke on censorship at the Eugene (Oregon) library in March of this year. She made the comment that “Any belief, any unbelief, is dangerous if it is adopted, enforced, accepted as the only acceptable ideology” (Register Guard, March 25, 2012, p. B4). I appreciate her acknowledgement (as a sometimes object of conservative censorship) that “theism and atheism can be equally dangerous.” But I have a slightly different perspective on the reason that censorship is a risky undertaking.
I couldn’t call myself a follower of Jesus if I did not believe that “I [Jesus] am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father [God] except by me.” The natural outgrowth of this belief is a desire to share it with others, because I believe it is the only way to “save the world,” so to speak–and wouldn’t we all, in one way or another, like to do that? However, I also hold (and believe the Bible demonstrates) that one cannot successfully compel or harass anyone into a system of belief, nor can one eliminate access to all the possible alternatives. Making something off limits, in many cases, only makes it seem more desirable. And I believe that my creed is strong enough to stand up to scrutiny, so that I don’t need to fear competition. God doesn’t need me to protect him.
I do feel, however, that certain kinds of speech are inherently injurious to society. I would not want to be the one drawing the lines for an entire community, and I am not even sure to do so would be desirable. But publishers and booksellers operate as gatekeepers by evaluating books on a case-by case basis. It occurs to me that perhaps the reason there are not more Christians operating bookstores for the general public is because of the weight of the responsibility they feel in deciding which books to offer.
A survey of the non-sectarian bookstores that have come to my attention recently (either in my community or through my reading) leads me to wonder whether there are socially conservative booksellers running anything other than Christian bookstores. Free speech is a rallying point for independent booksellers (see my post, “Rebel Bookseller and The King’s English”), and conservative Christians are usually the ones wanting to roll back the reading options. Many could not in good conscience sell books representing philosophies they do not endorse.
Which raises the very good question of why I do. As previously stated, there are books that I choose not to offer (some of which the general public–and even some Christians–might feel fairly innocuous) . But among the reasons I never considered running a strictly Christian bookstore is that I see books as an extension of our person-to-person dialogue and our larger social intercourse. For the same reason that I do not limit myself to Christian friends, I do not limit myself to reading or selling Christian books. I don’t want to live in a Christian compound, and I don’t believe that is what Jesus taught his followers to do. (And, for the record, I also am reluctant to carry books that support my philosophical and spiritual convictions but are not particularly well written.)
Christians are, as previously stated, called to influence others, as well as to show love and compassion. Certainly, I hope that people will find in my shop something that would lead them to think about God in a way they haven’t before. I would venture to say there is hardly a bookseller in existence without some personal belief or interest that he or she would like to impart to others.
Beyond that, I enjoy my friends–and books–that represent other belief systems, whether agnostic, atheist, Muslim, or otherwise. Conversations (or reading interludes) with certain of them, in particular, never fail to leave me enriched with new information on the world or perspectives on life.
Why do I sell non-Christian books? Because they sell? Because people want to read them? Because many of them have greater literary quality than some Christian books? Yes. And because I love books … and I love Jesus (more). And I want to offer both to my community.