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Quick! What do Joseph Stalin, Kim-Jong Un and American library-goers all have in common? (Hint: It has nothing to do with their hair.) Did you guess? It’s that they all find the Bible more threatening than most other books. Surprised? Don’t be.
Every single year the Bible is the world’s best-selling book. In fact, it’s the number one best-selling book in history. But recently it made another, less-coveted list: the American Library Association’s “top 10 most-challenged books of 2015.” This means the Bible is among the most frequently requested to be removed from public libraries.
But what’s so threatening about it? Why could owning one in Stalin’s Russia get you sent to the Gulag, and why is owning one today in North Korea punishable by death? What makes it scarier to some people than anything by Stephen King?
Actually, quite a bit. Words and ideas have power, and the words and ideas in the Bible have so much power that a rather recent History Channel documentary titled 101 Objects that Changed the World said the single thing that changed the world more than anything else was the Bible.
But what ideas in it are so dangerous? We could start with the radical notion that all human beings are created by God in His image, and are equal in His eyes. This means every human being should be accorded equal dignity and respect. If the wrong people read that, trouble will be sure to follow. And some real troublemakers have read it.
One of them was George Whitefield, who discovered the Bible as a teenager and began preaching the ideas in it all across England. Then he crossed the Atlantic and preached it up and down the thirteen colonies until 80 percent of Americans had heard him in person. They came to see that all authority comes from God, not from any King, and saw it was their right and duty to resist being governed by a tyrant, which led to something we call the American Revolution.
Another historical troublemaker was the British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce. When he read the Bible, he saw that the African slave trade — which was a great boon to the British economy — was nonetheless evil. He spent decades years trying to stop it. Slave traders threatened to have him killed, but in 1807, he won his battle and the slave trade was abolished throughout the British Empire. In 1833, slavery itself was abolished too.
In the 20th century, an Indian lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi picked up some ideas from the Bible about non-violent resistance that influenced his views as he led the Indian people to independence. And who could deny the Bible’s impact on the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said the Bible led him to choose love and peaceful protest over hatred and violence? He cited the Sermon on the Mount as his inspiration for theCivil Rights movement, and his concept of the “creative suffering,” endured by activists who withstood persecution and police brutality, came from his knowledge of Jesus’ trials and tribulations.
In fact, the climax of King’s most famous words mirror the promises of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight…” The racists of that day didn’t know what hit them, but again the ideas in the Bible brought dignity and justice to a downtrodden people. They don’t call it “Good News” for nothing.
And here’s more good news: in the fall of 2017 a museum dedicated to a scholarly and engaging presentation of the world’s most influential book will open two blocks from the National Mall in Washington. Putting so much truth that close to power will scare some folks, but the rest of us should be thrilled.
In the meantime — unless you’re scared — you might put the Bible on another list: your personal reading list. Find out why it scares the pantaloons off tyrants and dictators but has inspired others to change the world. It’s truly fascinating. If you’re not a dictator or tyrant, you’ve really got nothing to fear. But if you are, go ahead and be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
Eric Metaxas is the author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery and the forthcoming If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty and one of the hosts of BreakPoint, a daily radio broadcast that provides a faith perspective on today’s news and trends.
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