The conservative weekly Human Events asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to compile a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Each panelist nominated a number of titles and then voted on all of the books nominated. The resulting list of of thirty books has generated a modest amount of buzz in the blogosphere. Many wonder what exactly it means to claim that a book is “harmful.” After pondering that question myself, I've come to the conclusion that the list falls short of its true aim, and misses the most harmful book of all.
[some nice exposition about widely-regarded-as-harmful books]
The list, though, is produced by conservatives, a group that tends to be more tolerant of religion, so the abscence of religious texts should probably be expected. What is surprising, though, is that the list contains no books that most people would consider banning or that would spark outcries if they were included in a school curriculum. As OMFSerge from Imago Dei notes:
It is a bit ironic that each of these books can be read in the public school, where [the Bible] cannot. Which one should be considered more dangerous?
On that point I don’t think there is any question: the Bible is infinitely more dangerous than any book on the list. In fact, I would say that it is the most harmful book in the world.
Before we can determine the level of “harm” produced by a book we must first ask, “harmful to whom?” While a case could be made that each of the thirty books on Human Events list has had an influence that has lead to the harm of certain individuals, groups, or countries, the Bible is in a different category: it is harmful to every person, culture, and civilization that has ever existed.
I don’t mean that the Bible is harmful in the way that some people think the “religious right” is harmful. Non-believers who truly fear Christian influence often are concerned about theonomists, a minority view that would impose “biblical law” in a rigid, moralistic fashion. The secularists are concerned that people who take the Bible seriously want to establish a theocracy. On this concern they need not worry. Like non-believers, the problem with theonomists is that they don’t take the Bible seriously enough.
Anyone who does take the Bible seriously recognizes that it dogmatically refutes every cherished idea we hold about humanity: We think people are “basically good.” The Bible claims that no one is good. We think that corruption and injustice is caused by our situation or environment. The Bible says that it is our nature that is corrupt. We think we are deserving of peace and happiness. The Bible tells us that we are deserving of eternal damnation. We think we are alive. The Bible delivers the disturbing news that we are already dead. (It is hard to imagine what could be more harmful to our sense of identity than to hear that we are as good as dead.)
The Bible talks of a war being waged throughout the universe, with humans being on the wrong side. Not only are we classified as the enemies of God, but we're called to surrender unconditionally. There is not the slightest hint that we have a chance of suceeding in our effort to dethrone our Creator. In fact, the Bible expresses such confidence in God’s ability to reassert his kingdom on earth that it even lays out his plan for the rebels to see. Resistance, it claims, is futile. But even though we are undeserving, we are offered a merciful choice: surrender and live, or continue to rebel and die.
Forget about Lenin, Nietzsche, Foucault, and the rest of the authors on the list. The impact of their works was limited and reversible. The most subversive text ever produced is a compilation of the writings of Moses, Amos, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, et al...