For better or worse, our upbringing begins with indoctrination. We are taught by our parents, our teachers, our friends and our preachers. We are also groomed by shapers of marketing, entertainment, and geopolitics whose worldview is biased toward a behavioral outcome. In time, if we are fortunate, we learn that some of what we were taught isn’t true, and that bright moment is when indoctrination begins to yield to education.
Education at its best teaches us how to learn.
If we are lucky, we also learn from the greatest minds of the ages – at least the ones who wrote their thoughts in books. We absorb information and spend a lifetime sorting the true from the false. The truth is fine with this of course because it is never threatened by investigation.
In his Areopagitica, John Milton wrote
For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty? She needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious; those are the shifts and the defences that error uses against her power. Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps . . . And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength.
Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.
In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:
Today the word promiscuous is usually associated with sexual behavior, but this is a more recent usage, one that comes from the word’s actual meaning—indiscriminate mixing. It’s easy to see the sexual application of the word from this definition but instructive to think about in the context of reading. It’s surprising, I think, to realize that pious and scholarly Milton is actually arguing for indiscriminate, disorderly reading. And lots of it. In Milton’s day people had more fears surrounding promiscuous reading than promiscuous sex (the latter being rarer), so Milton had quite the challenge ahead of him.
In making his argument, as a churchman speaking to fellow churchmen, Milton cites the biblical examples of Moses, Daniel, and Paul, who were all steeped in the writings of their surrounding pagan cultures. Milton also invokes a leader of the third-century church who asserted that God commanded him in a vision, “Read any books whatever come into your hands, for you are sufficient both to judge aright and to examine each matter.” Such advice mirrors the Pauline suggestion to “test all things and hold fast to that which is good.”
Do you agree with Milton’s view about the strength of truth to overcome falsehood, or should some ideas be censored?
Header Image by Tom Darin Liskey
Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief