What is a sin of omission?

Some examples of things you will probably never hear people say:

“One of these days, I think I’d like to be an alcoholic.”
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to become part of an embarrassing sex scandal.”
“You know, I’ve finally decided to take up chain smoking.”
“What I’d really like to do is put on another 30-40 pounds.”
“Hopefully, if everything works out, I can have a terrible marriage.”
“Eventually my goal is to be so deep in debt that bankruptcy seems like a good idea.”

At least, I know I’ve never heard anyone say any of these things, and I suspect none of you have either. But if we can agree that no one ever says any of these things (presumably because no one ever sets out to achieve any of these results), then what are we to make of the relatively obvious fact that lots and lots of people do in fact wind up at precisely these destinations?

The answer, I think, is relatively obvious. These and a myriad of other highly undesirable conditions are never arrived at suddenly or even deliberately. Instead, they are gradually chosen over the course of numerous minor decisions to behave the same way a person who actually held such absurd goals would. And not to put the matter too finely, but many of these minor transitions are not even choices at all. Rather, they are merely failures to behave deliberately in the opposite direction.

One might say, perhaps, that only the worst kind of art paints itself.

What atheists get right.

Who is closer to having good theology, legalists or atheists?

Although this sounds like an absurd question, consider what they both have in common. Both legalists and atheists (generally) have almost the exact same false view of God, in which He is a petty, vindictive, self-aggrandizing, and judgmental brat, condemning anyone and everyone who does not precisely conform to His peculiar and exacting standards. The legalists, of course, celebrate this heretically one-dimensional view of God whereas atheists reject it.

But why do atheists reject it? Because they say a God like that would not be a God worth worshipping. Their complaint is that such a God is not at all a God of love, but instead the most evil archetype of villainy. In other words, they deny the existence of this God because He is not good enough, not loving enough. The great irony, then, is that in rejecting the false theology of legalists, atheist are actually standing up in defense of the character of God. Therefore, their denial of God’s existence actually turns out to be celebration of the true God, whose loving Nature and Honor they inadvertently defend. When they say, “This God does not exist, and if He does, is not worth worshipping,” we Christians should shout, “Agreed!”

But we Christians don’t worship this false God. Our God so loved us that in spite of His Holiness and His absolute right to Divine judgment, He chose to completely humiliate Himself in order to get us who did not deserve it. He cared so little about His reputation that He went so far as to let it be tarnished on the Cross and continuously slandered by both legalists masquerading as Christians and atheists alike throughout subsequent history. He is a God which no self-respecting man would ever emulate, for precisely the reason that other-love rather than self-respect are at the very core of His character. And it is this utter lack of self-centeredness that the atheist holds aright in rejecting the false God of legalism.

And so when atheists say they would never be willing to believe in a God who would send people to hell for their petty indiscretions, ask them whether they would believe in a God who would sacrifice His dignity, His reputation, and even His very life in order to rescue people from such a horrific fate. Perhaps they will then reject God because He is too loving, but only someone who has never understood the Gospel would ever reject God because He’s too self-centered and tyrannical.

On foolishness?

Imagine a man enjoying what he thinks is a relatively prosperous marriage. He treats his wife well, provides for her needs, and is a good father to their children. Every day, he goes off to work, excited most about returning home to spend time with them.

Then one day, he starts to sense that something has changed. As his fears grow, he eventually overhears his wife having a barely guarded conversation with another man, clearly indicating she has been unfaithful to him. He confronts her and she admits it, but refuses to stop. In fact, over the next few days, she becomes even more bold, telling anyone that she is cheating on her husband and even deliberately announcing her rendezvous at home. He is ashamed and frustrated and furious, but he doesn’t know what to do about it.

Finally, at a large party they throw every year at their house, with dozens of their friends and neighbors attending, she has the audacity to invite her lover, and he shows up. The crowd is stunned and buzzes about the outrage of it all. In response, the husband leaves the party for a little while, only to return an hour later, a mysterious development which has everyone eager and also a bit nervous to see what will happen next.

Then, after what seems like an unbearably long time, the husband turns down the music and calls for everyone’s attention. To the utter amazement of everyone present, he walks over to his wife, who is standing with her lover. But just as the crowd is expecting the worst, he bends down on one knee, pulls out a stunningly extravagant diamond necklace, and offers it to her, saying, “I still love you, darling. Won’t you please return to me so we can continue the life we promised to build together?”

What diversity shows

I have a theory. And I’m serious that at the moment this is only a theory, but nevertheless, here goes.

If you’ve ever noticed, when people become ardent fans of something, that fandom causes them to conform toward a standard set by whatever they love. For instance, musical fans don’t merely often dress alike, speak alike, and even have similar hair styles. This is why it’s relatively easy to tell Grateful Dead fans from Bieber fans from Metallica fans. To put it in more theological language, idolizing something like a musical group reshapes the idolater in the image of the idol, causing a kind of external (and perhaps internal) convergence toward that thing.

So, even though people may feel they are being very independent or “expressing themselves” in their choice of worship, the end reality is that they actually sacrifice their own individuality in conforming to the thing they follow. This makes sense because any human idol in this sense only has the power to reproduce itself, a single unvaried thing, in others. To put the matter in a different, very uncharitable way, cults always eliminate diversity among their members.

In contrast, when people conform to God, what I’ve discovered is that rather than becoming highly similar to each other, they actually seem to grow ever more divergent, at least in external things. It’s almost as if the inherent variety in God (which we see manifested for instance in the creation all around us) is just as potent in having created each of us individually unique from all others. And when we press ever closer to Him, rather than turning us into second-rate versions of each other, we become first-rate versions of ourselves.

Now I’ll admit that it is not always so. When you visit many religious groups, for instance, you may quickly get the sense that they are not as I have described. In fact, their appearance may much more closely resemble the fans of a particular musical idol than the sort of wild but harmonious variety I’m describing. Some may actually even pride themselves on this sort of sub-cultural homogeneity.

And if that’s often the case, I’m beginning to wonder whether that may itself be a rough indicator of whether the group in question truly has hold of the God of infinite wonder described in the Bible or merely has hold of a god of limitation which they have inadvertently settled for or, worse yet, substituted for Him.

Natural harmony requires similarity, and hence natural human association will both preselect for and reinforce this. In contrast, supernatural harmony reveals itself perhaps nowhere more potently than in its ability to exist despite…and because of…vast diversity.

What isn't a sermon?

Let me begin this observation with a caveat. I am not a pastor.

Although I have preached a handful of sermons, I believe firmly in the idea that one should be cautious when offering a criticism of anyone who does for a long time what I have only done a few times.

That being said, I have a bother which has developed into a frustration and has now grown into a full-fledged lament.

I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my life, beginning with my own father’s Sunday discourses. I’ve heard sermons by fiery preachers and soft preachers, eloquent preachers and stumbling preachers. I’ve heard Southern accents, British accents, Nigerian accents, and even some sermons in standard American dialect (Midwestern in case you didn’t know). Some preachers are arrogant, others are tender. Some are self-deprecating, others seem to not even have a sense of humor. Some sermons are topical, others are exegetical, and a handful are what one might generously call improvisational, perhaps meant as a way of inducing the Holy Spirit to show up. In short, I’ve heard a lot of sermons.

Putting aside sermons from so-called “liberal” churches, all the preachers I’ve heard would describe their sermons as being Biblically based. These are men who really love Christianity and deeply believe what they are doing is bringing the Bible more fully into people’s lives. I don’t for a moment doubt their sincerity, nor do I doubt they are trying to preach the Bible the best they know how.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough. And the sense in which it’s not enough winds up becoming the sense in which it’s not even really the Bible, either.

In my experience, you see, the most common way to preach is take a Bible passage (or Bible topic), and use it to disclose or distill a helpful bit of instruction about how the congregation should live. In other words, preaching is a matter of giving people good advice. “Go forth and sin no more,” might be the concluding line of any American sermon. And lest you beat a hasty retreat from taking me seriously, let me say that this is not a problem “those other” churches have. It’s been true in virtually every non-denominational, Evangelical, or Bible church I’ve ever visited. Even the ones I would otherwise describe as fairly solid.

The problem is that Christian preaching is not about giving advice, even if it’s sound advice. Christianity is about proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is concealed in Scripture to be revealed by the preacher for the spiritual nourishment of the disciple. Every sermon, yes every sermon, is thus meant to be the culminating act of worship pressing people ever more fully into the Presence of Christ by stoking the embers of awe we all as believers supernaturally feel at the Gospel of our Savior. This (and only this) will truly transform people and bring God the glory He so richly deserves.

Failing to grasp this as the central purpose of a sermon (and the central point of every part of the Bible), many sermons never even really address the Gospel or It’s uniquely life-changing power. Sometimes, something called “the Gospel” is added on “after” the sermon, like a misplaced appendage. Sometimes it’s not there at all. But when preaching is properly understood (and practiced), the entire agenda of the thing is to bring us into Christ’s embrace by showing how He and He alone is the solution to all our problems and the resolution to every Biblical plotline. And although small drops of God’s Grace can seep out through anyone who presents anything related to God regardless of how ineptly it’s done, full-fledged preaching of this sort opens wide the floodgates of God’s transformative Grace. And it saddens me every time I see it not happen. Every time. Again and again. And it is this supreme sadness that motivates me to write today.

To put the matter in the bluntest of terms, there is preaching the Gospel, preaching Christ, and preaching the Bible. If you aren’t doing all three, then you aren’t really doing any of them at all. You may be lecturing, moralizing, or even giving useful advice. But you aren’t preaching, even if you’re basically doing what everyone else is doing…especially if that is so.

And again, speaking as someone who has tried to do this tremendous task only a few times, I can say from experience that it is magnificently hard to do right and remarkably easy to do wrong. May God grant all of us who at least sometimes communicate the Gospel the grace to do it better more often. And may we all be earnestly praying the same for all preachers everywhere. For this and many other things, our pastors deeply need our prayerful support and encouragement.

What motivates me?

I like looking at attractive women.

A lot.

Despite what the culture would have me believe, I do not consider this a virtue.

I spent all my younger years hunting hot women with my eyes, a sport my culture, my friends, my television, and my subscription to Playboy all strongly encouraged me in and trained me at.

Upon becoming a Christian, I learned that the lust behind such eye-hunting is wrong for a variety of reasons, and I have been trying ever since to unlearn the skill. Sometimes I do pretty well at not looking. Sometimes I even enjoy a few brief hours of being uninterested in looking. Most times I am a spectacular failure.

But the other day, I had an insight that ever since has been useful for me, and I thought I’d share it in the hopes it might be so for you as well.

I was walking through a parking lot, and I caught myself looking at a pretty woman. Well, actually, I caught myself looking away from her just at the moment I thought she might turn and see me ogling her from a distance. Such finely-tuned reflexes are common for eye-hunters. We don’t want the quarry to notice us hunting them, you see.

But why not?

Because I would feel very ashamed and embarrassed to let a sexy woman actually see me looking at her this way. She would almost certainly dislike it, an understandable reaction to someone visually assaulting you. And as a result of not wanting to actually be discovered in my lusting, I have just enough cowardice to try to hide it from her.

That’s when it struck me.

If the passing opinion of a complete stranger is enough to motivate me to behave properly with my eyes, why isn’t the eternal opinion of my most dearly Beloved Companion sufficient as well? Shouldn’t the sadness of my Father be more meaningful to me than the unspoken contempt of an objectified woman daring to look back at me?

All I know is that since that moment, I have found it relatively easy to not look as I should not. This current triumph may not last, as past experience shows. But at least for the moment, there’s something effective about knowing that God is on my side, wanting my holiness and helping me remember that He alone is the one I should be cognizant of in everything I do.

When more means less.

We hear an awful lot these days about the duties the rich have toward the poor or society or “to pay their fair share.” The funny thing about this expression is that their “fair share” always seems to actually mean “quite a lot more than anyone else.” If they only paid the same percentage as everyone else (a flat tax), they would still be paying a lot more. But since we have a “progressive” tax system, they actually pay a higher percentage, meaning they pay exponentially more than others. At least that’s the idea.

Now, the reality is that high income earners often are in a position to manipulate their earnings in such a way as to wind up paying a much lower percentage than the simple system would indicate. This is a very legitimate practical part of any meaningful tax discussion and is essentially what Warren Buffett recently wrote about in the New York Times.

Nevertheless, people seem completely satisfied with the underlying notion that in a perfectly just world, we would first solve such practical defects and then proceed to impose not just a higher tax bill, but an exponentially higher tax bill, on the rich. And the exact value of that exponent should always be either slightly or substantially higher than whatever it currently is, at least if you consult the average person. In defense of this view, they will often say something to the effect of, “The rich owe more to society because they have so much.”

But this proceeds from a fundamental error about the nature of money.

Money, you see, is nothing but a measure of how much good you have done for other people. Oh, to be sure, a great many good things we do for others don’t receive any payment, and there are also nefarious ways to acquire money, the bulk of which we make illegal. But the basic idea of money is that I give it to you when you give me something I value more than that money’s capacity to buy something else. In other words, at that moment, you’re offering me what I consider to be the best value for my currency available in my society. Thus the reason you acquire it is the same reason I held it before you: you benefitted me after I benefitted another.

So when a man has a higher income than someone else, the money he earns is evidence he has done more for society. And when he earns a lot, it means he has done a lot for people who voluntarily proved the evaluation by paying you for whatever he did. Thus, a high income is the most basic evidence of a high social contribution. Again, other forms of contribution may go uncompensated and some compensation comes from not truly contributing, but the basic idea of money is as I’ve described.

That’s why the principle of taxing the high income earners is so self-contradictory. On the one hand, high incomes prove a much higher-than-average social contribution. But on the other hand, they prove a lower-than-expected social contribution. Advocates of progressive taxation thus seem to think a high income simultaneously proves you’ve done much more than most for others and yet also not nearly enough for them.

Now, I’m very much in favor of the well-off using their resources charitably. But to say to them that the proof of their social failure is the very evidence of their social success completely baffles me.

The sin of guilt.

If you feel guilty, I have some really terrible news for you: guilt is a terrible, horrible sin.

I don’t mean that guilt is what you feel after you’ve committed some terrible, horrible sin, although that’s certainly the case. I mean that feeling guilt is itself a sin. This doesn’t feel like help, does it? But hang on, the good news (really) is coming.

Ask yourself, “Why does God tell us which things are contrary to our nature and His purpose for our lives?” Well, naturally, so that we will recognize them, right?

Okay. But what are we supposed to do once we recognize that we have done wrong? The guilty man answers this question by justifying his burdenedness. “I have sinned, and therefore I feel guilty.” This seems simple enough, but is in fact a truly hellish heresy.

To put matters bluntly, the problem is that guilt is not mere sin-awareness. Guilt is sin-cherishing.

Think about it. When you feel guilty, do you go on feeling guilty? Of course. But when you are in right relationship with God, do you go on feeling this way or does God relieve you of the burden of condemnation through faith in the sacrifice of His Son? So doesn’t it make sense that an ongoing sense of worthlessness would be specifically contrary to God’s Will? That’s because guilt perverts the gift of sin-awareness by turning it into a poisonous trap of remaining alienated from God based on the blasphemous notion that God wants you to be guilty rather than repentant and faithful, that He is a God of wrath and not mercy who has revealed a moral code in order to crush you rather than to drive you back into His loving arms.

Guilt presumes God is the elder brother in the Prodigal Sons story, bitterly looking for any reason to heap shame upon you, when in fact God is obviously the father in the parable, eagerly running out to grasp us in His love.

So why does God give us the gift of sin-awareness? First, so that we will realize we are already in a fractured relationship with him. But the next step is the vital one. If God more than anything wants us restored to Him, then the proper response is to take this sin-awareness right back to Him, seeking for and trusting in His mercy and grace in joy.

But if God is a punitive and vindictive overlord, then we quite naturally internalize sin-awareness as the embedded worthlessness which reminds us we are wretched beings. That’s guilt, and that is why it is a sin; because of what it says about God’s Nature and what it says about His purpose in revealing our sins to us.

And if you’re grasping this, then you may be on the verge of another tremendously important conceptual realization. There is another, opposite reaction to sin-awareness which is nevertheless just as insidious as guilt: false repentance…which most people simply call repentance.

If there is one most common idea people have about repentance it is to turn yourself around and stop sinning. Then you will know you are back on the right path with God. But can’t you see that this only leads to pride and (of course) future failures which then lead either to guilt (when you fail) or self-reliant pride when you think you’ve succeeded?

This “change-your-behavior-ist” misunderstanding of repentance has perhaps done even more damage to Christian thinking than even guilt itself because it lays the responsibility for fixing our lives in our laps rather than at the foot of the Cross. True repentance is recognizing sin and then turning toward God in faith that Christ’s righteousness already is your identity and both seeking to grow in the knowledge of this salvation and praising God for how much of it He has already accomplished in you.

Thus, guilt and Change-your-behaviorism both start from the same basic paradigm error that our relationship with God is defined primarily by our works. If we do wrong, we are separated from him through guilt. If we do right, we are united with him through the false repentance of self-justifying works.

Repentance and faith, in contrast are beginning, middle, and end a matter of turning to God and trusting in Him to work His righteousness out in you. And when you respond to sin this way, you neither feel guilty nor proud. You simply rejoice in the ongoing fulfillment of Christ’s prayer that the Father would see us just as He saw Him for all of eternity.

And if you’re really getting this, then you will suddenly see that having me tell you that your guilt is actually even more sinful than the sin which inspired it is not even worse news. It’s incredibly good news…because it is of the essence of what the Good News really says.

This tastes rotten.

Note: Pardon my verbosity today. Sometimes it’s fun to use too much paint.

When even the New York Times is lamenting relativism, you know things must not be going very well.

David Brooks laments that we’ve so ingrained to-each-his-own-ism in our children that they don’t even have the capacity to think morally anymore. They know how to seek their internal sense of happiness (and perhaps to express their own personal discomfort with some real abomination such as unrecycled newspaper), but even these blushes are below remedial. And as Brooks notes, this isn’t really their fault. They have been led over this intellectual cliff by educators with a particularly viral form of hostility to reason. The result is a society which lacks both the counterbalancing reference points of the group or the doctrine to balance unadulterated individualism and also the reflective capacity to ask whether this anthropological anomaly might be a problem.

But this is to be expected. When morality, religion, and politics are routinely taught as matters of aesthetics and then aesthetics is routinely pronounced solely a matter of private and immediate gratification, is it any wonder that no one studies anything anymore? Study presumes some relevant measure of progress. But when the unaided (and untainted) individual reaction is gilded, raised aloft, and prayed to on a daily basis, what perverse individual would waste his effort doing otherwise?

In a culture populated with truth-seekers, even matters of taste are treated as such lush opportunities for discovery that we train people to discern varieties of flavor, texture, and tone with courses in wine-tasting, art history, and music theory. But in one bursting with younglings numbed into neural incompetence by the repeated reminder that goodness is in the tongue of the taster, not even the most significant matters merit enough attention to learn the most rudimentary melodies of critical evaluation

Abnd what if I succeed?

My goal is to be the very best parent I can be.

I want to show my children a healthy marriage so they don’t grow up emotionally scarred or hostile to the very idea of marriage.

I want to impart to them a strong sense of identity and their worth as human beings so they don’t crave meaning in gangs, drugs, cults, or the body of a lover.

I want to give them all the principles of wisdom I have learned and also teach them to solve novel problems on their own.

I want to prepare them for the world around them, teaching them social, intellectual, financial, and relational skills that will make the world their playplace rather than their battlefield.

I want to be such a quality companion that they want to live near me with their own families because they wouldn’t want their grandkids to grow up apart from me.

I want to give them everything a father can possibly give them. And I hope if I have done this that they will recognize it, thinking highly of me, feel grateful, and perhaps even have thoughts like, “I hope I can live up to being half the man my father was.”

In other words, my goal as a parent is to be the very best idol I can be….so good that they never have any of the problems which would make God necessary in their lives and drive them to their knees in prayer.

Am I earnestly leading my children to their true Father, or am I satisfied pretending to be His replacement?

Beware my pyrite!

What’s the purpose of evangelism?

Go ahead and give an answer…I’ll wait.

Okay. So I figure most people would say something like, “Evangelism is to spread the Gospel.”

But what’s the point of that?

“To get people saved.”

Alright. That’s not a terrible start. But why do you want people to be saved?

“Come again? Obviously so they don’t go to hell.”

See, that’s the problem. I mean sure that’s part of the deal, but that’s not the real point.

The purpose of everything is to make God look as good as He really is, the term for which is to “glorify” Him. But the particular way evangelism makes God look good is by transforming people into what He originally intended them to be: beautiful lights in a dark world, so beautiful that they bring honor to the Artist who painted them. And the only way this happens is by them first hearing the Gospel, then embracing It, and gradually being renewed by It into that lustrous work of art. That goes well beyond merely saving them from eternal torture.

So why do we evangelize? Because we want to see other people enjoy becoming what they were meant to be so that the One who made them can enjoy them and receive the credit He deserves for the restoration. In short, when people come to God, it makes them happy, it makes Him happy, and it makes the whole world a better place.

Then why don’t we evangelize? Because all of that wonderful stuff hasn’t really happened in us yet, and at some level we know we can’t go share what we don’t really have. See, if we were truly already living that transformation, sharing it with others wouldn’t be an issue. The Gospel poured into us fully enough to really change us couldn’t be restrained from spilling out all over other people.

So in the end, there’s really only one reason we don’t spread the Gospel more zealously (myself included). It’s because we don’t really have It yet. And so the constant scream of our barely-scratched hearts should be to God that He would break us wide open and rain down His Grace on us to the point where we want nothing more passionately than to help other people experience that very same thing.

When that happens, evangelism stops being a command or a task or an option and instead becomes a lifestyle we are joyfully powerless to not live. After all, when was the last time you felt like you "were supposed to" tell other people about a movie you truly loved? And when was the last time you truly loved a movie and didn't naturally tell people about it?

Will the real humanists please stand up?

One of the most commonly heard arguments against religion is the observation that there are so darned many different varieties, each of which claims its own proclamations are right and the others mistaken. Atheists, of course, just can’t stand this ubiquity of religion. “Why, oh why, are men everywhere so foolish? If only they could get past their folklore, all these deluded supernaturalists would see the true nature of things.”

Now, it’s true that the incompatibility of competing religious claims should give all theists pause. But pausing over faith isn’t the same as jettisoning it altogether. In fact, by pausing we see there’s another fairly obvious lesson one could learn from the observational premise that men everywhere have religion, namely that men everywhere have religion! The atheist lamenting man’s universal impulse to religionize begins by granting the impulse is universal.

But to jump from the fact that all men everywhere pursue religion to the conclusion that instead men ought nowhere to pursue it at all is truly bizarre. If everywhere you find one thing springing forth from another thing, you reasonably infer that such sprouting is normal, not aberrant. But denying all religions requires denying any validity to the deep religious impulse in virtually all men. Yet if all men everywhere do a thing, doesn’t such denial like anti-humanism rather than the name most often taken by such advocates?

Who, then, is the true humanist: the man who does as all other men have always done (affirming their mutual humanity in the process) or the man who looks at all other men with contempt and thinks himself triumphantly superior to them precisely insofar as he becomes unlike them? For all their talk of loving humanity, atheists have actually relabeled sub-humanity as the ideal. Animals, you see, are forgivably incapable of being so awed by the universe as to seek transcendent explanations for it. Atheists, on the other hand, are unwilling, and they then dare recast their repression as a virtue.

Fear no art?

The other day, I saw a bumper sticker which said, “Fear no art.” Now, since I’m just the sort of guy who’s great at jumping to premises, I immediately inferred the backstory: “Don’t be afraid of art, and therefore don’t censor art.” Seems pretty bland, as far as it goes.

But why, exactly might this person feel the need to reassure those inclined toward art censorship that they needn’t be concerned? Well, the ostensive reason would be that art needn’t be feared because art isn’t dangerous, and the reason it isn’t dangerous is because it doesn’t really have any power. Unfortunately, it makes no sense that someone putting a message like this on his car would say art doesn’t have power.

Quite the contrary. In his mind, art is terribly important and hence must be protected against those villains who favor censorship. If it weren’t, why bother defending it with a pithy adhesive slogan?

So why is art so important? Well, it’s power to express, influence, affect, and shape people and culture, presumably. In other words, art is a terribly important form of social power. Agreed. But this raises a fairly obvious question. Which story are you telling? Is art the sort of impotent thing no one should ever fear, or is art just the sort of powerful thing which society has at least some reason to care about precisely because of its ability to affect people?

Despite the vast array of useless art, neither artists nor those inclined to censor it are foolish enough to believe this means art hasn’t enough power to take seriously. So now we have an interesting confluence of beliefs. The one thing artists and censors both strongly agree upon is the power of art. Naturally, all power entails the potential for both benefit and harm. Following the logic, then, the real question to ask is how to decide when art (in whatever form) might constitute a serious danger either to individuals or to society. From there, the second layer question is how best to contain or minimize the threat, if at all.

It’s true we live in a society which goes to extremes to protect freedom of expression, surely a core value of our culture, so essential that we don’t even censor those who advocate censorship. Yet the reason we protect art, literature, and music so vigorously isn’t because they have no power, but rather precisely because of their power. And even though we believe in such robust protection, anyone who discusses art, expression, and censorship should at least be honest enough to admit that the thing in question is terribly powerful and hence at least sometimes well worth fearing. Pretending otherwise is na├»ve and usually self-contradictory, even for a three-word bumper sticker.