I must be one of the few people yet to read 'The Da Vinci Code'. So, it is perhaps strange that I should be found pontificating about it. But since when have the facts got in the way of a good story?
The best-seller has just been banned in Lebanon after complaints by Catholic leaders that it was offensive to Christianity.
Father Abdou Abu Kasm, president of Lebanon's Catholic Information Centre, is reported to have described the contents of the book as "insulting". "There are paragraphs that touch the very roots of the Christian religion... they say Jesus Christ had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene, that they had children. Those things are difficult for us to accept, even if it's supposed to be fiction," he said.
'The Da Vinci Code' had sold in great numbers in Lebanon where about a third of the population are Christian.
There are many sub-sets of censorship, but one way of boiling this thorny issue down is to split secular and religious censorship. Secular censorship has often tried to protect us from ourselves, with the result being that future classics, like James Joyce's 'Ulysses' and D.H. Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' were banned initially. It has also been used by authorities such as Napoleon III and Nazi Germany as a tool to maintain the status quo.
Religious censorship has often revolved around the notion of image. In early Christianity, for example, the feet of the saints and the Virgin Mary could not be shown bare. In the 17th Century, Bartolome Murillo, a great painter of religious subjects, suffered the wrath of the Spanish inquisition for "suggesting that the Madonna had toes".
I suppose I have always instinctively felt that the essence of civilisation was to allow fredom of expression.
In the realm of 'fact' whether books, or documentaries, for example, we have a variety of laws such as libel, privacy, incitement to racial hatred to protect society. Like all laws they are imperfect, but nevertheless they are rightly there to prevent people from peddling hatred and lies.