WHEN THE Quebec Board of Cinema Censors banned the film Martin Luther, chairman Alexis Gagnon explained the board’s reasons. He said the film showed a Pope in a bad light, and this would offend Roman Catholics.
“Whether or not it is historically accurate,” said Mr. Gagnon, “is not the point.”
This attitude has been common in all times and all creeds. Martin Luther himself would have applauded the principle, though not perhaps this particular application of it. “Heretics are not to be disputed with,” he once said, “but must be condemned unheard.” (A heretic, of course, was anyone who disagreed with Martin Luther the Pope was the greatest heretic of all.)
Our own conviction, reinforced by this Quebec incident, is that the censor’s effort is worse than futile, it’s self-defeating. With the best intentions Mr. Gagnon and his intellectual kin, in all creeds, do infinite harm to the causes they wish to defend.
One prejudice is common to every ideological division that sunders human kind. Communist and democrat, Protestant and Roman Catholic, Big-Endian and Little-Endian all believe one thing about each other. They all believe the other poor devils are prevented from learning the truth.
Any act that seems to confirm this prejudice is a bad thing for the side it’s intended to serve. It has, for one thing, a negative effect on those of neutral mind. Since we’re all accustomed to think suppression is carried out by those with whom we disagree, and never by ourselves, the mere act of suppression is prima-facie evidence to most people that the suppressors are in the wrong.
That’s why Senator McCarthy and his ilk are doing such a service to Communism particularly in the realm of higher education. Few students with brains enough to get into a university would any longer be convinced by the record or the arguments of Communisn itselfthe party line is too tortuous. But when there is such ostentatious alarm that anyone who was ever a Communist should teach anybody anything anywhere; when the mildest dissent becomes evidence of treason, then the intelligent but uninformed student may well infer that Communist doctrine has some powerful appeal. In any case, it’s hardly flattering to American youth to suggest it cannot withstand the faintest hint of Leftist opinion.
In banning Martin Luther the Quebec censors laid the Roman Catholics of Quebec open to the same inference. According to the censor’s reasoning, their faith is so unstable, so ill-grounded, it would be shaken by the knowledge that the clergy of the sixteenth century tolerated some rather unsavory practices —a fact well-known to St. Ignatius Loyola, among others, but not to be hinted to the film-goers of Quebec.
If this censor’s notion were true the Roman Catholic Church could not be a vast and vigorous faith throughout the world. The censor, as usual, made his own cause appear feeble, vulnerable and timid.
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