Can a Book Harm Religious Freedom?


The question has an almost obvious answer: Yes, a book can, given enough circulation and acceptance, harm religious freedom. Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, the literary "work" of a frustrated artist and World War I veteran, remains a perverse inspiration to those who cherish hatred. Its publication prepared the way for the National Socialists in Germany, leading to 12 years of terror in Europe and the death of millions.

On a far smaller scale, and with a decidedly different purpose, another book has, in recent years, gained an audience—and fueled controversy. Its authors, two Americans, advocate a rather limited view of religious freedom, with sections of the book's introduction talking about "the value of intolerance" and "responsible religious freedom".

The book, first published in 1999 and reprinted three times since by evangelical Christian publishers Harvest House, of Eugene, Oregon, is called Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. The authors, John Ankerberg and John Weldon, claim a joint total of nearly 100 books in print, in English and Spanish, on a wide range of religious topics, but dealing principally with the subject of religions that they believe "oppose" Christianity in some basic fashion. Mr. Ankerberg1 is a popular television host: at his Internet Web site, www.ankerberg.com, he claims his television "program can be seen each week by a potential viewing audience in excess of 99 million people" in North America.

Mr. Weldon is a former associate of the late Walter R. Martin, who was a noted religion researcher and founder of the Christian Research Institute. He has been closely associated with Mr. Ankerberg for many years, and has been featured several times on the Ankerberg television programs.

Books written by Messers. Ankerberg and Weldon get a wide airing—they are prominently featured in Christian bookstores, are discussed on various evangelical radio and television programs, and are the subject of "gift offers" from various Christian ministries. As one might expect, Mr. Ankerberg promotes these books in his own venues, such as his Web site.

Among the books authored by the duo, the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions has drawn particular attention. Unlike many of the estimated 80,000 new books published annually in the United States, ECNR, as it will be called here, has gone into at least four printings. And, unlike most of the books birthed from American presses each year, it has drawn a major libel lawsuit, one which seeks $136 million in damages.2

Mr. Ankerberg in particular holds himself forth as a defender of evangelicalism. He claims ordination as a Baptist minister, and that he was once a church pastor. Many of his weekly television programs attempted a Phil Donahue-like discussion of so-called alternatives to Christianity, with Mr. Ankerberg often debating people who represented different new religions and philosophies, such as Jos
Article Author: Mark A. Kellner