By: Mrs. Kristen Schrum
"Among the culture’s many shifting ideologies, a movement to censor literary classics is gaining traction across the nation’s academia. Under the hashtag #DisruptTexts, we are seeing texts of inherent literary value being figuratively “burned” before our eyes.
According to the Wall Street Journal article, “Even Homer Gets Mobbed,” classics anywhere from The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby to even The Odyssey are being taken out of academic curriculums across the nation for possessing “‘racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate...’”
There is no denying that these books are full of both ancient and modern forms of the vices listed above. In addition, you have murder, warfare, polytheism, hubris, and much more. However, are these reasons for banning a book? Is it justifiable to exile any art because it reveals what is distasteful to our culture, or because it is offensive?
If we are going to hold literature produced by fallen men in a fallen culture to a divine standard, then we are quickly going to run out of source material. If literature is to be read solely for the purpose of supporting a cause or movement, it becomes propaganda and only supports echo chambers. It would be like viewing the world through a lens we’ve created—one that distorted absolute truths and blended them into relativities.
For literature, even art, to be considered good or ‘a classic,’ it must challenge human realities and offer glimpses of divine ones. We must see man’s depravity for what it really is if we are to understand that our world is but a shadow of what was intended for us. Good literature reveals man’s true nature and his struggle to be virtuous against a flesh and world that is anything but. It is necessary for the revelation that man cannot define good and evil without a higher authority, nor can he be righteous in his own power.
Even in Ancient Greece, Homer recognized that man was nothing without “the gods.” Of course, he is referring to the Greek pantheon of deities, who act more like spoiled children than beings of divine power. However, the use of the gods in epics such as The Iliad and The Odyssey prove more to develop the theme of man’s fallibility and mortality rather than to flex religious doctrines.
Odysseus’ flaw, for instance, was not that he did not worship or sacrifice enough to Athena, but that he believed in his own self-sufficiency; that he, as a human, could define his fate and destiny; that he could judge what was evil and what was good apart from any heavenly entity. This hubris leads him to war with the waves of the sea (Poseidon) and gets his entire crew killed. Who was Odysseus to say when he arrived at Penelope’s door? Who was he to believe that he could control the forces of nature? The Odyssey goes against the lie that man defines his own future. Even Homer and the ancients believed that man’s fate was tied to a greater sovereignty that humans must submit to. It was, after all, only when Odysseus humbled himself, accepting where fate led him, that the gods took pity on him.
Is it not the same with us Christians? If we define humility as “knowing our place” in the universe’s totem pole—understanding that we are vessels belonging to the Lord, who “establishes our steps” and “know the plans [he] has for us,”—do we not fare far better beneath His sovereign hand? Do we not have more peace when we submit and accept His will?
It is similar to The Iliad, where we witness the hubris of mankind leading to the death and destruction of nations and families. There are no winners in the Trojan War. Man’s depravity—his pride, sexism, proclivity for bloodshed—bring nothing but suffering on all sides, and the one somewhat noble character, Hector, is at the end a coward for he knew that he was not fighting for any “greater good,” but for a brother who stole another man’s wife.
Though stories such as these can appear stark and dismal as far as it pertains to moral content, we must admit that they are remarkable teaching material for understanding real virtue. Do we not learn more from our mistakes than from anything else? Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Southeastern Seminary, wrote in On Reading Well that “[T]he cultivation and expression of virtue (and vice) and the formation of conscience is not merely an individual act but also a communal one. In addition to shaping individual experience and character, great literature has a role in forming the communal conscience and public virtue. We can understand a great deal about culture—its strengths, its weakness, its blind spots, and its struggles—when we examine the literature it not only produces but reveres.”
Good literature reveals a culture’s fallibility; its never-ending struggle to define good and evil without an absolute standard or divine authority. Without God, we descend to racism, sexism, murder, pride, and hate. Even Homer saw this and thought to write about it. To censor literary classics would be to censor the existence of sin. It would be to censor the existence of an evil that all of us are called to fight with virtue and Truth. When we censor good literature from our classrooms, we are refusing to teach students how a fallen world operates and thereby neglecting their moral education. Students must understand how all men and cultures are flawed and how God must be present in order for healing and reconciliation to ever be possible."
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