Forbidden books can build bridges | Weekly Reading


As my parents were walking down a street in China, a man slipped up next to my mother and asked if they had a Bible.

In accented English, he explained that some Americans brought Bibles to distribute in this communist country. My parents were hog farmers from Illinois who over the years visited their counterparts in China, Ukraine, Poland and Denmark to exchange ideas.

When Mom told this story over 30 years ago, I felt so grateful to live in a country where the government didn’t tell people what they could read.

I’m not sure I live in such a place anymore.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where people on the left and right try to determine what other people can read.

I’m dumb enough that when someone tells me not to read something, that’s the first thing I add to my reading list.

Years ago a fellow Protestant mocked my curiosity about the Apocrypha, the four books of the Bible recognized by the Catholic Church but not by most Protestant denominations.

My response was to read it. It helped me understand the differences between Catholic and Protestant teachings. It adds greater context to the 400 years before Jesus was born, and its prose is beautiful.

Today, race is often central to the book ban debate. I recently interviewed Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey and he said that critical race theory shouldn’t be taught in schools, which it isn’t currently.

Proponents of critical race theory teaching argue that race is a social construct and that racism is not simply the product of individual prejudice or prejudice, but also something embedded in systems and legal policies. Conservative critics counter that the basis of the theory is that the United States is fundamentally racist and that it leads students to feel guilty for the past actions of white people.

How about letting the kids read the works and decide for themselves?

Critics of the CRT often point out The Project 1619a Pulitzer Prize-winning company by the New York Times Review looking at the legacy of 400 years of slavery in what is now the United States.

For Christmas last year my wife gave me a copy of The 1619 Project. It was a fascinating read. A few conclusions in the book that I agreed with. Others don’t. But it is okay. When you read something, it should provoke thought, not buy-in.

I also make a point of reading authors with whom I know I will not agree. Sometimes I even read material that I know I will find revolting.

For example, in 1995, following the Oklahoma City bombing, I walked into a bookstore in Davenport, Iowa, and asked if they had a copy of Turner’s Diary, a racist tome that would have inspired the suicide bomber.

The older woman who owned the store narrowed her eyes and growled, “We don’t sell that here.” Do you want to bomb something?

No. But I wanted to infer some understanding of the hatred that motivated the terrorists. When I finally got a copy, I found the ideas it espoused disgusting. But it gave me insight into the warped reasoning behind the white nationalist movement.

One of my favorite books is Kill a mockingbird. When I read the novel as a teenager, I was mesmerized by the story of a lawyer who opposes a racist justice system in the South. I loved the book so much that when we were expecting our second daughter, I wanted to name her Scout after the book’s protagonist (my wife rejected the idea).

Today, there is pressure to ban the book in schools. Some people dislike him because he uses a racial epithet in the context of Southern culture at the time. Others say it’s misogynistic because it’s a false accusation of rape. Still others don’t like a white man being chosen as the hero trying to save a black man.

All of these criticisms seem to be fueling a class discussion. Instead, wimpy school administrators prohibit its use.

So, what do I read during forbidden book week? Good, Diary of a Misfit is a great non-fiction read. It’s about a lesbian journalist who returns to rural Louisiana, where she grew up, to create a documentary about a transgender man her grandmother knew in the 1940s.

I’m not done with it, but so far it’s a brilliant read.

I also read Every good effort by Timothy Keller, an evangelical pastor who discusses finding spiritual purpose in our work. I like to discuss it with others early on Wednesday mornings.

Reading builds bridges of understanding between disparate groups. In our divided society, what could be a better goal?

Scott Reeder, Writer for Illinois Times, can be contacted at [email protected]

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