As my parents were walking down a street in China, a man crept up to my mother and asked if they had any Bibles.
He explained in accented English that some Americans took Bibles to give away in that communist country. My family is a pig farmer in Illinois and over the years they have visited their counterparts in China, Ukraine, Poland and Denmark to exchange ideas.
When Mom told this story more than 30 years ago, I was grateful to live in a country where the government doesn’t tell people what they can read.
I’m not sure if I still live in a place like this.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where people on both the left and right are trying to determine what others can read.
I’m so reckless that when someone tells me not to read something, it’s the first thing I add to my reading list. This week is Banned Books Week.
Years ago, a fellow Protestant mocked my curiosity about the Apocrypha, four books recognized by the Catholic Church but not by most Protestant denominations.
My reaction was to read it. It helped me understand the differences between Catholic and Protestant teachings. It adds more context to the 400 years before Jesus, and its prose is beautiful.
Today, race is often the fulcrum of the banned books debate. I recently interviewed Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey, who said that critical race theory should not be taught in schools.
Proponents of the professor’s “Critical Race Theory” argue that race is a social construct and that racism is not just a product of personal prejudice or prejudice, but something in legal systems and policies. Conservative critics counter that the theory is based on the idea that America is fundamentally racist, and that it leads students to feel guilty about whites’ past actions.
How about letting children read the work and decide for themselves?
Critics of critical race theory often point to Project 1619, the New York Times Magazine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning project to examine the impact of 400 years of slavery on present-day America.
My wife gave me a copy of Project 1619 last Christmas. This is a fascinating read. I agree with some of the conclusions in the book. I don’t have anything else. But that’s okay. When you read something, it should undo the thought, not insist.
I also emphasized reading authors I knew I would disagree with. Sometimes, I read material that I know will be objectionable.
For example, in 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing, I walked into a bookstore in Davenport, Iowa, and asked if they had a copy of The Turner Diaries, a book that supposedly inspired Bomber’s racist writings.
The old woman of the shop owner narrowed her eyes and said angrily, “We don’t sell that here. Do you want to bomb anything?”
No, but I do want to understand what motivates terrorist hatred. When I finally got a copy, I found the ideas it supported disgusting. But it gave me insight into the twisted reasoning behind the white nationalist movement.
One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird. When I read this novel as a teenager, I was captivated by the story of a lawyer who stood up against the racist legal system in the South. I loved this book so much that when we were expecting our second daughter, I wanted to name her “Boy Scouts” after the book’s protagonist. (My wife rejected the idea.)
Today, there is a force that bans the book in schools. Some people didn’t like it because of its use of racial epithets in the southern cultural context of the time. Others said it was misogynistic because it was about false rape allegations. Still others don’t like white people being cast as heroes trying to save black people.
All of these criticisms seem to be good fodder for class discussion. Instead, some school administrators are banning its use.
So, what am I reading during Banned Books Week? Well, Diary of Misfits is an excellent nonfiction read. It’s about a lesbian journalist returning to rural Louisiana, where she grew up, to make a documentary about the transgender people her grandmother met in the 1940s.
I haven’t read it yet, but so far it’s been a wonderful read.
I’m also reading “Every Good Endeavour” by Timothy Keller, an evangelical pastor who discusses finding spiritual purpose in our work. I love discussing it with other people on Wednesday mornings.
Reading builds bridges of understanding between different groups. In our divided society, what is a better goal?
• Scott Reeder, Staff Writer The Illinois Times, Can reach: firstname.lastname@example.org.