Paul Greenberg
There was a time when the Bible and Shakespeare were recognized as twin pillars of not just English literature but Western civilization. Wherever the English-speaking peoples went, these books would go, for they were compact storehouses of wisdom, strength and beauty.

Even the humblest cabin along the American frontier might have a family Bible and maybe a copy of Shakespeare's plays. Those books would introduce a young Abe Lincoln to life and thought, and it showed. One day it would show in the language he would mobilize on behalf of nothing less than the American Union itself.

Mr. Lincoln and his country would both face many a trial in his time, as freedom does in all times, but he would go forth to meet those tests in the whole armor of the Word. Beware the man of one book, it has been well said. Especially if it is The Book.

Now we seem to live in a biblically illiterate era, and it shows. Not just in the quality of the prose that crosses an editor's desk every day, or in the junkspeech that politicians and educantists mouth as a matter of course, but in the paucity of thought behind their tinny catch words.

Today the English language is said to be much improved. We're assured that it has been streamlined, made so much more functional, reduced to the essentials, or maybe to just numbers. Not just our computers but our thought becomes binary, shorn of connotation and resonance, starved of greatness.

Greatness? What's that -- one more outdated romantic notion? Instead, we want to know the Bottom Line. We want a PowerPoint presentation, not literature. And so the rolling cadences of the King James Version and the comprehensive worldliness of Master Shakespeare must be digitalized and locked away in Kindle's electronic hieroglyphs, unsought and untroubling. We can relax, for our consciences are safely stored. And a brave new generation twitters in a language large enough only to fit the tiny screens of its apps.

Such is what passes for thought among the young and all-too-restless of any age. Now it's a Facebook world, always in communication but with not much to communicate. Its tweets may be able to inspire revolutions, but not what comes afterward. In an internetted world, speed is of the essence, not depth. And that, too, shows.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.