Marching in lockstep

Chuck Colson
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Posted: Dec 27, 2004 12:00 AM

An article in the online magazine Slate reveals a lot about the forces of political correctness. Slate assistant editor Julia Turner was clearly in a tongue-in-cheek mood when she wrote ?Laura Bush?Why liberals shouldn?t like her.? But the article turned out to be even funnier than she intended.

Turner, you see, is bowled over by the idea that an avid reader like the First Lady is not liberal. Of course, it is well known that Laura Bush is married to a fairly influential conservative. However, Turner writes, liberal book-lovers could not believe that Mrs. Bush was on board with her husband?s policies.

Turner explains ?how easy it is to be wooed by the first lady?s reading habits. . . . More than one commentator has noted with approval and some surprise that Laura Bush?s favorite scene in literature is the ?Grand Inquisitor? portion of The Brothers Karamazov [by Fyodor Dostoevsky].? Turner quotes fellow writer James Wolcott, who asked, ?A man who would marry a woman this kind and refined couldn?t be all boor, could he??

Turner and many other liberals were disappointed this campaign season when Laura Bush confirmed that, yes?imagine it?she is a conservative. Her attack on embryonic stem-cell research, in particular, left Turner in the dumps.

Turner explains, ?When liberals note that Laura is a reader, they mean that she must be a sort of anti-Dubya. And when they hear her standing by Bush in the stem-cell debate, they wonder how a reader?someone devoted to the pursuit of knowledge?could possibly stick up for a policy designed to thwart those who seek it.?

It?s hard not to laugh when you hear this from the tolerant, all-embracing Left. (It might even break Turner?s heart to know that The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite novel too.) But Turner is not the only one surprised, as many responses from Slate readers demonstrated. One such reader lamented, ?What I and many other liberals are often guilty of is the fallacy that, if one reads the right books . . . one?s politics are bound to be progressive. What we often fail to realize is that people read the same books and come to different conclusions.?

No kidding. Great literature isn?t political propaganda; its complexity and insights draw people of all religious and political stripes. The cited passage from The Brothers Karamazov?a parable about Christ?s return?is a perfect example. Both Christians and non-Christians have found unforgettable truths in this story. But Dostoevsky was a believing Christian who wrote powerful Christian themes, and he would have been startled today to see how much they are being enjoyed by modern secular liberals.

Much of the greatest literature is full of such Christian themes. If these ?progressive humanists? were to meet some of their favorite authors in real life, they would even notice that several of those authors had worldviews very similar to Laura Bush?s.

As I?ve said before, there?s so much to learn from great literature?if we?re willing to keep our own biases and prejudices out of the way. But reading isn?t always beneficial. Wearing ideological blinders when we read?and trying to force fellow readers to march in lockstep?can produce twisted ideas and a diminished ability to see, as Ms. Turner?s column illustrates.


For further reading and information:

Today?s BreakPoint offer: Invitation to the Classics introduces the reader to the masterworks of Western culture. From Homer to Chaucer, Dickens to C. S. Lewis, each author receives a chapter that includes a biographical sketch followed by a thorough summary of the classic(s) he or she penned.

Julia Turner, ?Laura Bush?Why liberals shouldn?t like her,? Slate, 31 August 2004.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 1879. Read the book online here. (The ?Grand Inquisitor? chapter is here.) Anne Freemantle?s 1956 essay ?Introduction to Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Grand Inquisitor? provides a biographical sketch of the author and a thoughtful analysis of the ?Grand Inquisitor? passage. Mars Hill Audio gives more details here.

C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge University Press, 1992 edition).

Michael Dirda, ?As I Live and Read,? Washington Post, 25 July 2004, B01.

?The Importance of Reading Earnest,? Wall Street Journal, 9 July 2004.

Joseph Epstein, ?Is Reading Really at Risk?? Weekly Standard, 7 August 2004. (Available to subscribers only.)

Vigen Guroian, Tending the Heart of Virtue (Oxford University Press, 1998).

See BreakPoint?s 2004 Christmas Book List, Part 1. Other lists will also be available on the BreakPoint website.