On the fad of going after everything that offends us, especially past writings, which we find reprehensible (fair enough) but which we also want to edit, censor, or otherwise delete from the canons of literature and the libraries of the world: it’s a problem.
They did it with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, tampered with the text. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘injun’ were written out of the new edition because they were deemed unacceptable by today’s standards. (http://bit.ly/2MhgQY3)
This is not enlightenment. What was written long ago was written long ago, encapsulating past times. And Huckleberry Finn is a classic, not some racist rant that somehow made it into today’s bookshops and libraries. To change the text is to deface a literary cornerstone.
Consider all writing. Most of what was written long ago was never published. It wasn’t good enough or resonant enough. Some of it was trash — awful writing or awful ideas that somehow found a platform. Most of what was published faded away, fast, not as poignant as initially thought, and most of what endured did not become a classic. Some classics remained, and some of these classics do not represent today’s realities, and expectedly so because times change, we change, and so does the way we view the world.
Like many classics, Huckleberry Finn clashes with today. It employs language alien to our times, which nevertheless affords its content with value, meaning, and significance.
In fact, most of history doesn’t fit in with the present. That much we can agree on. But we can’t rewrite everything to suit the times. We can’t just delete the past. How else are we to be informed by it?
Communism, for example. We know that it was a disaster, that the Bolsheviks were monsters who attempted to rewrite history, and few among us take their teachings seriously — a few too many unfortunately — but to go back and edit Karl Marx’s writings would be wrong. To expunge the world of Mao’s red book would be satisfying, but wrong.
We know that religion is made up of glorified fantasy sagas, many of which are best-sellers to this day, and which their followers take literally. We can prove that many of the holy writings are allegories and metaphors, or dated and irrelevant edicts concerning diet, hygiene, and sexual orientation among other issues. Many of us — perhaps not many enough — don’t take religious writings literally, driven instead by science and progress — but rewrite all holy texts, or delete them altogether, tempting as it may be, because they are offensive to us? Because they are grossly misleading and inaccurate? Not a good idea.
We would do better to educate ourselves, making sure that whoever chooses to delve into religion understands that one may believe in God, or any set of deities and cosmic forces, without taking them literally, or at least without forcing his or her beliefs on others.
Part 2 to follow …