Reading the Classics – Elitist and Instruments of Oppression? – -L.Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenOne of the recent books I received from Crossway publishers for review is A Christian Guide to the Classics by noted English professor Leland Ryken (2015). From the publisher comes this blurb:

We’ve all heard about the classics and some of us have even read them on our own. But for those of us who remain a bit intimidated or simply want to get more out of our reading, this companion to Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series is here to help.

In this brief guidebook, popular professor, author, and literary expert Leland Ryken explains what the classics are, how to read them, and why they’re still valuable. Written to help you become a seasoned reader and featuring a list of books to get you started, this guide will give you the tools you need to read and enjoy some of history’s greatest literature.

In his first chapter Ryken answers several objections to and misconceptions about reading classics. One of those misconceptions is that the classics “are elitist and instruments of oppression, a charge that comes from the liberal and politically correct crowd of our day. This is in part how Ryken answers this charge:

The charge of elitism usually implies that someone is acting as a gatekeeper to keep people on the outside from entering. But reading the classics does not exclude anyone. Classic books are free in a library or can be found inexpensively at hand. The only force of exclusion from the classics is the inertia or unawareness of the person who has not yet entered that world. The gateway to the classics is wide open for anyone to enter. All it takes to enter the ‘realms of gold’ (John Keats’s metaphor) that we know as the classics is to allow oneself to be educated into the joys of reading them (p.10).

And as far as the classics being instruments of oppression is concerned, Ryken answers forthrightly:

The claim that reading Homer’s Odyssey or Toni Morrison’s Beloved is an instrument of oppression should be named for what it is – preposterous. The classics as a whole  embody the entire range of intellectual and political viewpoints that the human race has produced through the ages. They are not monolithic. At the heart of the ‘politically correct’ enterprise is censorship. Attempting to keep people from reading the classics is in fact an instrument of suppression. We live in a cultural situation in which the liberal establishment attempts to deny people access to any literary work that does not advance the propagandistic cause of liberalism. There is absolutely no way in which reading Dickens’s Great Expectations enslaves anyone who reads it. The censorship consists of the attempt to make sure that no one reads Dickens if certain people do not wish to read him (p.11).

Which means that Christians ought by all means read the classics, the main point Ryken drives home in this fine little guide.

Published in: on September 29, 2015 at 6:37 AM  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] objections to and misconceptions about reading classics. One of those misconceptions we covered in our previous post on this new […]


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