The enduring relevance of great literature

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Uh-oh! I feel another Palm miscellany coming on. Here, in no apparent order, are the issues oppressing me now — fittingly, on my day, on Palm Sunday.

My last column revisited. First off, I’ve been chastened, and denounced even, by a few believers who maintain I don’t know enough about the Bible, Christianity and Christ to write about them. Maybe so. But this I know: America was not founded to be a theocracy. And with apologies to former Vice President Mike Pence — who believes otherwise — I maintain no American has the right to force his or her faith on anyone.

As most readers know, I have been rusticated to Lynchburg, Virginia, the home of Liberty University and a mecca for fundamentalists who accept Liberty’s doctrinal statement. At the heart of that statement is the tenet that the Bible is “inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters.” The irony is that I also write for the paper of record here in Lynchburg, and I don’t receive nearly the pushback here when I write about religion as I do from readers of this paper. Could it be that, for all their doctrinal rigidity, the believers here in Falwell Land are more Christian in their attitudes and more secure in their faith than some in Kitsap County?

Be that as it may, my theological outlook is largely informed by the greatest Christian humanist in English literature — John Milton of “Paradise Lost” fame. To read “Paradise Lost” with an open mind is to come away in awe of his scholarship. It is also to realize that Milton, while certainly a devout Christian, was able to put his faith on an intellectual footing.

He believed, for instance, that the reality of God surpasses human understanding. He also believed that scripture is not completely, literally true, but rather made up largely of metaphors and fables accommodated to our limited human understanding. This passage from “Paradise Lost” is key: “Heaven is for thee too high to know what passes there,” an angel has occasion to admonish Adam, “be lowly wise.”

Milton, moreover, wrote a poem that speaks to our condition today — one about the separation of church and state called “The New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament” (ca 1673). He deplores those that employ “the civil sword to force our consciences that Christ set free.” (Pence perhaps should ponder this poem). There is nothing new under the sun.

This has been yet another lesson in the enduring relevance of great literature. To borrow another line from Milton, on “to fresh woods, and pastures new.”

On the Homeric epithet. If you’re familiar with Homer’s epics, you know that the ancient Greeks liked to characterize heroes and Gods by linking adjectives or descriptive phrases to their names. For example, “Wide-eyed Zeus” (i.e., all seeing). I’ve been trying to think of a suitable Homeric epithet for Donald Trump. How about “Trump the Troublesome” or “Troublesome Trump”? I’m open to alternatives.

On Trump’s troubles. Remember the 2007-08 financial crisis and how some institutions were deemed “too big to fail,” so the government had to bail them out? It occurs to me that certain Republicans seem to believe Trump is too big to prosecute. I look at it the other way around. Trump is too big not to prosecute — especially for fomenting a coup attempt. Otherwise, we might as well admit that some people are indeed above the law in America.

On Republican family values. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, is crowing that her teenage son has impregnated his girlfriend and that they will be making her a grandmother at 36 — just as she made her own mother a grandmother at 36. Heartwarming, isn’t it?

Their true colors? On March 7, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, wrote a letter calling on Republicans to join Democrats in denouncing white nationalism and white supremacy. Over two dozen Republicans refused to sign off on that. I suppose their true colors are shining through.

On Gov. Ron DeSantis. I’ve been wondering about Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law. Does that mean grade-schoolers in Florida may not sing the Christmas carol “Deck the Halls”? It does contain a line DeSantis must hate: “Don we now our gay apparel.”

On guns again. I’m and sick and tired of hearing this gun-lobby talking point: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Yes, but guns make it so much easier and faster to kill people, individually and collectively.

On Fox News. We now know Fox headliners Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham don’t believe Biden stole the 2020 election and that Tucker Carlson in particular hates Trump “passionately.” Yet, on air, all three continued to support Trump and his stolen-election lie. Why? Ratings and stock prices Trump truth. (Pun intended.)

Finally, a test. Palm, in your heart, you know he’s right! To whom am I alluding here?

Contact Ed Palm at

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: The enduring relevance of great literature