Joyce Minor

It pays to keep an open mind

Yesterday I saw a statement forwarded online that read "In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college."

That observation, sad but true, is a quote from Joseph Sobran, a man I'd never heard of. I identified with his sentiment immediately, but realized I shouldn't quote or share it without knowing at least the basics about the man who said it. So I did some research.

First I typed his name into Facebook and found myself on a page that declares him "a great American thinker and patriot". Several other Sobran quotes appear on the page. Some I liked. For instance, "Umpires don't care who deserves to win on moral, progressive, or demographic grounds. Their role is modest but crucial and would be corrupted if they brought any supposed Higher Purpose to their work. They care only about the rules. The Supreme Court could learn from them." That's clever and insightful.

The Sobran Facebook page is structured as if it's his own, which obviously would make the "great American thinker" tagline blatantly egotistical. I decided I'd better investigate further.

I typed Joseph Sobran into Google, and the first reference that popped up was his obituary, dated September 30, 2010, the first of almost 2 million references. (Yes, you read that correctly, 2,000,000 references.) Clearly, the Facebook page, recently updated, was the product of admirers.

It turns out Joseph Sobran, who died at just 64 years old, was a conservative columnist and had been one of the senior editors of National Review magazine before he was fired in 1993 for expressing increasingly hostile sentiments toward Israel.

A devoted and outspoken proponent of Roman Catholicism, Sobran's hostility toward Israel seemed incongruent and had not surfaced in his early writings. Once it did, he was widely attacked and denigrated in the U.S. and internationally.

The obit also noted that for the last few years Sobran had been a resident of a nursing home where he was under treatment for complications due to advanced diabetes.

Before his illness Sobran was published widely and had become a noted expert on both Abraham Lincoln and Shakespeare. That got me thinking. Perhaps Sobran's sudden hostility and virulent criticism toward Israel was somehow the result of a deteriorating mental state caused by his illness. Since diabetes is often at work in a person's system long before it is medically detected, Sobran's condition might have been affecting his work before even he was aware of it. Latest research on diabetes shows it can have such effects.

If indeed that was the situation, I hope the world will refrain from criticizing Sobran too harshly and instead remember the "great American thinker" who was brought down by a most unfortunate and insidious disease.

Then perhaps his fate might teach all of us several lessons:

1. It pays to check out the background of anyone you plan to quote.

2. No matter how brilliant or caustic a person's comments may be, there is almost always a story behind them that will temper your opinion of that person if you keep an open mind.

3. Diabetes is no respecter of persons. It is a serious and often overlooked disease that strikes great thinkers as well as simple folks.

4. Life does not come with guarantees. In this age of fleeting Internet fame and precarious personal security, every day of good health and clear thinking is indeed a precious gift from our loving and long-suffering God.

Jacob Sobran, rest in peace.