Seriously! People don't invest time in reading, nor effort in reading hard literature, nor to read people from the past, nor to read competing views, and especially people don't read the Bible.
But my complaint here is about reading beyond the Bible. Of course reading the Bible is priority ... its needs no argument. But reading beyond, now there's a very troublesome issue. It takes time and effort, an investment of the mind, it disturbs our comfort of ignorance, it raises more questions that we'd like. And it asks us to think!
Many have lost the art of reading. I don't mean recognizing words, I mean reading that comprehends new perspectives. Real reading is an acquired skill that is to be highly desired.
Reading the latest airport novel is not reading, that's entertainment. We are quick to say we read such-and-such a novel. A ready excuse is always at hand when real reading is required, and we fall back on on such classics as:
- Replacement with popular media - "I'll watch the movie"
- Substitution by the trivial - "that magazine told me all I need, especially the article on how to be a better lover"
- The tyranny of time - "I just haven't got a spare moment"
- Chronological snobbery - "the wisdom of today surely beats all that old stuff"
But the reality is that reading - true reading - is food for the soul. It's dangerous, because when you read a book, the book reads you. You may be changed. Their are few joys that compare to wrestling with someone else's ideas, comprehending a different view, delighting in the richness of metaphor and paradox, and experiencing the realness of growing into a person who has insight, compassion, and empathy for their fellow human.
Elanor Roosevelt said :
"Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people."
Well, great thinkers, great teachers, and great people have always been great readers.
- There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. [Will Rogers]
- There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. [Ray Bradbury]
- A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. [C. S. Lewis]
So do you have the willpower to invest time, energy, and effort (for it will take time, it will consume your energy, and it will require effort)? Are you courageous enough to be changed (for it will change you). Are you strong enough to put your opinion on hold (for you will be challenged). Do you have the will to reason and think (for unless you think while you read, you will be torn apart).
But, I hear you cry, "Where do I start?" I will admit the dizzying array of books is daunting. But like anything, one trains. You find an entry point, and you start easy, build up strength, and work your way through in a planned, disciplined, and structured manner. Start with books that are acknowledged as insightful. Begin with a book that is considered trustworthy. It does not have to be book of your belief persuasion (though that helps) ... in fact, reading what you already know is not much value at all.
But, I hear you cry, "How do I start?" You start in the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. A suggestion I might make is to partner with someone and say, "Will you read a book with me? Let's both read this book, and then talk about what struck us." Start with what captures you, read according to where you are thinking! Get advice from someone who reads. But read!
A bit of biography: Where is my own reading now? I am looking back at my beginnings. As Oscar Wilde said "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all."
The book that has influenced me more than any other is GK Chesterton's"Orthodoxy" ... my copy has more margin annotations than any other book I own. You'll be surprised by what you find in "Orthodoxy". Leading Christians throughout the ages have acknowledged Chesterton as the pivotal writer of the last two centuries. From C.S. Lewis to Yancy and Piper today, they all acclaim the influence of Chesterton. And I join these many to say that Chesterton opened my eyes to things I had not imagined. For those in the early stages of learning to read, Chesterton may require more effort than normal, but the benefits are great. When you're ready, read Chesterton. Begin with "Orthodoxy".
I'll close with a quote from C.S. Lewis' book "Surprised by Joy", talking of when he was an atheist at the beginnings of becoming a Christian:
"It was here that I first read a volume of Chesterton's essays. I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me. It might have been expected that my pessimism, my atheism, and my hatred of sentiment would have made him to me the least congenial of all authors. It would almost seem that Providence, or some "second cause" of a very obscure kind, quite over-rules our previous tastes when It decides to bring two minds together. Liking an author may be as involuntary and improbable as falling in love. I was by now a sufficiently experienced reader to distinguish liking from agreement. I did not need to accept what Chesterton said in order to enjoy it. His humour was of the kind I like best - not "jokes" embedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humour which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the "bloom" on dialectic itself. The sword glitters not because the swordsman set out to make it glitter but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. For the critics who think Chesterton frivolous or "paradoxical" I have to work hard to feel even pity; sympathy is out of the question. Moreover, strange as it may seem, I liked him for his goodness."
(Why you should read Chesterton in 2013: an interview.)