This blog post was inspired by a post on the equipbooks blog. The topic was ‘Why reading is important’ (for Christians). One of the results of reading this was to cause me to ask (again!) *why?*.

-Why have we allowed literacy to decline so quickly over just several generations (or less)?

-Why do most people deny that this has happened?

– Why are Christians seemingly so unconcerned with current education practices?

-Why isn’t reading books promoted more by our Christian leaders?

There are very convincing arguments for Christian people to read, to read well and widely, and to think ‘out of the box’. One way of gaining objectivity (which allows one to see past the errors of modern thought) is to read ‘old books’ as CS Lewis* suggests. And for a very good reason:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. He goes on: We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.

Combine this ‘natural’ blindness with idea that we are living in an age of sub-literacy, (especially in comparison with what became the norm for hundreds of years after the reformation: most strove to be literate so they might read the scriptures for themselves) and we may wonder how we can reverse the decline. Consider the following quotes from Os Guiness**

Many common people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had a knowledge of Shakespeare and the Bible that people today would view as the preserve of the literary scholar or theologian. By 1772, Jacob Duché could write, “The poorest laborer…thinks himself entitled to deliver his sentiment on matters of religion or politics with as much freedom as the gentleman or scholar…Such is the prevailing taste for books of every kind, that almost every mean is a reader.”

George Steiner describes the result of modern mass education as ”semi-literacy.” The ability to read is widespread, but the inability to read any but the shallowest texts is equally widespread. He cites recent estimates that put the literacy of more than half the population of the United States at the level of twelve-year-olds. Steiner concludes: “Such semi- or sub-literacy is not being eradicated by mass-schooling: it is being made politically and psychologically acceptable.”

There are most certainly responses we can make (read aloud to our children, seriously consider alternatives to modern mass education practices, get involved in groups which challenge us to think, plus read, read, read and read. Do you have any other suggestions?) but all of these are limited in their effects; culture has an incredibly strong pull.

So I ask: Is prayer the answer? I’m inclined to think that we possibly haven’t seen this issue as sufficiently serious. Maybe we don’t feel that strongly about the threat to our minds or the minds of our children to see the danger. It can sound all a little exaggerated or fanciful, can’t it?

I can barely scrape the surface of the issues here; for one thing time for writing is so limited. It really warrants a long afternoon walk/talk. Maybe this can get us thinking….

* First and Second Things, Essays on Theology and Ethics.

**Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It