Friends of Padre Steve’s World
It is Monday and I am traveling back home from the conference that I attended in Houston and I am tired after traveling and spending most of the weekend sick. But to be fair the conference was well worth it.
As I muse about the the coming week I am stuck on something that I saw about the decline in the number of Americans who read books, and it occurred to me that this is probably a major factor in the ignorance displayed by so many Americans on so many subjects. A Pew survey reported that 23% of Americans read no books whatsoever in 2013 and over a hefty half of Americans read fewer than five books. The survey did not ask what people were reading but by my perusal of best-seller lists, Amazon.com notifications and bookstore racks it appears that much of what is read is junk. No judgement intended but the best sellers in the non-fiction world are almost universally written by popular but biased and often ignorant political pundits, preachers and politicians.
As a society we just don’t read, and much of what we do read is not directed toward learning but political-religious indoctrination, or to make us feel good about our own lifestyle or prejudices.
I am a historian, theologian and stand-up philosopher. I have always read. Since the day I was introduced to the library and the card catalogue in grade school I have never ceased to read, and if I do not become distracted I can read hundreds of pages a day by authors who challenge my presuppositions or shed new light on subjects I already thought myself competent. My wife Judy is the same way, her tastes in subjects is different than mine, but she almost always is reading, be it a real book in print for or and-book. However, that being said I know many people, including people who are educated who have either stopped reading or console themselves in the works of the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil whose one overriding goal is to convince people to follow what they say without thinking critically.
if we don’t read, as a civilization we die.
Barbara Tuchman wrote:
“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”
Abraham Lincoln, though lacking a formal education was always reading, it helped make him into one of the most formidable thinkers of his day, and helped him keep perspective even when he met setback after setback that would have crushed anyone else. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other examples that I could cite of men and women whose personal strength and character was shaped by what they read. Sadly, we lack that today, but thankfully it does appear that there might be some hope. According to the Pew survey Minnenials read more than those older than them.
But just looking around we can see the result of the literary deprivation that afflicts our society. Half-baked conspiracy theories promoted by politicians, pundits and preachers are given the air of respectability by supposed news organizations. When someone has the integrity to ask hard questions or challenge the purveyors of such intellectual smut they are condemned. That my friends is a demonstration of the level of ignorance that we have allowed ourselves to sink to, something that in an age where we have the literary, scientific, philosophical, religious and historical classics of civilization at our figertips, is inexcusable.
I shall come back to this another time because writing in the aisle seat of a Boeing 737 has some limitations.
So this week I should be putting out at least one Gettysburg article and possibly one Abraham Lincoln. I will be doing one about the Dootlitle Raid on Toyko which occurred 73 years ago this week during the darkest days of the Second World War as well as some other subjects that I am musing about.
As for now I am going to use the last hour of my flight to continue reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitizer Prize winning book Team of Rivals: The Political Genious of Abraham Lincoln. I highly recommend it.
So from 39000 feet over Southeestern Ohio I wish you a good day.