Is all reading done out of the same desire? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Recently, I got into a conversation with my family about Bill O’Reilly’s book “Killing Jesus.” Now I’ll be blunt. I wasn’t too impressed with Killing Lincoln. There was some information in there that was historical, but the style of the whole work seemed to be dry. I read it because my mother checked it out from the library and couldn’t get into it so she let me have it for her time. I did read the whole thing, but I just felt I was having to push myself to finish it.
Also, I haven’t been too impressed with Bill O’Reilly lately. On the issue of the marriage debate, he has been notified numerous times that there are more reasons for the traditional position than just “The Bible says so.” As far as I know, he has not corrected that. Also, when he has people come on to debate religion, I just don’t think he’s in his league.
This is not to say Bill O’Reilly is not a Christian or he’s unintelligent. It’s just that there are specialized areas of study and studying in one area does not give you the authority in another area. For those concerned, I try to be consistent with this. I don’t enter debates on science as science. I will talk about the history, such as how it was done in the Middle Ages and what happened with Galileo, but I will not talk about the theories as theories. Do I believe the Earth goes around the sun? Yep. Could I begin to make a case for it? Not at all. It’s the same with questions like evolution. If I was a theistic evolutionist, I could not make a case for it. If I take the other side, I also could not make a case for that. I instead choose to simply grant evolution to the atheist, who will naturally accept it, for the sake of argument.
So to get back to Bill, my folks had been telling me to read O’Reilly’s book first in response to hearing about him debating against Candida Moss. I immediately went on my Facebook and asked if anyone in my area had a copy I’d be willing to borrow. Someone did post and ask along the lines of “Why would you want to read that? There are better sources you could go to.”
This was a non-Christian also who has debated me in the past and I consider it important to answer this question as I think Christians should by and large use the best sources. If that’s the case, am I being a hypocrite for going to what is considered the best source? Well that depends on the reason why one reads a book. Let’s list some.
First, most of us do reads just for fun. For instance, when a new Monk mystery novel comes out, I have it in my hands pretty quickly. I was a big fan of the TV series and I think the books are an excellent way to keep the series going. Usually I finish a book in a couple of days and spend all my time thinking about who did the crime, why, etc. I suspect in our day and age, most reads are reads for fun. I also think those of us who consider ourselves serious academics do still need reads for fun.
Second, another reason we read today will be for schoolwork. Most of us in High School and College read books that we would never ever have read on our own because they were put on the syllabus for us to read and frankly, most of us would never ever read them again as well!
Third, some of us read books as well for our own information. I recently used some Amazon points and ordered my wife a book on Fennec Foxes. That’s an interest of hers. Most books I have in my library here I’d say are along these lines. I read the books because I want to be informed on the subject matter.
Fourth, another reason to read a book is because it’s popular non-fiction. An example of this would be Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Jesus.” I want to read this one because it’s in an area I consider myself an authority on and people are talking about it. If this is what people are interested in, I want to know if they’re really getting good information. When someone comes to me asking “What do you think of X?” and X is the latest popular book going around, I want to be able to answer them.
Fifth, another reason to read a book is because it is an informed position you disagree with. For something like this, I could consider a work like Richard Dawkins’s “The Blind Watchmaker.” To be sure, “The God Delusion” is not an informed book. Dawkins did write about subjects he had not studied and those of us who have studied those subjects wince at how bad he gets them. It would be just as bad as reading something of mine on “How to Fix Your Car” or “How to Play Basketball Like a Pro” or “Evolutionary Biology for Everyone.”
Better examples from my field would be books published by academic publishers of non-Christian scholarship, people like John Dominic Crossan or Gerd Ludemann or Bart Ehrman. It’s important that these books have publishers with high credentials as they only want the best to come through their publishing houses.
Sixth, you could read because it’s not an informed position that you disagree with. This would include works like The God Delusion. These are read because enough people are talking about them and when they’re being talked about, you need to be able to answer them. You can’t tell people what’s wrong in a book without having read it yourself. This is why apologists were reading “The Da Vinci Code” when it came out. (To its credit, I found as a novel the story itself was entertaining. The information was still hideous. Don’t talk to me about the movie. The movie was just terrible.)
Seventh, you could read something fictional to see what people are talking about even though you could enjoy it as well. When I started going through the Harry Potter series, it was so I could have an informed opinion on it for people who asked me. In the end, I turned out to thoroughly enjoy the series and now I own all the movies. I had read the books on audio from the library and have two of them. When the final book came out, I was one of those people waiting at the bookstore at midnight.
Of course, one eighth reason that comes up for Christians often is edification. You read a book to learn how to be more devout in what you believe. For us, Scripture is the central book here, though this can also be read for historical information as well and should be. We could also include great Christian classics such as “Pilgrim’s Progress” or “Knowing God” or “Practicing The Presence of God.” Many Christians read works so they can learn how to be closer to God.
Ninth, one can read just for self-development in an area. For instance, I recommend people read “Telling Yourself The Truth” and learn to practice it, something I’m still working on! Another book I’ve recommended along those lines is David Burns’s “Feeling Good.” Some of us could read books on an area we want to improve on, such as public speaking, overcoming a phobia, learning to cook, or learning the best way to exercise.
A final reason I can think of why I read some books is because I’ve been asked to. Sometimes people ask me to review books and I do so for them. Some of them I like. Some of them I don’t. In either case, I make sure to give a fully honest review. I don’t want to give a book a good review just so the author will feel better. I want to give it an honest review. If someones respects my opinion enough to share a work of theirs with me, I owe it to them to have enough respect to be forthright about it.
I hope also that this writing has helped you look at why you read what you read and take the time to think about it. For those who are interested, I am on Goodreads.com and there’s a link on this blog where you can find me. If you want to send a book for me to review, just ask. Generally, I’ve been just fine with taking the time to do so. That could change when I start Master’s work and move on to PH.D. work, but for now, I’m doing that.
And to everyone, please keep reading period.