And a Literate New Year

One of the most common criticisms of religion, among its detractors, is that it is “uninformed.” I suspect that this is intended to critique the education of those who adhere to religion. It is not too often, however, that you see those who disdain religion giving credit where credit is due. Reading, for example. Although reading has changed in its accidents and character over the millennium, it remains the case that texts—what would eventually evolve into books—were originally a religious creation. Once writing moved beyond keeping track of things like how many cattle a person owned, and grew into literature, that literature was based on religion. We recognize many of these stories as myths today, but that does not devalue them. They are our earliest stories. For many literate people throughout history, their initial reading material was the texts of their religion. One of the purposes behind public education was to teach children to read the Bible. Religion and reading naturally go together.

Now that a new year is upon us, many websites are offering reading challenges for the new year. Long ago I gave up on resolutions. I figured if I noticed something wrong in my life, I wouldn’t wait until January to fix it. Nevertheless, the start of something new is inspiring and full of hope. So it was when my wife showed me Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge, I gladly accepted. Like many reading challenges, the goals are based on about a book a month—twelve titles for the year. My personal goal is to get over one hundred books read this year, but I like the challenge to read particular kinds of books. On this particular challenge, for example, are books that intimidate you, or that you’ve previously abandoned. Books, such as many of us have, that we own but have never read. Although we may not know what it is yet, a book published this year.

Apart from being a kind of religious activity, promoting literacy is surely one of the best ways to address social ills. Those who read learn to consider the viewpoints of others. I disagree with a great deal of what I read, but I would not wish not to have read it. “Iron sharpens iron,” as one old book says. To put it in modern terms, the only stone hard enough to cut diamond is diamond. Reading material that engages critical faculties is like that. Even so, reading books that are simple or fun also offers bonuses. A guilty pleasure read is one of my favorite rewards. For our own sakes, for the sake of the world itself, I hope that everyone takes up a reading challenge, no matter how modest, as a way of celebrating a new year and, I truly believe, a better tomorrow.

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