Thursday, April 5, 2018

Freedom through Reading Good Books Well

The Global Technological System (GTS) is parasitic, collapsing, and meaningless. As the counter-creation of the Olympian gods and our most arrogant monument to them, the GTS embodies their path of power which is based on falsehood, expresses itself through indifference, and ends in death.

As prophetic Christian witnesses, Jesus Christ frees us, each day, to challenge the GTS. These challenges, for now, will be small but not insignificant.

One important way of witnessing to the freedom of Christ is by acknowledging how the norms of the GTS shape our thoughts, actions, and objects. A second way is then by being meaningfully different.

In The Technological Society (trans. John Wilkinson, 1964), Jacques Ellul indicates one way the GTS shapes us by contrasting books of the 1500s and 1600s with today’s. One striking feature of those older books: “their lack of convenience” (p. 40).

We find few tables of contents, no references, no division into sections, no indices, no chronology, sometimes not even pagination…The books of the time were not written to be used, along with hundreds of others, to locate a piece of information accurately and quickly, or to validate or invalidate an experiment, or to furnish a formula. They were not written to be consulted. They were written to be read patiently in their entirety and to be meditated upon (p. 40).

The works of Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard would fit this description. So too would his advice on how to rightly read a book: aloud, from beginning to end, twice.

By way of contrast, in contemporary history books, for example, we find chapter summaries, opening quotes, color photographs, explanatory captions, multi-colored headings, textual divisions (part, chapter, section, subsection, paragraph), multi-colored maps, chronologies, inserted biographies, words in boldface and italics, footnotes, bibliographies, and multiple indices.

Today’s publishers technologize the Bible in just these same ways because such Bibles sell better. These Bibles also include cross-references, individual book summaries, and textual commentary. This practice reveals our technological bias even as Christians.

Again, previously the primary purpose of a book was to express meaning and establish relationships and only secondarily to be useful.

The presentation of a book as an author’s entire self, as a personal expression of his very being, supposes that the reader sought in it not the solution of a given difficulty or the answer to a given [40] problem, but rather to make personal contact with the author. It was more a question of a personal exchange than of taking an objective position (pp. 40-41).

It is just this meaningful, rather than instrumental, approach to reading that we want to take with the Bible. The GTS would have us ignore the Bible altogether. If that can’t be avoided, it would have us take a technological approach to it as an answer book to our own self-centered questions.

Today Jesus frees us to take a better approach. Rather than having us look at the Bible as the book which answers our questions, he invites us to bring minds and hearts open to the meaningful questions he will ask of us, our society and culture, and the GTS through it. He is especially eager to have us make personal contact with him through it.

Reading a book well requires certain strengths of character: humility, patience, a sympathetic understanding. Only good books reward such strengths. The Bible is the best one. The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Essays by Michel de Montaigne are others. We become better human beings, clearer witnesses to Jesus, and strike another small but significant blow for freedom by reading any of these or other good books well.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.