~ 27 October 2003 ~

Reading Required

I’ve written briefly on this before, but the importance of the written word to the Christian faith cannot be overstressed. Very helpful in adding stress to this point is a new WORLD magazine feature by Gene Edward Veith. In the article, Veith aptly defends the necessity of reading for Christians—after all, we are a people of “the Book:”

Imagination as a human capacity is extraordinarily important, and greatly neglected. Imagination is not some mystified “creativity” that is the sole province of artsy types. If you can picture the tree in your back yard or recall the new car smell or visualize the finished product while you are still working on it, you have imagination. But those who merely consume visual images by sitting passively in front of a TV screen are absorbing the products of someone else’s imagination. Those who created the TV shows are indeed using their imaginations, just as they are writing and reading, but the viewer’s mind is not left with much to do. Read a novel, though, and your mind, as led by the storyteller, is doing the imagining.

So reading remains indispensable. Even television scripts have to be first written and then read. For the ancient Canaanites, the ability to read was reserved for the priesthood, whose monopoly on knowledge gave them power. The biblical legacy is that everyone should read, with power dispersed. Many people today care less about this power and therefore lose it—but leaders and culture-makers continue to read. Christians too, as “people of the Book,” continue to read. This means that thoughtful, reading Christians can also be leaders and culture-makers, especially if their non-Christian peers just watch television.

There seems to be something special about formulating the image in our mind based on words. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t go so far as to say that television is morally evil—but it does occupy much of our time, and to what end? Rarely can we say that we walk away from a television show having gained any insight into life.

What is it about the television that compels us to sit in front of it regardless of what is flashing across the screen? This may be an oversimplification, but I think laziness is part of it—for me anyway. It’s easier to let the television form the pictures while your brain rests. It’s a struggle sometimes to pick up a book, and use my imagination to connect the dots. It is a struggle, however, that we Christians must face in order to mature in the faith. The Bible, after all, has been given to us not in pictures but in words. And words are significant as we follow the Word that was with God and was God.

UPDATE: Study Links TV Habits to Reading Trouble. Oh, the irony…

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