Recall back in the month of June, NPR Journalist Juan Vidal has touted in his article Your Bookshelf May Be the Problem that white people who read white authors are perhaps “listening to an extension of [their] own voice on repeat” and perhaps would do much better if they read “broadly and with intention” without appealing to “colonist ideas of narrative storytelling, and literature that have pervaded the American psyche for so long.”
For those who despise reading, perhaps this would be the best excuse to disavow Shakespeare.
To an audience—supposedly, mostly white and perhaps male (not sure about the latter part)—this idea of decolonization would mean for people to generally open their minds to books whose authors are not necessarily white. The biggest problem to this mindset revolves around the concept that nearly every person in America has a library to own and spends a couple of minutes a day reading books like Twain, Shakespeare, and Hawthorne, only to quibble in some heavy reads on the weekends. Just imagine the immense quietness of a typical American household, where the husband and his sons spent the evenings passionately reading while the wife enjoys her time crocheting, knitting, baking, or perhaps painting.
If only the lives we lived were like a Norman Rockwell painting.
But sadly, it’s not.
For the literary world that dies daily—the way the Washington Post describes itself—one is looking to convince an audience (particularly the typical white males who could read) to do some broad reading by authors who do not share their skin color. How much more beneficial would it be for Juan Vidal to address literary diversity to a group of individuals who are functionally aliterate or better yet educated aliterate professionals?
Instead of ranting against anti-intellectual idiocy, it would be wiser to take this subject and delve into the subject from a different angle—you know—the side where most people have an elitist opinion on a subject they poorly researched. This part of the debate is where most people should start; namely, the mere inability and apathy to read anything substantial in the first place. These types of educated opinions, like the ones which float in the world of the mainstream media, is exactly why people are wary of the pseudo-intellectualism in the first place.
And it is not an exclusive political issue.
According to “The Rising Tide of Educated Aliteracy,” this whole concept of opinionated positions with little to no literary cognizance seems to be an honorary status—as if uneducated opinions had better renditions of the subject at large, when the reality is it isn’t. How does one make a better educator, reader, interpreter, writer, etc. if s/he has not even bothered to read the works in the first place? Does anybody expect me to believe those opinions have equal or level footing because they are expressed by someone who’s interested in the subject?
This article reminded me of the days I spent in my American Literature Class at Bob Jones University. A student—Bill by name—had nearly flunked every time the quiz was passed out because frankly, he would not bother reading the works. However, when the time came for class discussion—in this case The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—Bill was intrigued to participate with the discussion by airing out all the literary opinions he had on the subject, a typical characteristic of a virtuous know-nothing.
Of course, this got on my nerves for quite a while until I had a favorable discussion with my professor, Dr. Galloway and brought up the subject. We had spent an enormous amount of time chatting about the books she assigned for class reading and my interest for the book. It did not take long for me to mention his name.
“Oh don’t you worry about him,” she remarked, “we had a very long discussion about the subject.”
With that I laughed out loud and grinned.
At least someone had the decency to exercise common sense.
Flash forward to 2020 and here am I finding myself running into the same anti-intellectual nonsense as I did in my college days. After sharing insights on the subject on Unitarianism with a minister, he shared with me how he had little time to read and engage with these types of non-Christian writings. Since he’s a father of five, I could imagine the immense difficulty of balancing work and family life—that’s a no brainer. But despite these challenges, a question often comes to mind.
Why preach when you don’t have the time to read?
This is not the first incident—another friend of mine who became a dyed-in-the wool progressive has spent copious amounts of time complaining about the pseudo-intellectualism which exists in evangelicalism (which I totally agree) but when I challenged him on the very resources he read (which I have read and examined similarly), the sudden ‘I don’t have time to discuss this’ has become the norm, which I assume—like many of my other guy-friends—to be living their lives as husband, father, employee, friend, etc. At the same time, which I oftentimes muse myself would fall under another question.
Who embraces positions without thoroughly researching the issue?
Of course, I would never be able to finish this article without adding this anecdote. After a few years of falling out with a brother in Christ, I received a message via social networking which read with the following: “I’m going to be preaching this Sunday on Calvinism and I need your help,” which prompted me to chuckle a few times on the subject. After reacquainting with him once again and discussing theology altogether, it turned out that no one was taking him seriously on the subject on Calvinism. So in attempts to find out how much he knew, I asked him if he’s read any of the following:
- The Westminster Confession of Faith
- The Canons of Dordt
- James White, The Potter’s Freedom
- Roger E. Olson, Against Calvinism, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, How to Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative.
- David Hunt, What Love Is This?
- Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free
Just to name a few.
The answer? Nope.
Oftentimes, I have thought about the times we have discussed Calvinism but I also realized how futile it would be to engaging with someone who has not read a single book! This would be engaging head to head in a heated debate with a brick wall. Despite all these challenges that lay ahead, the kicker to these problems were how some of his fellow congregants thought he was wet behind the ears. This is not to say that anyone should, would, or could think of him that way—after all, he has done a bit of research by actually reading <gasp> a book by Margaret Sanger. But like the last three anecdotes, there was another question that came to mind after these incidences.
Are congregants getting the full counsel of God’s Word?
The should not come off as a surprise-surprise type of question, but one that should prompt Christians to generally delve further into the sermons they listen to and examine them in light of doctrine and practice. In Reformed circles, this doctrine is known as Tota Scriptura which—similarly to Sola Scriptura—affirms the belief that whatever is taught to congregations, ministers should by no means deny them the entirety of God’s Word. This as one would suspect, is perhaps the reason why anti-intellectualism happens to be so popular among today’s generation—where there is complexity in life, shortcuts in research and critical thinking are the answers to resolve them.
While NPR encourages readers to decolonize bookshelves to gain perspective, the organization remains unaware of the social norms of educated aliteracy which is a problem that needs to be addressed and relentlessly discussed to combat the problems of race and injustices. Fortunately for them, evangelicals have generally taken the time not only to decolonize their own bookshelves of theological literacy to develop engaging sermons from an educated aliterate perspective.