The High Cost of Reading

In today’s Crimson, the deans at Harvard urge professors to work at lowering the cost of required reading for classes.  The per student average spent on reading materials at Harvard last year was $1300.00.

What makes this article so interesting to me is when I consider it in light of the simple and oft repeated mantra that “reading is diminishing as both a pastime and a primary source of learning and evaluating”. The argument against emphasizing reading goes something like this; since we are an image driven culture, and there seems to be no foreseeable abatement to this trend; we should stop resisting the zeitgeist with our antiquated ideas about the value of reading.  The avant-gardist is indefatigably reminding us it is really all about image and perceptions.

Particularly, and most alarming to me, is the seemingly insatiable imbibing at the enchanting wellspring of image superiority by many of the most well-known pastors in the country who are in turn having an almost immeasurable influence on young pastors who are far too biblically immature and trusting to be aware of the sludge at the bottom of the cistern of images from which they drink so unguardedly. 

For these, accepting the image driven culture with its concomitant unappreciation of reading is to be relevant, and to continually emphasize the need to read is to be anachronistic. Simply stated, since people don’t read as much, we should do most of our teaching by images, clichés, simple stories and the like, with very little proclamation and explanation or anything that requires reading and linear thinking. 

This article should cause us to pause at least long enough to notice the stark contrast between the devaluing of reading by popular culture and some of the contemporary church with Harvard.  I am reasonably sure that Harvard is aware of the popular culture’s image infatuation and the associated marginalization of reading.  However, they seem quite unwilling to acquiesce to the notion that reading is passé even if it is unpopular and very expensive.

Their answer to reduce the cost of reading without reducing the required reading is not to give up on reading, to acquiesce to the lowest common denominator, or to be defeated by the high cost of reading, but rather to maintain the high requirements of reading while simultaneously working to lower the cost paid by the students.  Their response to the high cost of reading is to lower the monetary cost of reading without lowering the requirement and importance of reading.

Although Harvard has strayed far from its evangelical moorings, it has at least continued the high standards of academic rigor they inherited from our evangelical forefathers. 

I believe it would be safe to say that they understand that to minimize the importance of reading is to minimize analytical and linear thinking, which are essential to complex reasoning and gained and honed, in large part, by reading and writing. 

The church needs to remember that Christianity is known by a book, which must be read.  While some general truths of Christianity can be captured in images, the great doctrines and truths essential to honoring God and spreading the truth of the kingdom cannot. 

While I admit that it is true that many do not read anymore, or read as much anymore, it is not true that “people don’t read anymore” or that reading is not valuable.  Moreover, that some people do not read does not mean that people should not read; a fortiori, the ones who do read are the ones who are immune to being demagogued, and they can even be the ones who advance the image driven culture. For example, even those that make movies spend a significant amount of time reading the scripts that drive the images on the screen.  I would also argue, that the reality that some Christians do not read is all the more reason that pastors should, and we should continue to emphasize its essential role in Christianity. 

Maybe Harvard understands what much of the church has forgotten.  While the cost of reading is high, the cost of not reading is incalculably higher.