Why Reading Books Matters

How many books did you read this year?

Disturbing Trend Number 1:

I have been disturbed and saddened to see data about how few people actually read books any more. It almost seems that if text won’t fit onto a small screen or contain 150 characters or less, it is not worth the effort. This has been somewhat of a frustration with blogging. I wonder how many people actually take the two to five minutes to read through an entire blog post.

The media has figured this out, of course. They are expert at putting the main – and usually biased – message into explosive headlines. Then they hide critical countering facts or information way down in the article. They know that most “readers” scan the headlines, but won’t read through an entire article, especially online. I find most of the “comments” on social media do not indicate that those commenting have really read the article. They are simply reacting to the headline.

So, if very few people are reading short news or human interest articles on social media, how many are reading real books – not necessarily just the physical paper kind, but digital as well?

Disturbing Trend Number 2:

There is a growing trend toward censoring and banning books – even classics written long ago – because they offend new found social sensibilities or don’t conform to shifting standards or political correctness. This is really scary on many levels, some of which I will discuss below.

Disturbing Trend Number 3:

Many think that going to see a movie version is better than reading the book. Movies give us someone’s visual, and often subjective interpretation of a book. It is somewhat disturbing that everyone who watches, passively accepts that particular interpretation, which may actually be very different than the author’s original intent. Much of the original message often gets lost in the interpretation.

We like movies because they incorporate visual and sound along with a story. They are relatively short. We watch, then we leave and go on to some other activity. Some movies have an emotional impact which lingers with us, or might cause us to think for a while. But many movies are very forget-able. They serve their purpose as passive, short term entertainment.

The Case for Books:

There is something special about reading a book. Books take longer and involve more personal effort than watching movies. There is mental effort involved in interpreting symbols -words – on a page into thoughts, ideas and images. We need to understand the literal meaning of words for the writing to make sense, but there are deeper ideas and meanings which often require some more serious mental consideration.

Though it is possible to read some books in one setting – I have done that with a few short ones – most require taking breaks. We read for a while, then set the book down to do other things. But our mind does not always let it go. Often, especially with compelling narratives, I find myself thinking about the book while doing other activities. I mull over why characters did what they did and wonder what will they do next. I put myself in the place of characters and wonder how I might have handled situations differently. I try to figure out mysteries. I replay certain scenes in my mind trying to grasp all the details. My mind lingers in the setting of the book.

Often I look at maps in between reading to get a better idea of where the setting is and the proximity of other places mentioned. Sometimes I google to learn more about things featured in the book.

There is something magical about reading books by skilled authors. I think there are gifts in the use of words that some people have been given. These gifted people combine words in a way that can paint a visual picture in your mind of a place unfamiliar to you, yet it becomes familiar through the description. This allows us to see another place as real, even if it only exists in the imagination of the author.

Books also transport us through history. We all remember dry, boring history books simply stating facts. But a skilled author can place us in that setting, helping us feel what it might have been like to experience those events.

Good authors create or describe characters in a way that allows us to get to know them. We can visualize what they look like and how they move and interact with other. Good characters are like real people. They are complicated, basically good but flawed. Some we do not like, but can see their humanity and possibly what events and circumstances caused them to behave badly. Some characters become like friends or family. We see in them characteristics of those we know – maybe even ourselves. We become invested in their actions.

Good books are about good stories told in a compelling way. They do not simply entertain, they also teach. Through good stories we can learn things about human nature, about ourselves, about what things in life really matter. I think all good stories revolve around a basic conflict between good and evil – what life is really all about.

Why Reading Books Matters

People in our world today are increasingly living within “bubbles”. There is a growing tendency to associate only with people who are like us – who think like us, believe like us, behave like us. This reinforces our world view as THE only, or at least THE CORRECT world view. Then those who have conflicting world views or beliefs become “others”. They are not only looked down on as uninformed, unenlightened or wrong, but become seen as inherently bad, as enemies to “our truth”, or even evil.

To be socially accepted, others must accept certain views and beliefs. If they don’t, then we are free to criticize, ostracize, silence them, persecute and hate them. This is scary stuff. It leads to even scarier stuff. We we might see this coming if we have read books from and about the past which show this process.

Books can be an antidote to “bubble thinking”. When we read a novel or well written history or biography, we have an opportunity to get outside our narrow world view. We see other perspectives. We get a sense of circumstances and influences of other times and places and cultures and can see the behavior of others in that context without judging them by our current standards. We get a peek into someone else’s head, into ways of thinking that may be different than ours. We can then see different viewpoints as just different – not necessarily right or wrong.

We might even have to question and examine our own beliefs. One of the most important questions we can ever ask ourselves is “could I be wrong?”  We may eventually conclude that we are right after all, or at least feel secure in our view. But through this process, we might be able to see others as not totally wrong after all. We might see some truth in things we had not previously considered.

Reading books is a gateway to learning about things formerly foreign to us. Books allow us to experience places we might never be able to visit and return to some familiar ones. We can learn about occupations, hobbies, and activities that we have not personally experienced. We might be inspired to learn more about something because a book has peaked our interest.

I think reading good books makes us better people – more human and more compassionate. Reading can expand not only our imaginations and our intellect, but also our hearts.

A Challenge

So my challenge for 2019 is to read good books. If you have not read one for a while, just start. If you like to read, seek out some new books or re-read old favorites. Just read more. I will suggest some of my favorites in future posts – who knows, maybe even do book reviews. Let’s see where 2019 will take us.

Wisdom

wisdom

This world is so badly in need of wise men and women. My study of King Solomon for a Sunday School lesson led to much pondering about wisdom – what it is, how to acquire it, and the mystery about the lack of wisdom in our world.

wisdom of Solomon

Solomon’s wisdom – see 1 Kings 4:29-34

Solomon’s wisdom was a gift from God. God’s love is unconditional, but His gifts come with conditions. To have a gift of the spirit, one must be in a position to be sensitive and receptive to the spirit. Solomon’s gift came with several “ifs”, cautioning that he would lose it if he turned from God and from following His laws.

What is Wisdom?

Dictionary definitions of wisdom include learning & knowledge, but wisdom is in the use of knowledge – the power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action. Wisdom begins with intellect, learning and knowledge, but builds on that with understanding and insight. It can come through experience as well as study, yet some may have vast experience yet still not get it.

Wisdom requires discernment – the ability to discern truth from error, for real wisdom is based on truth. It also involves the ability to know what things are of most importance and lasting value.

Solomon himself wrote many wise Proverbs (see Proverbs 1-9), but his wisdom was not purely intellectual. True wisdom is reflected in action.

Wisdom differs from being clever or cunning (see 3 Nephi 21:10), because those tend to be deceptive and self-serving. Wisdom is honest and true and benefits all.

Foolish and Vain

Frequently in the scriptures I see the terms “foolish and vain” paired together. (See Romans 1:21Titus 3:92 Nephi 28 ; Alma 39:11; Helaman 12:4Helaman 16:22;  We think of foolishness as the opposite of wisdom. Why is “vain” paired with foolish? What is foolish about vanity or vain things?

We think of vanity as being proud and self-serving. A vain person is conceited with an excessively and possibly unrealistic regard for self. There is something false or deceitful about vanity.

Definitions of vain also include things of no real value or significance, things lacking substance, anything empty, worthless, fruitless. Things that have an appearance of value or desirability, but no real substance. You might think of vain as a pretty puffed up outer shell that is hollow within.

In this sense the two definitions actually merge, as someone who is vain in the sense of being proud actually may have no real depth of character under a boastful exterior. The vain are all show with little substance.

There is vanity in thinking you are wise. Thinking one knows and understands already leads to pride and a resistance to learning, especially from the source of true wisdom. (

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28; see also Proverbs 3:5-7)

Wise Judgement

To be vain is foolish – to put undue importance on things of little significance. Scriptures point out the opposite “plain and precious” indicating that things of most value are more plain than flashy. Wisdom can discern between things of lasting value and those of little worth and make judgments and decisions based on those most worthwhile.

Just as it is foolish to choose or pursue vain things, it is also foolish to base judgement on things of no real value. What could be more foolish than spending a lifetime acquiring stuff, having fun and seeking people’s approval? Yet, such superficial and insignificant, though outwardly appearing fashionable or popular trends are what much of the world bases judgement on.

Wise judgement is based on sound principles and unchanging truth. It requires an understanding of truth. It is based on standards that have stood through time and have been tested and proven.

The Mystery/Paradox

The Apostle Paul contrasted the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: (1 Corinthians 2:4-7; see also 1 Corinthians 1:20-31)

The wisdom of the world is really foolish and vain. Those who are wise in their own eyes are really fools. Fools mock. The world mocks faith in God as foolishness, yet the wisdom of the world is based on vain things, and is really foolish.

The path to true wisdom is the plain and precious truths of the gospel and the Spirit which enlightens understanding. The simple and pure faith in Christ, which the world considers silly or foolish, is really the path to true wisdom. This is the great paradox.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a wise judge, put it this way:

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools . . . and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

Where to Find Wisdom

The greatest wisdom comes from the source of all wisdom. James advised “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5)

Gordon B. Hinckley said:

We need not look far in the world to know that “the wisdom of the wise has perished and that the understanding of the prudent has come to naught.” That wisdom for which the would should seek is the wisdom which comes from God. The only understanding that will save the world is divine understanding. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 500)

O be wise; what can I say more?

Questions about Consent

When addressing “consent”, it is important to make a distinction between consenting to an action or behavior and giving consent to a person. It seems that whichever perspective is used depends less upon the actual intent of the person choosing, and more on the political agenda of those using the argument. (An obvious, to me, example is the bakers and florists who refused consent to creative acts which they found morally objectionable, yet these situations have been manipulated into discriminatory refusals to individuals because of who they are. This may seem to not apply to what I am about to discuss, but that is my point.)

The Dance

A seemingly innocent situation of a simple 6th grade Valentines Dance resulted in local media attention and outrage. Of the many issues involved with potential for outrage, one in particular emerged and became THE ISSUE, due to it being associated with the currently in vogue outrage – #MeToo.

In an effort to promote inclusion, the students were told not to refuse to dance with anyone. Both boys and girls would have certain dances for which they would do the asking. One girl’s mother protested, saying her daughter should have the right to say no to any boy. This turned into an example of the need to empower girls to say no to boys to prevent future abusive #MeToo situations.

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Standards – The Assault on Moral Standards

Standards provide safeguards and guide us in life. Moral standards provide a framework for a peaceful society. The assault on moral standards leaves individuals vulnerable and weakens society.

moral standards

What are standards and why do we need them?

A standard is a set point against which things can be measured. Standards are effective when generally understood and accepted by all and when set by an appropriate authority. Standards within an organization provide order and consistency. They instill confidence in the quality and safety of products, services and personal conduct. Our confidence in leaders is determined by the standards that they live up to.

Moral standards serve similar functions to promote order and safety in society as well as personal well-being and progress. We all will not measure up to standards at all times. We are human. But without standards, we have no idea how far off course we are or whether we are even going in the right direction. Standards serve as a guide to make corrections. We can have a sense of security and peace when we live up to standards.

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Shame Culture has Taken us All Back to Junior High

By rejecting divinely instituted moral standards in favor of changing opinions and judgement of the group, we are left with the uncertain insecurity and shame culture we experienced as adolescents.

I read an enlightening opinion piece in The New York Times by David Brooks titled “The Shame Culture” (3-15-2016) Rather than quote extensively from it, I will try to summarize a few ideas as I understand them and encourage all to read this article yourself. As often happens to me, at the time I read this I was also reading something else – a novel about High School bullying gone horribly wrong. I recognized the concept of shame culture as basically what we all endured as adolescents – only now more pervasive and disturbing.

SHAME CULTURE AND JUNIOR HIGH

Shame culture is about one’s feeling of being good or bad being connected to acceptance by a group. It is about conforming to the specific rules of the group and meeting their expectations to receive approval. Those who violate rules of conduct or simply do not fit in with expectations or conditions of the group are excluded. In the process they are judged and negatively labeled, leading to the conclusion and resulting feelings that they are bad.

Isn’t this what most of us had to endure in Junior High and High School? The desire to be popular, to have people – the right people – like us leads to sucking up to the elite, hoping for some attention and inclusion in return.

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A Good Person

We often hear someone comment about another being a “good person”. Sometimes this is said in spite of evidence that this person may have done something seriously wrong, as if that action was out of character. Other times this is used to eulogize someone by summarizing their life as basically good.

I think the designation of “good person” is often used in the same manner as labeling someone “nice”. I knew someone whose catch-phrase was “Be nice like me”. What I learned from her, however, was that it was totally possible to be “nice” while also being very self-centered and manipulative. The term “nice” seems to me more about being socially acceptable. It includes manners and respect and courtesy, but also conforming to whatever society or a particular group determines is acceptable behavior. It is really about pleasing people so that they will approve of you.

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Doing What is Right

In order to do what is right, there must be standards which we can choose to follow because we believe they are right.

I read a Facebook post with this quote from Timber Hawkeye’s “Faithfully Religionless” (FB told me a friend liked this – it was not on a Page I follow):

“I’m not against religion, I just don’t believe we need it in order to be ethical, especially since morality means doing what is right regardless of what you are told, and religion is about doing what you’re told regardless of what is right.”

My first thought was “How can you possibly know you are doing what is right?” In order to do what is right – or even to know what is right, moral, or ethical – there must be standards. One important role of religion through the ages has been to provide firm, set standards of right and wrong. The source of these standards is believed to be divine and always right – the source of absolute truth.

Rather than blindly doing what a religion says to do as the non-religious claim, the religious are actually making a conscious choice to be obedient to the standards of right and wrong that they believe have come from a divine source. They are really doing what is right, regardless of what the secular world is telling them. This is morality.

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