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Some people see reading as just another form of


entertainment or a way to pass the timeits nice to
read if you have the time or if you dont have anything
better to do, like watching television, but reading
itself is not an important activity. Its true, of course,
that reading can be simply a form of entertainment if,
for example, someone is reading trashy novels, but it
can also be a very important activity. No Christian
would dispute the necessity of reading the Bible, the
most important book of all. Other books, as long as
they are good books, can also play a benecial and
signicant role in peoples lives.
The Mighty Pen
Reformed Christians understand that the Bible applies
to every area of life. This would include, then, the
humanities such as the ne arts and literature. Its
easy to see such things as airy-fairy concerns,
trivial compared to day-to-day necessities such as
earning a living. But this view does not do justice to
the role that literature actually fullls in society.
A better perspective is presented by Louis Whitworth
in his book Literature Under the Microscope: A
Christian Case for Reading (Probe Publications,
1984). He makes the case that reading is not just
a way to kill time. Literature is powerful. It is so
strong and persuasive that restrictive governments
are frightened of it and seek to control what is written
and those who write. Literature is not innocuous and
harmless, but is a strong inuence on our thought and
behavior. If we read the great old books we will,
in the main, be encouraged to be better people. (p.
48).
Three Benets
There are at least three general ways that literature
contributes to human well-being.
1. Learning from others
First of all, a reader can develop greater insight about
life as he or she learns from the experiences of the
characters involved in a story. When reading good
literature, one can learn from ctional people just as
one learns from the experiences of actual historical
gures. As we read great books we escape the
bounds and limitations of having only one life and
benet from the experiences (and imaginations) of
others as well. From such books, we glean the distilled
wisdom of thinkers who brought their ideas to bear
upon the experiences of their lives. Reading their
books allows us, in effect, to stand on their shoulders
and reach higher because we learn vicariously what
they learned, not having to experience everything
ourselves, (p. 18). This is especially benecial when
we can learn about suffering and tragedy without
having to suffer or go through a tragedy ourselves.
Its much safer to be exposed to these things through
literature.
2. You are what you read
Another, and perhaps more signicant, benet of
good literature is the effect it can have on reinforcing
a readers moral perspective. Whitworth says that
much of the great literature of Western culture is
generally compatible with the Christian worldview.
Material written before 1900 at least was written
within a cultural framework based on the Wests
Christian foundation. Biblical knowledge was
Is Literature Useless Fluf f?
A Christian Case For Reading
Michael Wagner
the COUNSEL of CHALCEDON
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widespread and served as a moral guide for society.
Certainly any educated person would be assumed
to have a degree of Bible knowledge. And so the
literature of this period, especially those works
considered to be great literature, largely reinforces
the perspective of Christian morality. Much modern
literature, on the other hand, has abandoned basic
moral standards, and immerses the reader in vile and
wicked imaginative experiences. So one must be
careful.
With good literature, however, the kind grounded
in traditional Western culture, the moral perspective
of the reader can be developed and strengthened.
Literature has the ability to develop the readers
moral vision through the means of imagination. This
awareness (the moral imagination) is developed not
through theory or abstract reasoning but through
stimulation of the readers moral perception. As he
observes the actions (mistakes, right choices, heroic
decisions, or compromises) and the outworking
of those actions (increased problems, victories, or
defeats) the reader can grow morally as he participates
vicariously in that imaginary life context, (p. 30).
The Bible provides mankind with explicit moral
instructions such as the Ten Commandments, but
it also gives moral lessons through the recounting
of historical events. Fictional books can also
provide a form of moral instruction through stories.
Literature is especially effective at teaching
morality because it teaches within a context of life
and relationships (though imaginary and vicarious
life and relationships), not gray abstractions.
Interestingly enough, this is often the way the Bible
teaches morality, namely, teaching through story,
parable, and history, (p. 30).
3. Preserving the past
A nal way in which literature contributes to human
well-being is by preserving culture. Through
literature people learn about the experiences and
struggles of their ancestors, the stories that were
commonly told, and the values that imbued the
culture. In this respect the teaching of literature is a
vital cultural task because it passes on the societys
collective memory.
As previously noted, the great literature of the West
largely embraces the Christian-based morality of the
past. It therefore helps to transmit that morality to
future generations. As such it would be a barrier to
the goals of those who oppose traditional morality.
Cutting off young people from this literary cultural
heritage would make them more susceptible to
revolutionary ideas. With this in mind it should not
be difcult to understand why some groups oppose
the study of older books like the classics and promote
instead only modern literature (usually humanistic,
nihilistic, existentialistic, materialistic, hedonistic,
Marxist, or feminist), (p. 28).
Because of the important role that literature plays in
transmitting Western culture from one generation to
the next, Christians should support good literature.
It is obvious we Christians should be concerned
primarily that norms and values consistent with
Christian expression be passed on; and good
literature (as described here) helps preserve them and
accomplishes the task. Much recent contemporary
literature, on the other hand, has tended to oppose
Christian values, denigrate them, and promote the
opposite effect. Yet the great works of the human
heart and imagination convince rst one generation,
then another of the great sanity and wisdom of
normalcy over perversion, of moderation over
excess, of self-restraint over anarchy, kindness over
cruelty, and order over chaos, (p. 28).
Some older literature is bad, of course, and some
recent literature is good. But generally speaking, the
great works of literature are old because they have
proven themselves through time. That is, they have
an enduring interest to mankind, (p. 5).
Conclusion
Recognition of the contribution that literature makes
to culture effectively refutes the notion that its a
bunch of literary uff appreciated only by artsy
types. Good literature can help to support the cause
of traditional Western morality in the culture war. In
fact, we need the traditional literary canon for the
culture war (pun intended). Whitworth suggests,
the Christian faith and the Bible have produced the
greatest owering of arts (including literature) of any
the COUNSEL of CHALCEDON
Michael Wagner Michael Wagner
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Is Literature Useless Fluff?
force on earth, (p. 45). We should not take this
part of our heritage for granted, especially in light
of the important contribution it makes to preserving
traditional Western morality and culture.
Michael Wagner is a home schooling father and freelance
writer living in Edmonton, Canada. He has a PhD in Political
Science from the University of Alberta.
the COUNSEL of CHALCEDON
Traditional Classic Christmas
Instrumental Hymns
Charlie Marks likes a challenge. Having served his church
for 30 years as worship leader, choral director, songwriter,
guitarist, voice/guitar/music theory teacher, and
keyboardist, he decided to create an album of synthesized
holiday instrumentals, with each articial instrument
matching its true voice as realistically as possible. This
labor of love became Classic Christmas, an excellent
instrumental album that is jubilant, generous (almost a full
hour of music!), and genuinely delightful. The 18 tracks
lean exclusively towards the sacred, embracing an air of
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This album would provide a beautiful backdrop for any
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Classic Christmas is exactly that--holiday music that is absolutely classic for the season. Charlie Marks likes a
challenge, and this ne album is the winning result.
Congratulations, Charlie!
--Carol Swanson
To hear excerpts from the album and place an order see: http://cdbaby.com/cd/charliemarks
Charlie is currently a member of Westminster Presbyterian Mission in Corpus Christi, TX.