Monday, March 10, 2008

Incurious America

This past Sunday, the Dallas Morning News ran an article in their "Points" section titled, "An Incredibly Incurious America" by Susan Jacoby. Ms. Jacoby has written a book called "The Age of American Unreason". She makes some great points about American illiteracy and ignorance that I want to point out here. This is essential stuff for anyone doing biblical evangelism just so we know what we are up against when it comes to the reasoning abilities of the average American.

What frightens her (and me) the most is the fact that most Americans do not read and it is these non-reading Americans who will vote for the next leader of the free world in the November elections. She cites the prevalence of digital media as a cultural indicator of "dumbness" and points out that only 67 percent of college graduates read poems or novels for pleasure, as opposed to 82% in 1982. She rightly points out, "...there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers" and that "...the inability to concentrate for long periods of time...seems intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events." She also bemoans the anti-rationalism of our youth which actually takes pride in ignorance.

If you stop and think about it, this has a lot to do with the popularity of Barack Obama. What does anyone know about him other than the fact that he has exciting pep rallies which tout "change"? What percentage of voters will vote for him based only on the fact that they know he is about "change"? What makes him any different than Hillary Clinton (other than actually being more liberal than she is)? How many will vote for him (amongst the Democrats) simply because he is a black man? How many will vote for Hillary simply because she is a woman? Jacoby is right. These are scary times politically speaking.

This all is very interesting to me since I just finished reading a book last week called, "What Every Christian Should Know" by Jo H. Lewis and Gordon A. Palmer. In this book, the authors bemoan the illiteracy of the average American Christian in the early 80's (back when 82% of the college graduates actually read poems and novels for enjoyment, when things were substantially better than they are now). It's interesting to note that the authors suspected that the trends would lead to the following:

  • An extinction of Sunday School classes.
  • An emphasis in youth ministries on "socialization" over content.
  • An increased divisiveness based on age, race and economics.
  • Fad-jumping.
  • An exodus from local churches into New Age theologies.
  • Decline of Bible reading.
The predominance of the Emergent Church and seeker sensitive churches have born out these concerns. There are very few serious Sunday School classes. Youth ministry has degenerated into teenage babysitting sessions. The elderly feel lost in their own churches because they have been programmed out of them as the church leadership continues to cater to the youth. For some, fad-jumping is the very definition of evangelicalism. New Age theology characterizes the Emergent Church movement. And Bible reading is on the decline.

Were the authors prophets? No, just readers who could see the proverbial writing on the wall. And just like our modern counterparts, many in evangelicalism take pride in their elevation of the lowest common denominator intellectually. Like a giant sow, they wallow in the muck of their own stupidity.

This all is why logic is lost on modern college students. It is why they embrace Darwinism uncritically, with a great deal of faith. It is why the Emergent Church will continue to grow exponentially; it is a movement which absolutely glories in knowing absolutely nothing with certainty.

The best thing we can do as Biblical evangelists to arm ourselves against this massive wave of idiocy is simply to read. Read deep theology. Read some classics in Christian and secular literature. Evaluate what you read and assimilate it. Soak in the Bible. Determine to glorify God with your mind. Prove yourself to be someone who knows how to think and you will have an edge on anyone who tries to counter the Gospel message.


Jennifer said...

Thanks for this post, Jon. I agree, we do not even see very many Americans learning from past history, either. How can we understand what change is, and look only at the future, when we have not properly evaluated our past?

My dad makes an excellent point regarding John McCain's belief that we need to stay in Iraq for another 100 years. Many are scoffing at that idea, but McCain is speaking from experience. My dad said "He's right. When you overthrow a corrupt leader, you don't just leave, thinking the job is done. You need to keep a strong presence to protect that country from further uprising. And it can take decades for a generation to change. We still have a base in Germany and WWII was 70 years ago. So 100 years does not seem unreasonable to me at all." I thought my father made a really good point as far as showing how we tend to become less and less educated about reality when we do not stay informed about history, literature, and art of the past. Although we may not agree with it, it is vital in shaping our understanding of reality and making sound decisions.

Jon Speed said...

Good point, Jen. I don't know that I'd agree wholeheartedly with the Iraq illustration; it's been pretty well documented that Dick Cheney deliberately lied to the American people in the months after 9-11 about the WMD issue. It's hard to justify staying in Iraq when it was based on a lie.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be there; I think there was plenty of good reason to overthrow and execute Saddam based on his human rights record alone. The UN consistently looks the other way on human rights issues.

But the point that you're driving at is right on. Our ignorance of history is directly tied to our aversion of reading. And that ignorance is directly tied to the American public's poor decisions in areas like selecting a president.

The example I like to use, after seeing last night's debate between Hillary and Obama (which is a lot like watching a Democratic presidential candidate with multiple personalities), is the fact that Americans will gladly embrace a left-wing agenda, forgetting what it is that the same agenda has wrought around the world. Communist China. North Korea. The former Soviet Union, including their Stalinist gulags, forced famines (in Ukraine), and oppression of individual rights across the board.

But unless something radical happens in the main election, we're going to end up with one or the other of the candidates from the left. Why? Because the economy is bad and the Iraq war very unpopular. That combination has doomed the Republicans. Mainly because Americans don't care how far left the Democrats are; they would rather lose their freedoms than lose money.

Jennifer said...

Hi, Jon. Great points again. Regardless of how or why we got there, the the point I think my father was making is that the reason for staying in Iraq is tied to your last sentence: Americans would rather lose their freedoms than lose money. I don't think staying in Iraq is any longer a matter of how or why we got there in the first place. I think it is more about looking at the possibility that leaving now would be damaging to our freedoms. My father's point was, it takes about 70-100 years for a people to grow accustomed to an American presence living amongst them and to "forget" that we dismantled their entire culture. I do agree that to leave now would be foolish. Those memories are still too fresh in their minds and it would make sense to have them retaliate. But 100 years from now . . . maybe not so much. Just as our own younger generations have no concept of our past, future generations in Iraq may forget the hostility they once had to us, which minimizes the threat to our country.

But that issue aside, I do think your point about not reading has created misinformed people in every area of daily living. We not only have to choose a president, but even in minor elections, poor decisions are being made. For example, right now there is a move to make evolution the official explanation for our origins in all Florida public schools. If people were more well read about science, they'd see why this theory is flawed, and if they were more well read about history, they'd see this is theory is a relatively new "fad" that has only been around for about tiny fraction of history's timeline. If they were more well read in philosophy, they'd know that it would be foolish to jump to the illogical conclusion that just because something is beyond our understanding (creation) it doesn't automatically make it beyond reason. But I could go on and on and on . . all of this type of thinking does move us toward a model similar to the communist countries you've mentioned.

I think Patrice O'Neal, a stand up comedian who I went to college with at Northeastern said it best: we are the most conceited country in the world. We have a "WORLD Series" but do not play any other baseball teams from other countries -- the "WORLD" series consists only of American teams. We are getting so ethnocentric that we are beginning to only base our opinions on pop culture references rather than documented history of other nations. It would be wise to learn from the mistakes of other countries, but it looks as though we will be doomed to learn the hard way.