On Disciplined Reading (Pt. 4): Why Should I Read? Other Advantages of Reading

In the first installment of this series, I gave a theological reason that one might want to read: God himself gave humans the unique ability to read and write, and to use our rational and imaginative capacities for his glory is one way that we reflect his image. In this installment, I will enumerate further reasons to read and some of the advantages accrued for a lifelong habit of reading.

First, reading books sharpens the mind. For Christians, reading gives us the chance to interact in the world of ideas, giving theological critique of what you read. It is one way to practice thinking Christianly. If I am reading a work of fiction, I ask a series of questions: Who is the hero, and why does the writer want me to admire him? Who is the adversary in this story, and what does the author think is so bad about him? Does this story provide a note of redemption, and if so, in what is the redemption found? If I am reading a theological text, I critique it in light of the Scriptures and the best of the Great Tradition. If I am reading one of the great philosophers, I question his presuppositions and look into the logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and existential viability of his theories. Reading prepares us to think in a distinctively Christian manner.

Second, reading exercises the mind. It forces us to increase our skills of concentration, memory, and reasoning. It requires that we focus on, remember, and assess arguments, plots, themes, characters, facts, and figures. Reading improves vocabulary. Without reading regularly, I would have never known, inter alia, such susquapedalian words as “pervicacious” or “stultiloquence.” J Further, reading makes us better writers. (Just think how much worse this blogpost would be if I didn’t read regularly.)

Third, reading gives one something about which to converse. If I have read Ghost Wars, I can make a meaningful contribution when conversation turns to Afghanistan. If I have read The World is Flat or The Clash of Civilizations, then I can make conversation with about any number of global issues. If I have read Mere Christianity, I have some idea how to make theological conversation with a skeptic. If I read Wildlife in the Kingdom Come, I will be well-equipped to poke fun at theologians.

Fourth, reading allows one to “travel” to other times and places. Although I might not have the time or money to travel to Iran right now, I can read about it in The Ayatollah Begs to Differ or The Shia Revival. I may never be able to interview Abraham Lincoln or Jonathan Edwards, but I can read their biographies. Although I was never able to converse with one of the famous atheists, I am able to read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian.

Fifth, reading reduces stress. Researchers at the University of Sussex have shown that the best way to relieve mental and physical stress is to read a book. In their study (which Al Mohler pointed out in his blog on 4/3/09), reading caused a 68% reduction in measurable stress, topping other stress reducers, such as listening to music (61%), sipping tea or coffee (54%), and taking a walk (42%).

Finally, reading is an inexpensive and low maintenance form of entertainment. Compared to the cinema, for example, books don’t cost much. Most books cost $10-$30, which is approximately the same as 1-3 movie tickets, and give more pleasure over a longer period of time. Library books do not cost a dime. Imagine the money I can save if I can one day get my baby daughter hooked on reading (and convince her not to marry).

Note: In the concluding installment of this series, I will interact with some of the comments and questions I’ve received, make some book recommendations, and provide some concluding thoughts.

On Disciplined Reading (Pt. 3): How Should I Read? Tips on Getting the Most from Your Reading

If you would like to become a disciplined reader, you probably need to make a plan. Make a list of books that you would like to read in each of your various categories of interest. If you have difficulty finding the right books to read in each category, spend some time researching. Ask an expert to give you a short list of favorites. Visit your library. Cruise the local Barnes & Noble. Surf the net. In addition, try to answer a few other questions: How many books would you like to read per month? How much time can you devote per day or per week? What time of the day is best for you? I know, I know, you are probably thinking: “Ashford is the biggest dork I have ever met. I cannot imagine how many times he got beat up in school.” But I’d like to give you advance notice: we haven’t even arrived at the nerdiest parts of this post.

Speaking of which, I encourage you to figure out your “reading style.” Take my former Old Testament professor, for example. He underlines with a pencil and a ruler! Wow. Now that’s nerdy. Or Danny Akin. He will have nothing to do with a pencil or a ruler, instead wielding a pterodactyl-sized fluorescent hi-lighter. As for me, it depends on the book. If I am reading a serious book in theology, philosophy, or international affairs, I like to read while sitting at a table, so that I can underline and annotate the book. I use a pencil and ruler. If I am reading fiction or a journal, however, I kick back in an easy chair with a pen or hi-lighter which I use only sparingly.

Third, always carry a book. My wife will tell you: I always carry a book or a journal. You would be amazed at how many minutes you can catch during the day. I laughed out loud when I read Al Mohler’s blogpost of 9/12/07: “My wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights….I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. [Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here.] I remember the books – do you remember the games?” Although you might find an exception from time to time (I am considering leaving my books at home when my wife delivers our first baby in August. Grin.), a good rule of thumb is to always carry a book.

Other tips? If possible, drink and read at the same time. That’s right. There are few things in life better than settling down to a good book or journal with a steaming cup of tea or coffee at hand. Try it. It will change your life. Another tip: turn off the television while you read. It is not that I don’t think The Office is funny (only a man with a petrified diaphragm could fail to laugh aloud at Dwight Schrute), or that it isn’t mildly amusing to watch the overly dramatic Horatio Cane over-act all of his lines in CSI: Miami. It is just that when I am reading, I want to be able to concentrate. A related tip: Start or join a reading group. Find a handful of friends, select a book to read each month, and find a time to get together over coffee and debate and discuss what you have read. A final tip: Read with a pen in hand. By that, I mean that you should read as an active participant. Make notes in the margin, write a critique of the book and post it on your blog, send a letter to the author, or publish a review in a journal.Free online game

Hot, Flat, and Crowded?

Is Al Gore right that climate change might really bring about the end of the species as we know it? Or is Rush Limbaugh right that climate change is a hoax devised by pony-tailed tree-huggers, seeking to lead our country toward a utopia of yoga mats, Birkenstocks, and tofu wraps? Who can adjudicate the conflicting claims? On climate change issues these days, it seems that the fringe positions are as crowded as the exit doors at a Gore-Limbaugh photo shoot, while the reasonable middle is as vacant as an interview with Bishop Spong.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded is Thomas Friedman’s attempt to claim the reasonable middle. In The World is Flat, he argued that we are living in a hyper-connected world that is also hyper-aware of its connectedness. As a result of this hyper-connectedness, there is now a more level playing field, a burgeoning global middle class, and a massive increase in resource and energy consumption. In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, he adds that the world is also crowded and hot. It is crowded because of a rising global population and is artificially hot because of the combination of being flat and crowded. All of this, he argues, provides the United States the opportunity to once again claim its mantle of leadership.

Here is Friedman: “The core argument is very simple: America has a problem and the world has a problem. America’s problem is that it has lost its way in recent years-partly because of 9/11 and partly because of …bad habits….The world also has a problem: It is getting hot, flat, and crowded. That is, global warming, the stunning rise of middle classes all over the world, and rapid population growth have converged in a way that could make our planet dangerously unstable…. I am convinced that the best way for America to solve its big problem-the best way for America to get its ‘groove’ back-is for us to take the lead in solving the world’s biggest problem.”

The first thing that Americans must understand, according to Friedman, is that oil-dependency is not good for the United States, politically or economically. Oil prices and democracy are inversely proportional. The lower the price of oil, the more democracy flourishes. The higher the price, the more autocracy flourishes. Oil dependence strengthens the hands of autocrats, dictators, and terrorists (think Putin, Hussein, and bin Ladin) while weakening democracies like the United States. It behooves, us therefore, to come up with cleaner and more efficient forms of energy, if for no other reason than to break our dependency upon oil. This will be difficult, he argues, because the Democrats are in bed with the auto companies and their unions while the Republicans are married to the oil companies.

The second thing that Americans must understand is that the global population is on the rise at the same time that globalization is enhancing the consumption capacities of that same population. The result, he argues, is a globe that will get hotter and hotter. This leads Friedman to a worst-case scenario on the climate-change issue: Humans might be “just one more endangered species” b/c of green house damage.

The third thing that Americans must understand is that American innovation is the best hope for a clean-energy future, and that American government must provide the stimulus for such innovation. The government should regulate greenhouse emissions, giving some demanding emissions targets, and let America’s entrepreneurs come up with creative ways to hit those targets. As Friedman sees it, government tilts the playing field already by subsidizing gas, oil, and coal. So why not tilt it the other way instead? This would enable the United States to be “a beacon of hope and the country that can always be counted on to lead the world in response to whatever is the most important issue of the day.

In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Friedman (recipient of three Pulitzer prizes) gives us what we have come to expect from him: Arguments laced with illustrations and mnemonic devices, researched by interviewing multiple sources across the globe, but without footnotes or documentation. This brings us to our first point, which is: it is difficult to assess the evidence for Friedman’s assertions because he provides no footnotes or endnotes. Instead, we are told that a certain assertion is backed up by “many climatologists” or, in one instance, by a climate analyst for The Weather Channel. Granted, the absence of documentation is part of what makes Friedman’s books less daunting for a popular readership. However, on such a hot issue, one’s argument becomes flat-footed and quickly leaves the reader’s mind crowded with questions if one does not provide documented evidence.

A second point stems from the fact that Friedman’s book aims to arrest the attention of uninformed Americans and push them into action. It is precisely this audience, however, who should withhold judgment and research the matter carefully. We should realize that environmental issues are scientifically and technically complex. They involve long-range forecasting, carry heavy emotional baggage, and for those reasons are easily subject to error. Although there is a broad consensus (even among many former skeptics) that artificial climate change is real, the extent of that change as well as its future projection and implications are largely unknown. For that reason, we probably should beware of extreme positions on this issue, and beware of rushing to judgment.

A third point, however, is that Christians do have reason to care about environmental issues, including climate-change, precisely because of our Christian faith. God created the world good, and placed us in the midst of that creation, allowing us to have stewardship over it. If the world is God’s good gift, why trash it? Some Christians dismiss creation-care issues out of hand because creation-care deals with material things (which are bad, they say, and will one day be destroyed by God) rather than spiritual things (which are good and will exist eternally). But this is modern-day Gnosticism, drawing lines between the material and spiritual, and calling the former bad and the latter good. Against such Gnosticism, let us affirm that material things are not inherently evil. This truth is anchored by the biblical doctrines of creation, redemption, and last things. God created the heavens and earth and called his creation good (doctrine of creation). He gave himself on the cross and was resurrected (doctrine of redemption) in order to secure not only salvation of the nations but also a new heavens and earth on which we will dwell bodily (doctrine of last things). For this reason, we recognize the inherent goodness of God’s creation and significance of our stewardship over it.

A fourth point is that human idolatry is at the heart of all human ills, including environmental wrongs. Idolatry is inordinate love-the wrong ordering of one’s heart. It is the worship of the creation rather than the creator, of created gods rather than the Creator God. This idolatry may manifest itself on either side of the environmental divide. New Agers and Buddhists, for example, might throw themselves into environmental issues precisely because they view the world as god. In so doing, they are worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. Christians, however, are not off the hook. They themselves might also love the created order inordinately, or ignore or scoff at environmental issues because of their inordinate love of material wealth and personal comfort, which leads them to reckless consumption and disposal. Avoiding both extremes, let us worship God by caring for his creation: “A biblical environmentalism,” Al Mohler writes, “begins with the fact that the world is the arena of God’s glory-creation glorifies the Creator. We will answer to the Creator for our use and enjoyment of the created order, and for our stewardship of the earth and all that is within it.”

A fifth point is that, although climate-change is worth our attention, we must ask ourselves how significant it is in relation to other ethical challenges such as world-wide sex trafficking of children, poverty and starvation, and the slaughter of millions of babies by abortion clinics. I can assure you that climate change doesn’t make my “Top 5.” There are probably many reasons that it makes the Top 5 for many people. For the man on Main Street, he may be persuaded by unproven and contested scientific theories. For New Agers and Buddhists, they may ascribe inordinate significance to the environment precisely because they worship creation. As one reviewer noted, for those on the cocktail-party circuit environmental obsessions might be an attempt to make up for guilt: it is alright for them to consume recklessly as long as they are bashing consumerism. One wonders about the size of Al Gore’s carbon footprint, as he jets around the world telling people not to jet around the world.

In conclusion, Hot, Flat, and Crowded falls short of the standard Friedman set for himself in previous books such as The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World is Flat. Although he is surely correct that Americans should be good stewards of this world, and although he may be right to warn Americans about the pitfalls of oil-dependency, Friedman weakens his argument by relying too heavily on worst-case scenario climate-change predictions. Further, as Christians, we would want the Christian Scriptures to provide the foundation, trajectory, and parameters of our approach to creation care and corresponding issues such as climate-change.

[For further reading: Several Baptist evangelicals have provided brief biblical theologies of the environment, including Norman Geisler, David Dockery, and Millard Errickson. See Norman Geisler, “Ecology,” in Christian Ethics: Options & Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 293-310; Millard Errickson, “Biblical Theology of Ecology,” and David Dockery, “The Environment, Ethics, and Exposition” both of which are found in Richard D. Land and Louis A. Moore, The Earth is the Lord’s: Christians and the Environment (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992), 37-54, 113-25.]

Book: Hot, Flat, and Crowded (2008)

Author: Thomas L. Friedman

Region: Global

Genre: Current Affairs

Length: 438 pp.

Difficulty: Intermediate

_gamesmmo online para mobiles