Once upon a time in the dead of winter in the Dakota territory,” writes David McCullough, “Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat.” After several days, Roosevelt caught up with and got the draw on his quarry with his trusty Winchester. He then set off to haul the thieves cross country to justice. They walked forty miles, across the snow-covered Badlands, to the Dickinson jail. What makes the adventure especially notable is that during the trek, with criminals at the end of his rifle barrel, Roosevelt also managed to read Anna Karenina.
I am reminded of this story when I hear people say they haven’t the time to read. One report cites that the average American man reads just one book between his graduation from college and his death and that sixty percent of adult Americans have never read a single book in their adult lives. Alvin Kerman, in The Death of Literature, argues that reading books is “ceasing to be the primary way of knowing some- thing in our society.” We are no longer a people of ideas, curious about the world and eager to learn.
We live in a culture today that values image- oriented entertainment over knowledge and goodness, politically correct distortions over truth, filth over righteousness. Those of us in the Christian community often think we are immune, but our values and those of our children have subtly changed over the past couple of generations. For the sake of entertainment and self-esteem, we have become satisfied with mediocrity and self-centeredness, yet we still demand the benefits that hard work, sacrifice, and the search for truth provide.
Students and parents often complain about homework loads, yet students can recall with vivid detail hours of TV shows they’ve watched during the week, and I hear of the hours spent “IMing” and “Facebooking” friends. We seem unable to sacrifice amusement for anything more worthwhile.
Entertainment, wrote A.W. Tozer in 1955, is not evil in and of itself, but our devotion to entertainment as the major activity for which and by which we live is. He asserted that the abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin. For centuries the Church stood solidly against worldly entertainment, “recognizing it as a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability.” More recently Christians seem to have given up the struggle. We have capitulated to the god of Entertainment.
Television destroys books. It murders academic skills. It eats away at positive character traits. It even compromises family relationships (How many families have a TV in every room?). TV pushes us away from relationships, including our most important one with our Heavenly Father.
So, let us model for our students the advice from the Psalmist to “turn our eyes away from worthless things.” To carry a book with you wherever you go is old advice and good advice. John Adams urged his son Quincy to carry a volume of poetry. “You will never be alone,” he said, “with a poet in your pocket.”