Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why the Word Uses Words - Gregoire

Several perplexing things have hit me today, and they've all morphed together into one thought. First, the Ontario election and its endless array of platitudinous soundbites; second, the American revolution which we're studying in our homeschool history class; and third, the remedial reading lessons which I've just finished with a friend's daughter. All of this led me to this question:

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was called "The Word"? I know that doesn't seem to connect, but bear with me. I think part of the reason is that God speaks to us through language--He converses with us, so to speak, and through that conversation the world was created, His plan was revealed, His people were chosen. Jesus was the ultimate way in which God spoke to us.

Words, then, matter. And I think the written word has a special place, because it's only when we're reading that we can really chew on things. I know new media is shaking up the publishing industry, and in many ways this can be positive. But perhaps, in a more substantial way, our culture is losing something truly important: the ability to read something, digest it, mull over it, and finally own it. When you read something, you're an active participant. When you hear it or see it, you just aren't in the same way. As McLuhan said, the media really is the message.

Now, let's get back to my other points. First, the election. I am so tired of people who really don't know anything about the issues parroting back the soundbites they hear from the media. I suppose that sounds elitist, but we have such a privilege in this nation to exercise a democratic right, and it seems like many people just don't bother to delve too much into the issues. Instead of really figuring out the problems, we listen to 30-second clips from a politician. That isn't enough. We can't run a country, or a province, on that. And yet that seems to be all we're capable of handling.

That is in marked contrast to what occurred in the American revolution. At the time that it broke out, 8,000,000 copies of Thomas Paine's book had already been sold in the colonies. That's almost one per family, at a time when most were farmers. And after the revolution had been one and people were debating on what form the government would take, people had opinions. The federalists and anti-federalists were duking it out across the new nation. They were fighting over things like states' rights versus the makeup of the Senate; The Bill of Rights vs. the rights of the legislative body; and more and more that few would even understand today. And few of these people had ever had education past age 10. Yet they had informed, even educated, opinions.

Somehow we have lost that, and I wonder if my time today with my little 7-year-old friend shows why. She can't read. The schools have taught it to her all wrong, in my opinion, and her mother pulled her out so that we could try to repair the damage before she fell helplessly behind. Here we are with every modern convenience and technology, but we have lost our abilities to think, analyze, and even read. They're too much effort.

What at will this mean for us as writers? As readers? There's definitely a "dumbing down" of books, even fiction, occurring. I'm sure we've all noticed that. Read Pride & Prejudice from two hundred years ago and you'll find it doesn't even compare to the literature we're writing today. And as fewer and fewer people can understand difficult concepts, there will be fewer and fewer such books available for those who want to.

I'm scared of that, because God gave us brains for a reason. He wants us to use them, to stretch them, to try to understand Him. If we settle for soundbites, whether it's in politics or in our faith, we lose something truly precious that generations had before us. That's not a very comforting thought, but I'm not feeling particularly comfortable today.

So go vote. And go read. What else, really, can we do?

No comments:

Popular Posts