“Two friends walk toward a destination. The path has at times been steep and is not always smooth. Their pace is labored as they come to a fork in the road. The road that branches off goes downhill and is attractively landscaped. There are no signs, however, to tell them where this new path will lead. They can’t resist the temptation, and head downhill on the easier path. The farther they go, however, the farther they are from their destination.
That people often choose the easier course is no surprise to any of us; we’re often guilty of the same. But do we calculate the price of taking that easier course? Will it lead to a place we really want to be?
Susan Jacoby is on a campaign to awaken Americans. The title of her newly published book, “The Age Of Unreason”, may not prompt multitudes to rush out to bookstores, but she has a message that needs to be heard. Americans, she contends, are being “dumbed down” because they more often choose entertainment than information.
In a recent interview with “U.S. News & World Report”, Jacoby talks about “infotainment”. As one can quickly see, it’s a combination of the words “information” and “entertainment”. In our culture, the emphasis is usually on the latter. More Americans choose to be entertained by the electronic media (television and the Internet, e.g.) than to be informed by the more “rational” means (books or other print media). She states, “Video culture, as it appears in the digital media, gives you a quick hit but doesn’t encourage you to go further. It substitutes for reading more” (“The Ignorant American”, March 10, 2008, p. 22).
Jacoby’s title for her article in the “Washington Post”, February 24, 2008, commands more attention: “We Actually Love Being Idiots”. In that article she pointed to a 2007 study by the National Endowment For The Arts. “In 1982, 82% of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book – fiction or nonfiction – over the course of a year.” She concluded her point by noting that the latter results arose as personal computing, Web surfing and video games became commonplace.
Is there a price to be paid for this surge in infotainment? Those who have laughed at Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” segments on “The Tonight Show” know that many Americans lack even basic facts that once were common. A similar interview was conducted on an esteemed college’s campus. Students were asked whether a certain event had happened in the nineteenth century or in the 1800s. None of the respondents shown on the video caught the fact that the two answers were the same.
Jacoby points to many such indicators that Americans are turning away from intellectual pursuits (as simple as reading a novel) in favor of YouTube and other electronic cotton candy. She uses the word “antirational” to describe the trend. Others use stronger terms such as “anti-intellectual”. Michael Albert, on zmag.org flatly states, “An ‘anti-rationality’ trend is sweeping our society.”
The choices before us couldn’t be clearer: One involves mental concentration and focus; the other requires only that we get comfortable, tune in and watch. Under the guise of “relaxation”, many of us choose a path that takes us farther from where we want to be.
How do you suppose this trend affects our nation’s Bible literacy? In a “Jay Walking” skit from March 2007, Leno asked one young lady to complete the following: “In the beginning, God created …” She responded with the answer, “Peace” (the correct answer is “the heavens and the earth”). When asked how many commandments there were, she answered “twelve”. (I wish I could tell you that Leno has difficulty finding such people to interview!)
Is it really so important that we know the teachings of the Bible? While our society might answer “Of course not!”, let’s consider some statements from this Book. Proverbs 3 is a good place to begin: “My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you. … Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold” (Proverbs 3:1-2,13-14). According to this, time spent reading God’s word will lead to a much richer life.
The book of Psalms opens with a warning against associating with people who care nothing for God’s teachings (such as the characters we regularly see depicted on television and on the Internet). The better choice of how to spend our time is this: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). If we had the ability to drop in on homes throughout America this evening, how many would be found with open Bibles?
The problem was present long ago in the days of the prophet Micah. He observed this about God’s people: “If a man should walk in a false spirit, and speak a lie, saying, ‘I will prophesy to you of wine and drink,’ even he would be the prattler of this people” (Micah 2:11). Then, as now, a person doesn’t generally draw a large audience by talking about God’s word. If you want to deliver lectures on wines and fine dining, though, an entire television network may spring up around you!
Let’s see if we can make this clear: Suppose a person was diagnosed with cancer. He is told, however, that with chemotherapy the problem can be cured. When told when those treatments will take place, he refuses: “I can’t do chemotherapy then! That’s when my favorite show on TV comes on.” Would we consider such a person foolish?
Are we suggesting that Bible reading is as important as chemotherapy for a cancer patient? No – we’re saying it’s more important. We base that claim on James 1:21: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Chemotherapy, if successful, can add years to a person’s life. God’s word can lead to salvation of one’s soul, and that’s an issue of eternity!
Perhaps you remember Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders. Only one built his house in a way that it could withstand a vicious storm. What was Jesus’ application for us? “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). Are we interested in building a life that will withstand the storms of life? Are we hearing “these sayings of” Jesus, much less, doing them?
We face today a literal avalanche of entertainment options. When you finally get a moment to relax, you have dozens of choices of what to do. But only one of those choices will open the door to a better life on earth as well as a blissful eternity. It’s not the easiest path, and it requires more effort than the others. Make sure you know the consequences before you make your choice. And then make time for God’s word!
Would you like to know more about beginning your own study of God’s word? Get in touch with me, and let me tell you about simple ways to get started in reading this Book of books. God gave this Book for all people, and I know you can understand it by following simple principles. Let’s talk about that today!