The precious 10 year old girl entered the school stage. Her voice melted my heart and every word resonated. She bravely looked into the eyes of her two hundred plus audience and recited a poem she had been practicing for weeks:
I care not who the man may be,
Nor how his tasks may fret him,
Nor where he fares, nor how his cares
And troubles may beset him,
If books have won the love of him,
Whatever fortune hands him,
He’ll always own, when he’s alone,
A friend who understands him.
Though other friends may come and go,
And some may stoop to treason,
His books remain, through loss or gain,
And season after season
The faithful friends for every mood,
His joy and sorrow sharing;
For old time’s sake, they’ll lighter make
The burdens he is bearing.
Oh, he has counsel at his side,
And wisdom for his duty,Edgar Albert Guest, The Fellowship of Books
And laughter gay for hours of play
And tenderness and beauty
And fellowship divinely rare,
True friends who never doubt him,
Unchanging love, and God above,
Who keeps good books about him.
That sweet girl will never know how much she blessed this tired mama in the crowd that day!
Books are Powerful
Anyone who has enjoyed a good book understands Guest’s words completely. It is a special privilege when, as C.S. Lewis said, you meet a friend to whom you can say “You, too?” Even when no one understands, a book can in many ways become that faithful friend God uses to grant clarity of thought, peace of heart and direction.
When our environment is ugly, a book can provide something beautiful to see.
When lies consume our reality, a book can proclaim truth for our minds to understand.
When evil is magnified in the world around us, a book can delight our hearts with what is good.
I think this is why, whenever a dictator finds his way into power, one of the first things to go are the books. While the burning of books isn’t a thing (yet), “canceling” narratives our government sees as “dangerous” on social media has become quite commonplace. (Check out my post here about why this is the reason it’s so important for you and I to share our stories: http://redstateramblings.com/why-people-need-to-hear-your-story-and-how-to-share-it-effectively/.)
When we hear of Russians secretly printing gospel pamphlets while millions in their country were being killed for their faith, or Chinese Christians elatedly receiving boxes of Bibles at the risk of government retribution, we ought to ask ourselves:
How did it come to that and how can I be part of preventing it from happening in my own country?
Here are three ways I believe we can defend what is true, good and beautiful through the promotion of good books.
Buy books to share and books to store. Buy books for the future and for the present. Buy the old books hard to find and the new books with the heart and drive of truth tellers living with us today. Do not fully rely on your kindle. Buy actual, real books! Buy books your great grand babies can open up when you’re long gone and see all of your chicken scratch in the margins.
Our society wants us dumb. iPads are thrown at kindergarteners in school for hours on end. In the name of “equity”, required reading for high school students looks radically different today than when I was in high school because there is an agenda to remove truth, beauty and goodness from society. One of the main ways we fight against that is to challenge ourselves to read something a little harder than we think we can understand, a little longer than we feel comfortable with… Sometimes, it even means reading something a bit darker than we prefer. Why? Because we know it’s good for us to have a sense of reality. Even if everything is sunshine and rainbows today, we know with certainty it will not always be. There is much we can learn from those who survived hard times before.
I would have missed out on some very beautiful truths if I hadn’t forced myself to tackle that Puritan book that was so intimidating or listen to some Thomas Sowell on Audible! (Check out some of the ways Sowell helps us understand the clashing worldviews of our leaders here: http://redstateramblings.com/conflicting-visions-thomas-sowell-saw-it-coming/.) Reading difficult books often pays back the reader tenfold.
Value the Protection of Books
Glancing at a required reading list for high schoolers at a local classical school, I noticed Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler. It seems that preserving what is true, good and beautiful sometimes requires learning the opposite so we can recognize the same destructive lies from the past when they resurface in new packages today.
Would there have been such an uproar to the Covid lockdowns if 1984 had never been written? I have my doubts!
If all of the previous copies of Darwin’s book had been destroyed, we wouldn’t know the full title today: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. (Check out this interesting article for more on how Darwin promoted racism https://answersingenesis.org/charles-darwin/racism/did-darwin-promote-racism/.)
If C.S. Lewis never wrote The Abolition of Man, we wouldn’t have this interesting take on the way tyrants can use something like climate change for evil:
Men who have rejected the Tao, that is: traditional morality, the wisdom of the ages, the God given order of the universe, have substituted for it the desire to conquer nature through science and technology. A number of results follow from this. First, what we call man’s power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument. Because we are aiming to conquer nature through science and technology, those who possess the technology have the power and ability to give or withhold it from the rest of mankind. In this way, man’s conquest of nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men.
Second, because the conquest of nature includes the attempted modification of human nature, such an endeavor truly means nature’s conquest of man. That is, the reduction of man to an artifact, an object, or in other words, the turning of man into a thing, a he into an it. The scientific planners primarily engaged in this conquest are therefore compelled by a lust for power, a desire to control and shape the destinies of the rest of humanity. This is why Lewis refers to them as “the conditioners.”
Third, in order to modify man, these conditioners must begin to use particular men as test subjects and guinea pigs. To do this, they must set aside their shared humanity and reject the common law which stands over all men, namely the Tao. As Lewis says, “the conditioners have been emancipated from all that. They themselves are outside, above. In seeking to be gods, they have ceased to be men, at least men in the traditional sense. They are in essence former men, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what humanity shall henceforth mean.”
Fourth, the last quotation introduces the key element of time into the picture where the tyranny of the conditioners extends beyond their own generation. Indeed one of their fundamental motivations is to shape what man shall be in the future. In order to understand fully what man’s power over nature and therefore the power of some men over other men really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors.Joe Rigney, Live Like a Narnian (Quoting C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man)
A Practical Conclusion
As a busy wife and mom, I am nowhere near as well read as I would love to be. But even if I never have the time I envision to enjoy, study and learn from good books, I know there are many things I can do to encourage good literature in my home and in the world around me.
- I can use the leisure time I do have to fill my heart with what is true, good and beautiful.
- I can model for my children the joy that is found in being a lifelong learner.
- I can thank and encourage teachers who prescribe good literature in the classroom (and I can raise a fuss when they don’t!)…. and finally…. (And this one’s my favorite)…
- I can stockpile books like they’re emergency food! We are not just flesh and blood. We need inspiration, fellowship, direction and wisdom from those who have gone before. Food is important but hope is even better.
…Sit with me and tell me once again
Of the story that’s been told us
Of the power that will hold us
Of the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters
…Speak to me until I understand
Why our thinking and creating
Why our efforts of narrating
About the beauty, of the beauty
And why it matters
…Like the statue in the park
Of this war torn town
And its protest of the darkness
And the chaos all around
With its beauty, how it matters
How it matters
…Show me the love that never fails
The compassion and attention
Midst confusion and dissension
Like small ramparts for the soul
How it matters
…Like a single cup of waterSarah Groves, Why it Matters
How it matters
As Americans, we have long enjoyed the fellowship and protection of books. May we continue to throughout our lifetimes! And may we fight to preserve what is true, good and beautiful for generations to come. Some things are worth fighting for and truth has always been one of them. May it not be said of us we were the ones who let the tyrants take it away.