Good things happen when you read.
I read for a living these days, and I cannot tell you how beneficial it is. The effort necessary to extract ourselves from the television is worth everything. When we actually sit down and read books, things happen. More specifically, knowledge happens. And knowledge is an incredible thing. Once you acquire a thirst for knowledge, you cannot go back. The practice of discovering truth about the world hooks you, and you have to read more, and understand more, and grow and change. Good things happen when you read.
Good things will happen when you read James Davison Hunter’s The Death of Character. Hunter is a sociologist from the University of Virginia who first came up with the idea of the “culture wars” in America. He’s an exceptional scholar and thinker and his book on character is masterful. Combining a careful historical perspective with the insightful eye of the sociologist, Hunter chronicles how America has gone from being founded on bedrock virtues to grounding itself in the airy tenets of self-serving psychology. His historical background is very helpful. In several places he compares the classical ethos of the Girl Scouts with the current ethos. The contrast could not be greater. The Girl Scouts, so sweet and innocent in their green vests, are being taught the most heinous principles of psychology and esteem. Hunter uses the Scouts as a grid by which to evaluate the rest of society. He finds that across the board, we have given in to a self-focused, relativist, amoral ethic. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out just how much things have changed in America over the last two centuries.
So there it is: a wholehearted recommendation that you read The Death of Character and approach your world with the expert prescription glasses Hunter gives you. You’ll be so much more able to see the self-focused, amoral psychologizing that dominates America in our day. More than this, you’ll be able to see better how you yourself have imbibed this thinking in your own life. You’ll realize as I have (if a product of the public education system and a fan of popular entertainment) that you are way more psychologically focused than you should be. You’ll realize that you prioritize your feelings and your self-esteem and your own personal happiness far more than you should. You’ll come away a bit disgusted with yourself as you realize that you are not so different from the culture as you thought.
I can think of a number of examples where this idea applies. We have been trained to believe that we deserve happiness. Thus, whenever we’re not happy, we instinctively think that something has gone wrong with our circumstances, that something wrong is being done to us. We don’t think, as anyone 200-300 years ago would have thought, that the problem lies within us, that we simply need to mature and grow and develop character because we are not owed happiness. It has no debt to us. It’s sad to realize for the first time that your own personal ethic is self-serving and feelings-focused. Where we should cry against ourselves, we cry against others and our circumstances. It’s too hard, or our boss is too demanding, or we don’t feel as happy as we would like to, or we aren’t being appreciated for our brilliance, or we’re not being affirmed enough. You know, I’m not sure many of us would have survived 400 years ago in colonial America. We would have been hoeing and tilling and getting sick and, psychological as we are, we would have collapsed in a heap on the hard earth, weeping and whining, and America never would have been colonized. We need a return to a stout, truth-driven, morals-based, psychologically minimal, ethic. We need character. We can find it. God will give it to us. May He change us through the reading of His word, through the rejection of self-serving morality, and through the power of the Spirit as we deny ourselves and take up the cross of Christ.