Friday, May 8, 2009

Reading Religiously

Reading Diet

                How does one read religiously? Not like a Protestant. The Christian, by reading his Bible every day, exhausts the book much quicker than it should be. Some books you must set down, perhaps for years, and let the germs of the book grow up independently within you, so that they are your own, so that your life is a Bible, and then, when you come back to the Gospels, you will read these books as if you had written them, with wisdom and measure rather than praise and ignorance. Do you not yet see that “praising” is an act of ignorance?

            I have long since ceased and ever will to read the New Testament, and even the Torah is very far from my heart. The Bible, like the writings of C. S. Lewis and Ayn Rand are authors who I much enjoyed reading very much until something in me snapped, and I had come to experience things more profound than these authors had spoken of. When I read any of them, I feel disgust.

            Yet new and interesting insights into the Bible dawn on me every day, without the obligatory Bible obsessing. Because I do not conclude in advance that it will teach me all wisdom, I do in fact gain more wisdom from it than my Christian friends. To conclude in advance is to preclude advancement.

            The books I read religiously are ever Emerson, Whitman, William James, and Nietzsche; and the rest of my literary diet – of which I am an utter glutton, and first to sing of the virtue of gluttony! – is like an angry ocean, and my storm clouds toss this ship left and right. But the citrus of Emerson and Whitman are never far, nor the map of James and the compass of Nietzsche.

            Ideas build up over time, and books grow. The general opinion of a book changes the way you read, it no matter how objective you wish to be. Every word of the Bible, whether translated or not, means something to us that it could never have meant to the author or his audience. The explications, hermeneutics, interpretations, and billions upon billions of misinterpretations – even if explicitly rejected – have changed the very meaning and perceived intent of every atom of that book. And that is merely the most immediate example. In fact, all books are that way. You will never in any life time be able to read Plato as if you were Aristotle. Cannot be done. Not that you even have an inkling: you are forever kicked out of the family cave, all you have is your modern sun, but not the original fire of Plato’s promethean intent. What you have is richer and also weaker. You understand more, you understand less. Let us therefore forever lambast and outrage the audacity of those who claim to be returning to the “fundamentals of the primitive church.” That would be pure bullshit.

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