Friday, December 11, 2009

On reading anything, first know the author

On reading anything, first know the author

A few days ago, I caught myself thinking while reading, drifting off the subject and taking stock of the things found between the lines.  Having such wandering thoughts while reading is sometimes an annoying occurrence yet it's more frequently a very valuable and sometimes useful habit.  On this particular occasion, I was busy gleaning nuggets out of Susan Jacoby's "The Age of Unreason" and I wondered: How in the world has Susan amassed such an impressive command of scholarly knowledge? How astonishing she is...!  Yet, there really isn't any wonder about it.  She's smart.

Reflecting back on my fleeting thoughts of awe for Jacoby's ability has caused me to consider the importance of it.  For her case, the facts are readily available. She's an accomplished author and scholar known to many.  Her credibility is unquestionable.  And now compare.  Do the authors of such books as the Bible and the Qu'ran have equally known and reputable authors?

Some readers approach some books differently than others.  They may carefully peruse a modern book's jacket for tid-bits of insight into what and who they are about to read before deciding to turn a page and lend an open mind to its writer.  However, that same prospective reader may trade off his thoughtful book selection practices when electing to pick up a Holy book.  But why?

In the case of the Bible, for example, knowing anything at all about the author(s) is nearly impossible - its authors are virtually unknown outside of the Bible itself.  By contrast, in the case of the Qu'ran, Mohammad is well known; yet, does it follow without fault that he is a reputable source for what he claims?  and the same could be said about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  By additional contrast, now consider the reputations of Confusious, Buddha and Lao-Tse, the founders of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.  Such men were well know in their own times; they were celebrated, revered and even criticized by their peers and each one was challenged to possess a credible reputation, in deed, the likes of which could satisfy any potential reader in much the same way we find satisfaction in knowing the reputation of any modern-day author - a Jacoby for example.

And now, I must ask: How should one pick up a holy book? ... as a blank slate ready to be inscribed - blindly trusting the book's author to speak knowledgeably and truthfully? ... or as one armed by forethought and by some reasonable knowledge of who he is about to read?

I recommend: On reading anything, first know the author.  

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