Has time ever felt like a bullet train with bad brakes? This sensation slammed into me towards the end of January. I had spent a good chunk of my Christmas break reading for my interterm study abroad trip, and then spent most of January taking the trip. It was wonderful, don’t get me wrong––but it didn’t exactly feel like a break. I landed in CA with a measly three days to spare before the spring semester started––and those three days were occupied by more school reading. I got back on a Thursday and had to read Proverbs by the following Tuesday and Darwin’s Origin of Species by Wednesday. You could say I was pressed for time––not to mention trying to recover from spending two weeks in a different time zone. Darwin was the one who suffered. I ended up blazing through him and his incredibly detailed and complex case for natural selection.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. It’s not ideal, but the work gets done. Sort of. There was a problem with the way I read Darwin, and it wasn’t primarily the speed at which I digested his theory. My time crunch contributed to a mindset of over-reductionism, even to the point of limiting what I would see in the book to things I was already looking for. I had this same issue when I read Marx’ Communist Manifesto the following week: instead of working to understand what he was saying, I came into the reading wanting mainly just to identify the problems in his argument. My mind was already closed to the possibility of Marx saying anything good or true. This is a bad, even an unchristian way to read.
Why? Mainly because reading like this hardly even qualifies as reading. Reading is listening––to a speaker who is just absent or dead. Listening means putting my own thoughts on hold so I can attend to the thoughts expressed by another person. Listening demands focus on another person––it is impossible to do for someone absorbed with their own thoughts and concerns. But shouldn’t we have solid stances on important issues like the origin of living organisms and what is a good form of government? Absolutely. Listening does not mean agreeing with––in fact, I often discover that, when I hear someone out, I find myself on opposite sides of the fence with them, or at different ends of the field. I actually only discover that when I hear people out. Listening does not mean condoning either. It is, rather, the prerequisite for condemning a viewpoint or idea as false or faulty––I cannot judge an opinion, a position, or a worldview to be wrong unless I understand it.
That’s all just common sense, not even considering reading from a Christian worldview. But I think Christianity colors the reader’s lens in an important way: it makes good reading, particularly good reading of Darwin and Marx, an act of faith. These guys assumed stuff that is flat out contrary to a biblical worldview. They purported a cold, hopeless vision of the world that I, 1) find depressing and, 2) believe is a load of lies. But that doesn’t mean I should not listen to them. And in listening to them, I am going out on a limb––listening to them is trusting that when I am genuinely seeking truth, God will reward me with it. His Spirit is stronger than the machinations of Karl Marx, and he will guide me into all truth. If I truly believe that, I can read the ideas of men like Darwin and Marx––and the ideas of anyone and everyone, for that matter, no matter their beliefs––without fear.