GQ says the Bible isn’t a must-read. Here’s what C.S. Lewis might say about that
GQ recently published an editorial with a list of 20 books “you don’t have to read,” with justifications and alternatives written by various authors and members of the magazine’s staff.
The list, which includes the Bible, outlines its parameters of judgment up front: “Some are racist and some are sexist, but most are just really, really boring.”
The flawed notion that any of the books listed are racist and sexist will have to be addressed another time but for now, an invocation of C.S. Lewis’s words on value.
The article couldn’t have done a better job of reinforcing one of Lewis’s central arguments in The Abolition of Man – a book you should read – that modern man conflates taste with objective value.
Lewis advocates what he calls the “doctrine of objective value,” which is “the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”
Lewis makes a critical distinction between individual taste for certain objects and those objects’ objective value, as determined by their inherent goodness or sublimity or, in this case, their influence.
The literary canon is composed of books that have captured vast numbers of readers and inspired the creation of other art or, in the case of the Bible, entire civilizations.
One who accepts the doctrine of objective value recognizes “a quality [in an object] which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not.”
Applied here, the attitude that the Bible, as part of the literary canon, ought to be read is an objectively true attitude because billions of people believe it to be scripture. The Bible’s value, in that sense, is a source of valuable pedagogy to the Christian and non-Christian alike, irrespective of whether it is read devotionally.
Author Jesse Ball’s argument for removing the Bible from must-read lists include its characterization as “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” That is, perhaps, an argument against its goodness as a piece of literature, but it says nothing of its objective importance.
Whether you like the Bible or not, whether it’s boring or not, it ought to be read.
To return to Lewis, not liking particular books is entirely legitimate (although the reasons may be ridiculous), but the notion that one’s distaste somehow determines their importance or read-worthiness is both annoyingly narrow and dangerously relativist.
@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News