The Dangers of Reading Books
James V. Schall, Frederick Wilhelmson, and Leo Strauss warned against the dangers of reading the Great Books. This might seem surprising. Everyone knows that reading the Great Books is what everyone wants to do, but never does. The reason these authors warned against the dangers of reading the Great Books is because the authors of these books disagreed with each other. They thought that reading these books without special guides would lead to relativism. Relativism is the "idea that truth, morality, etc., exist only in relation to other things and are not absolute." In other words, there are no universal standards for morality and truth.
I do think these authors have a point. One could think of what the book of James says: ". . . for the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (;) . . . he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6-7, ESV). Or one thinks of what the apostle Paul wrote: "that we may no longer be children , tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). What we see pictured hear is that we go whichever way the author leads us. One author leads us one way; another author leads us another way. We are lost at sea.
Schall and the others want to keep us from despairing of the truth. They want us to be properly grounded. This is why they think we need to have expert guides to lead us through this wilderness of relativism. One might say we need a place to stand, so we can distinguish between what is true and untrue. The Christian tradition or a Biblical understanding can be helpful here.
I think there argument can be applied to modern books. If we read books regularly, we will come upon authors who disagree with one another. How do we handle this? Should we refrain from the reading of books because the danger involved. C. S. Lewis Wrote that the atheist cannot be too careful of the books they read. Should the Christian read only Christian books? The problem is that many Christian authors disagree with one another.
I remember when I decided to attend a public university instead of a Christian college. My Associate Pastor and mentor discouraged me from doing this. He thought I would endanger my faith. Many Christians want to read authors that only agree with their beliefs. This is not a solution for me. I have learned many things from authors that disagree with my beliefs. For example, I think there are things we can learn from Sigmund Freud even though he was an atheist. Many time my faith is challenged just as much from certain Christian authors as it is from atheists. For example, One of my favorite contemporary authors is James K. A. Smith. I have read many of his books. Many of his ideas challenge much of what I have been taught in Christian circles. Two books that come especially in mind are Who's Afraid of Post-modernism and Who's Afraid of Relativism. In these books he looks at certain non-Christian authors, even atheists, and argues that they can teach us certain truths that the Church needs to hear. In other words, secularists are donning the robes of prophets.
Reading authors that disagree with one another makes me uncomfortable. Reading authors that disagree with my beliefs makes me examine my beliefs closer. Am I wrong to read these books? The only safe thing to do would be not to read any books at all. Books can be quite dangerous.