Thanks to my experience in American politics, I have good reason to know that the impatient failure to reflect upon, ponder and truly assimilate the thoughts written words are meant to convey is not altogether new. It was already being foster by the broadcast news and information media before the cyber realm came into its own. Brief soundbites and hyperventilated imagery were already forcibly altering the public’s attention span.
However, the age of cyber networking vastly expanded the volume of material available.
Now, instead of hurriedly focusing on out bits and pieces of information picked out by others, readers feel impelled to screen vast quantities of data themselves. Reading becomes a mostly passive process. A slew of stuff passes through our sensory net. Pre-existent passions and preoccupations trap tidbits intended for future reference. This leaves little time for true consideration, much less the studious, transformative contemplation that nourishes, and may even transform, our understanding.
The other day I received a highly respectful critique of my own writing, from a friendly reader politely lamenting that my articles are too difficult for present-day readers:
“I truly like and appreciate your articles … however they take me a very long time to read and understand as my brain does not work as it once did. … It is my experience that the vast majority of Americans can no longer read, much less understand what you are saying. … They don’t know … the definitions of most words with more than a few syllables, much less understand their use in a sentence, its structure or the importance of how punctuation sets things apart, or even [how it] works. … [F]ollowing the train of thought being presented, is beyond them. This is the sad state of the dumbing down of America. …”
An article I read recently by a highly literate British writer points to the fact that this may not simply be a matter of intelligence, basic education or ill fed literacy. The games children play these days, and the skills many people show using various social networks to establish and stay in touch with one another, prove as much.
Now, in athletics even people genetically disposed to be good performers require exercise and training to realize their potential in any given sport. Readers today get used to passive absorption of data streams, judged with reference to passionate predispositions rather than reasoning. This involves no regimen likely to develop their God-given human capacity for thought – what used to be called “common sense.”
Americans were once famous for it. America’s founding generation took it for granted. In the Declaration of Independence, for example, its patriot authors point to the fact that the British king’s government had perpetrated “a long train of abuses and usurpations” against the American people. They asserted that these abuses were undertaken to pursue “a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism.” They then offer a catalogue of such abuses to prove their assertion. Except for their public’s ability to:
- follow a train of thought; and
- understand the description of facts composing it;
- see those facts in terms of standards of justice that identify them as “abuses and usurpations”;
- and appreciate the logic that relates them to one another, and to the goal of establishing a dictatorial government over them, suppressing their liberty;
the American revolution would never have borne fruit.
What does it mean for the future of the America people if we have, in fact, developed habits of mind that deprive us of the patience, imagination and capacity for logical thought required to follow and see the significance of events; all the while, applying standards that justify, and pondering possibilities that threaten, our constitutional liberty? It means that we no longer have the capacity to hold on to that liberty.
Elements of the elitist faction have, for decades, purposely pursued the goal of “dumbing down” the American people. Now I hear from people, themselves educate and literate, who accept the result of this agenda as a “fait accompli.” They maintain that Americans now reject logic, that they have no patience for synoptic reasoning (understanding how things fit together to produce a result). So, I’m told, they cannot be moved by even the most persuasive analysis of how current events imply the surrender of justice, God-endowed right and liberty.
Yet everywhere I go, audiences respond with passionate understanding when I speak in precisely the way these slurs suggest they can no longer understand. Sometimes, the very people who suggest that my writing is beyond the understanding of most Americans quote passages from Scripture that are widely understood, even though doing so requires logic and patience more demanding than anything I write.
With this in mind, I will continue to respect what America’s founders called the “genius of the American people.” Why? Because I every day experience the fact that many American voters sincerely look to Christ. They therefore read and earnestly work to understand the Holy Bible. Some have fallen prey to the false notion that the mind which, by God’s Grace, they bring to the reading of His Word must be cast aside, along with God’s name (and people who invoke it), when discussing vital issues in American politics and government. But, bereft of God, what becomes of our authority as citizens? For we claim it as the unalienable right of liberty, which means nothing once the Creator God is banished from our political lives.
Faithful or not, all American voters thus have good reason to remember that their vocation of citizenship is founded upon the same respect for God’s authority as the care and attention the faithful give to His Word in Scripture. It is right, therefore, to bring respect for God to bear in the deliberations we undertake to preserve the liberty (i.e., constitutional self-government) that gives rise to that citizen vocation. In doing so we follow the example attested in every generation since our nation began. And we also help America benefit from the wisdom of Christ. He saw the kingdom of heaven – found even in the heart of such as the Pharisees – to be like yeast (Matthew 13:33), by which the whole loaf may be made to rise. Surely it may, even now, be the key for America’s return from tragedy to hope.