Challenge 6: Listen 10 minutes a day to the Audiobook of Neil Postman's Classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death
Week 21: Get Started
No man will be able to live responsibly before God unless he has some understanding of the specific nature of the spiritual combat around him. To fight a war against Al Qaida in Afghanistan is different from facing jungle militia in Vietnam. Likewise, to be faithful within the easy religion of the American Bible-belt is different from being faithful in the callous secularity of Scotland.
How does a man develop this understanding? One way is to read non-devotional books written by cultural critics with unusual prophetic insight. There is a reason why people used to pay good money to get a ‘liberal education’ (liberal being taken in the sense of liberty). A prerequisite of freedom is having the basic knowledge of the truth and the robust faculties of mind required to make wise choices. There are no short-cuts for this. Christian men will have to think hard in order to be able to avoid the snares of the culture around them.
In view of this, our challenge this month is to listen to the audiobook of Neil Postman's classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Why listen instead of read? The reason is this: a lot of guys struggle to find time to sit down with a book. However, all of us have time to listen to an audiobook. This entire book takes less then 5 hours to listen to. This means that if you listen for 10 minutes a day, six days a week, you will finish the book in a month.
Week 22: Don’t Stop!
Anyone who has been on a long hike knows that the road can get boring. Not every step along the path is the lip of a vast canyon. This is why perseverance is necessary. In order to get to the peak of a mountain or to discover a desolate lake, a man must be willing to push himself up the hills and through the treeline.
Reading books is similar. Often you sit there and either think (1) I don't have a clue what this guy is saying or (2) could he please skip the argument and jump to the application! Such fog and mud is not a reason to give up, but a challenge to plow ahead trusting that some vistas are worth waiting for.
I say this because not every page, or even chapter, of Amusing Ourselves to Death is a walk in the park. Postman is not afraid to use six syllable words like 'epistemology', which are long enough to frighten an alligator. But, men, when the going gets tough, the tough keep going. We live in a media-driven culture that is toxic for discipleship, and unless we are willing to detach and reflect on the world around us, inevitably, we will wind of being bent out of shape. I don't want this to happen to you, which is why, together, we are fighting our way through an important, though challenging, book.
Week 23: Keep Reading, Start Thinking
Reading is useless unless we pause to think about the truthfulness of what an author is saying and the implications of truth for life. Long ago Isaac Watts, in a wonderful book The Improvement of the Mind, wrote: ‘Remember that your business in reading or in conversation…is not merely to know the opinion of the author or speaker, for this is but the mere knowledge of history; your chief business is to consider whether their opinions are right or not, and to improve your hard won knowledge on that subject by meditation on the themes of their writing and discourse.’ For us, the point is that we aren't listening or reading to this book in order to boost pride ('I actually finished a book!') or to contribute to dinner party conversation. We want to answer a precise question, a question we need to be asking all of the time, 'What are the implications of reading this book, or listening to this podcast, or hearing this sermon, for following Jesus?' And if you are a dad, or grandfather, you might also ask, 'What must I do with this truth in order to help my children/grandchildren?'
Spiritual maturity requires thought. Reading enables thought. Guys, keep reading and start thinking.
Week 24: Finish Up.
Joy is the fruit of patient endurance. Learning to play a musical instrument is a prison term of hard labor and boredom; however, if you stick with a rigorous practice regimen, a day will come when the toil is freedom and the tedium fun. Reading Amusing Ourselves to Death is a little bit like this. The first half is heavy lifting. It's doing squats and wind-sprints with your mind. A lot of guys might complain, 'Can't we skip the theory and zip straight to the application?' The answer is 'no' for one reason: just as the goal of memorization is meditation, the goal of reading is thinking. If any guy simply wants an instruction manual to by-pass the need for thought they need to find a different religion. Christianity requires critical thinking (Rom. 12:1-2, 2 Cor. 10:3-5, etc.), a willingness to look hard at the world, identify its pitfalls, and avoid them with diligence and care.
Now for those of you who put in the investment, you will be delighted to discover just how practical the second half of this book is. From politics to news, commercials to worship services, Postman takes the sieve of his analysis and uses it to filter out all of the ways that a culture of amusement has and is corrupting our public discourse. And, as you might expect, the stuff strained out is not petty debris, but gigantic rocks and boulders that threaten to congest and disrupt the most important pipelines of our communication.
Your task this week, whether listening to or reading the book, is to finish and reflect on how you can avoid the tragic condition of being amused to death.