Americans have a strange fascination with “best-seller” status. The endless lists of best-sellers, such as those that appear in the NY Times, grow with every passing day. We now have several books which even give us the history of best-sellers in America. I wonder if all these best-sellers are actually read by all the people who buy them, especially since I buy books I never read and I read lots and lots of books. (My wife has asked me for years, “Will you read that book you just bought?” I have always answered, “Someday I hope to.”
Martin Marty, in his often delightful column Sightings, notes in his comments for today (May 1) the following about books in America:
Don’t believe the celebrators of "the good old days" in American religion, when "everyone was religious and religion was all over the public place." And don’t believe the denigrators of "the good new days" who sulk because government will not do the church’s work by allowing and providing for the worship of God(s?) in public schools and in courts. There is now more evidence of religion in public media and non-governmental institutions than before. And in the "free market" of ideas and markets, religion never had it so good in recent or semi-distant memory. I thought of that when scanning the New York Times Book Review best-sellers list. (Information regarding Dr. Marty’s Sightings can be secured at: firstname.lastname@example.org).
The astute religious critic, Dr. Marty, goes on to add:
Still, nine of thirty best sellers in the sales by 4,000 godless bookstores and wholesalers are religious in content, as bannered for everyone to see. Don’t look for much of anything canonical or orthodox in those that relate to biblical life and times. G. K. Chesterton once said that when people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they do not believe in anything but that they believe in everything and anything. That’s made clear with "everything and anything" showing up as religious on dust jackets, covers, title pages, and in texts (emphasis mine).
Some secularists decry the fact that more and more of these best-sellers have religious themes than ever before. Others worry that the themes are so removed from orthodox Christianity that it is a bad sign regarding the future of faith in America. Marty concludes, in his typical upbeat tone:
Were I a worrier, I’d be more inclined to worry about those who are taken in by everything and anything that is sensationally marketed as potentially replacing classic religious texts or more cautious and profound new ones. Still, the books are likely to sort themselves out, while they gain a huge hearing right now.
Well, I am not a worrier either, nor a gloom and doom evangelical who follows the Left Behind paranoia. But I do worry more than Marty that few Christians are reading the truly great classical books. In reality, it doesn’t take but a small committed group to read a few of them to start something really important in the wider culture. So, why not stop reading this blog, and turn off your computer, and go read John Calvin’s classic, The Institutes of the Christian Religion? You’ll not be sorry I assure you.