The Church and the Problem of A-Literacy

Pastor Timothy R. Nichols, from his article “Holding Center: The Theocentric Unity of Truth in the Postmodern World,” CTSJ, 11.1 (2005): 52–54:

In general terms, an aliterate person is able to read, but chooses not to. Most people today can read in the gross sense, i.e., they can understand the labels on packages at the store, learn from the marquee what time a movie is showing, or read the road sign that tells them how many miles to Richmond. However, aliterate people do not exert the sustained attention necessary to draw meaning out of a longer written text like a poem, novel, or biography. And because they choose not to, they lose whatever skill they might have developed in school. An aliterate person who has been out of school for ten years will be very rusty indeed at understanding a printed text of any length. …

Although it is true that an illiterate (or aliterate) believer can live a successful Christian life, it would be a mistake to conclude on that basis that reading is not crucial to Christianity. As long as there are some readers who accurately convey the text to the rest, the church can tolerate a shortage of readers. However, the fewer the people who access the Scriptures directly, the more power those who do will have. This is dangerous — witness the many doctrinal and other abuses perpetrated by the medieval Catholic church. Popular facility [proficiency] with the text prevents a “priesthood of skilled readers.”

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