Beyond the Book

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I recently took inventory of the number of books I’ve read cover-to-cover since January 1, 2013. I came up with the number “23”.

These books ranged in genre,;from memoirs, to theology, from self-help books, to fiction. I will admit that a majority of these 23 (12, in fact) were faith-related, such as Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger (eventual Pope Benedict XVI) or Socrates Meets Jesus by Peter Kreeft.

I’m currently wrapped up in another faith-based book as I write this. I had to place my bookmark in page 51 and start writing this blog post because an important truth came across my mind while thinking about all this:

We need to go beyond the book.

What do I mean by this?

I had to take a timeout from reading today to ask myself the following question: “Kevin, why? Why are you spending your time reading, especially about such matters as faith and reason? What good will it do?” I have to admit that I am intrigued by faith-based books, but I must be careful with what I do with them.

If I read faith-based books so that I can have more answers to certain questions than others my age, I will be reading for the wrong reasons. If I read faith-based books to build myself up as “right” so I can more effectively look down on people as “wrong”, I will be reading for the wrong reasons.

Imagine a firefighter constantly studying building structures and safety protocol and firefighting strategies day in and day out. One day he is walking down the street fully equipped not only mentally but also physically, sporting his helmet, oxygen tank, and jacket. While he is walking he sees a building on fire in the distance with people trapped inside. He sees this and chooses to ignore it. In this case he would still have all his knowledge, but what good would those strategies and ideas be if he could not apply it and save those who needed his help?

I know people who can answer Catholic trivia like it was an elementary-level math problem and can recite almost any Bible verse from memory. Yet these same people wallow in the pride of their information warehouse and spend their whole lives trying to build themselves up, inadvertently or even purposefully blocking others out. This is a form of pride and can turn people off faster than a pedophile mustache.

The purpose of reading faith-based books cannot be solely to take in information and become a walking encyclopedia. Even St. Paul was aware of this as he wrote: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (Corinthians 13:2).

I encourage my brothers and sisters who dabble in theological books or partake in Scripture studies to be wary of the reasoning for reading. If you hope to build yourself up as “knowledgeable”, put the book back on the shelf. If you hope to be able to use your information solely to “beat” others in arguments, don’t even bother reading. What good is it to memorize Bible verses that talk about Jesus instructing his disciples to serve others, then walk right past a brother or sister in need?

We must go beyond the book.

“If one has the answers to all the questions, that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.” – Pope Francis

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