Sunday, October 3, 2010

Religious reading vs. consumerist reading

In Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion, Paul J. Griffiths differentiates between religious reading and consumerist reading.

Consumerist readers "treat what they read only as objects for consumption, to be discarded when the end for which they were read has been achieved". Griffiths offers modern academic reading as an example:
Academic readers consume the works of others and produce their own; they are defined and given status by the body of literature they control and upon which they are accredited to give authoritative (expert) voice for proper reward; they cite and mention (rather than religiously read), and are in turn judged largely by the extent to which the works they produce (again, the industrial metaphor, the image of mass production) are cited and mentioned.
As you'd guess, Griffiths' book is a jeremiad (his word) snuck in under the respectable imprint of Oxford University Press. He makes it clear that he believes consumerist reading is destructive.

Religious reading, says Griffiths, "has to do primarily with the establishment of certain relations between readers and the things they read". Religious reading treats its object with reverence, as an inexhaustible treasure house which continually yields new objects of wonder and "always precedes, exceeds, and in the end supersedes its readers". Religious readers "are seen as intrinsically capable of reading and as morally required to read". The metaphors here are not industrial, but biological, e.g., rumination, eating, digesting.
For the religious reader, the work read is an object of overpowering delight and great beauty. It can never be discarded because it can never be exhausted. It can only be reread, with reverence and ecstasy.


  1. I've been thinking on some related subjects. One surprise was seeing Chesterton talk about a need for fiction that was different from a need for art. He seemed to approve of reading "bad" books—that is, books that were bad as art—and thought that for some purposes they might actually be better than "good" ones. I think he may be right. I'm still mulling that one over.

    Is being a "consumer" always bad? How about in regard to food? Sometimes people seem to take this to an inhuman extreme. As if we could somehow exist without being "needy" on any level.

  2. You're right. I entirely agree with Chesterton's defense of the penny dreadfuls. There's certainly nothing wrong with reading "bad" books for entertainment.

    I think Griffiths is talking about reading books in ways appropriate to them. Consumerist reading of books intended to be consumed is appropriate. (Reading them religiously is a *serious* error. Think Twilight.) Consumerist reading of books intended to be read reverently is a problem.

  3. Okay. With that distinction held in mind, Griffiths probably has a good point. And I just noticed his biological metaphors, too. Those suggest that his disparaging of consumption is not taking consumption in older more literal sense as "eating." (It is a little odd that he pits one eating metaphor against others. That metaphor must be dead to him. Unless he addresses how this works.)


About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.