The Humility of Reading (or The Pride of Not Reading)

We’ve all been warned about the connection between pride and reading. Charles Spurgeon warned that “little learning and much pride come with hasty reading.” Bertrand Russell once observed, “There are two motives for reading a book. One, that you enjoy it. The other; that you can boast about it.” Alan Jacobs has similarly commented: “I think most people read quickly because they want not to read but to have read.”

Yes, it is possible to read for the wrong reasons or to read in a such a way that you only enflame your pride.

But what about not reading?

Of course childish pride is the underlying motive for someone reading in order to tell others they have read a book. But what if someone refuses to read? Are they more humble than the one who reads for the sake of boasting? Perhaps. But probably not.

It’s stunning to hear that Americans, on average, read only about four books a year. Among these titles, fiction appears to be the most common genre. When it comes to reading non-fiction, then, Americans are simply not reading. Is it because we’re humble? I doubt it. Why such cynicism? Because reading itself can actually be an expression of humility.

Reading Means You’re Not Writing
If you are reading a book, then you are not writing. In this act you are confessing that you need to take time to fill up before you can produce. In a day when immediate “productivity” must be seen in the latest tweet or blog post, reading is an act of humility because the reader is signaling—to himself and to his readers—that he is not a self-generating source of knowledge.

Reading Demonstrates You Have Much to Learn
Accordingly, reading is an indication that you have much to learn. If a person doesn’t read but only expresses his opinion, he is acting foolishly (Prov 18:2). A wise man listens to advice, accepts instruction, and acquires truth (Prov 12:15; 19:20; 23:23) and is therefore able to lead and teach others (Prov 10:17). Before we can instruct we must be instructed, and reading provides us with valuable instruction.

Reading Indicates You Need Refreshment
Reading also indicates that we are finite, easily-depleted creatures. If you are anything like me, your intellectual, emotional, and spiritual reservoirs vanish quickly over the course of a given day or week. Reading is a source of refreshment and renewal for our finite minds and hearts.

If we have the ability and opportunity to read but refuse to, it would seem that it isn’t due to our desire to remain humble; it might be because we think we are a self-replenishing source of knowledge and spiritual vitality. And if that’s not pride, I don’t know what is.

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