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Hallo again to all.

Egyptian hieroglyphicsRecently in the New York Times we read an article, 'The Passion of Steve Jobs' by John Markoff. What caught our attention was what Mr Jobs had to say about a new 'electronic book' product:

'It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore'.

People don't read, we're told. Last year we wrote in this space about voluntary illiteracy contributing to fear of the unknown. A few days ago, someone brought to our attention a comment in a blog that Anglicans Online has too many words, that it's too text-like.

Guilty as charged. We do rely on words and we try not to distract from them with too many pictures. Text comprised of carefully-assembled words is the best means ever devised by our civilization to communicate ideas. (Besides, we haven't the skill to communicate with pictures the way that Dave Walker can or by hula dancing.) Another writer at the New York Times, Timothy Egan, wrote about Mr Jobs' statement that people don't read, pointing out that hundreds of millions of books were sold in the USA alone; surely not all of them were sold to warm the homeless.

While media in the USA are busily using words to tell us that people won't read words, Christian Today notes that

The Anglican Primate of Nigeria, the Most Reverend Peter Akinola, in a press conference, stated the formation of a separate conservative Anglican conference was due to some members within the Anglican family bringing ‘new principles’ to interpret the Scripture where modern culture had taken precedence over the word of God.

A hula dance tells a storyIt worries us a little that people might be trying to follow the Word of God as He revealed it to King James, without actually having read that Word, relying instead on others to tell them what the Bible says. We recalled an article by Gary Burge in Christianity Today (not the same publication as Christian Today) marvelling at the number of people who had no idea what the Bible actually said. It seems to be getting worse: a quick look round with a search engine shows many articles (all composed entirely of words) quoting many surveys (a mixture of words and numbers) bewailing the poor level of Biblical literacy in the modern world.*

The problem with all this is that knowing and understanding are entirely different. We know a man who has pretty much memorized the entire Bible (the Authorized [or King James] Version, of course). If you ask him to quote a passage, he can nearly always do it, but if you ask him what it means after he has quoted it, he just quotes it again — clearly believing that the words are the meaning and that translations other than the AV (or the KJV, if you are in North America) are not God's Word and are therefore beneath him.

Try to engage him in a discussion of what a Bible passage actually means, and you will see in his eyes the same terror he'd feel if trapped on a narrow ledge high above the ground. Once we showed him the academic credentials of a Professor of New Testament at a well-known university and asked him what he thought a Professor of New Testament might do that a schoolteacher would not. He had no idea; the very concept of doing anything with scripture besides reciting and memorizing it was quite outside his understanding.

With your kind permission, we shall keep using words, both reading them and writing them. (Call us old-fashioned if you must; so very 1990s.) Our server computers tell us that about 200,000 of you read words at Anglicans Online at least once a month, and we're glad that you put up with our text, our words, and our habit of reading a large number of words before we write any at all.

See you next week. QWERTY UIOP and ETAION SHRDLU.

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Last updated: 24 February 2008

*If you'd like to test your own Biblical literacy, the internet is chock-a-block with Bible quizzes, of which our favourite is this one.

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