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5 books to save America

Published in Blog on March 16, 2023 by Jakob Fay

“For the first time in modern history, less than half the adult population now reads literature,” asserts the startling report “Reading at Risk.”

The now two-decades-old study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts noted that reading a book necessitates attention, engagement, and even practice. “By contrast, most electronic media… make fewer demands on their audiences, and often require no more than passive participation.” The report worried that our societal overreliance on oversimplified, streamlined technology would result in “shorter attention spans,” and ultimately, “a vast cultural impoverishment.”

Twenty years later, the data is only more portentous. In 2021, Americans read fewer books “than Gallup has measured in any prior survey dating back to 1990.” Not even COVID lockdowns revived reading; at the height of the pandemic, only six percent of Americans listed reading as their favorite way to spend an evening.

No doubt we are living through that “vast cultural impoverishment” “Reading at Risk” predicted so many years ago. Our thinking is shallow. We satiate ourselves with sensationalized clickbait rather than engage, develop, and challenge our minds through reading. And we miss out on an unexplored world of beauty.

To combat this serious malnourishment, here are five must-read books to revitalize our numb minds and help save America.

5. The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success

In “Decadent,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argues that America has become so dissipated in her enormous prosperity she has effectively (and perhaps fatally) stopped progressing. Hence she is a victim of her own success. The book is far from perfect (in fact, many of his conclusions have garnered mixed reviews), but the breadth of his analysis is simply staggering.

A noted Catholic, Douthat tries hard (perhaps too hard) to whitewash “decadence” of any distinctly moralistic connotation and simply wonders: What if America had institutional sclerosis? What if our comfortable stagnation crippled us to ever becoming the innovative, pioneering nation we once were?

No facet of American culture is left untouched in his search for an answer, and the result is a fascinating, deeply insightful read.

4. Knowledge of the Holy

In his 1961 theological masterpiece, “Knowledge of Holy,” Christian writer A. W. Tozer advocates for the importance of getting the right idea of God, and acting upon it. He argues that so many of man’s problems stem from us having “low” or inaccurate views about God. To counter this, he consecrates his whole book to meditating on the Divine and the implications of truly knowing Him.

“With our loss of the sense of Majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine presence,” he writes. “The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them.”

Such a book, of course, applies most appropriately to an individual or church. Yet the author's argument can be extended to the culture as well. How radically would America be transformed if more of us knew the true God of the Bible, the God A. W. Tozer seeks to introduce us to!

3. Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God

The works of Will Durant are the cure to our stubborn refusal to learn from history. Will and Ariel, the husband and wife duo, spent decades studying the past, compiling their discoveries into the 11-volume series, “The Story of Civilization.” Written toward the end of his life, “Fallen Leaves” is the truncated culmination of everything he gained from a lifetime of learning from history.

I doubt anyone will agree with everything Durant says. Everyone is bound to be offended by at least something. But we nevertheless would be wise to heed his words.

“To me,” he writes, “the “death of God” and the slow decay of Christianity… constitute the profoundest tragedy in modern Western history, of far deeper moment than the great wars or the competition between capitalism and communism.” And while Durant (who paradoxically calls himself a Christian yet questions the very existence of God) is far from a perfect saint and evidently misunderstands much about religion, his book is imbued with a quiet sense that the modern world has suffered a great loss in giving up God. If that alone he can convince us of, “Fallen Leaves” is worth reading.
2. The Abolition of Man

The brilliant apologist’s most philosophical work, “The Abolition of Man” is C. S. Lewis’s response to a culture that has lost appreciation for objective value (natural law; the Tao) and now, more than ever, a must-read. One quote from the 1943 book is widely recognizable: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” But we fail to understand what Lewis really was saying if we do not read the book.

By “chest,” Lewis does not mean merely masculine features but virtue-seeking sentiment. Over the course of three chapters, he argues that man’s attempt to overcome nature via moral subjectivism will ultimately result in nature overcoming him (a.k.a the abolition of man). The logical payoff to the argument is ingenious, profound, and unmissable. Indeed, as professor Peter Kreeft has recommended, “The Abolition of Man” belongs on any list of books “people should read if they want to save Western civilization”

1.  The Bible

America would not exist if not for the Bible. And there would be no hope for America today if not for the Bible. Reading and obeying that sacred book – as God’s Word – puts and keeps all the affairs of men in perfect order. Thus it is the perfect cure to the godless chaos of today’s world.

“Suppose a nation… should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited…. What a Utopia, what a Paradise would this region be,” marveled Founding Father John Adams. Dr. Benjamin Rush agreed: “We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible….”

Jesus Himself said in John 6:63, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

His words are indeed the roadmap to America’s revival, and they are readily available to each and every one of us in the Bible.

As we seek to save our beloved country in the fight for liberty, may we remember the importance of ever seeking Truth through reading. Pick up these five books, and get started today.

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