Young People Ask . . .
Does It Matter What I Read?
WHEN Jacques was not enjoying archery, running or gymnastics, he was often found reading a book. “I was searching for the truth,” he says, “and so I got absorbed in books about psychic phenomena. However, far from adding enjoyment to life, books made me so depressed that I decided to commit suicide.”
Jacques’ sad experience illustrates that what you read affects you—for better or for worse. And while few books might affect a person so drastically, it would be foolish to conclude that one can read just anything and not be affected—especially when you consider just how much reading material is available today.
Make a visit to a good-sized library. It likely contains thousands or even millions of books—“romance” novels, science fiction, history, sports stories. A lifetime would not be long enough to read all of this! No wonder, then, that long before the era of mass printing King Solomon warned young people: “Take a warning: To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Solomon was not discouraging reading; he was just advising you to be selective. But what should you select?
Choosing Your “Conversations” Carefully
Your mind, like your body, thrives—or starves—on what you feed it. No nutrition-minded person would eat a junk-food diet. But what about how you feed your mind? English philosopher Francis Bacon put it this way: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” And we might add, some books are not worth reading in the first place!
Consider, too, what 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes said: “When one reads good books it is like having a conversation with men of breeding who lived in the past. We might even call it a selective conversation in which the author expresses only his most noble thoughts.” The problem is, however, that not all writers’ thoughts are really noble—not even those who “lived in the past.” And what of today’s crop of writers? They are part of a generation the Bible predicted would be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) Would you want to “converse” with people like this? ‘Why not?’ you may ask.
The Bible answers by stating: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Yes, the people with whom you associate can mold your personality. Have you ever spent so much time with a friend that you found yourself beginning to act, talk and even think like your friend? Well, reading a book is like spending hours with the one who wrote it. Unwittingly, you can be strongly influenced.
Two youths, for example, read a book featuring reincarnation. Reportedly, they were so moved by what they read that they began to think of death as an escape from the problems they were facing. So they stole a car and deliberately smashed it into a concrete wall! How profoundly they were affected by their “conversation” with the author of that book!
Of course, to what extent a writer might influence you would have a great deal to do with the subject he writes about. A “conversation” with an expert cook, a foreign-language teacher or a tourist guide might reveal little about the writer’s morality or view of life. But a “conversation” with a philosopher or even a teen-romance novelist could reveal an unrealistic or even warped view of life.
You may therefore conclude that it is safer to stick with books on factual subjects. Even here, however, the principle Jesus stated at Matthew 24:15 is pertinent: “Let the reader use discernment.” Learn to analyze and weigh what you read. Be aware of the fact that all humans are afflicted with a certain amount of bias and are not always totally honest in their portrayal of facts. The Bible cautions us against accepting unquestioningly everything we read or hear: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”—Proverbs 14:15.
Is fiction “off limits”? Not necessarily. There are some books, written especially for teenaged youths, that are not only entertaining but educational. And, of course, there are “classics” and other fictional works that have real value. Nevertheless, care should be exercised in selecting a book of this type. Does it feature senseless violence, sex or occult practices? Just a glance at the cover will often answer these questions. And what about the book’s characters? Are the “heroes” people who indulge in things God condemns, such as fornication and drunkenness? If so, have the strength of character to put the book down. There are so many upbuilding things to read that it is foolish to waste time on books that do not build up.
“Look Out . . .”
Caution should also be taken in reading anything that expounds a philosophy of life. Teen magazines, for example, are full of advice on everything from dating to premarital sex—not always advice a Christian could use, however. And what about books that plunge into weighty philosophical questionings? Are they wholesome reading?
A young Frenchman named Jean-Marc says: “At age 13 I started reading books dealing with death, suffering and the purpose of life. However, the wide diversity of answers, which included philosophical, religious and political theories, left me dissatisfied. I wondered why life is so uncertain.”
Jean-Marc did not wonder for long, however. Two young girls who were Jehovah’s Witnesses helped him see what the Bible had to say about the purpose of life; namely, that man exists to serve God. (Revelation 4:11) They also helped him develop a Bible-based hope for a coming better world where peace and justice will prevail. (2 Peter 3:13) Jean-Marc thus received satisfying answers to his questions, not just empty speculations. No wonder the Bible cautions: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men . . . and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) Go, instead, to the real source of wisdom—the Bible. Nevertheless, Jean-Marc’s experience illustrates that reading can also affect you beneficially.
It Matters What You Read!
Studying the Bible and Bible-related publications has had a profoundly good effect on many youths. One Japanese girl, for example, says that reading the Bible helped her keep her mind off sex—often a problem for youths. “I always put the Bible near my bed and make a point of reading it before going to sleep,” she says. “It is when I am alone and have nothing to do (such as at bedtime) that my mind sometimes turns toward sex. So reading the Bible really helps me!”
Another youth fell into sexual immorality. The reason? “I was starving spiritually,” he said. But he adds: “I started to read the Watchtower and Awake! magazines, as well as the book Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It.* Gradually I regained my spiritual strength and cleaned up my life. Now I am happy.” So “conversing” with the people of faith written about in the Bible can give you real moral fiber. This can greatly add to your happiness.
Will you take the time to read the Bible and publications that help you understand it? Remember, what you read can help or hurt you, confuse or enlighten you. But if you give priority to reading God’s Word you are sure to benefit. And if you still have time to do other reading, no one will begrudge your taking the time to do so occasionally. Just be sure that you are selective about what you read. For it can truly be said: “Tell me what you read, and I will tell you what kind of person you are.”
Publications of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
[Picture on page 18]
With so many thousands of books, you must be selective