Reading Charitably

The other day I happened upon A Theology of Reading, about how a Christian ought to approach pagan authors. The main point is, as Bishop Basil (our bishop Basil, that is, not the one Mr Benson quotes) is known as saying: there are two ways to go about life; like the fly or like the honeybee. The fly gravitates to everything that is most ugly and festering to feed there, while the bee goes toward that which is sweet and good, and makes something with it. Be like the bee. Alan Jacobs elaborates upon that theme — it’s worth looking at. Being still in training as a charitable and just reader myself, I thought: no duh. This reaction was heightened by his comment that “I anticipated that the pagan literature of the Greeks and Romans would chafe against my students’ delicate sensibilities and trigger reflexive habits.” Huh, I thought. I must’ve been spending too much time at St John’s; we read, for instance, the Athenian gentlemen of Plato’s Symposium making speeches about how beautiful man/boy eros is, and there’s nary a chaffed sensibility in sight. St Augustine is chaffing the class sensibilities a bit more, but only a bit. I almost thought people were careful about this stuff by instinct. If someone stands out as having some agenda or being less than charitable it’s considered very poor conversation, and people get rather annoyed — though usually quietly, politely, and patiently so. I’m not certain where to go with this thought, if anywhere… *considers*

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