Culture & Society · Faith & Spirituality · Recollections & Reflections

On literally judging a book by its cover and why you should not… or maybe should?

Do you ever read books to understand the other side?

I would take a wager and say most of us do not.

I mean, why would we? If we believe we’re in the right and the other side is wrong (which I think is human nature to some extent; otherwise, can you imagine how life would be if we were constantly doubting ourselves and our positions?), why in the world would we devote our leisurely time to read through attempted arguments for a conclusion we know the other side has already decided is right (and more importantly, although we refuse to acknowledge it, we have already decided is wrong)?

The point of argumentation theoretically should take us to a conclusion that we sometimes agree with, and sometimes disagree with.

But in reality, that almost never happens. Most of us never have genuine conversion experiences.

Even if we can agree on the premise, human beings are clever enough to deploy “arguments” (what the textbooks call logical fallacies) that prove our already-agreed upon conclusion. It is why I have such a love-hate relationship with the law and the legal system. It’s so gosh darn fascinating, but damn those lawyers and judges when I don’t agree with them!

I’m not saying lawyers and judges employ logical fallacies. There’s too much contradictory case law for them to use in their arguments to make them technically valid. But you can’t deny it — there’s a lot of picking and choosing going on. Oh and news flash for ya, EVERYONE DOES IT! Not just the justices you think are wrong (I’m looking at you, America!)

Right now I am reading a book that I do not like. The title – “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue” – was intriguing (which is why Mr. Rafia bought it in the first place). And since the subject matter is particularly relevant to me, as a woman who observes physical modesty, he suggested that it be my next read.

I, of course, do a bit of research before I read any book. I have to have a certain level of affinity with an author, because I know I will be entering their world and will have to play by their rules. This is true for both fiction and non-fiction. Unless you like being a serial non-finisher, this is something I recommend to all avid readers.

This time though, I did not like what I found. When I quickly read through who its endorsers were, I had already decided that I was not going to like it.

But I have difficulty not finishing something I started (it’s just a thing about me, I suppose – that might explain my issues surrounding food). Also, with this book, I kinda wanted to know what the other side was saying. In actuality, this side is not really the other side. On the topic, we agree. I think modesty for women is a good thing.

But when the author takes off, that is where she loses me. For one, I am halfway through the book and not once has she made mention that modesty should also be for men, too. Also, she uses a lot of statistics to prove her case. The one thing I do remember from all my Econ classes is that correlation does not imply causation.

Then, when she attempted to make the case that eating disorders are a result of sexual permissiveness in our culture, that’s when I started yelling at my book.

I hear stuff like this from religious apologists frequently. Religious people, please stop! Don’t employ the language of science to prove your religious convictions. You’re entering a game where all the rules are against you. I am someone who is deeply religious (that does not mean that I am necessarily pious all the time), but I know that my convictions are based on faith. Convictions based on faith can never be proven to someone who does not share this faith, because there is no agreement on the premise itself! You can’t use logic if you don’t agree on the first principles! 

Back to my point though. I take particular issue with this claim because I have always observed physical modesty as a Muslim woman, but that did not prevent me from suffering from an eating disorder or having issues with food and exercise that I continue to have. One could make the argument that perhaps hijab has not fully entered my heart. That may be so, but this is such a high level of modesty the book does not approach, and arguably very difficult for anyone to do.

And yet, even though I do not like the book, I will continue to read it to its end. It’s not a novel whose story I find boring or employs archaic language; that for me, would be a valid reason to stop. But this book is on a topic that obviously resonates with me so much that I feel the need to write about it even before I have finished it! Maybe that’s the mark of a good book then, something that gets you to think even if you don’t agree with the author?

Regardless, it’s good to know what the other side thinks and why. Not because we should convert them, I’m not really concerned with that. But really, to humble ourselves. By doing this, we come to learn that we are just as “guilty” of this “faulty logic” that we accuse others of. Perhaps not on the same topic, but in other areas we take for granted. I shouldn’t even use the word guilty, because it’s human nature I am talking about. Before you attack others’ arguments for lack of validity, examine your own first. That doesn’t mean your beliefs have to pass some test in order to be held, but understand that just as some of your own beliefs are held on faith, the same is true for others on the “other side.”

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