Monday, February 27, 2006

Confessions of a bibliophile

Okay, I admit it! I spend most of my free time reading! I can’t help it - I’m addicted to books. I confess I’m an addict.
That being said, of all the books that I plan to read, there are three that I definitely want to complete this year.
The first is Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, the book that - published in 1859 - set out the theory of evolution by natural selection. I’m fascinated in the whole evolution vs. creationism debate, and, for me, reading this classical work is long overdue.
The second book is Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. I’ve already read Screwtape Letters, and have great respect for Lewis as a writer. I tried to read Mere Christianity when I was much younger, but I don’t think I was mentally prepared for it at the time. I found it extremely complicated, and I gave it up after the first chapter. I will give it another shot this year.
But most important, the third book that I plan to read fully this year is the Bible. As a Christian, I studied and read much of it, but only selected portions. Now I’ve found a renewed fascination for the book, and I want to experience it through different (non-Christian) eyes. I have already completed the books of Genesis and Exodus, and have been fascinated in discovering the Bible for what it really is: not an inherent, word for word dictation of some supernatural being, but rather a rich tapestry of different types of writings from different cultures and people - containing poetry, myths, legends, history, song, and wise council. The Bible contains a lot of good, but also a lot bad. I want to read it with a spirit of discovery, and realise all it weaknesses and its strengths.
Books are powerful things. They enable us to learn and discover. I just want to ask those - Christian and non-Christian alike - who might stumble across this article: which books made an impact on you as a person, and why? For me, Carl Sagan’s A Demon-Haunted World made an impact on my philosophy of thought. Doubt and scepticism are the highest virtues according Sagan’s philosophy, and this is what attracted me to his ideas.
I look forward to another year of reading.


eddie(F) said...

Hi Kevin

I totally relate, and I am especially drawn to studying the Jesus story from the mythological point of view. The Old Testament contains some pretty bizarre stuff, and to me it looks like a bunch of campfire stories about their quests grossly embellished to make each tribe (and its god) more superior than the next.

My experience is that that most Christians find it odd and curious that an atheist/agnostic would study the Bible. Go figure I guess.

I honestly cannot read Lewis, not even if you pay me.

Please keep us updated on what you find.

Cassandra said...

Hey Kevin, thanks for stopping by my blog!
I'm so jealous of your time to read. I haven't been able to sit and read an entire book in a couple of years.
I'm really interested in reading Sam Harris' The End of Faith. Someone in my local Humanist group will be loaning it to me soon. Then I'll have to choose between reading and blogging at night after the kids are in bed. :-)

Stardust1954 said...

I read the bible through twice...once as a christian, and then again as a non-christian and I actually see so many things I never saw as a christian who was taught to read it only one way (the "right" way) and to only take certain things from it. I see now that it is a collection of stories, parables, mythology, poetry, historical events, contradictions and some good wise sayings to live by. It is full of good and bad...and indeed a very complex piece of literature.

I just finished reading Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World" and think it was a very interesting and useful read.

Well, in the fiction category, a book that made a lasting impression in my mind was The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. This shocking tale explains the consequences of religious extremism gone too far. This book challenges views on traditional religion and makes one realize the importance of freedom of religion.

In the Non-Fiction category it was Lyrical Essays by Albert Camus, and Bertrand Russell's "Why I am not a Christian." Also, writings by Thomas Paine, especially "The Age of Reason"

(I am a book freak...I LOVE books.)

Nacho said...

Kevin, good luck with the reading. All very good books to tackle. Some good books to read regarding Religion, Philosophy, etc.

Don Cuppit's "Reforming Christianity" (2001)
Don Cuppit's "After God" (1997)
Bishop Spong "Why Christianity Must Change or Die," (1998)
Robert Oden "The Bible Without Theology" (2000)

These are wonderful books, even if both Cuppit and Spong still consider themselves Christian. These books have been liberating and inspiring. Also check the work of Elaine Pagels, and the work of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thanks Kevin, all the best

Nacho said...

Oh, sorry Kevin, forgot to mention these: if truly interested in Philosophy of Religion, check out Cuppit's "The Religion of Being, and "The Revelation of Being" both engagements with Heidegger's thought.

For two wonderful books challenging and engaging the issue of religion and public policy, political theory, check out:

Robert Audi's "Religious Commitment and Secular Reason" 2000
Jeffrey Stout "Democracy and Tradition" (2004)

Jason Hughes said...

I've read Mere Christianity at least ten times, and I'm still grappling with all of Lewis's ideals and thoughts! It's definately not for entertainment purposes! I, too, have just recently consciously exiled myself from a Christian perspective... I look foward to reading about your progression and how much it may or may not mirror my own...

Good luck!

Roger Saner said...

My own books would probably be...

Lord of the Rings (yes, I read it 3 times BEFORE the movie came out, so stop rolling your eyes!). I read it each year around the time autumn was settling in, along with a Gin Blossom's cd on infinite repeat...

Anything Terry Pratchett writes. He keeps me sane. The discworld is fantastic!

Richard Rohr has some good stuff - just finished his "Quest for the grail" which explores the great Quest myths and what we learn about ourselves through the journey. Profound.

Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline." Nice to see a Protestant looking at spiritual disciplines as a necessary habit. Worked through it in college with some classmates and got a lot out of it.

The Message throws conventional Scripture right back at you with a different twist...

Mere Christianity is great. C.S. Lewis poses the argument for God in terms of "Why is there 'good'?" He's very much the quintessential modern Christian writer and I find his language a bit stodgy sometimes, but he frames his arguments very well.

Roger Saner said...

More authors: Frederick Buechner is profound. He writes with his "own lifeblood" - read "Godric" if you can (order it online, if you don't like it - I'll buy it from you!). The same applies to "Son of laughter" - examining Jacob's life as the son of Isaac, who once nearly sacrificed him to God (the "Fear" as they call him).

Brian McLaren writes some brilliant stuff. "A new kind of Christian" is a good place to start, with his latest being an in-depth review of the whole doctrine of hell, phrased as a narrative conversation between some core characters: "The last word and the word after that."

Roger Saner said...

I also have to confess - I love books! Every now and then I splurge out on some new ones - like yesterday: 7 day weekend by Ricardo Semler, Tom Peter's Design, A brief history of myth by Karen Armstrong and Weight by Jeanette Winterson (a re-telling of the Atlas/Hercules myth)...

Also bought the complete works of T.S. Eliot and some selected poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke. Good stuff.

noell said...

Wow, are you ambitious?! I don't know if I'd ever touch Origins itself. Maybe a book ABOUT Origins!

As for the Bible, I spent SO MANY years reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon, that while I have thought it might be interesting to read again with new eyes, I just have had no interest. Your explanation of why you're reading it now, and your observations made me think maybe I will give it a go at some point.

For me, immediately after deciding to leave religion, I "met" Joseph Campbell on a five part interview on PBS. I have not yet read his books, but he was the light that brought everything into understanding for me about religion. Until that point, I had no idea there were other mythical gods born of virgins and who died and came back.

Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World was also a defining book. I didn't actually read the whole thing. My husband was reading it, and he read huge portions to me as we sat in bed at night. It was probably Sagan that led my husband and I to turn to science as the major source for knowledge. It wasn't for a while after that I became acquainted with the secular community and found that science is where all the other atheists also turn!

Just so you know, I'm about to put a link to your blog on my own, after I catch up on your last couple posts.

Zoe said...

Read the Bible again? Her shoulders slump. Might be an idea though.

Thought the authors would likely be devastated, the book that started me openly questioning & thinking is The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church, by Johnson & VanVonderen. This led to a study of about 10 or more books on spiritual abuse in the church.

Another book that got me to thinking, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark A. Noll. (A bit of history.)

Reading The Case for Christ as well as The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel left me going, "Huh, that's the case?" (No longer were so-called Christian apologetics enough.)

Surpassing Wonder, The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds by Donald Harman Akenson assaulted my not so pliable brain, gave me a headache & a hunger for more.

Blankets, an illustrated novel, by Craig Thompson; Dare to Think for Yourself, by Betty Brogaard (as first read on Earl Doherty's site) & Why We Hate, by Rush W. Dozier, Jr..

Stardust suggested The Handmaid's Tale. Think I'll hit the library for that one. :)

Kevin Parry said...

Thank you all for your comments:

Roger – I read the Lord of the Rings while at university in the late ‘90’s. I won’t be lying if I say that that was the book that jump-started my addiction to reading. I absolutely loved it, and have read it twice. Terry Pratchett is also a regular of mine; his humour is fantastic (my favourite book of his is Night Watch). You also mentioned Jeanette Winterson; I read her Oranges Are the Only Fruit. It is hilariously funny – but you have to be someone who has experienced a Christian upbringing to understand the book.

Eddie(F) – Thank you for your comments, Eddie. It seems, from remarks on this blog (including Jason’s comment) that Mere Christianity is a difficult book to work through – I’m hoping that I won’t give up on it too easily this time round.

Stardust1954 – I’ve read parts of Bertrand Russell's Why I am not a Christian (the book with a collection of his essays), and I must admit that I found some of his points somewhat dated. I guess he was arguing against the Christianity of his day. I will look out for The Handmaid's Tale.

Nacho – Thank you for all the suggestions. I also have the same problem as Cassandra – lack of time! My list of ‘books to read’ is increasing at a increasing rate! But I’ve added your suggestions to that list.

Noel – I have a copy of the Book of Mormon, but have not yet read it. I don’t know any Mormons, but I would like to learn more about the religion, how it began, and how it differs from Christianity.


Dad 1188 said...
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Dad 1188 said...
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Dad 1188 said...

There's some good reading listed in your post and the comments!

I personally find reading Joseph Campbell to be at the top of my list (and watching his recorded televised appearances - like Noell).
Reading Carl Jung and what he has to say about religion is on my 'to read' list also.
I like the Bishop Shelby Spong, also.
Asimov's guide to the old and new testament is a long but good read - like a scientific humanists annotated guide to the Bible.
I can't stand Lewis anymore - like a previous comment mentioned. I too read Mere Christianity - and others - but his personal brand of Christianity is pretty dissimilar from any other, and ultimately - I do get the impression that he spent the second half of his life trying to believe in something he didn't really buy. He was using it as a tool to deal with suffering - as we all attempt in our own ways - but his way is destructive, as it imprisons the human potential and depends heavily on fictions to explain reality.

I enjoy your blog.
I envy people who are so level headed.

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

while still a theist - i am quite sympathetic to these sentiments - i share many of them.

last summer my church relooked at the OT sunday school stories - you know, jonah and the whale, david and goliath... and somehow they appeared different from the PG version we got on flannelgraph as kids. the "Great Judge" Samson, for instance - we couldn't get farther than he was a pussywhiped asshole. and i'm not sure the point of Jonah's story is that a person really can live inside a whale for 3 days.

so kevin - i am envious of your rereading the scriptures with eyes not tied to the same old.

modern christianity has done itself a major disservice with the literalizaing and factualizing of metaphorical and mythological truths.

wondering if anyone else has read any marcus borg. i am currently reading two of his books - and this one in particular has been quite enjoyable to me. i'm still not sure how much of it i am going to incoroporate of it - but it seems to be having a profound impact on my re-thinking of scripture.


Michael said...

I must agree about Demon Haunted World, I think it's a terrific read. Just a quick question about 'Mere Christianity'. Did you manage to read it again? I'm almost done myself, I'd read it years ago at University but wanted to read it again with an 'older hat' on so to speak.

I also get a lot of comments about Lewis from other apologists and I thought it deserved another read.

From what I've read so far, I can't believe that any modern day Christian would want to align themselves with Lewis based on this book. It's incredibly bad, the logic is worse and at best I'd describe him as a fundamentalist.

I think I'm going to write a short essay on it shortly, just wondered if you had any thoughts?