Because, apparently, they need a definition for it.
“Like, you wanted a definition?”
“Like, you wanted a definition?”
My list is not intended to represent Harold Bloom-worthy canonicity.
Instead, as a university English lecturer who teaches about 100 students each semester, I have focused my list on a few things important to me.
Reflected in my list below is my belief that mental and emotional strengthening is very important for students who are starting college and living away from home for the first time.
1. Understand how to navigate difficulties in your life through the lense of a psychiatrist who survived a Nazi concentration camp: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. With the exceptions of certain fraternity rituals and enrollment at The Citadel, nothing you go through in college will be as bad as a concentration camp.
2. Fine-tune your writing and listening skills, and be prepared to argue winningly in everything from your research paper to a dorm-room bull session: Thank You For Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs. This is a funny and easy way to learn about rhetoric, an essential art in college, whether getting A’s or getting, you know, that special someone.
3. Learn how to be decent, honorable, and sociable, yet live above the fray of everyone’s drama — and your own: The Essential Marcus Aurelius, introduced and translated by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza. This is a set of short sayings that helps reason play a healthy role in your mind and emotions, and it has stood the test of time.
4. Get a solid grip on several essential topics: Collected Essays by George Orwell. “Politics and the English Language” will give you powerful insight into both writing well and listening closely to politicians and salespeople — it’s like a short course in critical thinking. “The Art of Donald McGill” is an excellent bit of art writing. I dare say “England Your England” will help you see what’s peculiar about your own nation and culture, even if you’ve never been outside of them. “Shooting an Elephant” remains an outstanding example of “creative nonfiction” or “literary nonfiction,” especially in the tradition of the personal essay.
5. No, it’s not all relative: The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. This densely written book might be a challenge for many of this fall’s freshmen, but slow, thoughtful engagement with this book will help you filter some of the free-range bullshit found on any college campus.
You can buy any and all of these books right here. Best wishes!
Dan Golden is an editorial writer for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee
Mere Christianity — C.S. Lewis
Slaughterhouse Five — Kurt Vonnegut
Huckleberry Finn — Mark Twain
The Story of Civilization — Will & Ariel Durant
Charles Twombly is a former professor of philosophy and religion at Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga.
1. Alan Paton — Cry, The Beloved Country
2. Lillian Smith — Killers of the Dream
3. Alexis de Toqueville — Democracy in America (selections)
4. William Barrett — Irrational Man
5. Marilynne Robinson — [something by this author, fiction or essays]
To rewrite Ecclesiastes, of the making of book lists there is no end. Open Culture asks, What Are Your Favorite Non-Fiction Books? | Open Culture. The post actually includes a couple of links to current and past reading lists.
Well, heck, I’m supposed to be doing chores for my wife, so I might as well share my own favorite non-fiction books.
In no particular order, although I’ll get Jon Krakauer out of the way first:
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
Home Stand: Growing Up in Sports by James McKean
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy by Dave Hickey
Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris
The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense by John Ralston Saul
Crossing Myself: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth by Greg Garrett
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan
A Collection of Essays by George Orwell
Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets by Thomas Howard
Before Their Time: A Memoir by Robert Kotlowitz
Hiroshima by John Hershey
The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis on Scripture by Michael J. Christensen
The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment by Daniel Taylor
Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers by Kelly James Clark
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick
Dead Right by David Frum
The Politics of Envy: Statism as Theology by Doug Bandow
The Nobel Lecture on Literature by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy by William Barrett
Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It by Os Guinness
In Season, Out of Season: An Introduction to the Thought of Jacques Ellul – interviews with Ellul conducted by Madeleine Garrigou-Lagrange
My Times: Adventures in the News Trade by John Corry
Copy-editing, proofreading, and design updates made July 27, 2014
20 books that can help, following a short introduction:
I hate a Catch-22.
Much of my adult life, I felt like if I really lost my faith, I would lose something precious and meaningful to me.
At the same time, I have been unraveling, dismantling, and extracting the toxicity, misguidance, abuse, simplistic biblical interpretations, and anti-intellectualism of the fundamentalism that marked the first 23 years of my life.
Trying to separate Christian faith from my upbringing has been like trying to separate two pieces of paper after they’ve been glue together.
I’m not the only one, and the problem is frighteningly widespread.
For example, Dr. Harold Bussell, a man with solid evangelical credentials who I mention in the list below, once said, “my wife and I were involved with an Evangelical youth mission based in Switzerland. We were with the group only six weeks, but it was almost seven years before I had overcome the psychological damage caused by their cult-like control and spiritualization.”
With so many appeals to the Bible, the Gospel message, and the Holy Spirit in fundamentalist circles, how can so much go so wrong?
And if a community’s inclination toward the Bible, the Gospel message, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t keep things from going horribly wrong, then how can any of those things be true?
I’m not sure I’ve answered that question. The answer seems like a matter of how individuals and groups understand those things, rather than a problem of those things in and of themselves.
The following books have helped me in my own journey away from various forms of fundamentalism I experienced in churches and grade schools, and in a communal, Bible-based cult.
For the most part, these aren’t theological books, but rather they are targeted at specific intellectual, spiritual, moral, psychological, practical and ethical issues related to religious abuse and fundamentalism. While some of these are academic, most are accessible to any reader. I’ve included links where I could.
Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth, PhD — a well-researched, thoroughly presented, and accessible study of the discipleship/shepherding movement and other controlling Bible-based groups, by a Christian sociologist; more people should have read this one
The Search for Significance by Robert McGee — after nearly 20 years in fundamentalist Christianity, I was introduced to basic Pauline and Reformation concepts through this book; those concepts here are applied through the cognitive-behavioral form popularized by Dr. David Burns; started my journey away from fundamentalism
Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse edited by Michael D. Langone, PhD — amazing resource with chapters/articles written from just about every angle, including psychological, ministerial, first-person accounts, etc.
Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy — a funny book with a serious task; really a mock self-help book; this guy understood my despair, explained how it was working in my life, disarmed me, gave me some reasons for hope, and encouraged me to search for truth; hit this link and scroll down just a tad to read the intro to this book
Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches that Abuse by Mary Chrnalogar — similar to Enroth’s book, this book was a watershed moment in the fight against authoritarianism and unhealthy interpretations of Scripture in American Bible-based groups
Crossing Myself by Greg Garrett — generally, I identified with this guy, who writes about his battle with severe depression and the fallout of a fundamentalist upbringing; after winning a major literary award for a novel, Garrett went to an Episcopal seminary, and maintained an orthodox faith; to my mind, it would have been easier for him to have milked the acclaim of his literary award instead of choosing to serve God
The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment by Daniel Taylor — the back cover offers a good summation of its content: this book is for those who “resent the smugness of close-minded skepticism on the one hand but feel equally uncomfortable with the smugness of closed-minded Christianity on the other;” from an evangelical English professor who likes to quote Karl Barth, Kierkegaard, and Pascal
If Only I Could Believe by Wim Rietkerk — this is a L’Abri guy in Europe with empathy and pastoral caring for those who have sincere struggles with faith; shows how the Scriptures identify with those who have doubts
Growing Up Fundamentalist: Journeys in Legalism and Grace by Stefan Ulstein — a professional journalist interviews 22 people who grew up in various fundamentalist, legalistic churches; each person has his or her own story of staying in the faith or leaving the faith, and how he or she navigated college and adulthood, plus the questions they have kept and, often, their aversion to certainties and pat answers; in many cases, the interviewees display a remarkable freedom, maturity and understanding as they reflect on their pasts
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl — a Jewish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp shares the mental and emotional understanding that kept him sane and engaged during a horrific time; recommended for times of depression when one cannot hear Gospel language and terms without those words drawing up feelings of guilt, shame, and despair; and yes, even the best terms can have negative connotations due to extended exposure in a wrongheaded social context
I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult by Wendy Duncan — this incredible woman talks about her journey out of an abusive, self-styled Christian group; she has a masters degree in social work, so she brings an educated perspective to her own experiences; she found help in an Episcopal church in Texas and kept her Christian faith
Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think, and What to Do About It by Os Guinness — written by an evangelical with a PhD in philosophy from Oxford; this guy explains the various categories of the anti-intellectualism in evangelical, fundamentalist, and Reformed churches that leaves many throwing up their hands in exasperation
Philosophers Who Believe edited by Kelly James Clark — one of the books that seemed to keep me a believer; through several personal essays by academic philosophers, this book showed me that my mind could be engaged with my faith, that a mind of faith could be engaged with the world; for me, this began to answer the problem of anti-intellectualism in fundamentalist circles
Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Personalities by Len Oakes, PhD — this was a challenge to me, because while his research and case studies are outstanding, he basically lumps Jesus Christ in with all the odd cult leaders of our era; as hard as that is to swallow, he has made an important contribution to researching the narcissistic and other negative psychologist tendencies of the past century’s cult leaders; Oakes is a cult survivor
By Hook or By Crook: How Cults Lure Christians by Harold Bussell — good things like being Bible-oriented or morally astute can lead people into all kinds of abuse and weirdness; this book is a guide to the abuse and weirdness that also provides sound, biblical remedies; includes a good critique of Derek Prince’s authoritarianism; Bussell has a masters in psychology and a doctorate in divinity; when he wrote the book, he was a dean at Gordon College; this book was earlier released with the title Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians
The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World by Miroslav Volf — I’m still reading this one; finally, a Christian theologian who says, in so many words, “You have to digest and process what you went through, and find the meaning in it; there is no erase button.”
The New Religious Humanists: A Reader edited by Gregory Wolfe — the Roman Catholic founder of Image journal and biographer of Malcolm Muggeridge compiles several essays by Jewish and Christian writers in our time who have engaged the intersection of faith and culture, or maybe belief and intellectual pursuits; Robert Coles and evangelical Os Guinness are among the contributors; the word “humanism” is misunderstood in our time, a casualty of the culture war; I found this explanation from Wolfe, made during an interview with Mars Hill Audio, very useful: The Cross gives us a good illustration of religious humanism: while conservatives tend to emphasize the individual’s relationship with God (vertical/personal experience/doctrine), and liberals tend to emphasize the individual’s relationship with others (horizontal/community/social-justice), the religious humanist seeks to emphasize both the vertical and the horizontal, like a cross
C.S. Lewis on Scriptures by Michael J. Christiansen — if you were once fed by reading the Scriptures, and it was a generally positive experience despite your fundamentalism, and you want to return Bible reading in your post-fundamentalist season, yet honest questions and the ghost of literalism make it very difficult to return, this book provides a possible path out of your dilemma
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton — probably seems like an unlikely choice for this list, but this book can bring real joy and refreshment; hear what Philip Yancy had to say about it: “I was experiencing a time of spiritual dryness when everything seemed stale, warmed over, lifeless. Orthodoxy brought freshness, and, above all, a new spirit of adventure” — amen!
The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich — although I’ve never completed this book, I continue to appreciate Tillich’s distinction between (1) fear and anxiety; and (2) cosmic resignation, or Stoicism, and cosmic salvation, or Christianity. Those have been two helpful distinctions for me, plus his brief historical outlines are good food for the mind. The book’s title itself entices me, because there is a healthy sense of self or self-hood or self-ness that each of us ought to have, however warped by fallen nature. Whereas we might think of an egotistical person as having too much of a sense of self, religious-abuse survivors frequently have too little of a sense of self, and struggle with healthy boundaries and a sense of identity. Theologians can argue about the source of the courage; let’s try to recognize the individual’s reasonable need to be a self.
True, some of the psychological, cultural, and sociological books above are getting a bit dated. Maybe it’s time for some updates.