Read Something You Disagree With

Kristian at Apatheism had an idea I think is great:

I made a new year’s resolution to read at least one book, from cover to cover, that goes fundamentally against everything I believe in. For me that would be a book from a religious perspective to life, universe and everything, or a conservative, right wing viewpoint…

It’s good advice. As he writes, this isn’t about shifting to the other side. It’s about getting an idea of what “the other side” believes and better understanding their position. At the very least, it gives you a firmer ground on which to rebut their points.

So let’s toss a few questions out:

  • What would you suggest he read?
  • What was the last book you read about a subject that made you uncomfortable? Or by an author you normally despise/disagree with?
  • What happened as a result?

Christian Jason Boyett was also a fan of the idea.

Kristian makes a very good point: it is beneficial for a person to read outside his or her belief system. Do it with a good attitude and an open mind. It might challenge what you believe. It might even hurt a little. But the resistance will actually make you stronger.

He has suggestions of books/authors for various kinds of people (atheists, liberals, Calvinists, Southern Baptists, etc).

I’ve read books that made me uncomfortable but rarely do I read something that I know will piss me off. It’s good advice, though.

I think my favorite in that category was Mind Siege: The Battle for the Truth by Tim LaHaye and David Noebel.

If you have a minute, “Look Inside” the book (on Amazon) and search for the words “It’s not my fault, I tell you.” Then, read the next few pages. It’s about the fictional narrator and his son, who attends Margaret Sanger High School.

(Funniest. Book. Ever.)

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    My suggestions are these:

    The Shack by William Paul Young. I’d heard about how it was supposed to be this great narrative on faith. When I read it though it was just horrible. It was messed up double think masquerading as theology and it failed utterly to address any of the hard questions that are put to the Christians about their faith.

    On the positive side I think it did help me to better understand how deeply ingrained the ability to revere something, anything, greater than themselves is in many people. They latch on to God and Christ as a way to understand the world even though God provides no real answers. They feel that it does even though there is a mystery involved so it gives them comfort. I can understand that even though I don’t respect it.

    Also it is really at the level of the common Christian adherent rather than something that you could consider high theology. As a way to understand why people believe it is of value but it doesn’t address why I should believe. I think that it tries to but it fails.

    Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Another book that I hated and another that has often been described as brilliantly explaining Christian thought. Well hardly. There are so many assumptions were made in this book that I had fun trying to list them all. The justifications for these assumption was weak even though the detail was interesting to read. I kept having to stop and laugh as the presuppositions that were given as if they were fact.

    The language is a bit archaic nowadays even for an Englishman like me. Many of the terms used are pseudo scientific but the meaning is still pretty clear. We can forgive Lewis his ignorance of scientific explanations as he comes from an earlier time and the dissemination of such terms is much greater than in his day. Still it makes for an amusing read and Lewis is a good writer if a little long winded.

    Overall I found reasons why Lewis believed in the Christian god but nothing that would make me consider Christianity. Too many questions remained assumed and unanswered.

  • StarScream

    I’d say read “The Purpose Driven Life” but then if one is going to read something, then it ought to be intelligent. I didn’t make it past page 70 of that drivel when I attempted something similar a few years ago. It is gag-inducing just from a stylistic point of view due to its 5-word-long sentences apparently tailored to drooling imbeciles who can barely read.

    C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” is considered a classic among Christian apologetics, but I’ve read it cover to cover and used it heavily in my Master’s thesis concerning religious rhetoric and–while better written and more intelligent—it is no more convincing than Warren’s textual phlegm.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    You could always just subscribe to my blog. There’s no shortage of people who disagree with me here – and not enough there…

  • http://rdsparks.blogspot.com Rachel

    Coincidentally, I’m doing the same exact thing. I’ve been reading “The Reason for God” by N.T. Wright at the suggestion of an old youth pastor.

  • Andrew n

    I read Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller and the sequel. He’s a christian writer with ok style but the content was HORRIBLE. I kept thinking to myself,” What a dumb fuck”.

    Not to mention one of his chapters was about how Adam was a taxonomist….WTF?

  • Brian

    Reading something totally opposite to what you believe is setting yourself up to reject all of it and not grow in your views at all. Try something that expands your world view beyond the simplistic or binary, that you won’t reject out of hand. Try an atheist conservative author like Heather Mac Donald.

    http://www.amazon.com/Immigration-Solution-Better-Plan-Todays/dp/1566637600/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_3

  • Amy

    Oh my Hemant. Just took your advice and hopped over to Amazon for a few. I think my brain is melting out of my ears.

  • Markus

    Me and my christian brother decided that we each read a book about the others viewpoint- I would decide his book and vice versa. I made him read God is not great by Hitchens, and he made me read Twilight of atheism by Alister McGrath. We planned to discuss about our thoughts, but I think we both need a lot more excercise on that one- I thought McGrath simply doesn´t understand atheism very well, and thus I dont buy for a minute his claim that he´s an ex- atheist. My brother claimed that since Hitchens is not a theologian, he doesn´t understand religion. We probably should try something lighter than whole books next time, maybe Youtube videos.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Consider reading “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe. Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and argues against Darwinian evolution based on the concept of irreducible complexity.

    Although I think his examples and logic are weak, even if there are problems with the current evolution theory, all it means is that there are problems with the current evolution theory. It doesn’t mean a creator “did it”. Science is all about being self-critical so all those interested in evolution should at least be aware of the criticisms of evolution.

    P.S. Dawkins and many other have read Behe and address his criticisms.

  • Pamela

    It’s also healthy for your brain: “Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03adult-t.html

  • Do da day

    Eh, I’d rather not. The last book I read that could fit this category would be Atlas Shrugged. I, ideologically, wanted to give up after 100 pages, but because the book was so well regarded, and it was at least readable, I forged on. At about 600 pages, I had to stop, as I’m sure that if I got to the end, I’d be compelled to defile Ayn Rand’s grave in revenge. When a story turn’s left at reality in order to forfil the author’s ideological agenda, it’s kinda insulting.

    Which is the problem with this idea, as somebody touched on earlier, how do you make sure you’re not poisoning the well? Better, IMHO, to just read up about things your not sure of.

  • Jim H

    I think Brian has a very good point, which Markus demonstrates: reading something you totally disagree with is just setting yourself up for failure. Of course, if your purpose at the outset is to be able to rebut the arguments, you will be fine (and you might just find a point or two with which to agree).

    In that vein, I have read a lot (certainly not all–Leviticus is boring!) of the Xtian bible. This, in turn, was inspired by reading two novels: Robert A. Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Both books reference the bible (though Burgess only peripherally–as an enjoyable diversion for a violence-loving teenager).

  • Vita

    I would suggest the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas.

  • Brian

    Markus:

    It’s hard to disprove Christianity in a book because everyone believes something different. When confronted with evidence, a believer can switch one from intellectual dishonesty to another, or from immorality to religious hypocrisy, and such. A direct engagement b debate is the only way to hit your brother’s belief.

    However, you can show that the world is explicable without the supernatural. This means teaching evolution and the evidence for abiogenesis with biology and chemistry, and a natural origin of the universe with physics.

    Sociology and anthropology show how even were religion not true, humanity would invent it (how else would your brother explain shamanism, etc.)? Psychology shows the original witnesses to events Christians claim are historical could have been duped and that people are willing to die for beliefs they don’t know are true, etc.

    Archaeology’s role is obvious.

    The history and philosophy of science are helpful for explaining how unknowns in the above theories are not qualitatively different than past unknowns that are now discoveries.

    Neurology shows that the idea of a consciousness without a brain is unfounded.

    If he’s shallow enough to believe things because he would prefer them to be true, biology and philosophy provide morality. Philosophy has discredited Kalam’s cosmological argument, the Kuzari principle, the ontological argument, and the like for a very long time.

    Once he knows all of that, let’s see if he hangs on to a useless belief.

  • centricci

    im not much of a book reader so i can rarely be bothered to pick one up, whether i agree with the content or not.
    i certainly see no reaason to spend my hard-earned money on a book that i know in advance will piss me off.
    what i do instead, is follow conservative websites like “New Republic” and “American Spectator”.i also visit “Answers In Genesis” and “World Net Daily” on a regular basis.

    there is plenty of material out here on the net for you to melt your brain with, free of charge! no need to buy or borrow.

  • Shannon

    I’ve been thinking about this idea since Dale McGowan did his Silo post. It’s definitely a good idea. My mom (a liberal, bisexual, atheist) listens to the Rush Limbaugh show for this reason.

    So far, I’ve just been trying to read blogs I don’t agree with. Maybe podcasts on my walk would do. I don’t think I have it in me to read entire books I don’t agree with, unless they are very, very well written. I think life is too short to read books I don’t like ;-)

    But in the midst of the fight for gay marriage in my state, I’ve been perusing the websites of the other side. The NOM and a smaller one someone linked me to (that I can’t find now). I also tried talking (politely) to a fundamental Christian woman protesting against us at one of the rallies. It was a very interesting exchange even though she couldn’t answer any of my questions to my satisfaction and she didn’t agree with anything I was saying either.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    I usually make it a point to investigate lighter opposition pieces, like internet articles or YouTube videos, for the same reason. I have rather too much to read that I like — the entire Wheel of Time series ahead of me, in addition to Breaking the Spell and The Demon Haunted World — to sacrifice my precious reading time. When it comes to it, I happen to be a fairly slow reader (which is why I resort to audiobooks when I can), so I tend to think any time I spend reading is more valuable to me than the same page count would be to somebody else of comparable intelligence and education.

  • Evan

    A couple years ago my parents bought me “The Science of God” by Gerald L. Schroeder. I’ve tried and tried to read it, but can’t seem to get beyond the first few pages. There is just so much wrong with it’s premise. Eventually, maybe I will get through it.

  • http://blog.xanthippas.com/ Xanthippa

    If you would like some highlights of the bits of the bible that DO need serious explanation, check out ‘the Biblically Correct Blog’ or their site: Society of Christians for the Restoration of Old Testament Morality.ciety of Christians for the Restoration of Old Testament Morality.

    You’ll like it! I’s a bunch of ‘mock Christians’ pointing out things like ‘biblically correct science facts’, or the proper Christian instructions on how to sell your daughter into slavery. Remember, Jesus said that he did not come to abolish any of the rules from the Old Testament.

  • muggle

    My time on this earth is limited. Why would I waste it on drivel?

    Of course, my mind’s not closed to Christian (or other theist) writers anyhow. What the author’s religion is doesn’t come up unless it’s a book about Atheism, of course. It can somewhat but not necessarily in politics.

    I’m about a hundred pages from finishing “The Family” by Jeff Sharlet and only now has he mentioned having a Jewish father and a Christian mother and he hasn’t really said what he believes. And, you know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant to the topic of his book.

    After that I’m reading Ted Kennedy’s autobiography because he’s the only Kennedy I admire. (No, I’m not interested in rants about Mary Jo K.; he’s dead, she’s dead and we’ll never know the full truth of that one and, no, I don’t expect to find it in between the covers of “True Compass” so give it a rest.) His brothers didn’t live long enough for us to know if they would have been as admirable or not.

    He was a Christian. Does that count or do only books by nutjobs count?

    I am in love with Charles Dickens. He may be Christian and very religious in his prose, even making some bad assumptions about nonbelievers, but it’s amazingly easy to take given his topics. Of course, we have two things that really piss us off in common: hypocrites and rich people who exploit and oppress poor people. He’s definitely worth a read if only as a reminder of what happens if we let robber barons run amok unchecked and, um, Sam Walton certainly springs to mind.

    I don’t know what her religion (all she says on her web site is that she isn’t pagan) is if any but a modern writer I love is Kim Harrison. I’ve read all of her Rachel Morgan series to date (and the next comes out three days before my birthday, yay!, what a gift) and plan to start her previous books. The Rachel Morgan series is a delightful fantasy of humans and other worldly species (Rachel is a witch who solves crimes in partnership with a vampire and a pixy and her friends and enemies in addition to witches, vampires and pixies are werewolves, elves, demons, and even a gargoyle). I was gonna say it definitely isn’t Atheistic and I guess on one hand that’s true as magic is a main ingredient and there’s definitely an underworld of sorts but then again, these magical species are represented as just other species and the other world seems to be in the same place but on some different plane. In any case, they’re a delightful escape from reality. And, unless she was to go all fundy wacko (since her main hero is a witch I somehow doubt that), it wouldn’t turn me off her just to find out she’s Christian or whatever.

    If we’re not limiting ourselves to just Christian, there are some excellent Jewish writers. One of the best murder mystery series ever is the Rabbi Small series by Harvey Kemelman. These are very entertaining books and very insightful. The Rabbi helps the Police Chief solve mysteries using Talmudic logic. I am huge on separation of church and state and would be up in arms about a police chief actually doing this but they are an excellent read and an entertaining way to familiarize yourself with talmudic logic.

    And I’ll second “The Clockwork Orange” above even though I disagree about it being for only teens. I didn’t read it until my late 20′s. Tried once earlier than that but couldn’t follow the made-up slang. I had to rent the movie first, lol. But it’s an excellent read and still a favorite of mine. I just recommend the version with the last chapter edited out. It pisses Mr. Burgess off that the American editors did that to him but I’ve read both versions and, frankly, their decision to do so was wise. Included, it sucks. It not only is anti-climatic but puts the truly monstrous behavior on Alex’s part down to boys will be boys. Um, no. Alex’s behavior is rather worse than that. Writing it at the end rather makes you wonder just what the hell the moral of his story is supposed to be exactly. The rest deals very well with the problem of evil in human form and how society is not up to dealing with it in any reasonable way.

  • http://struckbyenlightning.wordpress.com EnlightningLinZ

    I haven’t been able to stomach reading full books with opposing views yet, but I do listen to podcasts. Responding to Atheist Arguments is always good for some hair-pulling.

    I am contemplating coming out to a Christian friend of mine, and she’s always telling me about this book by Lee Strobel, I forget what it’s called, it has faith in the title. But she says it looks at atheist arguments, so I would ask her if I could read that book.

  • JulietEcho

    I might give “The Journey” by Billy Graham a try, simply because I got it for Christmas (from well-meaning grandparents) and because I haven’t read any reviews of it from a non-Christian perspective. Even on Amazon, the tiny minority who gave it only 1-2 stars were upset with it for not being Christian enough or useful enough, essentially.

    I don’t know that it’s a bad thing to read something expressing an opposite view (versus a middle-ground type view, as some people are suggesting). Yes, it’s less likely to change your mind, but I don’t think that’s the goal here. The goal is to refresh your knowledge of what it is you’ve rejected – to make sure you haven’t missed anything, to better understand the mindset of those you disagree with, to perhaps get a good laugh, and perhaps to stay current with the language and arguments used by your debate opponents.

    I read plenty of books (and more often essays) that represent beliefs/worldviews that I don’t agree with but that aren’t diametrically opposed to my views. Plenty of what Hemant and PZ and other atheists link to and review in their blogs contains material that represents “middle ground” for me – Armstrong, Spong, etc. I don’t think most people lack that kind of exposure – not if they’re reading this blog.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    As a liberal, I have taken on the challenge from a friend who is pretty conservative to read “Going Rogue” by Sarah Palin. Not the same more intelligent choices that others have picked here, but it’s one that I was open to doing after several of our recent discussions about politics.

    As for the Tim LaHaye book, I’ll have to do the Look Inside for that book on Amazon. My eyes could use a work out.

  • Stephen P

    Me and my christian brother decided that we each read a book about the others viewpoint- I would decide his book and vice versa.

    I think that doing something like this, followed by a discussion of each other’s book, is the only way I could push myself to follow Hemant’s suggestion. I have occasionally attempted to read a book on say, homeopathy, (from the library, not purchased) but never get past the first few pages. It’s just too painful.

    Actually that’s not quite true, now I think of it – I did read Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision all the way through. But I think that was because I was only about thirteen at the time, and so probably only spotted about one idiotic statement in every ten.

  • Another Atheist

    If I were going to recommend reading for a christian, I would not recommend Hitchens, or Dawkins, etc. I would recommend that they get a bunch of geology and biology textbooks and study them. Maybe even take a class. My worldview isn’t about being anti-religious. It is about all of the amazing things we have learned about our world courtesy of the scientific method.

    I don’t think I would go in the opposite direction and read something that completely contradicts my worldview. That would be a waste of time. I already know why I think the scientific method is valid, why would I read some nonsensical illogical arguments about why we can’t possibly explain anything without god?

    Now if there existed a religious book that was not based on double talk, circular reasoning, and nonsense, I would read that. But to my knowledge such a book has never been written.

  • littlejohn

    First of all, if you actually purchase a book you strongly disagree with, keep in mind you’re giving a couple of your dollars to someone you dislike. Use the library.
    Second, I can’t read books by Palin or evolution deniers or Christian apologists without realizing I’m just looking for mistakes and/or laughing at them.
    One exception: I make a point of reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I distresses the jerks who want to convert me when they realize I know their books better than they do.

  • Tim

    This is semi-offtrack….
    There is a syndicated, 24-hour, all Catholic radio station in the town where I live. Sometimes when I’m driving and I’ve heard the same news/traffic/weather report for the n’th time, I’ll switch over to the Catholic station.

    There are recorded sermons by an very distinguished and authoritative sounding gentlemen. The sermons are full of anecdotal evidence, illogical assertions, faulty reasoning, and nonsensical statements.

    Sometimes there is a live Q&A shows with a perky-sounding, air-headed, female moderator. Compared to her, Sara Palin seems like a Rhodes Scholar. All she does is spout warm and fuzzy, feel good, quips that don’t have any relationship at all to the real world. She would fit right in with the people who write Hallmark Cards.

    And then there’s the recorded, mind numbing droning of people reciting the Rosary. Over and over and over again,

    If I listen for more than a few minutes, my eyes start to blur over, my mind starts to turn to mush, my hands start to tremble, and I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. I have to pull off to the side of the road, get out of the car, and get some fresh air before I fully regain my senses.

    Why do I submit myself to such torture???

  • Jeff

    For anyone that does the “exchange books” idea with a christian friend/relative I would recommend “Finding Darwin’s God” by Ken Miller for your christian friends. I would also recommend it to you if you haven’t read it.

    I found it to be very helpful as I was coming out of religious fundamentalism. It gives very good evidence for evolution by natural selections and Christians can’t say “Well, it’s just another godless atheist” because the whole book is about finding God even though we know evolution is true. It may help them take that first step and acknowledge evolution. The rest will come later.

  • Hughes

    Read Going Rogue by Sarah Palin and you’ll cover both bases.

  • Richard P

    Personally, I feel this is a waste of time. I spent almost 20 years reading that drivel. I guess if they could come up with something new it might be worth the read, however, that would be novel and I don’t see it as possible. When all you do is regurgitate crap that has be dissected thousands of times over 2000 years, how much new stuff can you really bring to the table.

    Maybe for those not exposed to a lot of religion it could be useful. If I heard a really new or thought provoking idea it would be worth it. I guess when you have spent such a long time defending it only to realize that it was all just a lie anyways it is hard to go back to the swill.

  • Revyloution

    Jeff, I wanted to pick up Finding Darwins God, now youve convinced me. Ill have to put that on my must read list.

    Of all the ‘Loyal opposition’ books Ive read, Tea with Terrorists was the most enlightening look into the mind of a religious conservative. Craig Winn’s book about a non-religious Navy Seal’s adventures with Islam is a bizarre mix of history, fantasy, and ideology. He takes small bits of real history and weaves a fantastic story about saving the world, and humanity, from evil Islam.

    The book was pure fiction, but Winn was driving a political and theological ideology. It was almost like a book length parable on the truths of Christianity and American Patriotism and the evils of Islam.

  • http://www.twitter.com/shocktwist Brittany

    I think it is definitely a good idea. I haven’t yet read any books by people I disagree with, but I subscribe to AFA/One News Now e-mails, and I’m regularly on some Focus on the Family sites.

  • Greg

    When dating a very Christian girl last year, I suggested we both read a book by each other’s choosing. Its an interesting prospect for opening up discourse but it didn’t exactly change each others opinions. Inevitably, said relationship failed but the prospect remains.

    Next time I pick up a book I’m going to inevitably disagree with, I’ll probably go with a conservative viewpoint as opposed to a religious viewpoint. The religious reliance on pseudo-science and misunderstanding of science (often on highly complicated issues) was unnerving. Trying to prove god via evolution (even if said book accepted evolution) was silly as it sounds, and the author continually quoted C.S. Lewis to the point me wondering why I wasn’t reading C.S. Lewis. Although if I decide to venture down this road again I’ll try C.S. Lewis.

    Notably this term I’ll be reading the bible with fellow atheists, including one individual who was at one point studying to be a pastor (then saw the… non-light). Even after dating a Christian for 6 months, to this day I know very little about the actual Bible.

  • Colin

    After a quick glance, I may have to start reading Jason Boyett’s blog as something I disagree with. It seems thoughtful, well-written, and critical of aspects of Christian culture. Thanks for linking.

  • http://seangill-insidemyhead.blogspot.com SeanG

    I would recommend starting with books that are not the equivalent of parachuting behind enemy lines. Last year I read “The Year Of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs. From his website:

    The Year of Living Biblically is about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible – as literally as possible. I obey the famous ones:
    The Ten Commandments
    Love thy neighbor
    Be fruitful and multiply
    But also, the hundreds of oft-ignored ones.
    Do not wear clothes of mixed fibers.
    Do not shave your beard
    Stone adulterers
    Why? Well, I grew up in a very secular home (I’m officially Jewish but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant). I’d always assumed religion would just wither away and we’d live in a neo-Enlightenment world. I was, of course, spectacularly wrong. So was I missing something essential to being a human? Or was half the world deluded?

    By the end of the book he comes to different conclusions than I would have, but I had to wonder if that was because we start from different places. I’m a midwestern atheist, he’s a ‘typical’ secular New York jew. Still, very humorous and interesting. And I learned a lot about what’s in the bible that everybody ignores. Not the horrible stuff we atheists like to point out, but also the downright silly stuff. It’s also an insight into what it is about the active participation in a religion that people want to hold on to.

  • Joshua W.

    Nathan, I will definitely check out your blog. I was surfing around some christian blogs last week and was pretty surprised that there were no posts from any opposing viewpoints. I am going to make an effort to read a few of these and hopefully engage in some conversation.

    Markus said:

    Me and my christian brother decided that we each read a book about the others viewpoint- I would decide his book and vice versa.

    My christian mother and I have talked about doing the same thing, and I think we will get around to it very soon. Even though I thought I understood the christian stance pretty well having read the Bible multiple times as a teen, I am being open-minded. As much as I enjoyed “The God Delusion”, that would certainly not be my choice to kick off this exercise. I personally feel that I will get through to my mother much more effectively (at least for the initial phase of our experiment) by asking her to read or watch “Letting Go of God” by Julia Sweeny. I see no reason to bash her over the head with facts when my goal is to appeal to her emotions.

  • Tizzle

    I tried this when I was first learning about politics with a book by Ann Coulter. Couldn’t get past the first chapter. Some books are too inflammatory to be useful, even when I agree with them. I found Chomsky to be as patronizing as most religious preachers, for instance.

    To the guy reading Wheel of Time: there are 12 books, and the story still isn’t finished. None of the characters has really grown in any significant way. Jordan is dead, and I don’t know if that Sanderson guy might finish it? He co-wrote the last one. After about book 7, he got pretty repetitious. I wish he’d ended it at a respectable 9 books or so. I was compelled to read them all, and disappointed when I realized it would never end. I’m telling you this not so you don’t read them, but so you’re prepared. I thought Harry Potter was wrapped up just a little too fast…but Jordan sh/coulda taken a page from Rowling here.

  • Casimir

    I’d be inclined to agree it’s a waste of time as well, to a point. I think it’s worthwhile to read the most popular or most well-regarded books that lay out what “the other side” thinks. I think it’s worthwhile for every atheist to read “Mere Christianity”, seems like that’s the most highly regarded apologetics tome. There’s also Keynes/Hayek/Marx. Rand is pretty popular nowadays as well. I wouldn’t want to waste my time with, say, a book by Ray Comfort.

  • Hammurabi

    “The Secret”

    It may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I’ve read quite a few Creationist books, and it appears “the other side” is batshit insane.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    First of all, if you actually purchase a book you strongly disagree with, keep in mind you’re giving a couple of your dollars to someone you dislike.

    I’ve got that covered. I get my Creationist material from used book sales. None of my money goes to the author or publisher, but it does benefit my local library.

  • MeagD

    A friend of mine got me a copy of “Reclaiming Science from Darwinism: A Clear Understanding of Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design” by Kenneth Poppe, which seems to fit the bill (it was a joke gift for my birthday this year). I’m going to delve into it when I get the chance – I’ll let you know if it changes my life :)

  • Shannon

    The Year of Living Biblically sounds like something I’d enjoy. And ooo, my library has it! Cool ;-)

    As someone upthread said, I think for me it would be more reading/listening to something conservative rather than just religious. I actually read religious stuff a lot (well, it’s probably only “a lot” considering I’m an atheist I guess). I find religion very interesting from an anthropological point of view. The most recent one I read was The Faith Club which I really enjoyed. It was a discussion between three moms, one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim. It was a good read that is sure to offend different people at different parts of the book. Which, IMO, is a good thing instead of a sugar coated discussion where no one ever says anything that would possibly offend the other.

    I also just read I Sold My Soul on eBay. Does that count as religious? LOL! Kidding ;-) My 11 year old daughter grabbed it and finished it before I did. I was very surprised but she said it was interesting.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    Tizzle: I wouldn’t be embarking on such a journey if I didn’t have a very good review from an English major friend whom I trust very much. She says the character development has actually been very good, so I suppose it’s more of a subjective thing. At least, she has a more sophisticated literary palate than I do. I hope you’ll understand if I reserve judgment on whether to continue until I at least finish one book.

  • Grenouille

    I think it’s worthwhile for every atheist to read “Mere Christianity”

    Personally, I find CS Lewis to be a rather shallow apologist. It’s worth reading so that you might learn what a vast majority of reflective Christians might have read, but it won’t challenge most atheists’ beliefs. I don’t think that you should go out and simply pick up a book that you know you’ll disagree with. Doing so doesn’t stimulate you to think in innovative ways any more than watching Ray Comfort disprove god with a banana would. I plan on reading several books this year by Alvin Plantinga who is a metaphysicist and has written many books on resolving philosophy with god. I hope to gain something and perhaps an appreciation for apologist literature in doing so.

  • http://www.thomas2026.wordpress.com Jonathan Weyer

    I like this idea a lot, as I keep telling my fellow Christians the same thing, that is, read things you don’t agree with.

    Anyway, for you atheists types, if you want to read some good books whose perspective you still won’t agree with, I would try the following:

    Reason for God by Tim Keller
    The Ressurection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
    The aforementioned Finding Darwin’s God is a great book
    On the reliability of the Old Testament by K.A. Kitchen (a highly respected Egyptologist, not a theologian)

  • rbray14

    does reading the Christ clone trilogy when
    i was a Christian count? cause other wise
    my inner snark meter would rise and my hand would wind up for the pitch.and out of the park the book would go.
    possibly the reason i do not seek conflict, avoid it in fact,i’m just a tad emotional..

  • Ashley Moltzan

    I just finished reading Case for Christ be Lee Strobel that my aunt gave me for Christmas. I read it with an open mind but it took me awhile to read because of the logic it used. It used the bible to prove Jesus by quoting the new testament and quoting the old testament prophecies. and some of the logical fallacies are amazing. I promised I’d read it though. And also, the book is so bias. Only interviews Christian psychologist, Christian historians, Christian archaeologists, etc. Also, it is very ignorant. It says that Islam used political gain with no mention of Christianity doing the same such as with the Crusade. One of the many crazy quotes I read was:p. 222: “But the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead doesn’t contradict science or any known facts of experience. Al it requires is the hypothesis that God exists, and I think there are good independent reasons for believing that he does.” SERIOUSLY??? WTF??? DOESN’T CONTRADICT SCIENCE??? If my aunt ask me how I liked that book, I don’t know how I’d resist explaining all of the bias and ignorance and circular logic in the book. All of Lee’s immediate agreement to the theologian make me doubt he was ever truly an atheist…

  • Takma’rierah

    Yeeeeaah, I’ll take a pass on that, thanks. There are far too many books out there, ones I can use to expand my understanding of the world, inspire my imagination, or just plain entertain me, to spend time reading something that’s only going to cause me distress. It just doesn’t seem worthwhile to me.

  • Ashley Moltzan

    lol I looked up that book Mind Siege on amazon with that link and read the first two pages that it allows too…wow…I wish that was how how high school was if they got their facts straight and not call evolution an accident, etc. just wow…i don’t know how christian writers can be so ignorant…

  • Stan

    I actually got a signed copy of Going Rogue (I don’t know why either) and have read the first two chapters. I may finish it some day, but it’s just so painful.

  • GullWatcher

    What Takma’rierah said.

    Seriously, why should I do this to myself? I am exposed on a daily basis to ideas I don’t agree with and that offend me to the core. Why make the effort to seek them out, why waste time reading a book that says exactly what I think it’s going to say? Much better to read about something genuinely new to me, than something I disagree with but already know.

  • Sunioc

    I get enough of the other guy’s viewpoint reading their blogs occasionally, and catching Faux News a few times a week because my father watches it obsessively. I read those few pages of Mind Siege and felt like screaming. If you read the whole book, Hemant, you’re a much bigger masochist than I am.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com Spanish Inquisitor

    Life’s too short to read anything you won’t like, when there are so many books you would.

  • Eric Mattingly

    “Anarchy State and Utopia” by Robert Nozick. He was wrong, but his arguments are brilliant and (in a sense) beautiful. I think any progressive should read that book.

  • indyfreethinker

    I would suggest How Should We Then Live by Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer is often referred to as the father of the modern religious right movement.

    If humor is what you’re after, try Dinesh Desouza’s “What’s So Great About Christianity?”

    For shock value, try “What In the World Is Going On?: 10 Prophetic Clues You Cannot Afford to Ignore”

  • Mary

    That LaHaye passage was so horribly UNfunny! I find it truly disturbing that anyone could be entertained by that, basically because the writing is as pathetic as the logic is. If that is the level of writing I need to read in order to read the opposing viewpoint, I think I’ll pass. :-P

    The last complete Christian book that I read was Oswald Chambers’ “Baffled to Fight Better.” It is about the problem of pain and used to comfort me, but it put the nail in the Christian coffin the last time I read it. So if you want to read something that can soothe a Christian one year and chase him away the next, there you go!

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Takma’rierah wrote

    Yeeeeaah, I’ll take a pass on that, thanks. There are far too many books out there, ones I can use to expand my understanding of the world, inspire my imagination, or just plain entertain me, to spend time reading something that’s only going to cause me distress. It just doesn’t seem worthwhile to me.

    From my perspective as someone who was raised without religion reading Christian literature has helped me to understand why people believe in gods. Although I don’t respect the views of apologetics or give them much credit I do think they are valuable in expanding my understanding of the world.

  • Brian Macker

    I’d suggest a book but I don’t think an apatheist would care.

  • GullWatcher

    Hoverfrog – did the value come from reading something you disagree with, or from reading about something you didn’t know enough about? It seemed to me the original post was recommending the former without regard to whether the latter was true.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    GullWatcher, I would say that I know the subject reasonably well. As well as a layman can anyway. The value was in getting a perspective of the subject that I hadn’t appreciated.

  • http://edublahg.blogspot.com Brooke

    I read the Mind Seige excerpt on Amazon.com. Holy Hell. Getting through that book would be a serious challenge for me.

    I immediately though of Glenn Beck, and trying to read his version of Common Sense. I know several Beck fans and I wanted to understand the appeal. I did not finish. I got too worked up.

    I should read the quote on my classroom wall more often: “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” Robert Frost

  • AnonyMouse

    I read it too. That was SO FRICKING HILARIOUS. Seriously. Cops arrest Christian students for spreading “dangerous materials?” Church pastors preach Humanism and force everyone – with the aid of law enforcement officials – to sing whatever songs are popular that year? I cannot believe that this kind of thing actually got written.

    Actually, I can’t believe I used to look up to Tim LaHaye as a somewhat knowledgeable individual. XD

  • muggle

    SeanG, I’ve actually been toying with reading that one for the last several months just because it sounds so amusing. Maybe it’s time to pick it up.

    Shannon, that sounds like an interesting read actually.

    Damn it to hell. That’s one New Year’s resolution most likely blown between this and Kim Harrison’s new one coming out. I swore I wouldn’t buy any more books until I actually read the ones I have waiting already. Must wait. Must wait.

    Too many books, too little time.

  • http://www.dailyhitchens.com Tom

    I also thought about ‘Going Rogue’ by Sarah Palin but I’d need a psychiatrist close by to stop me from going insane. But I’ll do it one day. How much do they charge?

  • Jeff B

    After 12 years of indoctrination, I took a class at the U of Louisville called “women in religion”

    I went in on the premise that I could blast away all those femi-nazi Jesus haters…and came out after 4 months a skeptic. Point being…all it takes for someone to become free is one good point which goes against all the crap.

    PS, if you want to read something that is fundamental bullshit (foxnews.com/transcripts)

  • Eliza

    A couple of years ago I decided I should find out whether there’s something compelling that I missed about Christianity. Since so many people are Christian & I was raised w/o religion.

    I started with Lee Strobel’s books. Quick read, for those of you who don’t want to spend alot of time on this “project”. However, kind of painful to read – his books are basically appeals to authority (This Christian theologian believes in God, so *see* it must be true!) plus confirmation bias, repeated formulaically (is that a word?) over & over. I also read most of the Bible (starting with the NT this time, since Genesis 1-4 were so unconvincing when I tried reading the Bible once as a kid.) Read a couple of other apologist books, including Mere Christianity. Ended with a bang by taking a 15-week conservative Christian Adult Religious Education class at a local church, which took more time than reading a book, but was useful in showing me in pretty good detail what conservative Christians are taught. (Also hard to sit through, though. And the pastor started glaring at me when I raised my hand in class.)

    Now I use my precious little reading time to expand horizons in directions I can believe exist and are interesting & useful, including on evolutionary biology, neurologic basis of consciousness & behavior & religion, etc.

    I got The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb as an Xmas gift and can highly recommend it for anyone interested in seeing the OT come to life, so to speak (more complete and less satirical than The Brick Testament).

  • http://thewarprayer.wordpress.com/ RhesusPieces

    I’d been planning on doing this for quite a while, and then blogging it. But I’ve been much better at getting the books than reading them and writing about them. I just started the first book in the Left Behind series. Better to start easy, no? But I’m planning on reading Glen Beck’s Common Sense, Mike Huckabee’s Do the Right Thing, Strobel’s Case for Faith and Case for Christ, Kellor’s Reason for God, and the Best American Spiritual Writing of 2008 (yay bargain books!). Hopefully I don’t accidentally brainwash myself… :-/

  • Aquavid

    My mother sent me “The Law of Attraction” by Jerry and Esther Hicks. So much woo.

  • Guy G

    Robert Crumb, an excellent cartoonist, has recently illustrated the whole of Genesis. I’m currently reading that – the things that people literally believe in are fascinating, and the pictures make the whole things a lot easier to digest. Highly recommended

  • http://thoughtfulfaith.wordpress.com Chucky

    I second what Jonathan Weyer said:

    Timothy Keller’s “Reason for God”

  • http://www.otherspoon.blogspot.com Ann Neumann

    I write a lot about end of life care and elder’s rights (patients’ rights) so I picked up Wesley J. Smith’s Forced Exit.

    Crazy to see the religious justification for suffering laid out in pseudo-science/bioethics lingo. Almost anything can be justified when one is loosed from statistics, science, practical definitions and ethics.

  • http://www.otherspoon.blogspot.com Ann Neumann

    Great thread, by the way!

  • Randall

    Although I completely agree with the idea of challenging one’s assumptions by reading books with which one strongly disagrees, I think we have to be careful to not simply choose badly argued books that will make us mad, but which will really only confirm our confidence in our beliefs without making us think about why those beliefs are right.

    An earlier commenter’s suggestion of Heather MacDonald (a conservative atheist) is a good one, unless you’re already a conservative atheist.

    MacDonald and a few other conservative atheists blog at Secular Right.

  • TheChristian

    Sigh …

    Reading this thread is good-enough reading of the “Other Side” for me, without having picking up “The God Delusion” or “God Is Not Great” or “The Atheist Manifesto”, all of which I have actually read cover-to-cover. But no, I haven’t de-converted yet, because if you strip off all the nice-sounding academic covering, th arguments presented by these books are really infantile and would fail a freshman philosophy course.

    I find it ironic that you people consider yourselves to be open-minded, and yet think that there are some books that you will “inevitably” disagree with. Open-mindedness by definition presumes that no disagreement is inevitable. If you are reading a book and telling yourself, “before I read this book, X and Y and Z are definitely wrong”, then you are not being open-minded. Plain and simple.

    I have a few suggestions for books for you people to read:-

    (1) “Mere Christianity” is called “mere” because it is written for the “mere” people. If you want to read Lewis properly, read “The Screwtape Letters” or “The Abolition of Man“. Or, for lighter reading, pick out “The Worlds of Narnia“, which looks at Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” from a third-person perspective, and you will see why he is considered a first-grade philosopher, on par with Bertrand Russell.

    (2) Read “In God We Doubt” by John Humphrys. Humphrys is defending agnosticism against atheism.

    (3) Read the E-Book “God: The Next Version” by Agnostic Mark Sharlow, and his companion work “Debunking Dawkins“. Another Agnostic – not a theist – rebutting atheism.

    (4) Read (Professor) Alister Mcgrath’s 2009 Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology and Darwinism. The writer of “The Dawkins Delusion” making his positive case in an academic arena. (I suppose most of you would not read “The Dawkins Delusion” since, as Shermer calls him, Dawkins is one of the “High Priests of the New Atheism”; so read another work before jumping to conclusions on McGrath’s credentials.)

    (5) Read “The Testimony of the Evangelists” by Simon Greenleaf. Simon Greenleaf was a respected American jurist who wrote a famous treatise titled “The Treatise on the Law of Evidence”. This Treatise is one of the classics of modern Law. “The Testimony of the Evangelists” proves the reliability of the New Testament Gospels in a court of law applying Greenleaf’s Law of Evidence.

    (6) To complement Greenleaf, there is K.A. Kitchen’s “On the Reliability of the Old Testament“, which despite its name, gives away in its manner of writing of content the fact that Kitchen is more likely to be an atheist than a theist or agnostic. SO, we thus have an atheist defending the reliability of the Old Testament. How does that sound?

    (7) Read “A Theory of Everything” by Ken Wilber, where Wilber presents his theory of memes, sufficiently different, I assure you, from Dawkins’ theory with the same name.

  • Killer Bee

    An earlier commenter’s suggestion of Heather MacDonald (a conservative atheist) is a good one, unless you’re already a conservative atheist.

    If you don’t want to buy one of her books, you can read her archived articles at http://www.city-journal.com

    She is not the only conservative, non-religious person writing there. Theodore Dalrymple, an atheist seemingly, tends to write about culture and has waxed eloquent on the virtues of Christianity for Western civ. (I don’t necessarily agree with these people, but I’ve read many of their articles)

    I’ll just go ahead and give ONESTDV‘s blog a vote, too. Non-religous, but not someone most here are likely to agree with. (similar disclaimer)

  • Shannon

    Muggle, I really enjoyed the book but to warn you, the overall discussion assumes that of course you believe in god. And at times they get rather preachy about how their religion is the best. Which is one of the things I love, because you’re reading a book about three different religions and all three of them think theirs is the best, lol! But no other religions come into play in the book and the one atheist mentioned is talked about as if he’ll come around to the right way of thinking someday. And yes, I still very much enjoyed the book ;-)

    To add to the list of books, I read some Ted Dekker. He’s an evangelical Christian writer who writes serial killer novels. I found that idea really interesting. A Christian fundamental facebook “friend” recommended Three to me. That was Dekker’s first mainstream book. I really liked it so I picked up Blink, one written for Christians (Blink is not serial killers but more of a thriller I guess). Well . . . it *was* a good story, gripping at times (stupid and pointless at times, but overall, enjoyable) but the main purpose of the book seemed to be to preach that Christianity is the One True Religion and Islam is 100% evil. It started out ok and got worse and worse. By the last climactic scene I was rolling my eyes so hard my head hurt, lol! But the story was still interesting enough that I finished it. I have no interest in reading any more of his though.

    Oh wait, I did pick up one other of his before Blink. It was too dark for me. I have trouble reading torture scenes and this book was just too much. Boneman’s Daughter I think? Way too graphic for me. I don’t know if that was one of his Christian ones or not. I stopped reading before I finished the first torture scene.

  • http://mingfrommongo.livejournal.com mingfrommongo

    After reading this article, I do not believe that I should follow through with this. Oh, wait….

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I enjoyed reading some of the historical novels by Stephen Lawhead. I’ve read his Robin Hood trilogy and one of his books on the crusades. He falls under the category of a Christian writer but is actually very hard on the abuses of the Catholic church.

  • Angie

    When we were still dating, my fundamentalist Christian ex-boyfriend and I decided to read books of each other’s choosing. He lent me a copy of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith (to answer my criticisms of Christianity and possibly convert me), and I lent him a copy of Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk (to expose him to progressive, non-fundamentalist forms of faith).

    Bad idea, on both our parts!

    I threw down Strobel’s book after a few teeth-gnashing chapters because, in addition to being poorly argued, it was one of the most morally revolting books I’ve ever read. My boyfriend, likewise, was unhappy with Sexism and God-Talk because he thought it was “blasphemous”.

  • Polly

    I threw down Strobel’s book after a few teeth-gnashing chapters because, in addition to being poorly argued, it was one of the most morally revolting books I’ve ever read.

    I filled the margins of that book and returned it to my mother. I was just a little bit stupider for having read it.

    I also read “Mere Christianity” while I was a Christian. I put Lewis a couple notches above Strobel, that’s about it.

  • Nathan (not the Christian Nathan)

    I just watched “The Star of Bethlehem” by Rick Larson, does that count?

    It goes on attempting to give scientific astronomical evidence for the star that led the magi to Jesus. Kinda boring, but I like the astronomy. Overall, makes a lot of assumptions with no evidence.

  • Emily

    I just finished the book my (Christian) mother gave to me for Christmas: How Do We Know The Bible Is True? by John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs. I filled in the margins with my thoughts and gave it back to her. After she reads it, we’ll talk about it. This is the first time we’ve tried something like this, so I hope it goes well. Can anyone suggest a book I can lend her? Nothing by Dawkins or the like – I don’t want to offend her, just to open up an avenue for discussion.

  • Moose

    “The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb”

    Never thought I’d actually read any of the KJ version of the Bible-but Crumb’s style makes it slightly more palatable…but in no way less wacky…

  • http://seangill-insidemyhead.blogspot.com SeanG

    @ Emily: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Compte-Sponville. A gentle way to get believers to understand how we can be good ethical people without the supernatural.

    http://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Atheist-Spirituality/dp/0143114433/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263276505&sr=1-1

  • GullWatcher

    From TheChristian, regarding Lewis:

    you will see why he is considered a first-grade philosopher, on par with Bertrand Russellyou

    I too consider him a suitable philosopher for six year olds, although kindergarten might even be a better choice than first grade.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    TheChristian

    I haven’t de-converted yet, because if you strip off all the nice-sounding academic covering, the arguments presented by these books are really infantile and would fail a freshman philosophy course.

    The purpose of these books isn’t to disprove the existence of gods as a philosophical argument might attempt but to present evidence and counter arguments to theistic assertions.

    I find it ironic that you people consider yourselves to be open-minded, and yet think that there are some books that you will “inevitably” disagree with. Open-mindedness by definition presumes that no disagreement is inevitable. If you are reading a book and telling yourself, “before I read this book, X and Y and Z are definitely wrong”, then you are not being open-minded. Plain and simple.

    Open mindedness is allowing that an argument may be compelling and to listen to it. It does not assume that you will not have criticisms against the argument. We all know the common theistic arguments and have found them to be weak. Why would you assume that we would be swayed when presented with these same arguments again? Why would assume that we wouldn’t prejudge a book that is known to present these arguments again?

    Granted we shouldn’t prejudice an argument simply because it is a Christian argument. That would be closed minded. I’m not seeing anyone here saying that though. Rather than saying X, Y and Z are wrong we’re saying that we’ve heard X, Y and Z before and were unconvinced then. If you’ve got argument P that I haven’t heard then present it and we’ll give it a fair shot at the wicket. Rolling out the same tired arguments doesn’t convince us and not wishing to be exposed to them again isn’t a sign of closed mindedness.

  • Luther

    When I was campaigning for Ned Lamont I bought and read a copy of Joe Lieberman’s book “In Praise of Public Life”

    The fun part was that I bought a used copy on Amazon, it was the last one at $0.01, just a little overpriced!

  • Angie

    Can anyone suggest a book I can lend her? Nothing by Dawkins or the like – I don’t want to offend her, just to open up an avenue for discussion.

    Emily — Instead of an atheist book, may I recommend a book on progressive theology (i.e., feminist, liberation, or eco-theology)? This might open her up to interpretations of the Bible that are non-literalist and non-fundamentalist, warming up the conversation for other religious topics. (This approach didn’t work with my fundamentalist ex, unfortunately, but it might work with your mother.)

    Some suggestions:

    - Battered Love: Marriage, Sex and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets by Renita J. Weems

    - Texts of Terror: Literary Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives by Phyllis Trible

    - Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature by Sallie McFague

    - Nature Reborn: Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology by H. Paul Santmire

    - A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    This is a marvelous idea, but I’m having a hard time imagining myself doing it. I read for both pleasure and education, and it’s difficult for me to commit several weeks of my life to reading something that I know is going to make me feel like banging my head against a brick wall. Unlike with online debate, you can’t talk back and argue with the book’s author.

    Also, and I hate to say it because I sound like such a snob, but I would be embarrassed to have such a book on my annual reading list, which I publish on my blog. Not that my reading is highbrow (hardly), but I balk at the idea of having something obviously right-wing or pro-theism permanently entrenched on my blog.

    Is that terrible of me? I’m willing to try, but it has to be something that won’t make me want to tear my hair out. And something that doesn’t have too embarrassing a title. Any suggestions? Nonfiction would be better than fiction. Someone (a Christian) recommended The Shack to me, but I just don’t think I could bear it.


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