The Hefty, Crowdsourced Syllabus

Many of the people who replied to my New Year’s Challenge to change my opinions about religion proposed books I should read.  Right up my alley, I thought, until I realized how very many books you all have read and enjoyed.  I’m going to pick out six or seven to start with and commit to reading one to two a month, so I don’t get overwhelmed, but that means I won’t get to a lot of these.

I’ve posted the full list here both as a reference for other atheists who might wonder what Christians want them to read, and so readers of this blog can make one last pitch for me to choose their favorite books from this list.  Feel free to link to reviews or talk about your own experience with the book.  As is, I’m choosing based on knowledge of the author, Amazon reviews/summaries, and some comments that were originally included when they were suggested (I’ve reposted them below).

Thanks again for all the suggestions.  I only wish I had the time for more.  Here’s the list:


A Grammar of Assent” and “On the Development of Doctrine” — John Henry Newman
Book of Mormon
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.– Richard Rorty
Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism is a reference book, or at best a textbook; it’s not going to lay out the whole history of and argument for any given teaching or custom. But it will tell you in no uncertain terms what the Catholic Church teaches on almost any subject. It’s authoritative (so there’s no wondering “is this what they really believe?”), and it’s usually crystal clear. It’s also fairly well footnoted, so you can trace the history yourself if you want.

Confessions — Augustine

I strongly recommend Rex Warner’s very readable translation. You might also try “On Christian Doctrine.” If you get into him, you might try “On the Trinity” or “On the City of God,” though both of those are major commitments.
[I tried City of God freshman year in Directed Studies.  Not again, at least for a while.  –Leah]

Dare We Hope (That All Men Be Saved) or Explorations in Theology — Hans Urs von Balthasar

Dynamics of Faith — Paul Tillich
Fear and Trembling — Kierkegaard
God without Being — Jean-Luc Marion
Handbook of Christian Apologetics — Kreeft and Tacelli
Heretics — G.K. Chesterton
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist — Norman Geisler
In Soft Garments — Ronald Knox
Introduction to Christianity — Joseph Ratzinger
Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More [specific works for these authors not specified — Leah]
Lunging, Mispunching, Flailing” — Terry Eagleton
Man’s Search for Meaning — Victor Frankel
Orthodoxy — G.K. Chesterton [I’ve read it, though I’ve not written about it here — Leah]
Preface to Romans — Martin Luther
Relativism Readings:

I’d like to see you read / write about Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations) and Kierkegaard specifically, though a lot of 20th Century philosophy points in that direction (Zizek, Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Adorno / Horkheimer, Nietzsche…)

Relativism Readings II:

I would start with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy online entry on Moral Relativism. From there, you might try the 1996 Gil Harman/Philippa Foot volume “Moral Relativism, Moral Objectivism”, and then perhaps Allan Gibbard’s 1992 book “Wise Choices, Apt Feelings”.

Salt of the Earth — interview with Pope Benedict XVI
Summa Theologica — Thomas Aquinas [Also read excerpts of this in DS, and I’m not aching to return — Leah]

The Agnostic Inquirer: Revelation from a Philosophical Perspective — Sandra Menssen and Thomas Sullivan
The Ball and the Cross — G. K. Chesterton
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus — Gary R. Habermas
The Everlasting Man — G.K. Chesterton [I’ve read it, though I’ve not written about it here — Leah]
The Heart of the Matter — Graham Greene
The Power and the Glory — Graham Greene

"Well, I would love to know if you now believe that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered."

Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong ..."
"Any chance of you ever addressing the evidence that led you to accept the truth ..."

Letting Go of the Goal of ..."
""Wow, an unevidenced assertion from a religious dipshite. "Your quotes are the evidence and reason ..."

This is my last post for ..."
""Congrats on leaving your brain behind!"Comments like yours are why lots of atheists leave atheism. ..."

This is my last post for ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Normally I'd suggest Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, but since you've read that already I'd like to make a pitch for "The Agnostic Inquirer" by Menssen and Sullivan. I read this book for a class at St. Thomas on apologetics. The book, though quite dense, is one of the best modern apologetic works I've ever read. It's very thorough and looks at several different arguments for God's existence, addresses common objections, points out the limits of science, and also takes a unique approach. Most people think that you need to prove the existence of God before looking at putative revelations from that God, but Menssen and Sullivan break that mold and claim that the revelatory claims themselves can lend support to the claim that God exists. This book was so well-worth reading and studying that I kept the copy I got for class for future reference, and I highly recommend it.

  • JohnMark

    Confessions is both narratively compelling and theologically interesting (although I find Augustine's asceticism a little excessive).

  • Pages from an Oxford Diary – Paul Elmer More 🙂 Not sure what I would specifically recommend by Babbitt yet.

  • skepticmatt

    Just found this blog and I'm looking forward to reading it – as an atheist who just got out of a 4-year relationship with a catholic girl I'm curious to see the other side of it.As to reading religion, a great way to save time is to skip the apologetics.

  • Whoops, that was a bad post. Here is a revised version:Deacon Duncan over at Evangelical Realism has a thorough analysis of I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist; the rather lengthy series of posts starts here (actually it seems like there was at least one previous post, but I can't find it), and honestly after following along with the series I would not be in a hurry to read the book itself.

  • I think I've recommended God in the Alley by Greg Paul in the comments to another of your posts, but I'll mention it again now. I understand unending reading lists, though, so I don't want you to feel overwhelmed. It's not a work of apologetics, and my recommendation is not intended to be evangelical. It would be more for your understanding of Christian morality (or one version of it). It's also interesting narratively, in that there are fascinating "characters" and the book's structure is intriguing. (I used scare quotes because they're real people; it's non-fiction.)

  • Wow — your list rivals my own running list of add-ons from suggesters. It might be helpful to define your goals — clear arguments vs. something like Greene's Power and the Glory which is a novel perhaps containing some theological messages for those who already believe. I mention that one since I've read it for a class… and from a standpoint of non-belief, I'd have a hard time predicting what potential impact it would have.Anyway, goals from reading books might be helpful? Just at thought. I'm almost exclusively interested in books that deal with my objections, so I wouldn't bother spending much time on what I'd call "fluffy books" that invest a high word count in prose and tangents.

  • Michael Haycock

    On one hand, I think it would be great if you did include the Book of Mormon on your final reading list. To me and to millions it's a very significant book, and I believe that it would shed light on the nature of human-divine communication you seem to want to explore, as that relationship is at the very heart of the entire work.However, Mormon thinking on much theology is *very* different from Catholic or Protestant thought, so while there are lessons that I believe can be learned from reading our scripture (and I believe are correct), most Christians in the world would reject the source material and some of the conclusions drawn from it (as you've probably seen in comments to your blog).Thus, I'd suggest you either recognize the uniqueness of studying the LDS faith, putting forth an effort to understand it beyond a general glossing of Christianity, or leave it to the side. To include the LDS church in your survey and exploration of Christianity would be opening a new set of questions that require their own answers.If you decide to pursue even an intellectual understanding of Mormonism, I'm willing to discuss it, and must warn you that we run short of the apologists you seem to seek out (with no paid ministry available as an occupation, Mormon apologists are only such as side projects and hobbies, and some can be found here: ); hence my recommendation to read the Book of Mormon itself. Besides, in reading scripture and trying to interpret it you'd be doing the same everyday exegetical work we all do, which is an essential part of the LDS (and general religious) experience, in my opinion, and would greatly contribute to your own experience with religion.

  • Thomas Aquinas requires a steep learning curve and a long-term commitment. However, having pushed through that I have found him to be one of the clearest thinkers I have ever read, and also to be the best starting point for almost any philosophical or theological question I have. I don't always end up in the same place he does, but I find he gets me pointed in a good direction.That said, considering your current courseload/workload/relationshipload, it would make sense to put old Tom on the bottom of the priority list.

  • I am a Christian and a PhD student of Christian Ethics, but the author I'd suggest you read is Slavoj Zizek, the popular atheist philosopher. His understanding and exploration of Christianity is far more interesting, and less aggressively Modern, than that of the New Atheists. He's also a fan of Chesterton, oddly enough. Living in the End Times is a good introduction to Zizek as a whole; he treats Christianity in the most detail in his The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity.I'd also recommend Anthony Flew's "conversion" story, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, but I'm sure you're aware of it already.

  • Note that you'll probably find Zizek's The Fragile Absolute an easier read than The Pupper and the Dwarf.

  • Read "Lost in the Cosmos" if you really want a non-standard apologetics book.

  • Anonymous

    A few suggestions:Hans Kung: Does God Exist – An Answer for TodayGary Wills – Why I am a CatholicSimone Weil – Gravity and GraceSimone Weil – Waiting for GodJohn Haught – What is God? How to think about the Divine

  • Joe

    You might try "Death of Christian Culture" by John Senior

  • Hello Leah, I’m a former Christian. I was raised Catholic, confirmed, born again, read all of Lewis, much of the Inklings, lots of MacDonald, and about 30 of G.K.s works, read other types of theology as well, including Martin Gardner’s The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, and the reply book by his funny logician friend, Raymond Smullyan, titled, Who Knows?, as well as lots of Alan Watts who started out a seminarian but studied Christian mysticism leading him to eastern mysticism as well, and Robert Farrar Capon (Capon is like Chesterton’s modern day cousin) .

    But later, I left the fold. It was primarily my study of the Bible in the end that did in my conviction. And I came to edit a book titled Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists that consists of first-hand testimonies of Protestants who leave the fold for either more moderate-liberal versions of Christianity, or for more inclusive religions, or for agnosticism or atheism. Some of the testimonies are from people of importance in the world of religion, theologians, scholars, writers. Some interesting first-hand stories. My own story from that work is online, “If It Wasn’t For Agnosticism I Wouldn’t Know What to Believe.” I have studied people’s changes in belief for a long while and could easily write a companion volume to Leaving the Fold, perhaps titled, Leaving the Cathedral, that would include first hand stories of priests, nuns, bishops and theologians struggling to have their voices heard concerning Catholic doctrines and teachings, from questions of biblical scholarship and the church’s silencing of theologians, to questions regarding the infallibility of the pope and/or the Magisterium, the Vatican Bank, to celibacy, birth control, homosexuality, child molestation coverups, and other issues, with another part of the book featuring first hand testimonies from Catholics who opted for a more inclusive religion, to Catholics who became deists, agnostics, or atheists. Karen Armstrong is one scholar who writes bestsellers on religion who used to be a nun, but now follows an apophatic path of more inclusive spirituality.

    A new book that I read recently and found quite interesting concerning Catholicism’s long history of attempting to enforce uniformity of belief was titled, God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy, who went around interviewing Catholic scholars, rather like the way Lee Strobel went round interviewing Evangelical inerrantists. But I’d say it’s more interesting, honest and engaging, and the scholars in God’s Jury seem to hold more diverse religious beliefs than those in Strobel’s work.

    Also, speaking of Strobel, if you haven’t heard, there is a fellow by the name of Dr. Robert M. Price, a personal friend of mine, who once journeyed to meet with many Christian apologists when he was a young seminarian, to boost his faith and answer the critics, but who later left the fold and wrote two very interesting books along non-Strobelian lines. Price’s earliest such work was titled, Beyond Born Again, and remains available free online at the Secular Web. While his more recent work is titled, The Case Against the Case for Christ. Price obtained two Ph.D.s in NT studies over the decades and is astonishingly well read and a jolly good fellow as well.

    • to questions regarding the infallibility of the pope and/or the Magisterium, the Vatican Bank, to celibacy, birth control, homosexuality, child molestation coverups, and other issues,


  • Bob

    Hi, Have you considered adding former nun Karen Armstrong to your reading list? If you have any interest in Buddhism, I would highly recommend Sharon Salzberg’s book Lovingkindness, and anything by Thich Nhat Hanh. thanks

  • Leo Schlosser

    I didn’t see anyone mention Thomas Merton or any of his books on your list. Seven Story Mountain is a great read and some of his other work can get you started on the mystics of the Catholic Church.

  • Beast

    For what it’s worth, I am compelled to present a few titles which I think you may find fascinating. Regards.

    “The Essence of Love,” D. von Hildebrand
    “Transformation in Christ,” D. von Hildebrand
    “Darwin’s Cathedral,” D. Sloan-Wilson
    “Breaking the Spell”, D. Dennett
    Bart D. Ehrman’s books
    “The Christian Delusion,” John Loftus
    “Irreligion,” J. A. Paulos
    “The Mind’s I,” D. Hofstadter, ed al.
    “The Religious Sense,” L. Giussani

  • Beast

    Sorry for the sloppiness. The available English translation of the first title is called “The Nature of Love.” It’s D. Sloan Wilson, without the hyphen. It should be “et al.” rather than “ed al.”