Best books I read in 2014

I’ve been asked by quite a few people what books I would recommend for people going through this exploration. It’s a difficult answer to give. Each person’s experience is a bit different–their background and starting point, their primary questions and concerns. These are the books that helped me the most this year as I transitioned out of my faith. This is not a list of the best books of 2014. Most of these books were written well before 2014.

My list is skewed toward those that have been heavily immersed in theology and religion. If that is not your experience and background, this list might seem odd to you. That’s okay. Make your list in the comments or on your blog and tag me. I’d love to know which book have been most transformational for you.

The other list I could make, I suppose, are the best books I didn’t get around to reading in 2014. Keep reading!

 

caught in the pulpitCaught in the Pulpit (Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola)

I read this book very early in the year as it was directly applicable to my situation, having been a pastor myself. I was never an unbeliever while serving as a pastor. I found ways to account for the difficulties of belief and hold on to some form of a belief in God. For me, my beliefs fell away in layers. First, when I finally acknowledged publicly that I didn’t believe the unique doctrines of Seventh-day Adventist Church, I was asked to resign from my job as a pastor. Secondly, my confidence in the church was severely challenged as I struggled to find a place to call home. Thirdly, as I explored those challenges, my faith in the Bible was full of holes. Then, Christianity. And finally, my belief in God. It was at this point that I decided I had to investigate the entire thing.

In some ways, Christianity was harder to let go of than God. That may sound odd to some people, but at least Christianity, as a religion, is a tangible thing, with a history and a tradition.

Why I Am Not a Christian RCWhy I Am Not a Christian (Richard Carrier)

Also one of the first books I read, after a quick read of A.C. Grayling’s, The God Argument, was Richard Carrier’s little book, Why I Am Not a Christian. In the space of just a few pages he helped me understand some of the most essential arguments against Christianity.

I don’t agree with Carrier completely, especially with regard to the problem of evil, but I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a short, concise, accessible understanding of why atheists cannot accept the tenets of Christianity.

living with a wild godLiving With a Wild God (Barbara Ehrenreich)

When Barbara Ehrenreich’s book came out I was in desperate need of a good story. Her memoir provided just the thing I needed. I had read Ehrenreich’s work on social issues for years and deeply respect her intellect and passion for justice. With this book she really surprised her fans.

What I loved about it was the way it gave me an example of skepticism at work. She had some remarkable, so far unexplainable, experiences as a young woman that she kept to herself. She is honest about the way her worldview shaped the possible explanations she was able to entertain, at first. Having been raised in an atheist household, she found it difficult, if not impossible, to reach for a supernatural explanation. In the end, she rejected those explanations, as tempting as they might been.

Here is a story of a women, committed to the scientific method, grappling with experiences that are just now beginning to be explained in hosts of other people.

wakingupWaking Up (Sam Harris)

I loved this book! It was wholly unexpected from a man who’s reputation is one of tearing down religion and belief. In the opening pages he was defending a certain use of the world “spiritual.” I couldn’t believe it.

I loved getting to know Sam Harris, the person, in this book—his descriptions of his experiences with meditation, mindfulness and the nature of the self. It was all very new to me. In keeping with the spirit of my “Year” I withheld judgment and just learned from him. I found it compelling and refreshing.

Many Christians fear that not believing in God will leave them with a void. This book helped me realized that there is more than enough mystery in the world, just as it is.

demon haunted worldThe Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Carl Sagan)

Having been raised in a fundamentalist form of Christianity, I did not receive the best science education possible. What I loved about this book is that it gave me I wide angle view of science, it’s goal and purpose as well as an appreciation for the wonder of the universe which I consider a sort of naturalistic spirituality.

This is one of the best books I read all year because of the way it opened new vistas to me in a very approachable and non-threatening way. Sagan doesn’t waste any time explaining how stupid you are if you don’t see things his way. He simple amazes you with the wonder and beauty of the universe!

with or without godWith or Without God (Gretta Vosper)

These last two books are my favorite books of the year, equally, for different reasons.

Gretta Vosper’s book, With or Without God is one of those books I found myself nodding along with the entire way. It is the book I most often recommend when people ask me what they should read to help them grapple with their doubts about God but their love for the church.

I also had a chance to meet Gretta this year while she was speaking in North Carolina along with my good friend Jeff Straka. I’m on a personal mission to make her ideas and work more widely known. Read this book!

Geering-Reimagining-GodReimagining God (Lloyd Geering)

This book blew me away. It’s probably not Geering’s best book in the sense that it is a collection of lectures he’s given through the years. My critique is that it is quite repetitive, but I liked it. The ideas a important and challenging enough that they bear repeating.

What I love about this book is the way Geering (now 96 years old) calmly explains the disappearance of theism from the horizon of philosophy and theology with no anxiety in his voice at all. It all seems so natural and normal. It made me excited to be alive at this point, and to be the recipient of so much wisdom.

The changes this man has seen in his lifetime are so staggering. His book helped me integrate strands of theology and philosophy that were floating around in my brain for a long time. If you think of yourself as a novice when it comes to philosophy, do not fear. This book will help you understand the main currents in simple, accessible language without being simplistic.

About Ryan Bell

For 19 years Ryan Bell was a pastor, most recently the senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. In March 2013 he resigned his position due to theological and practical differences. As an adjunct professor he has taught subjects ranging from intercultural communication to bioethics.
Currently he is a researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States and blogs about that experience here at Year Without God.