I have been going through my stack of books for the purpose of clearing them and giving them away (see below). I thought I’d do a short write-up of 10 of my favourite non-Christian books (as can be seen above) – and why I like them. I wouldn’t say these are my absolute top 10 of all time, but they are definitely some of my favourites. Actually, I’m going to add one more book that isn’t seen in the above picture so that makes 11.
1) Harvard and the Unabomber by Alston Chase: What a book to talk about! Haha! It’s only mentioned first coz it was first in the picture above as it was the tallest :) The unabomber (Ted Kaczynski) was a Harvard graduate turned American terrorist. I bought the book because I wanted to read a real life story of someone influenced by ideals similar to mine – ideals related to his negative assessment of modern society, not the terrorist part! I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions of the author. Perhaps this Amazon reviewer put it best:
Alston wants to place a lot of the responsibility for the Kaczynski’s anger on the General Education curriculum then taught at Harvard. I thought it strange that the books and authors Chase mentions are books by my idols! But I draw very different lessons from the works of Dostoyevsky, Melville and Mumford than does Chase. There is a lot that can be said about the Gen Ed curriculum, but based on an intense personal experience with most of the writers mentioned here, I know them to embrace humanitarian ideals and to move beyond despair. To lay the causative influence of the Unabomber here is mistaken.
2) Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer: This book isn’t in the picture above because I lent it out to a friend about 8 years ago and it was never returned. Into The Wild is one of my all-time favourite books. I know there’s a movie on the book and I watched it, but I loved the book. The books is about Christopher Johnson McCandless who is very similar to Ted Kaczynski in his negative evaluation of modern society. I actually wrote at length on this website about Into The Wild. This book introduced me to Henry David Thoreau who has become one of my favourite authors. I think in the 300 or so books I’m giving away (see below) are about 5 different biographies on Thoreau.
3) Until Death Do Us Part by Ingrid Betancourt: This is an autobiography of Ingrid Betancourt’s “struggle to reclaim Colombia” which I read about 9 years ago. Colombia is one of my favourite countries and I spent about 4 months there studying Spanish. Latin America is definitely one of my favourite places to go to in the world. I actually completed a minor in Spanish and Latin American Studies. I think the thing that initially attracted me to Latin America was reading about the Catholics living out their Christian faith during the 70s and 80s, the Liberation Theology era. There are a lot of studies of great struggles in Latin America and movements and peoples that seek to stand up for the oppressed. A messy place and a messy history, but a rich and exciting history nevertheless.
4) Gaviotas – A Village To Reinvent The World: An amazing story of Colombian visionaries creating a sustainable village. It’s stories like these that make me fall in love with Latin America.
5) The Death of Ben Linder by Joan Kruckewitt: I just realized this is the third book related to South America! This book is a real life story of a North American in Sandinista Nacaragua. Very similar to Chris McCandless (see Into The Wild above) in that Ben lived out his beliefs and eventually died for it. Inspirational.
6) Living High & Letting Die by Peter Unger: I got to know this book through Peter Singer’s writings. I wrote about Peter Singer and Peter Unger here: Poverty and the Moral Responsibility of the Rich to the Poor. This is a philosophy book on ethics by Peter Unger who was inspired by Peter Singer’s writings on how we are responsible for letting the poor die. I’ve been very impacted by Peter Singer in this area and I’ve written a few articles on this site about this area. A synopsis of the book:
A small amount of money sent to a charity like UNICEF will ensure that fewer poor children will die. Yet even when aware of this most people send nothing. Peter Unger examines this all-too-common example of letting die, generating a bold and controversial look at moral assessment.
7) Riches For The Poor by Earl Shorris: A book about the amazing story of the Clemente Course created by Earl Shorris that sought to teach the humanities – art, logic, philosophy, poetry – to the poor so as to empower them to break the cycle of poverty.
8) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: A seemingly simple yet profound book which I wrote more about here: Encountering Anne Frank and the Mask we all Wear. I was very moved by the book and included in the books I’m giving away are about 5 different biographies of Anne Frank.
9) Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman: A book that has had a great impact upon me. This was one of the first popular current affairs / sociological book about modern society that I read and it helped me understand how TV made people dumber :) I wrote more about this book here. I love Neil Postman’s writings and have probably read most or all his major books. Very good reading!
10) The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff: A book about a psychotherapist who spent 2.5 years in the South American jungle living with Stone Age Indians which “demolished her Western preconceptions of how we should live, and led her to a radically different view of what human nature really is.” An interesting book that will make us reflect on our modern society, its values and way of doing things.
11) The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: An amazing book. Others may love it for different reasons. For me, the book is about the heroic non-conformism of its protagonist Howard Roark. The theme of non-conformism is one of my favourite and Into The Wild and this book are strong in this area.
So there you go. Non-Christian books which have impacted me, whose values are very similar to mine. Social justice and non-conformism to modern society’s values are two very strong themes in the above books and in my life. The second is there, I think, partly because the first is compromised.
I definitely have a very strong progressive and liberal streak in me. This is tempered somewhat by my Christian beliefs. Probably very few of my Christian friends understand my strong passion for social justice (and the extent I would go or would like to go in living out my beliefs – hey, I admire people like Thoreau, McCandless, Linder, Betancourt and Roark, though admiration from afar is very different from truly living it out) but I generally make myself get along with the Christianity community for a greater cause and mission. I do truly believe that my God is a God of love and love for the poor, marginalized and oppressed of society. In that sense I do believe God is a God of social justice and in many ways (not in every way) the progressives and liberals are expressing the heart of God when they show empathy for the oppressed and give their lives to making a difference in the world.
Bye bye books…
The reason I was going through my books is that I’m moving out of the place I’m staying and have decided to give away most of my books I’ve bought over the past 17 years or so. Over the past 10 years, I’ve already left probably over 100 Christian books in a church and another 200 plus Christian books with a pastor friend of mine. I don’t expect to see them again even though they have not been technically given away! Then I also recently gave away over 200 Christian books to another church pastor to be donated to his Seminary in India. Those are all Christian books I don’t really need since my Christian journey has taken me to different traditions and many of the books aren’t books I’m interested in now – normal evangelical books, Reformed books, progressive Christianity and even charismatic and Pentecostal books. I do keep a collection of around 100 or so that have to do mostly with healing, prophecy and grace that I’ve bought in the past few years – and also some secular books related to the mind and self-development. I think this is the direction I’m moving towards and so I’m keeping them. And I’ve kind of mostly stopped buying physical books now if I can since I don’t want to be carrying them around – I am starting to purchase ebooks (PDF or Kindle). I definitely prefer reading a physical book but it’s much more convenient to be able to bring my whole book collection on my ipad! I still do purchase physical books when I can’t find them on Kindle or if they are not suited to reading on my ipad.
My reading of books coincided with the time I truly became a Christian at around 16 years old. And from that time (the last 16-17 years or so), I spent the first 6 years reading a lot of Christian books (mainly conservative Reformed books, but also eventually progressive Christian books), the following 6 years reading a lot of non-Christian, non-fiction books that related to my interest in politics, economics, development, Latin American studies, social justice, globalization, poverty, sociology, psychology, literature, philosophy, etc., maybe about 2-3 years reading English as a 2nd Language (ESL) and TESOL-related books (I am a certified ESL teacher and did my Masters in TESOL halfway) and the last few years reading Christian books related to healing, prophecy and grace.
So besides the Christian books I’ve already given away or I’m keeping, I’ve got maybe around 500 non-Christian books left that’s split up into about 300 non-fiction books and 200 ESL/TESOL-related books. I’m going to keep my ESL/TESOL-related books because I may continue to do something with them in the ESL and education industry. The 300 or so non-fiction books (including some fictional literature books), however, I’m gonna give away. I have a lot of really good books that I don’t want to give away, but I also know that I’m not going to read them in future. I thought of selling them away but I know I’ll get peanuts for them. Therefore I wrote to UWCSEA (United World College of Southeast Asia) – the international school based in Singapore – to ask them if they would like them for their library use and they were interested and I handed it over to them at the end of 2011. Many of my books are still almost brand new and I know UWC and its values and they are pretty much the same as mine. Social justice is important for them. For example, Nelson Mandela is their Honorary President. Through my time working on various development projects in Singapore, I got to know many UWC students. And so I know this is a school I would like to invest in to bless them.
Anyway, these 300 or so non-Christian (non-ESL/TESOL related) books have had a huge impact on me and my thinking. They are mainly of liberal politics values and that’s still who I am today. And that’s why in many areas I don’t fit easily into the Christian subculture which is generally (in American and also Singapore) more towards the political right. I’ve always felt a greater affinity with the non-Christian progressives (than with most Christians) because of their passion to stand up for and help the marginalized and oppressed, which I’ve never seen very strongly in Christianity. Although not the main priority in my life now, social justice is still something I’m very concerned about. I think my passion for healing stems in a way from my passion for social justice. My heart right now is to learn to see the Bible come alive in my life as it truly should (greater works – John 14:12), to know Him more, to demonstrate His love to the world through signs and wonders and to eventually disciple people in the developing world in the message of God’s grace and love and the supernatural.
The above review of the 10/11 books was written as a memory of all the non-Christian books that have impacted me and that I’m giving away. Goodbye my friends… May you impact other people to transform the world!