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Religion Reading List

As someone with minimal religious intuitions and nominal indoctrination it’s been a long hard slog for me to understand religion as a human phenomenon. Books have been important. Not newspapers. And not just the words of believers. I’ve expressed irritation and exasperation at some readers who talk about things which they clearly have only a superficial grasp of. This is becoming a bit more common, so I’m going to have to take two steps. First, I’m going to actually start paying closer attention to comments on my threads. Second, below is a reading list which explains where I’m coming from. You don’t have to read any of these books, or try to understand where I’m coming from. Life is short. But in that case, don’t comment. I don’t know much about cars, so I don’t talk about cars. I am a fan of the Boston Celtics, but don’t follow the game closely enough to comment intelligently, so I don’t comment. I try to shy away from superficial conversation about serious topics in my day to day life (though I’m game to talk about Jersey Shore in a flip fashion), so I understand that this is a blog, but it seems we’d all benefit more from depth than not (this is not aimed at the transient visitors who arrive via periodic spikes from other websites, and will come & go at will). I’m not interested in winning arguments, I’m interesting in learning more through discussion. I don’t feel that I’m learning a lot in the repetitions of superficial conventional wisdom. This includes both the Islamoskeptic commenters (I count myself as a very strongly Islamoskeptic) and the partisans of pluralism. I accede to substantive disagreement more easily than I do to unintelligent or uninformed concurrence.

The list below is Abrahamically oriented, mostly because readers of this weblog have a stronger interest in these faiths as expressed by the comments they leave. Though I can recommend books on Chinese religious philosophy, and to a lesser extent Indian religious philosophy, if you are curious. Quite often the generalizations people make about human societies are uninformed by any deep knowledge of the broader swath of societies, so a cursory familiarity with all cultures is probably best unless you want to make yourself a fool by ignorance.




The gods of the future

I have a long review of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? at Discover Blogs. My co-blogger reviewed it for Taki’s Magazine last June, prompting me to add this book to my “stack.” Well worth the read.




12 questions for John Derbyshire



On a hard-to-reach library shelf

Per the Telegraph, some Muslims in Leicester, U.K.,

moved copies of the Koran to the top shelves of libraries, because they believe it is an insult to display it in a low position.

The city’s librarians consulted the Federation of Muslim Organisations and were advised that all religious texts should be kept on the top shelf to ensure equality.

So far as I can tell, most Christian viewpoints do not assign any particular value to placing the religion’s scriptures in a physically elevated location, and many would assign a positive value to making the texts accessible, which might be in tension with top-shelf placement.

Robert Whelan of the Civitas think-tank told The Daily Mail: “Libraries and museums are not places of worship. They should not be run in accordance with particular religious beliefs.”

And a spokesman for Engage, “which encourages Muslims to play a greater role in public life”, pointed out that there is no reason libraries should feel obliged to treat Christian and Muslim scriptures in a precisely equal way if believers take different views as to what constitutes respectful treatment.

Speaking of libraries, I’ll take this opportunity to suggest that readers visit my other site, Overlawyered, to check out my ongoing coverage of CPSIA, the dreadful new federal law that is encouraging used book sellers and even libraries to discard pre-1985 children’s books on the ground that some unknown percentage of them contain infinitesimal admixtures of lead in their ink and pigments. I wrote up the issue at the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, and Daniel Kalder at the Guardian (U.K.) contributed good coverage yesterday. I’m happy to report that virtually every strain of conservative opinion, religious and secular, traditionalist and libertarian, seems to be united in agreement that this very bad law needs to be stopped now; its remaining defenders include Congressional potentate Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the editorialists of the New York Times.

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New Ann Coulter book

Two years ago Ann departed from what I had taken for a generally secular and modern public persona by coming out with a book entitled “Godless: The Church of Liberalism” which advanced, of all things, a down-with-Darwin line. Apparently I was not the only one a bit surprised by this development (Jillian Becker). Per Wikipedia, Godless includes the following curious statement: “Throughout this book, I often refer to Christians and Christianity because I am a Christian and I have a fairly good idea of what they believe, but the term is intended to include anyone who subscribes to the Bible of the God of Abraham, including Jews and others.” A hostile review in The New Republic is here.

Now she has a new book out entitled “Guilty: Liberal Victims and Their Assault on America”. Do any readers know whether it represents a return to earlier, better form?


What? Not ventriloquism? (via Althouse).

This is a thread for suggestions.  I’m looking here for works which focus on social & economic changes, as opposed to personal biography and diplomatic history.  The latter was important, but my personal impression is that they’re easy to bone up on via simple web resources.  But when it comes to topics which are less likely to move copies in airport terminals the seamless narrative of a scholar still has a strong comparative advantage.  Here’s a few:




The Right Nation

Walter:  I reviewed Mickelthwait and Wooldridge’s book for the late lamented New York Sun here.  The Sun’s literary editor at the time, Robert Messenger, called up to congratulate me on having used the word “armigerous.” 

I hope the paper did a better job than I did of consistently spelling the authors’ names right.  Reviewers should get time-and-a-half pay for things like that.




Books for Secular Cons

If it’s godless conservatism you’re wantin’, I’d offer A Mencken Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On: A Samuel Beckett Reader, ed. Richard W. Seaver, and the Loeb Horace: The Odes and Epodes by Q. Horatius Flaccus, with an English translation by C.E. Bennett.

You may quibble with Beckett, who must have, er, palled around with commies in his days with the French Resistance, but who, as best I can gather, found politics merely amusing in the 0.001 percent of his time he spent thinking about the subject — an admirably conservative point of view, in my opinion. You may quibble with Horace, whose works frequently suggest a belief in the Afterlife (visendus ater flumine languido Cocytos etc.); but I think that was just style and habit. He knew the lights go out. Now try quibbling with Mencken!


How about some recommendations?  And non-obvious ones at that!  Let’s limit it to three submissions per person so that “you make them count.”  Here are my heterodox submissions: The Blank Slate, The Iliad and The Elements.

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