Influential books during my deconversion
These are some of the books that impressed me just before, during and just after my deconversion. Some of these books are available free as e-texts. Where this is so, or there is interesting discussion about the author then I have provided links. You may search for free e-texts at the On-line Books Page. Also Books may be easily found from various on-line booksellers such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble (good for out of print books), The Internet bookshop, Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones and don't forget the Internet Infidels bookstore.
Information and resources for many other relevant books, including those specifically recommended by other ex-Christians, can be found here.
- Why I am not a Christian You can read it here.
Bertrand Russell ISBN 0042000289
- The title essay is followed by a statement of Russell's own beliefs, discussions of immortality, the misery caused by religion and the danger of looking to it for help.
Many of Russell's writings are available free via The Bertrand Russell Society.
- The Conquest of Happiness
Bertrand Russell ISBN 0041710045
- Russell believes that unhappiness is largely due to a mistaken view of the world, that happiness is a basic human right. He pinpoints the roots of happiness and discontent and concludes that happiness lies in the personality 'neither divided against itself, nor pitted against the world'.
Comment: Christianity creates a problem for Christianity to try to solve, which it can't ultimately do anyway until we get to "heaven." You won't be truly at peace or fulfilled until you die. You are living in a world with something fundamentally spiritually wrong with it as a Christian. Not a recipe for full happiness and connection. When I left Christianity I wasn't expecting to find so much mental health and feeling for life outside of religion. But there it is.
- The Varieties of religious experience "A Study in Human Nature"
William James ISBN 0006425208
- James applies the method of scientific investigation to the religious emotions felt by particular people, drawing on a variety of sources that range from the confessions of St. Augustine to the case histories of the psychologist.
The whole book is available here. This also links to a Psychology of Religion website. There is a major William James site here.
- Ecstasy in secular and religious Experiences
Marghanita Laski - originally published 1961.
- Laski assembled data gathered from a number of individuals on the ecstatic experience, its nature and its triggers. Many people have moments which might be called a mystical experience, or a moment of ecstasy when the mind is emptied of its usual preoccupations and filled instead with short-lived sensations of awe, fulfilment or joy. Some people shrug these experiences off; others cling to them and try to repeat them and to live by them. This dichotomy in people's reactions to ecstasy leads to curious and controversial modes of social behaviour, and can be used as a mechanism for directing people's minds. Much interesting writing on ecstatic experiences, both religious and secular. There is a good review here.
- Everyday Ecstasy Some observations on the possible social effects of major and minor ecstatic experiences in our daily secular lives.
- An enlargement on the previous work, examining the actual and potential results of reliance on ecstasy or mystical experience as contrasted with conduct based on reason and analysis.
- Tongues of Fire
Karen Armstrong ISBN 9780140585667
- Former nun Karen Armstrong brings together various authors and divides them not by faith and belief but by theme and treatment into a series of chapters that accentuate their common features rather than their differences. She also provides intelligent and absorbing introductions to each theme, probing the psychological and philosophical springs of belief.
- Honest to God
John A.T. Robinson
- The much discussed classic by the bishop of Woolwich, wrestling with the conventional interpretations of Christianity. Honest to God, he says, "will seem to be radical, and doubtless to many, heretical. The one thing I am fairly sure is that, in retrospect, it will be seen to have erred in not being radical enough"
- Jesus the Evidence
Ian Wilson ISBN 0330287087
A.N. Wilson ISBN 0006377386
- Like the previous book, this attempts to disentangle the Jesus of history from the Jesus of faith.
- The Sea of Faith
Don Cupitt ISBN 0563203986
- Cupitt discusses Christianity after the demise of its supernatural elements.
Don Cupitt is a highly interesting ex "believing" Christian. He is lecturer in the philosophy of religion and Dean of Emmanuel college, Cambridge. He's about 65 now (1999). He was pretty religious in his youth, although adverse to the popular "supernatural" aspects of religion and was very philosophical and questioning, reading all the hard philosophers (even Russell and Feuerbach whilst a traditional Christian but later admitted that their influence was "slow-burning and subliminal"). He was ordained in 1959.
During the 1960's he began to notice that religious beliefs are not about "the way things are" and went through various interesting theories about what "God" meant, all the while being highly attracted to Christianity which he saw (at the time) as affirming human values in an otherwise hostile universe.
Over time he came to understand that Christianity is a human and not divine construction, and the traditional interpretations were historically flawed (it was from him I first came across the phrase "the Easter experience came before the Easter event") as well as philosophically, scientifically etc. but the processes he went through in discovering this where on another plane from we lesser mortals! He was also plagued by very strong religious feeling and has (so far as I understand) maintained a wish to address religion sympathetically whilst pulling no punches that it is of man, not a supernatural God - and that although one can have a "religious" view on life, his religious experience and exploration is now a purely-human one, although still using many of the formulisms of Christianity. He now practices a "non-realist" religion, as he calls it, explaining religion as purely man-made and exploring his religious life in full cognisance of this with no supernatural pretensions. I read him a couple of years after I de-converted and saw my experiences as a pale (but very similar) reflection of his (although I am less sympathetic now to the continued use of Christianity as a matrix for exploration as I perceive too many flaws in the character of Jesus and the structure of Christianity).
He caused a storm with "Taking leave of God" but initially came to my consciousness through "The sea of faith" which was also shown on British TV. It is a very accessible book, as is "Only Human." Some of his later writing involves hard linguistic philosophy which I can't manage on my neurones.
A few of Cupitt's writings can be found at the Sea of Faith Network. SoF suits people who have come to the conclusion that religion is a purely human construction with no supernatural god, and wish to explore their religious feelings along these lines. Although intended by Don Cupitt as an exploration of religious thought rather than a temporary resting place for those leaving Christianity, a third of the membership changes each year so it seems possible that a temporary resting place is how in practise many people take it. Meanwhile I know of some new ex-Christians (and questioning "believing" Christians) who have been through a Cupitt reading phase. Those who still feel a pull of their religious feelings and wish to explore them further but see belief in divine beings as untenable may find this site of much interest. Others may get annoyed and say "why don't you just say you're an atheist Cupitt!" although the SoF try to explain their general approach here. I think there is mileage in these writings for some ex-Christians and Don Cupitt is a very engaging writer, having saved some ex-Christians from a fall into irrationality as they felt their world was falling apart, according to the ex-Christian mailing list archives - here was someone who could explain what they were feeling all be it "only" a human phenomenon. Meanwhile hard liners may not find him to their taste, but I am trying to provide a resource for all ex-Christians :-)
- Only Human
Don Cupitt ISBN 334022355
- This, Don Cupitt argues, is a new kind of theological book. It starts not from doctrine or scripture but from the rise of those sciences that bear most directly on the questions of human nature and the human condition. The idea is to find out what religious possibilities there may be in the emergent vision of our situation.
The 'Christian doctrine of man', drawing most of its themes from the book of Genesis via Augustine, has been damaged virtually beyond repair. So a gap needs to be filled. Patching up the old will not do. "Suppose that someone writing a textbook of psychology is told to integrate the scientologists' beliefs into his text. He really and truly wishes to comply with these instructions, but he finds that even with the best will in the world it simply cannot be done. That is the difficulty we are in. Maybe it is bad news, but shooting the messenger who brings it will not help."
So the book does not reinterpret or prune or modernise the Christian doctrine of man, or replace it with a new set of doctrines. There is no theological or philosophical anthropology, mixing existentialism, psychology and a little metaphysics. The materials come from geology and biology, psychology, social anthropology, and comparative religion.
- The Age of Reason
- Classic and still powerful exposé of the cruelties and absurdities of Christianity. The full text is available on-line here.
- A Confession and other religious writings
- Leo Tolstoy's confessions are his writings made during his religious crisis. They are very powerful soul-searching. Although he remained a Christian of sorts he was very critical of the established church and many of the popularly held tenants of Christianity and the totally unspiritual "fire-insurance" that made up so much of the Christianity around him. He abandoned the idea of immortality and became something of a social reformer. He won the honour of being excommunicated by the Russian church for his beliefs.
Tolstoy's "A Confesion" is available on-line here.
Don't forget these are just some of the books that I read close to the time of my deconversion. There are many other book resources here.
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