Don Hosek - Past reading - Religion

My religious reading tends to focus on areas of interest to me in the arena of Catholicisim, although I do read a bit more widely than that description might imply. Aside from a couple classes in university and RCIA, I'm largely an autodidact in theological matters, but I'm a well-trained autodidact (sufficiently so, that more than one person had me pegged as a seminary drop-out).

What I've been read in the past - Religion
The Diary of Jesus Christ by Bill Cain
[Finished 3 November 2023] A wonderful book, even if it’s occasionally not internally consistent, where Cain takes a series of scriptural passages as launching points to imagine in greater depth Jesus’s life. I can see a lot of conservative folks up in arms at some of Cain’s imagined events, but I found it a gripping read and one that really showed the power of Ignatian spirituality.

Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
[Finished 18 July 2023] One of the classics of spiritual writing, something that I was aware of previously for its use of female imagery to describe God, but there’s so much more to this than that. Definitely a book to return to.

If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission by Jo Piazza
[Finished 22 May 2023] I have a different relationship with nuns than most Catholics in that I never attended Catholic school and had my first interactions with nuns as an adult. Those that I knew veered from the stereotypical image of the strict ruler and rosary–wielding disciplinarian. One friend was a science fiction fan who only wore a traditional habit when attending Star Trek conventions, others were actively involved in social justice movements, so there’s not much new to me here, but it was still fun to read a number of tales about nuns I knew about and some I did not.

Radical Disciple: Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church, and the Fight for Social Justice by Robert McClory
[Finished 2 May 2023] I’ve often wondered how Father Pfleger became who he was, and this book provided a lot of the answers. Plus, it was just delightful to read about Pfleger’s occasionally quixotic crusades to make the area around St Sabina a better place.

Rabbinic Responsa of the Holocaust Era edited by Robert Kirschner
[Finished 12 January 2023] Maybe it’s because I have no previous experience with this genre, but I found this collection absolutely fascinating as various rabbis explained their reasoning behind their answers to questions posed them about various questions of moral theology.

Out of the Whirlwind: Essays on Mourning, Suffering and the Human Condition by Joseph B. Soloveitchik
[Finished 15 October 2022] This is really my introduction to the philosophy of Modern Orthodoxy as a philosophical movement and I’m really blown away by Soloveitchik’s synthesis of Western philosophy and Jewish thought. Some of his observations brought new light to familiar Biblical stories as well. I really wish I could find the tweet that directed me at Soloveitchik’s book.

Purim: The Face and the Mask
[Finished 21 September 2022] A collection of essays to accompany an exhibition by the Yeshiva University Museum. I was mostly interested in an article about the celebration of Purim in the Landsberg DP camp in the aftermath of World War II, but there were other insights as well. The essay by Joseph Soloveitchik was curious in its perspective on gender roles.

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith
[Finished 29 December 2021] A collection of home prayer practices meant as a means for parents to be able to pick and choose the things that fit into the lives of their family to make faith a part of everyday life. A lot of ideas here I’d like to try with my family.

Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany by Marion A. Kaplan
[Finished 28 October 2021] A fascinating account of life of Jewish people under the Nazi regime in Germany. What makes it really special is that Kaplan gives emphasis on women’s experiences, something which so much writing on the subject has tended to de-emphasize.

The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe edited by Lucy S. Dawidowicz
[Finished 10 September 2021] An eclectic anthology of writing by and about notable Jewish thinkers from the 16th century to the eve of World War II. I stumbled upon this after reading Dawidowicz’s memoir of her time before the World War II studying at the YIVO institute in Vilna and then working with DPs in the aftermath of the war, and decided that it would be useful background for immersing myself in pre-Holocaust Jewish thought. It was often a dry read, but it did meet my needs well.

Parables for Our Time: Rereading New Testament Scholarship After the Holocaust by Tania Oldenhage
[Finished 12 August 2021] I’m not entirely certain how this ended up in my to-read list. I’m guessing it’s a consequence of some artificial intelligence algorithm feeling that this would be good reading for me. I felt like a lot of the book was overly dependent on other writing which I’ve not read, but overall, it was thought-provoking and introduced me to some new ways to approach scriptural interpretation which I was not previously famiiliar with.

Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness by Cindy Wang Brandt
[Finished 5 August 2021] I’m not really in Brandt’s target market of ex-vangelicals, most likely because my own religious journey is quite different from hers, spending my life as a questing agnostic before eventually becoming a Dorothy Day Catholic. But there was still plenty of good ideas here about how to raise children in an open-minded way.

Lost Books of the Bible edited by William Hone
[Finished 6 June 2021] A rather misleadingly compiled and presented collection of early pseudepigrapha and writings from the Apostolic fathers. The admixture of the two makes is particularly problematic, along with the lack of any sort of historic or critical background on most of the works presented here. I had originally bought this as an undergrad when I was fascinated with the whole concept of apocrypha, but this volume languished while I read others and coming at it with a more educated and informed perspective it’s hard to recommend this as worth looking at in any way.

Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality by James M. Nelson
[Finished 4 November 2020] Largely a survey of existing research more than anything else. It does reveal a lot of the narrowness of the field: The vast majority of study has been focused on Christianity, which given the locus of much psychological research shouldn’t be surprising, but is still something to recognize. Overall, I found The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach to be a more satisfying read.

Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust edited by Bernard H, Rosenberg and Fred S, Heuman
[Finished 24 October 2020] I discovered this in the course of researching some aspects of Jewish theology for my novel. The book contains a wide range of perspectives, although a large number of them feel uncomfortable to me. A number of the authors seem to feel that the Holocaust justifies any policy that leads to the expansion of Israel without regard for the Palestinians, which is a somewhat narrow vision that’s hard to swallow for someone looking from the outside in.

Interior Castle by Teresa of Ávila
[Finished 20 June 2020] Declaring a behind on this journal amnesty.

The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust by Melissa Raphael
[Finished 19 June 2020] Declaring a behind on this journal amnesty.

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
[Finished 25 December 2019] Declaring a behind on my book log amnesty on writing reviews.

Orison Anthology, Vol. 3 edited by Luke Hankins, Nathan Poole and Karen Tucker
[Finished 30 November 2018] I bought this primarily to see what sort of work they were publishing. There seemed to be few real standouts other than Joy Ladin’s essay on “Writing God as a Contemporary American Poet.” I’m not sure how much of this is on the editors of the anthology and how much is a reflection of the shallowness of the pool in which they’re fishing.

Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion by James Martin
[Finished 27 February 2018] A well-reasoned and completely orthodox perspective on how the church and members of the LGBT community should interact.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner
[Finished 16 January 2018] I’ve known about and avoided this book for years—decades really—after all, what could it possibly have to offer. It turns out the answer is quite a bit. Taking its lead from the Biblical book of Job, Kushner takes the stance that it’s not so much that God allows bad things to happen as that God, having set up the laws of the universe, is powerless to intervene (Kushner doesn’t allow for miracles). Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of theology and well worth reading.

King James Bible
[Finished 15 December 2017] My edition is a Gideon Bible, liberated from a hotel nightstand when I was in college. This translation, while not the first into English, is one of the most influential, defining for many what Biblical language should be. A lot of its characteristics come from being a strictly literal translation (to the point of printing any interpolated words, such as implicit pronouns, in italic and preserving as much as would be intelligible in English, the word order of the original Greek and Hebrew). This is also a definitively sola scriptura approach with no interpretive or critical apparatus provided leading to centuries of bizarre misreadings of the Biblical text.

Shirt of Flame: A Year with St Therese of Lisieux by Heather King
[Finished 26 June 2017] I actually had crossed paths with King back in the 90s when we both were semi-regulars at the Wednesday evening liturgy at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and that was what inspired me to get this book. Fortunately, there’s more depth to it than that and I had to check myself and slow down as I read it because this is a book meant to be consumed in small pieces and re-chewed repeatedly. What King has created is a sort of modern Spiritual Exercises, taking events from the life of St Therese as well as King’s own experiences (with an implicit invitation to the reader to bring her own experiences to the table). I think I might return to this book again spending a whole month praying with each chapter in the manner that is implicitly suggested in the book’s structure.

Stories of Rebbe Nachman
[Finished 20 June 2017] I hoped to get a feel for the language and style of Jewish folktales from this and I suppose I did, but at least stylistically, this is not something I can use for the writing project I wanted to employ it in.

Jewish Stories of Prague by V. V. Tomek
[Finished 11 January 2017] My disappointment with this book stems perhaps at least in part because I was expecting something that was more voice-driven, sort of a Jewish Brothers Grimm. But it turns out that Tomek wasn’t Jewish (and there are occasional parts of the book where Tomek seems at pains to make it clear that as the author of the book, he is a Christian even if his subject is not). The anonymous translator is also not Jewish and has minimal understanding of Jewish customs as he makes clear in his brief preface where in the first paragraph, he relates an encounter with an Orthodox Jew in tones on par with someone relating an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.

Aside from telling the stories in a rather sterile style (frequently engaging in bits of irrelevant history), the choice of stories is very much those of someone on the outside looking in, with many of the stories involving Jews only tangentially or as the bogeymen of the gentile imagination.

On top of all that, the translator on at least one occasion interjected his own prose into the text (making a reference to the Holocaust which wasn’t to happen until a decade after Tomek’s death) which leaves me wondering how much of the other defects also belong to the translator.

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson
[Finished 1 January 2017] One thing about requesting library books online is that sometimes I get something that I didn’t quite expect. In this instance, I ended up with the only book about Terezin that my library system had and it was a children’s book. It was still helpful for my research and there was the shocking moment when I saw my own last name appear attached to one of the bits of survivor testimony.

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr
[Finished 17 November 2016] I desperately needed this book after the mess that was the 2016 presidential election. I’d managed to forget to take a book with my to my Sunday workout at the Y, so I stopped by the local indie bookshop and found something off my wishlist to read. I kept this at a slow pace because it was just so comforting to me (I’ve had the good fortune to have met Fr Rohr a couple times when he came to visit the L.A. Catholic Worker and I’ve read several of his other books so I had a good idea of what was coming down for me). Definitely a book to savor and likely to re-read.

Cults by Karen Zeinert
[Finished 28 October 2015] See my review at

Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son by Peter Manseau
[Finished 22 October 2015] See my review at

When the Church was Young by Marcellino D’Ambrosio
[Finished 5 October 2015] See my review at

Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession by John-Peter Pham
[Finished 17 September 2015] See my review at

Priests in Love: Roman Catholic Clergy and their Intimate Relationships by Jane Anderson
[Finished 27 August 2015] See my review at

20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch by Tony Campolo
[Finished 19 August 2015] See my review at

The Collar by Jonathan Englert
[Finished 11 August 2015] See my review at

The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus by Michael F. Bird
[Finished 22 July 2015] See my review at

The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
[Finished 9 July 2015] See my review at

God by Alexander Waugh
[Finished 22 June 2015] See my review at

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief by Lewis Wolpert
[Finished 19 March 2015] See my review at

What Number is God? by Sarah Voss
[Finished 10 March 2015] See my review at

The Mindful Way through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn
[Finished 6 February 2014] While there’s some good ideas here, I felt like a lot of this was marred by a rather western sensibility of goal-orientedness. The presentation of ideas through “case studies” in particular struck me as rather irritating.

My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman
[Finished 11 May 2013] If there is any doubt that the language of faith is poetry, this book (and also Mary Karr’s Lit) should put those doubts to rest. Wiman creates a compelling picture of the dialog between faith and disbelief, the struggles that are at the heart of faith for the modern soul. Wiman manages to convey what his relationship with God is about without becoming saccharine, superficial or dogmatic.

The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics and the Heart of the Catholic Chu by John Thavis
[Finished 9 April 2013] Essential reading for anyone interested in the contemporary Vatican. Thavis managed to hit the luck jackpot for his book, having his book come out a week and a half after Benedict announced his resignation, guaranteeing him far greater sales than might have otherwise been possible. A paperback edition was rushed into production before the conclave.

Thavis presents his information in thematic chapters covering the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. One unfortunate aspect of this is a tendency to jump around in time, leaving the reader uncertain when the events described are taking place or who is pope at the time. It might have behooved Thavis to focus his writing on the papacy of Benedict. A final chapter on the “Real Benedict” was sadly less informative than Thavis was in his Fresh Air interview on the papacy.

In some ways, Thavis’s depiction of the Vatican press was more illuminating than his coverage of the Vatican itself. It was startling to see how little the Vatican is able to control its own message and how much the press gets things distorted or just plain wrong.

The Douai-Rheims Bible
[Finished 26 October 2012] A surprisingly readable translation. That it’s a translation of the Latin is its main failing. The Challoner revisions remove some of the more awkward Latinisms of the original edition.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch
[Finished 13 July 2012] A large and dense book. The third thousand (or should I say first?) of the title is the pre-history of Christianity, examining its roots in Greek and Hebrew thought, seeing how the founders of Christianity were influenced by their cultures, the religious and philosophical ideas surrounding their writing.

MacCulloch’s with and erudition are on display throughout the book, making it an entertaining and engaging read, almost enough to forgive the shortcomings of the book. Most notably, MacCulloch isn’t really able to move beyond his own liberal Anglican background in his writing of history, which is most notable in his superficial treatment of the sixteenth century, but in writing on religious topics, it’s not entirely clear that any truly objective account is possible.

The Way of Life by Lao Tzu
[Finished 10 July 2012] I imagine the translation of the Tao Tê Ching here is adequate, but it’s marred by an atrocious commentary. R. B. Blakney reveals only a superficial familiarity with Chinese philosophy and instead fills his commentary with spurious references to Plato and the Bible. Clearly a believer in the all religions are one school of thought, his commentary creates parallels where none exist, in some instances actually distorting the meaning of the text to fit his own agenda.

God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World by Stephen Prothero
[Finished 19 April 2012] I notice that the second part of the subtitle (“and why their differences matter”) has been removed from the paperback edition of the book. This does not surprise me, this was my single biggest complaint about this book—there is little attention paid to this final question beyond a concluding chapter which makes the argument that “Godthink” which lumps religion together, whether on the part of the New Atheists, or the perennial philosophers, is not a terribly useful way of thinking about religion.

The book itself provides a good overview of the eight most influential religions (Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Judaism and Daoism) and a shorter chapter on atheism, which provides a broad, but necessarily shallow, overview of these traditions. My own religious understanding is largely confined to the Abrahamic traditions, although I did learn a fair amount about Buddhism courtesy of a course in Zen Buddhism while I was an undergrad. Overall, it’s a good starting point for getting some sense of the incredible diversity of religious thought and philosophy in the world.

Tatoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
[Finished 6 August 2011] OK, confession time: Greg Boyle could have put out two-hundred pages of “qwerty asdf” and I’d’ve bought it to support Homeboy Industries. I’ve known Father Greg since sometime in the early 90s when I met him through the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and I’ve been happy to do everything I can to support his ministry.

But that said, Tattoos on the Heart is definitely not 200 pages of gibberish. It’s more a collection of the stories of the young men and women he works with that he tells in his homilies and presentations, and a lot of what he writes here I’ve heard before, but even so, it was a delight to be able to read these again and hear Father Greg’s voice in my head. It’s a wonderfully inspiring collection along with a fun read. Definitely get this book and read it. Right now.

Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences by Abraham H. Maslow
[Finished 26 May 2011] Not really what I had hoped it would be. Rather than a scientific and clinical appraisal of peak experiences, the book is largely anecdotal with a stated goal of creating a new religion with psychiatrists as its high priests and Freud as its prophet.

I Don't Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges
[Finished 29 August 2010] Frankly, a bit of a disappointment. I had expected a reasoned critique of the “new atheists”, but instead Hedges uses them as a launch pad for a critique of the neocon world view (a box I’m not entirely sure that the new atheists completely fit into). Add into it a rather didactic tone in the writing and I found myself put off from the book a good amount.

There are some good points, although a lot of these come not from Hedges so much as from his sources (his writing in the final chapter on Proust’s view of memories was especially nice, if not entirely on topic).

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
[Finished 25 June 2010] As someone not especially sympathetic to either capitalism or protestantism, this was an odd book to read. There seems to be a fair amount of assertions made without basis, and assumptions of good in areas where I would argue that the premise is flawed (for instance, his view that a worker who responds to a pay raise by reducing the amount of work being done is acting against his own self-interest).

I remember this book being mentioned as important reading by one of my professors in my undergrad days, but I don’t remember which professor or why they felt that it was important to read, a question that I puzzled over as I read this. I think that I had a vague notion that Weber would be writing in a more critical mode than he was, and while he makes token efforts to establish his correlation does not imply causation bona fides, they remain nothing more than tokens.

Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther by James A. Fischer
[Finished 5 April 2010] A rather dull set of commentaries. The text is from the New American Bible translation, but Fischer finds that translation defective in places.

A big part is a lack of targeting of the commentaries. It seems that Fischer wants to write a scholarly commentary but is constrained by a market demand to make something suitable for the Biblically naïve Catholic layperson, the result being a commentary that doesn’t fit either role and ends up feeling both condescending and inaccessible at the same time.

Catechism of the Council of Trent
[Finished 25 March 2010] An interesting book, translated from the Latin produced in the wake of the Council of Trent. The book is explicitly directed at priests in pastoral roles, addressing how matters should be approached in sermons and he confessional. At times sexist views of the times drown out the content, but it’s also amazing how contemporary some of the discussions can seem as well.

Handbook of the Christian Religion by Wilhelm Wilmers, S.J.
[Finished 5 March 2010] This was one of the first books on Catholic theology that I read. Coming back to it a couple decades later, I can see the clear influence of a second hand in the book, that of the American editor and co-translator James Conway who indicates that he felt free to expand, delete and edit many portions of the book as he saw fit. It’s hard at times to determine how much of the book is Wilmers and how much is Conway. The only clearly designated addition is the appendix which contains a list of church councils, the texts of several creeds in Latin and Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors.

It is interesting to note how little of the book is dedicated to questions of moral theology and how much to more abstract theology. There are a few passages which betray a surprising conception of space, time and causality which seem more appropriate to someone writing in the late twentieth century than the mid-nineteenth.

The Mass in Slow Motion by Ronald Knox
[Finished 19 February 2010] A chatty little book adapted from a series of catechetical sermons Knox gave to the students of a girls school evacuated to Shropshire during World War II. It’s an interesting and informal look at the details of the Tridentine mass. An interesting note is that et cum spiritu tuo, which had previously been translated into English as “and also with you,” and has been a bugbear for many liturgical traditionalists, is translated by Knox in his comments as “the same to you.”

I re-read this largely hoping to get some details on the celebration of the mass for use in my current novel, and I got some of that, although a great deal of what Knox focuses on is the inner thoughts of himself as he celebrates the mass and the thoughts he would like the members of his congregation to have as they hear the mass.

Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word o by David Plotz
[Finished 27 May 2009] (I listened to this book as a free promotional download from Plotz, like many Americans, had never really read the Bible, but only knew it in bits and pieces from Hebrew school and popular culture. What he set out to do here was to provide a naïve perspective on scripture, writing about what someone who didn’t have a strong religious background or access to Biblical scholarship would make of the Bible. When I first read the Bible, I read the New Jerusalem Bible which incorporates significant commentary throughout, which meant, among other things, that I knew about the JEPD theory of the origins of the Pentateuch, and there are many times that I found myself frustrated by Plotz’s naïveté in understanding some of the text, but even so, it was an entertaining read, although Plotz’s tendency to snarkiness was more distracting than entertaining.

Plotz’s big takeaway from reading the Bible was twofold: One was that he became appreciative of how much our culture was dependent on the Bible for many of its references (although I think some of the connections he makes may be spurious), the other was how it made him really address his own Jewish heritage.

God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush by Randall Balmer
[Finished 14 May 2009] A bit disappointingly thin. I felt like there was a great deal more that could be said on the subject than Balmer does, and was left wondering why he couldn’t have written more on the topic.

For example, a single chapter covers religion and presidential politics from Alfred Smith through Kennedy, and it seemed like we were rushing through each presidency thereafter.

Radio Replies: Third Volume by Rev. Dr Leslie Rumble, M.S.C. and Rev. Charles M. Carty
[Finished 15 April 2009] I’ve been reading this three volume set off and on again for longer than I’ve been keeping this diary. Mostly off, apparently, since I didn’t find any sign of the previous two volumes as I prepared to write this review. This is a collection of apologetic writing, in question and answer format, from a radio show in the 30s and 40s. The scope is pretty wide ranging, although there’s a fair amount of focus on critiques of the church from an Anglican perspective plus a fair amount of references, sans context, to contemporary controversies. What was especially surprising was the general openness on some topics, such as evolution, which were beyond what one might have expected from the time. Overall, a delightful and grounding read for me.

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel
[Finished 20 February 2009] A wonderfully written accounting of an obscure bit of history. Who knew that Galileo had children (two daughters and a son). The daughters were sent to a convent while the son turned into a bit of a ne’er-do-well. The oldest daughter, though, remained devoted to her father and while his letters to her no longer exist, hers to him have been preserved and Sobel uses the letters for the narrative hook on which she hangs her biography.

There’s a fair amount which was new to me, even having a deeper than the usual paragraph-long summary that came out of my high school history classes. Sobel manages to paint all the characters in the drama with a fair amount of nuance showing exactly what the forces were that led to Galileo’s famed trial and the consequences of the trial in Galileo’s life.

Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About by Donald E. Knuth
[Finished 9 January 2009] I knew Knuth originally because of TeX and Metafont, which were in many ways my entre into computer science. This book is a collection of Knuth’s lectures centering primarily on the process that he used in writing his book, 3:16, a collection of commentaries on Bible verses.

The Bible: Its Criticism, Interpretation and Use in 16th and 17th Century England by Dean Freiday
[Finished 5 March 2008] Although this book is labeled as being part of the Catholic and Quaker studies series, for the most part it is concerned with the development of Biblical studies in Anglican and Puritan circles (there are, however, some Quaker and Catholic scholars discussed as well).

The Parables of Peanuts by Robert L. Short
[Finished 28 February 2008] Back in the 60s, Robert Short managed to parlay the occasional references to Christian theology into a minor publishing empire. The text itself is a pretty straightforward theological treatise, pretty much a low church Calvinist perspective. By illustrating his points with Peanuts cartoons, Short managed to get people who might not otherwise ever read theology to read his texts. It was apparently a successful gambit: My copy was bought used and has the original 1960s cover, but the book is still in print 40 years later (I imagine that his earlier book, The Gospel According to Peanuts is also still in print).

It’s an interesting approach, and while some of the cartoon references are a bit of a stretch (and he has many instances of describing a cartoon without showing it), but he does manage to provide an interesting and compelling framework for his theological exposition, even if I don’t always agree with all of his conclusions.

Can We Be Good Without God? A Conversation About Truth, Morality, Culture, and a Few Other Things That Matter by Paul Chamberlain
[Finished 20 February 2008] When I was an undergrad, there was always that person in class who would write their essays in story form. I never did it because it seemed that it was always the worst of both worlds, as fiction, it suffered because it was being forced to conform to the requirements of an essay and as an essay it suffered for being forced to conform to the requirements of fiction.

This book is a prime example of this at work, with the added bonus of it not being a very good argument to begin with. The characters are two-dimensional with their only purpose being to represent viewpoints, and those not very well.

Chamberlain presents his Ted the Christian (as a note in how bad the fiction is, this is, in fact, how the character is described, and the others are similarly named) character as a smug know-it-all who manages to easily demolish the straw man arguments which represent the opposing viewpoints. Each person ends up being quickly convinced of the correctness of Ted’s perspective.

Alas, what this book ultimately does is unintentionally provide a good argument for the deconstructionist view of morality, that there is no way of pinning down an objective system of morals from within the system. There ends up being a choice as arbitrary as “arbol” meaning “tree” and while it may not be aesthetically pleasing, it does carry its own logic.

Sadhana: A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form by Anthony de Mello
[Finished 13 February 2008] I’ve been dipping into this book a little at a time for a few years now. There are a total of 47 exercises in the book, drawing on Jesuit and eastern traditions as a means of developing spirituality. This is really the sort of book to keep on a table in your prayer space, more than one to sit down and read. There are places where it really feels like it would be helpful to have someone acting as a facilitator for the exercise (perhaps doing these in a group context would be a good idea so that a facilitator can read the instructions). As it was, some of the exercises didn’t really work as individual exercises. But overall, it seems a useful tool for one’s spiritual development.

Five Cries of Youth by Merton P. Strommen
[Finished 8 February 2008] An interesting book. It’s a bit dated in that much of the book is based on surveys done between the late 60s through early 80s (what’s more, it feels as if most of the book was written in the early seventies then lightly edited to reflect societal changes in the early 80s).

While the work is based on good hard data, there does seem to be a bit of an a prioristic slant to the interpretation, where the five cries were pre-determined, rather than emerged from data clusters. But even with that, it does provide an interesting framework for working with youth, and a pointer, if not a model, for how to do research in psychology of religion

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs
[Finished 15 January 2008] I love A. J. Jacobs’s books. At least in part because he engages in the sort of quixotic enterprises that I enjoy myself. He reads the Encyclopedia Brittanica, I watch the IMDB Top 250.

For his latest book, I realized that what Jacobs is doing is a more extreme version of the kind of thing that I do for my lenten sacrifice. I’m actually a bit jealous of the extent to which Jacobs was able to take things, as well as that initial journey of spiritual discovery. In his year of taking the Bible literally, he found that religion is not merely self-delusion, but does speak to something transcendent, even if the Bible is not quite the perfect guide that many claim it is.

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander
[Finished 13 December 2007] After hearing Auslander interviewed on Fresh Air, I thought that this might be an interesting book to read. Auslander has an interesting relationship with God, one which is both complex and juvenile at the same time.

I don’t always find Auslander to be a sympathetic character although he is refreshingly honest in his depictions of his struggles with responding to his sexuality and the temptations to spend the day with porn and pot instead of writing.

In all, it’s an interesting memoir of struggles with belief and the consequences thereof, good enough to suggest that his collection of short stories about God would be worth reading.

The Gnostic Scriptures by Bentley Layton
[Finished 13 December 2007] It’s interesting to note that the later editions of this book identify it as being part of the Anchor Reference Library (I have a first edition hardcover which does not do so). The style and organization is very much that of the Anchor Bible Commentary series.

Layton provides copious background and commentary on the texts he discusses, some of which only exist as fragments quoted in anti-Gnostic polemic texts or as summaries of the matter in the same. Enough intact manuscripts exist, however, to attest to the accuracy of the manuscripts.

For those who think that The Da Vinci Code presented anything like an accurate account of Gnosticism, reading this book will be a shock. The philosophical and cosmological understandings of the Gnostics come across as distinctly bizarre, albeit familiar at times to those who know their way through Plato’s dialogues (the concept of the androgynous original humans of The Symposium is fundamental to some of the concepts of Gnostic thought).

The texts themselves tend to be painfully dense and twisted and most of the time, I found that Layton’s introduction essential to being able to follow the text.

The Holy Bible translated by Ronald Knox
[Finished 19 November 2007] Ronald Knox was a polymath whose path took him from the Anglican priesthood to the Catholic priesthood. This was probably what he considered his greatest work, but courtesy of changing standards of Catholic biblical scholarship has ended up a footnote. What we are presented with is a translation of the Vulgate Bible with reference to the Hebrew and Greek originals, finished just in time for the Catholic church to declare that it was no longer necessary for Catholic Bibles must be based on the Vulgate.

The New Testament translation seems to me to be superior in its use of the English language than does the Old Testament, perhaps at least partly because the latinized spellings of NT names are generally close to the anglicized spellings as opposed to the frequently bizarre spellings of the Vulgate OT (e.g., Noe for Noah or Osee for Hosea).

44 Lectures Complete by Robert G. Ingersoll
[Finished 19 July 2007] This is one of those books that I’ve been moving around with me for twenty years without reading. It had previously belonged to my great uncle and I suspect may have had an owner before him.

Ingersoll made his fame as an advocate of atheism and the Republican party (a combination which seems essentially unthinkable today) and the lectures here are on those two topics, primarily the former.

There is a high level of repetition in the lectures as these appear to have been occasional speeches, not intended to form a comprehensive whole and I found myself skimming over portions that I had seen previously.

Ingersoll’s greatest weakness as a polemicist against religion is that he is unwilling to allow religion to define itself on its own terms and he took the most radical fundamentalists as his baseline in his attack and discounted the representativeness of anyone who took a moderate stance. In his mind, to allow for a historical-critical approach to the Bible was tantamount to denying the Bible. His interpetative approach was in many ways more fundamentalist than the fundamentalists he attacked.

His Republican speeches reflect the social progressive wing of the Republican party which was still on the ascendency in the late nineteenth century, but which gradually weakened until becoming almost entirely extinct in the era of George W. Bush. The attitudes in the democratic party that he railed against have become the province of the modern Republican party which embraced southern segregationists into its bosom in the 50s and 60s.

In all, the interest here is primarily historical, providing an interesting window into a mindset which seems to have disappeared. Ingersoll’s prediction of the imminent demise of religion in particular has failed to materialize: Today, in fact, it’s difficult to imagine the kind of large crowds described in this book gathering to hear any prominent atheist speak on the topic of atheism.

A History of the English Church in the Sixteenth Century from Henry VIII to Mary by James Gairdner
[Finished 23 April 2007] Yet more leftover research books from my undergrad thesis (you’d think that nearly two decades later, I’d have finished these). At this point, the nominal topic of the book is not especially the most interesting point to me. I’ve read enough religious histories of the period that I’m really not learning anything new about the time. Instead, what I find interesting is trying to tease out exactly what perspective the author is writing from.

At first, I imagined that it was a typically Anglo-Catholic position, asserting that the church founded by Henry VIII was the same church as existed previously in England, but as I continued reading, I was struck by the harsh stance the author took towards Henry’s innovations, and his general disdain for the protestants. At the same time, however, the book lacks the tendency to whitewash the Catholic actions of the period common to most Catholic-written histories of its time (it was first published in 1902), almost lends it the more objective tone common to the late twentieth century. In the end, I’m left with a book more fascinating as a study of the history of history-writing than as a study of the history being written about.

The New Testament for Spiritual Reading: The Epistle to the Philippians, The Epistle to the Colossians edited by John L. McKenzie
[Finished 2 April 2007] This was one of a pair of books that I was given by a friend who found them in a library book sale. I was a bit surprised to see that it’s been 12 years since I read the other book from the pair, although my overall impression is the same: They’re largely forgettable Catholic interpretations of the New Testament. There were a few bits where I found the commentary stretching a bit to be orthodox without providing sufficient justification (say citations of other biblical texts or patristic writing) to support the stretches. There were a smaller number of intriguing readings of the text, but nothing which grabbed me.

The Episcopal Church and Its Work by P. M. Dawley
[Finished 30 March 2007] A book I bought in a bout of not terribly selective research buying for my undergrad thesis. In this case, I bought something which would have been completely useless had I taken the time to read it.

It’s an interesting read, less for what it says about the contemporary Episcopal church than for its being a snapshot of a time in intellectual history. Dawley writes from a perspective of unquestioningly assuming the rightness of the Episcopalian position, something which the intellectual upheavals of the last half of the twentieth century make a more difficult position to take for most writers (only the fundamentalists of whatever stripe are still able to do this).

The snapshot of the church at the time of its writing (my copy dates from 1955) is interesting from a historical perspective, and contains a few interesting surprises, most notably that social conservatism was considered to naturally be in opposition to Christian values, something which has been lost as anti-abortion stances, social conservatism and Christian stands have managed to be conflated into a single thing in too many peoples’ minds.

Marriage as a Path to Holiness: Lives of Married Saints by David and Mary Ford
[Finished 26 March 2007] I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find that a book with this title is written from the Orthodox perspective rather than the Catholic one. The Catholic tradition recognizes very few married saints, mostly couples who decide to live together chastely (or as this book puts it, “as brother and sister”).

Since the Orthodox tradition allows for married clergy, and clergy and religious tend to be disproportionately represented in the canon of Saints, it’s not too surprising that there would be a larger number of married people in the Orthodox canon.

The introduction to the book is perhaps the most interesting part, with a good explanation of the Orthodox understanding of the sacrament of marriage. The lives of the saints themselves, on the other hand, are somewhat less interesting. As mentioned earlier, there are a large number of those who lived together as brother and sister, along with a number of married priests of note (for example, the Russian priest who lead the evangelization efforts in Russian Alaska). A bit more disappointing are the national heroes named as saints. The erastian nature of Orthodoxy leads to such oddities as naming the founders or early defenders of various countries as saints, a decision which is difficult to defend on the basis of the lives as presented here.

Perhaps the most interesting story had a wife encouraging her husband on his way to martyrdom.

But in the end, I found that the lives of the saints did not really meet the title of the book, showing marriage as a path to holiness. There were really few if any cases where the fact that saints were married had anything to do with their holiness.

Ephesians 4-6 by Markus Barth
[Finished 15 March 2007] The last of the unread volumes in my Anchor Bible collection. This one is written by a theologian, so it as much less of a focus on the minutiae of the language and is more focused on the interpreation, but Markus Barth, the son of famed theologian Karl Barth, writes from a polemical low-church Calvinist position. I think that it would have been more interesting to read what a Catholic theologian had to say on the material on ecclesiology, or, when we get to the part about women being subject to their husbands, perhaps a liberal feminist theologian. It’s an interesting read, but not especially remarkable in the corpus of works that make up the Anchor Bible.

Anglicanism and the Christian Church by Paul Avis
[Finished 4 March 2007] I picked this up as an undergrad thinking that I should counterbalance the Catholic perspectives on the English reformation that were my primary source of religious history.

Reading this (at last) I find that the arguments presented are a bit unconvincing and rather a prioristic: Avis has a motivation to justify the status quo in the Anglican church, and he does what he can to do so, trying to make the case that the post-Henrician church did not represent a break with the pre-Henrician church, all while trying to also make a case for the validity of the more protestant expressions of the church. There’s some interesting history included (including an awful lot on Coleridge’s theological writing, of which I had not previously been aware), but in the end it was not a book I found particularly interesting or useful.

Seminary Boy: A Memoir by John Cornwell
[Finished 26 December 2006] Another research book. One nice thing about Catholicism before Vatican II is that things tended to be somewhat static and unchangeable, so an account of a minor seminary in 1950s England is useful in understanding life in the minor seminary in Prague in 1900.

It was somewhat amusing to discover that their was interplay between this memoir and the biography of Graham Greene that I was reading at the same time.

Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman
[Finished 20 June 2006] Whatever preconceptions I had when I picked up this book and what form it would take were nowhere near what the reality was.

The book is largely a narrative of discussions between scientists and the Dalai Lama about scientific and Buddhist perspectives on destructive emotions. This part of a continuing series of meetings/books. The discussions themselves were often a bit shallow, but hinted at some tantalizing deeper ideas and discoveries.

If that was all there was to the book, it would be a disappointment indeed, but the final section, offered just what I hoped it would: Some pointers to the research that had come out of the meeting and even better, there’s a website which presumably includes some live updates on the material.

It almost makes me wish I were a psychology or neuroscience graduate student (or better still, PhD).

Job by Marvin H. Pope
[Finished 2 June 2006] I began collecting and reading volumes of the Anchor Bible some 15 years ago. But it’s only recently that I’ve realized the key difference between my favorite volumes and those that I’m not that crazy about: The interesting ones are written by theologians, the dull ones by linguists.

The theologian-written volumes tend to follow a format of text-commentary-notes on each section of the text. Since I’m usually not that interested in the hairy details of the translation, I skip the notes unless something really odd is happening in the text.

On the other hand, the linguist-written volumes tend to be text-notes for each section. What little commentary is offered (and it’s usually minimal) is intermixed with a detailed description of textual issues.

Job is a linguist-written volume.

That said, there’s still some very interesting detail here. I do intend to read the bible in Hebrew at some point although this comentary makes reading Job seem a rather daunting prospect.

Also interesting here is the survey of other near-eastern texts which may have served as inspiration for, if not sources of, the story of Job. And the translation itself is very clearand well-formed.

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way
[Finished 12 April 2006] I first learned of this book, like (I assume) most Americans, from J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. The first of those two stories does a pretty good idea of conveying the gist of the book’s message and long before I read it, I’d been employing the Jesus prayer as a means of devotion.

The text, in some ways, is more interesting as a document of life in Tsarist Russia than as a spiritual document. Perhaps it was because of reading Franny and Zooey, but I was not really captivated in quite the same way that Franny was by the book. Instead, I found myself imagining the Russian landscapes of Doctor Zhivago (anachronistic, I know), and periodically finding myself employing the Jesus prayer as I learned it from Salinger.

Stations of the Cross: A Latin American Pilgrimage by Dorothee Soelle
[Finished 27 March 2006] It startles me to think how much the concerns of the late 80s and early 90s have melted away. Which is not to say that the underlying problems have disappeared, but rather that they no longer demand our attention in the same way that they did 10-20 years ago.

Reading this book was a reminder of this sort of shift in attention. When I bought this (1992 or 1993, I think), Latin America was a big issue for me. Now, I rarely think about it, unless Hugo Chavez is mentioned in the news (which seems reasonably frequently), it having been pushed out of the forefront of my consciousness by such horrors as the current war in Iraq, or the problems of Africa. This is not to say that the problems are gone away, however, and this book is a good reminder of just what was and is at stake in Latin America.

The book provides a good ground-level view of the issues facing the poor of South and Central America, and while Soelle falls into the bad habit of glamorizing the pre-Columbian native American lifestyle, a fault which conservative critics would likely use as ammunition to attempt to discredit the whole of her work, it’s a compelling read. It’s a pity that it’s fallen out of print, showing that I’m not the only one whose attention has been diverted from Latin America.

A Theology Primer by Robert Cummings Neville
[Finished 20 June 2005] My first real look at systematic theology, at least formally. After reading this book, my sense is that systematic theology is a sort of meta-catechism: A way of organizing theology around central questions (and determining just what those central questions are).

In this book, Neville’s outline isn’t terribly different from that of the assorted Catholic Catechisms which I have read, which follow the creed as an outline (although generally following that up with the Our Father, perhaps Hail Mary and the list of Sacraments).

Neville’s presentation is (protestant) Christian in its orientation, but not exclusively so, and he considers perspectives from Judaism, Islam, Confucianism and Buddhism along the way, although not in any great depth.

Each chapter ends in a list of suggested readings which allows the reader to consider the questions even more deeply: I can see this book being used for a year-long graduate introduction to systematic theology (and were I younger, I would have gone out and obtained the referenced works in order to read it as intended).

A subtle humor pervades much of the book, providing some relief to the heavy subject matter.

Reading this, I do get a sense that part of what Neville was aiming for (and perhaps failed to reach), was a sort of axiomatics of theology. I suspect his lack of rigorous training in mathematical logic is both what resulted in his grasping for the goal and also his ultimate failture to reach it.

Books of Hours
[Finished 6 May 2005] A beautiful miniature book from Phaidon Press which provides a nice selection of pages from miniature books of hours reproduced as closely as possible to the original size. The texts are often illegible because of the attack of time, but the images remain brilliant and beautiful.

The English Catholics in the Reign of Elizabeth: A Study of their Politics, Civil Life and Government 1558-1580 by John Hungerford Pollen, S. J.
[Finished 29 March 2005] Published just after the first world war, this is apparently the first of two (planned?) volumes as it ends just after the arrival of the Jesuits Persons and Campion in England. Having as read as much as I have about the English Counter-reformation, there was little in here that was new. It was more like reading a review of familiar facts. The tone of the book is distinctly apologetic as the emancipation of Catholics in England was still relatively new and there was a strong need to defend the actions of the Catholic missionaries in England during the reformation.

Anchor Bible, Vol. 27: Mark by C. S. Mann
[Finished 16 March 2005] I tend to think that the Anchor Bible gets most interesting when the translator-commentators take risks in what they do, and Mann certainly fills that bill here. Some of it is a bit jarring, like his translation of “The Son of Man” as “The Man” (I keep imagining the apostles saying, “You The Man, J-Dawg” whenever I read that). Perhaps more interesting is Mann’s argument for the idea that Mark is not the earliest gospel, but rather is a digest of Matthew and Luke with some additional detail added from eyewitness reminiscences (which Mann attributes largely to Peter).

The lengthy introduction makes for an interesting summary of the theories about the sources and order of writing of the synoptic Gospels.

It’s worth noting that apparently later editions of the Anchor Bible have replaced this volume with a 2-volume commentary by Joel Marcus

On Atheistic Communism by Pope Pius XI
[Finished 16 March 2005] Written in 1937, Pius’ primary concern is the anti-Catholic activities of the Communists in Russia, Spain and Mexico. And certainly from this perspective a harsh perspective on communism is well-granted, but I question the doctrinal foundations of a Christian right to private property. Perhaps more interestingly, though, the politics of this letter seem to be pretty much aligned with American liberalism (which is not to be confused with Liberalism as it is referred to in the book, which in many cases, is not what a contemporary reader would recognize as liberalism at all). Pius goes to great lengths to speak of the importance of workers receiving a just wage and fair conditions, and ultimately that the most important Good is spiritual and not materialistic.

Reason for Faith: Nine Sermons by John Henry Newman
[Finished 25 February 2005] The first epigram I ever put on a paper in college was a paraphrase from Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, “The age is so wicked that no one reads sermons any more.” Certainly, I really hadn’t prior to this volume (unless you count the catechetical sermons by Ronald Knox which were converted into a book on the mass). It’s been a delightful way to begin Lent, especially as I managed to time things so that I read the first and second Sunday of Lent sermons close to the first and second Sundays of Lent.

Newman’s style is clear and lucid and he tends to write in an almost mathematical style: Each statement leads inexorably to the next to create the sense that his conclusions are inevitable.

Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul by Tony Hendra
[Finished 1 October 2004] The first half of this book is probably one of the best spiritual autobiographies of late years. Tony Hendra does an outstanding job of recreating the process of falling in and out of love with God as a youth. I’m almost thinking forget the late years part.

As the narrative moves into Hendra’s adult life, however, the glamor of sin really doesn’t carry much luster. I think that it’s the curse of the autobiography: Once a person becomes an adult, his life story loses its appeal. The final sections where Hendra turns back to the church brings back some of the interest of the story, with a truly devastating conversation between Fr Joe and Hendra.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
[Finished 27 May 2003] I’d been meaning to read Bonhoeffer for some time but the confluence of a couple events finally got me to read this book. The first was a song that I was writing, “Salvation at a Discount,” which I’d been stuck on the lyrics for a while. Then at a mass at Holy Name Cathedral, the priest mentioned Bonhoeffer and The Cost of Discipleship and talked about Bonhoeffer’s idea of “cheap grace”. Then not too much longer I started dating Nalleli and noticed that she had the book on her shelves. On a recent trip to visit her in Tucson, I borrowed the book and read it on the plane ride back.

Of course I’m writing this two years later, I no longer live in Chicago, Nalleli no longer lives in Tucson, we’re married and I don’t remember the book well enough to write something inciteful. Click on the link and read the reviews at amazon instead.

The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short
[Finished 18 May 2003] An amusing and interesting little book, taking the religious themes in Peanuts (which is a remarkably religious comic strip, but not obsequiously so) and using them as a starting point for a discussion about theology.

The Debate on the English Reformation by Rosemary O'Day
[Finished 18 June 2002] A sort of meta-history, O’Day focuses not so much on the English reformation as on how it’s been interpretted historically.

Liberation Theology at the Crossroads by Paul Sigmund
[Finished 6 April 2002] An overview of the history of Liberation Theology followed by an outlook of where it’s going. I’ve kind of lost touch with what’s happening in Latin American Liberation Theology, so I’m not sure how accurate Sigmund’s prognoses are.

Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine by Michael Sheehan
[Finished 21 March 2002] The edition I’ve read is an older unrevised edition, but still a fascinating account of Catholic doctrine, written from the somewhat defensive stance of the apologist for the faith rather than as a strict catechesis. But this, perhaps, makes for a stronger presentation. Certainly, I’ve always prefered apologetics to catechesis.

Jesus in Latin America by Jon Sobino
[Finished 10 March 2002] A great account of contemporary Christology in the context of Latin American Liberation Theology.

Vatican Council II: More Post-conciliar Documents edited by Austin Flannery, O. P.
[Finished 5 March 2002] An interesting collection of documents promulgated by the church in the wake of Vatican II. I’m kicking myself for not having purchased the first volume of Vatican II documents while it was still in print.

The Eucharist Yesterday and Today by M. Basil Pennington
[Finished 21 February 2002] A rather amazing book. Written in the early days after Vatican II, Pennington attempts to get to the core of the Eucharistic liturgy and provides a fascinating transcription of a Eucharistic liturgy from India. It’s not a big surprise that I saw this book on the shelves of a lot of Catholics of my acquaintance.

The Footprints of the Jesuits
[Finished 17 February 2002] A distressingly anti-Catholic history of the Jesuits.

Documents Illustrative of English Church History edited by Henry Gee and W. J. Hardy
[Finished 17 September 2001] A collection of documents beginning well before the reformation and continuing through the 19th century that attempts to provide an outline of English church history through primary source material.

Walter Benjamin and the Bible by Brian Britt
[Finished 2 July 2001] Not entirely sure why I bought this. I guess it’s because of the Terry Eagleton-Walter Benjamin connection, but having not actually read any Benjamin, this came across as amazingly opaque.

God First Loved Us: The Challenge of Accepting Unconditional Love by Antony F. Campbell, S.J.
[Finished 1 July 2001] Campbell is a frequent visiting priest at my old parish in Claremont, and he wrote this book apparently while spending the New Zealand summer in California which made it a favorite among the parishioners and eventually a present for me.

In this short book, Campbell explores just how radical the concept of being unconditionally loved is, and just what it demands of us as the ones being so loved. Thought-provoking and inspiring.

Say I Am You: Poetry Interspersed With Stories of Rumi and Shams by Jalal Al-Din Rumi
[Finished 15 June 2001] I stumbled upon the Sufi mystic and poet looking over the shoulder of a girl I sat next to on the bus one morning heading in to work. We both got off at the same stop, she went right to art school, I went left to my computer job. Something significant there.

The poems come from the Sufic mystic tradition of Islam, although I find that mysticism tends to be fairly uniform regardless of the underlying theology. A great read and one that I’ll doubtless return to.

Reformation in England by Frederick Powicke
[Finished 12 June 2001] A not particularly memorable accounting of the English reformation

Chicanos, Catholicsm And Political Ideology by Lawrence J. Mosqueda
[Finished 14 April 2001] Heavy number crunching looking at the patterns of religiosity and political belief among Mexican immigrants in the American southwest. Much of what the mainstream media seems to find surprising (they’re not all Catholics and they’re not all democrats) is quite clearly outlined here.

Catholics in England 1559-1829: A Social History by M. D. R. Leys
[Finished 3 April 2001] A pretty good history of English Catholics under the penal laws.

Life is Worth Living by Fulton J. Sheen
[Finished 18 March 2001] A collection of essays adapted from Sheen’s television program of the same name. Pleasant reflections on spiritual living.

Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion by Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger
[Finished 28 January 2001] I’m always happy to read books which try to scientifically study religious phenomenon. In this particular case, Altemeyer and Hunsberger attempt to address the question of what the factors are which lead some young adults to turn to religion while their peers abandon their childhood faiths. It’s a difficult question to address because it’s looking at the outliers on the question of religious belief (the vast majority of young adults don’t go through any change in religious belief either towards or away). Definitely worth a read for those interested in the topic.

Decadence and Catholicism by Ellis Hanson
[Finished 26 January 2001] When I saw the title, I was intrigued enough to want to read it so I picked it up at Border’s (using my discount card). By “decadence” Hanson is referring particularly to a late 19th-century literary and artistic movement which was fascinated by decay. And what better source for decay than the Catholic church in England, finally coming out from under the weight of severe penal laws prohibiting Catholicism and divested of much of its historical wealth? Yet the reading remained relatively dry, even with Oscar Wilde as a central figure in the book. I suppose it would have been far more interesting to me as a college student.

Structures of the Church by Hans Küng
[Finished April 2000] A fascinating look at church hierarchy and its relationship to the laity. Küng argues for a greater role for the laity in the church, a call which was only partly heeded by the second Vatican council.

The Mass of the Roman Rite by Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J.
[Finished March 2000] A massive tome detailing the history of the Roman mass. Written on the eve of Vatican II, it was an essential background for those working to revise the liturgy for the modern era.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by John Henry Cardinal Newman
[Finished 28 November 1999] I selected this particular edition to link to because it’s the one that I read and it includes some vital context for understanding Newman’s autobiography. Should you actually read it for yourself, I would encourage you to read the exchange between Newman and Kingsley at the end of the book before reading the main text. The critical essays can largely be skipped unless you really enjoy that sort of thing (and perhaps even if you do).

The Prey of the Priest Catchers: The Lives of the Forty Martyrs by Leon Knowles
[Finished 24 September 1999] A popularized history, but nice outline of the English saints.

Markings by Dag Hamerskjold
[Finished 8 September 1999] One of the most impressive accountings of the inner life, if not the most impressive accounting. This book by far deserves its place in the recently published list of the 100 top spiritual books of the century.

On the Dignity and Vocation of Women by John Paul II
[Finished 1 April 1999] An intriguing mix of progressive and conservative ideas. The Catholic position on women is far more nuanced than its critics and supporters sometimes see.

On Social Concern by John Paul II
[Finished 31 March 1999] Even more progressive than “On the Hundredth Anniversary” which came later.

On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum by John Paul II
[Finished 30 March 1999] Given JP2’s conservative reputation, surprisingly progressive.

Pacem in Terris by John XXIIII
[Finished 27 March 1999] While it’s primarily about peace matters, this encyclical is an important work in the corpus of Catholic teaching on social justice.

The Story of the English Cardinals by Charles Isaacson
[Finished 26 March 1999] A surprisingly readable book. Isaacson’s dilemma over figures like Newman is rather entertaining.

A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez
[Finished 24 March 1999] I wasn’t prepared for the rigorous philosophical bent of this book, but can see the value of it as it provides a solid grounding for the various liberation theologies which followed this work.

Who will Teach Me? A Handbook for Parents by Joseph Girzone
[Finished 18 March 1999] A handy book. Girzone is a mostly liberal Catholic, although in some areas he’s surprisingly conservative.

The Respectable Murderers: Social Evil and Christian Conscience by Paul Hanley Furfey
[Finished 17 March 1999] An interesting, but dated book, arguing that Christians must take a stand against social injustice, despite (or even because of) the personal cost of doing so.

Wellsprings: A Book of Spiritual Exercises by Anthony De Mello
[Finished 15 March 1999] A delightful book, although best dipped into than read. One could use it as a sort of sorties, I suppose.

Way of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in the Americas edited by Virgil Elizondo
[Finished 8 March 1999] Somewhat uneven collection of essays linking the Passion of Christ to opression of native Latin Americans. When it’s good, it’s excellent, but when it’d bad, it’s awful.

The Mass and the English Reformers by C. W. Ducmore
[Finished 4 March 1999] Another book typical of the era in which it was written (interbellum England). Ducmore works to claim that the Anglican liturgy is in fact part of an unbroken tradition, but ultimately fails.

English Catholic Worship: Liturgical Renewal in England since 1900 by J. D. Crichton, H. E. Winstone and J. R. Ainslie
[Finished 1 March 1999] I have to admit that before I read this book, I’d not put a lot of thought into the origins of contemporary Catholic liturgical practice. Actually, it’s very amazing indeed. It’s also interesting to note the fairly sizable chasm between English and American liturgical practices, which makes some other books that I’ve read a bit more lucid.

Priest of the Plague: Henry Moore, S. J. by Philip Caraman
[Finished 27 February 1999] Caraman was a writer of some skill who wrote, translated or edited a large number of the books that I’ve read on the Catholic mission to England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He has a good touch and writes very readable works. I may well hunt down some of his other books on other topics.

English Monks and the Supression of the Monasteries by Geoffrey Baskerville
[Finished 25 February 1999] More illuminating about the state of religion in the 1920s than in the early sixteenth century.

Defence of English Catholics by William Cardinal Allen
[Finished 20 February 1999] A rather dreary bit of 16th century prose. Of minor historical interest; I suppose I’ve read too much material on the Elizabethan Catholics, because this seemed all old hat and more than a little dull.

Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs by Alan Schreck
[Finished 18 February 1999] Out of the “if you really understood it, you’d have nothing to argue about” school of apologetics. Schreck downplays the fact that many Catholics don’t get some beliefs and that many folk practices are in conflict with official orthodoxy. However, as it goes, it’s a good book, although I prefer Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism.

Religion and Contemporary Western Culture edited by Edward Cell
[Finished 3 February 1999] I’ve been puzzling through the meaning of modernity for the past decade or so and this fills in a few more pieces while opening up other questions at the same time. Some context would have been helpful with some of the essays whose time frame spans about forty years, from the twenties to the sixties. The optimism about being able to address religion and culture is kind of stunning really coming at it from the perspective of someone educated at the end of the twentieth century when the whole concept of meaning is under question.

Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge by Patricia Beattie Jung and Ralph F. Smith
[Finished 15 January 1999] While some of their arguments fail to persuade me, valuable if only for its taxonomy of religious views of homosexuality.

Spirituality and Religion in Psychotherapy: Diversity in Theory and Practice by Eugene W. Kelly, Jr.
[Finished 8 January 1999] A practical examination of how and why to bring spiritual issues into counseling practice.

Readings in Moral Theology No. 8: Dialogue about Catholic Sexual Teaching edited by Charles E. Curran and Richard McCormick, S. J.
[Finished 18 December 1998] Outstanding. Curran and McCormick come from the progressive side of the theological spectrum, but manage to still provide a creditable selection of conservative voices (the Siker book, below, seemed to have more straw-man type conservative voices, which does credit to neither side). I especially liked Curran’s essay comparing Catholic social and sexual teaching.

Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate edited by Jeffrey S. Siker
[Finished 25 November 1998] A very interesting collection of essays, surprisingly well-balanced and essential reading for anyone interested in religious implications of homosexuality.

The Jesuits 1534-1921: A History of the Society of Jesus from its Foundation to the Present Time by Thomas J. Campbell
[Finished 18 November 1998] A bit cheerleader-ish and occasionally racist. Notable primarily because it was the first history of the Jesuits written in English by a Jesuit.

English Catholicism 1558-1642 by Alan Dures
[Finished 2 November 1998] A great introduction to the subject. Unfortunately, I learned most of this years ago when I first began reading about 16th C. English Catholics.

The Power and Secret of the Jesuits by René Fülöp-Miller
[Finished 30 October 1998] A rather curious book. Fülöp-Miller feels compelled to grant a sort of grudging respect to the accomplishments of the Jesuits despite what seems to be his desired tendency to deride them as morally suspect. Lack of time context in some passages was unfortunate (e.g., when were the Jesuits teaching the Copernican system to the Chinese?) but overall, it’s a good an interesting read (even if Fülöp-Miller does believe that the Copernican system is merely the most plausible hypothesis of the solar system).

Body, Sex and Pleasure by Christine Gudorf
[Finished 29 October 1998] When I first started reading this book, I though Gudorf was way off base on a number of her conclusions. I still think that she is, but she does a much better job of explaining why she’s reached her conclusions than other theologians have and is much less likely to argue by handwaving.

Meanings of Life by Roy F. Baumeister
[Finished 17 September 1998] A systematic exploration of where people derive the meanings in their life from a primarily social psychological standpoint. Baumeister tends to be rather dismissive of religion in general and Christianity in particular and occasionally dramatically demonstrates his lack of knowledge in the subject area (“Damn it Jim, I’m a psychologist, not a theologian!”), but still manages to provide a well-written, thoughtful exploration. His defining meaningfulness in terms of its objects rather than its loci is especially interesting to me.

A Sense of Sexuality: Chrstian Love and Intimacy by Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead
[Finished 10 September 1998] The Whiteheads provide a generally thoughtful analysis of sexuality (from a primarily Catholic Christian standpoint) supported by anecdotes. They’re a bit too dismissive of certain classical concepts, such as original sin, and I question their rather dismissive portrayal of St Augustine (if nothing else, they should have been willing to dig a little deeper than they did), but still not too bad of a book.

Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us by Marie M. Fortune
[Finished 1 September 1998] I believe that Fortune may see sexual violence as more pervasive than it is (probably as a result of her work with women who are victims of sexual violence). Certainly, her world bears little resemblance to the one in which I live.

The Imitation of Christ
[Finished 22 August 1998] The contrast between mediaeval spirituality and its denial-of-self center and contemporary spirituality and its service-of-others center is quite striking. I have to admit that I found the mediaeval spirituality to really be rather self-centered, despite (or perhaps because of) its denial-of-self center.

Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence by Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan
[Finished 7 August 1998] The thing that struck me the most was the sameness of so many of these stories. It seemed like a large portion of the women who were interviewed followed exactly the same path: They realized that they had no desire to get married, entered the convent (frequently to the objections of their families), had an affair or two with other sisters, maybe were disillusioned by the changes with Vatican II, then left the convent and then left the church. Not always, but that’s a capsule summary of most of the stories. The church bears some culpability for this in its treatment of homosexuals, but so do the women for blaming the church for their own naivete.

It’s kind of interesting to note that, while this book was published originally in the late 70s (or early 80s?), there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of follow-up writing on the issue of lesbian nuns. That says something, I’m not sure what.

A Challenge to Love: Gay and Lesbian Catholics in the Church edited by Robert Nugent
[Finished 3 August 1998] An interesting collection of essays with a surprisingly diverse set of viewpoints (usually given a hot-botton issue like this, we’ll only get one side of the argument). The essays were all over the place and I found Matthew Fox’s contribution to be unreadable, but well worth the time spent.

The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach by Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Bernard Spilka, Bruce Hunsberger and Richard Gorsuch
[Finished 24 July 1998] Absolutely fascinating. This book has already sparked some other reading. Which brings up my lone complaint: It’s hard to use this as a starting point for further reading because of the use of footnotes to get to APA-style citations which must then be located in the bibliography. In-text citations and perhaps a further reading section at the end of each chapter--or at least a chapter bibliography--would have been welcome.

Gay Priests by James G. Wolf
[Finished 14 July 1998] Wolf’s empirical study was unfortunately too flawed to be scientific, a fact which he at least readily admits, but the results are still interesting. The response biases in the results can be readily seen (using a network sample to find gay priests will naturally lead to a sample which is more sexually and socially active than a true random sample would find). The personal statements that make up the second part of the book are also interesting. I have some ideas about replicating the study in a way that should eliminate the response biases that occurred the first time around which I may see if I can put into action.

The Life of Eric Gill by Robert Speaight
[Finished 5 June 1998] Focused largely on the religious side of Gill’s life, Speaight does not complete whitewash Gill’s sexuality, although it’s easier to catch the references if you know about Gill’s proclivities before you read the book.

The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery by Janwillem van de Wetering
[Finished 17 February 1998] An often humorous account of life in a Zen Monastery. Well worth the time it takes to read.

From Image to Likeness: A Jungian Path in the Gospel Journey by W. Harold Grant, Magdala Thompson and Thomas E. Clarke
[Finished 20 November 1997] Perhaps it’s a lack of background, but I found myself frequently thinking as I read this book that I didn’ buy some of their basic premises. The developmental stuff, especially didn’t ring true to me although it is an interesting idea.

Personality Type and Religious Leadership by Roy M. Oswald and Otto Kroeger
[Finished 2 November 1997] Despite being rather painfully dependent on the work of others, this is a relatively useful book insofar as it presents a new presentation of the ideas underlying the MBTI as regards religious issues. The book is a bit too focused on clergy and too little on lay leadership and seems to often fall trap to a conception that all religious leadership is in the hands of protestant parish clergy (even though the authors clearly recognize that this is not the case in reality).

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
[Finished 7 October 1997] An interesting book, marred by the surprisingly strong prejudices of turn-of-the-century liberal protestantism. I can see why it’s not universally assigned reading in psychology of religion courses.

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
[Finished 6 October 1997] Sometimes it takes an outsider to really see. Norris, a married protestant poet has a better idea of what celibate monastic life is about than most Catholics that I know. At times it gets a bit rambly, at times a bit academic, but it’s worth working through that to get to the amazing insights into Benedictine spirituality. The chapter on celibacy is the best writing I’ve read on the subject.

The Jesuits: 1534-1921: A History of the Society of Jesus from Its Foundation to the Present Time by Thomas Campbell S. J.
[Finished 21 March 1997] A highly sympathetic portrayal of the society. There was an interesting discussion of Irish slaves in the British West Indies which was something that I’d never heard of before.

Also rather disturbing was the racist and anti-Semitic tone that Campbell often took. The anti-Semitism was never curbed and the racism at best became mere paternalism.

The Jesuits: History & Legend of the Society of Jesus by Manfred Barthes
[Finished 14 March 1997] When I was young I used to get Luther and Lucifer confused since the two names were generally spoken in the same tone of voice in the highly Catholic neighborhood where I grew up. I get the sense that Barthes, a German Lutheran, has much the same attitude towards Catholics despite a promising forward. A subtle anti-Catholic prejudice (fueled by a corresponding anti-Lutheran prejudice on the part of his Catholic neighbors) pervades the book which is a largely negative view of the Jesuit order although not quite at the paranoid fantasy level of a Jack Chick publication.

The Works of Saint John of the Cross by Saint John of the Cross
[Finished 6 March 1997] Great stuff. It’s a rather different perspective on the world than is typical for contemporary society, but one that I find rather compelling.

Grace in Action by Richard Rohr and Others
[Finished 3 December 1996] Radical Grace is the name of the newspaper published by the Center for Action and Contemplation, an institute established by Rohr in New Mexico. The essays in this collection are taken from that newspaper and are of varying interest. Rohr’s contributions in general stand head and shoulders above the rest of the offerings in the book although there are a couple of moments of inspiration from the laity.

Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide by Gary R. Collins
[Finished 22 October 1996] Generally a very good book. The theological orientation is a bit “low church” (a perception doubtless colored by my own Catholicism) and the chapter on homosexuality is of dubious validity in its claims of the origins of homosexuality (its perspectives are determined more by wishful thinking than by clinical research). Still, it’s an interesting overview of issues in pastoral counseling. Not for those without at least some training in counseling issues, but for those who feel that counseling has an imperative to have a spiritual basis, this is a good resource.

Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen
[Finished 30 September 1996] A short guide to living the spiritual life, a life that doesn’t require withdrawing from the world, but rather reevaluating one’s priorities.

Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown
[Finished 14 April 1996] A surprisingly interesting biography of St Augustine. It was a book I got for free when I bought my BHS in Boston six years ago. My shelves are full of books like this which I had bought at some date in the past thinking they might be interesting and only later do I get around to reading them. Especially interesting is Brown’s characterization of the actual circumstances and issues behind the Pelagian-Augustinian controversy, which is almost directly opposed to the conception one would have gotten from the characterization of the issues given by Anthony Burgess in The Wanting Seed.

Sefer Otiyot: The Book of Letters--A Mystical Alef-Bait by Lawrence Kushner
[Finished 14 April 1996] This is the sort of playful look at language and religion that I really enjoy, and one of the most wonderful things about the Jewish tradition since this sort of play is not a modern invention but can be found even in the early midrashim. The calligraphic content is a bit lower than one might have liked but it’s a very fun book nevertheless.

The Catholic Reformation by Pierre Janelle
[Finished 1 April 1996] Janelle provides a rather ultramontanist (typical of French Catholicism of the first part of this century) view of the events around the counter-reformation. An interesting counterpoint to the typical histories of the time which are clearly biased towards a protestant viewpoint.

A Piece of My Mind (On Just About Everything) by Andrew Greeley
[Finished 24 March 1996] Greeley is a fascinating author. Thusfar, I’ve only read his sociology. This is a collection of his columns for syndication in which he attempts (with varying success) to be an ordained Mike Royko.

It’s tough to tell exactly what Greeley thinks on a lot of subjects because his writing tends towards self-contradiction, sometimes even in the same column. In general, though, it seems that he espouses the sort of comfortable suburban Catholicism that I’ve come to reject myself (it was only in reading this book, the first Greeley I’ve read in two years, that I realized how radically my views have changed in that time and to what extent I continue down my path towards a much more radical form of Catholicism than even what I hold now).

Counseling in Catholic life and Education by Charles Curran
[Finished 20 March 1996] Curran is both a psychologist and a theologian. This work focuses primarily on the counseling side of life and less on the theological, although the implicit connections are really quite profound. The premise of Curran’s counseling is quite the opposite of the stereotype of the counseling process as portrayed, say, on Frasier. Rather than being an interventional presence in the life of the person being counseled, the counselor’s role is to be an objective mirror to help the person see what they should do more clearly on their own.

Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
[Finished 16 March 1996] I think nearly any person’s account of their childhood could be interesting, assuming that it’s well written. Lewis’ is no exception. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t find it a particularly spiritually compelling work.

A Harsh and Dreadful Love: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement by William D. Miller
[Finished 14 March 1996] I first learned about the Catholic Worker when I stumbled across a copy of the newspaper in a dorm lounge while I was still in college. The front page included a story about St Julian of Norwich and how she was one of the first mystics to view God as both Father and Mother. I don’t remember if this was before or after I had made the decision to become Catholic, but it stuck with me.

The Catholic Worker has managed to continue to haunt my life. The priest who welcomed me into the church was/is deeply involved with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, although I found my way there independently of his influence--in fact the first time I met him there was a bit of a surprise. My first visit to the LACW also turned up a friend from college, surprisingly enough.

The Catholic Worker differed from other liberal Christian movements in that for them, religion was not merely something on which to hang a liberal doctrine. Rather, there doctrine flowed out of the spring of religion, and has a depth that other groups which I have worked with lacked.

This book gives an accounting of the history of the movement from its founding by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day until the early seventies. Always a fascinating story, this accounting is a bit drier than the others since it places a bit of distance between itself and its subject (as opposed to Rosalie Troester’s Voices from the Catholic Worker which is as close to the subject as can be accomplished). Still, as a comprehensive account, it does a lot to help establish the broader contexts of many of the events in the history of the Catholic Worker.

An interesting note for the hagiographers: The parallels between the development of the Catholic Worker and the early years of the Franciscans are astounding.

Journal of a Soul by Pope John XXIII
[Finished 13 March 1996] Selections from the journals of John XXIII, it looks to be a fascinating read. The development of religious thought from the overpious youth at the beginning of the book to the much wiser old man is fascinating. It’s almost entirely reflections from retreats, which is a bit of a disappointment since I was hoping for some ordinary day-to-day reflections, but still, a wonderful book. The spirituality seems, at times, out of touch with today’s life, but there’s still much to be learnt. The frequent attempts at self-mortification through even small things like avoiding the use of the first person in conversation really intrigue me.

Catholicism by Richard P. McBrien
[Finished 9 March 1996] A comprehensive accounting of Catholic thought, giving a historical background and a synthesis of the various perspectives on each doctrinal point. A very interesting synthesis of liberal and conservative religious thought. McBrien tends to take a very ecumenical view towards many issues and is a bit too liberal on some issues relating to the sacraments than I care for, but it’s still a wonderful compilation of Catholic teaching with a much broader base than the Universal Catechism put out last year (although this latter does effectively provide the definitive state of the magisterium on many issues).

The Little Flowers, Legends and Lauds of Saint Francis of Assisi by St Francis of Assisi
[Finished 5 March 1996] A compilation of writings by and about the saint. It’s a reprint of a volume originally published in 1947 and is especially interesting in that it seems to be the beginnings of a historico-critical approach to religious matters in the Catholic church. St Francis is a reasonable starting point for such a thing since he’s both fairly central to the concept of the church without being a point of dogma.

Little by Little: Selected Writings by Dorothy Day
[Finished 25 February 1996] A collection of Day’s writing, it’s a fascinating read, and one would hope a call to conversion for those who fail to see Christ in all around them, especially in the poor. Remember, we are told not to judge and to give freely to all who ask. Think about that the next time you’re approached by a panhandler.

Note that the title was changed somewhat when it was re-released by Orbis

Autobiography of a Saint by St Thèrése of Lisieux
[Finished 13 February 1996] Perhaps more meaningful to the Catholic than the non-Catholic, but the appeal of this saint becomes increasingly apparent as one reads this book. While some reviewers are appalled by her simplicity, I think that it points correctly down the path to true spirituality.

The link is to a different translation as the Knox translation is out of print.

Landmarks in Christian History by Henry K. Rowe
[Finished June 1995] When I started buying books for my thesis research back in 1989, I decided that I needed a protestant account of the reformation. This is what I found in a second-hand bookshop in St Louis. As it turns out, the scope is somewhat broader and attempts to be a history of Christianity from Jesus’ ministry up to the time of its writing at the beginning of the twentieth century. While reading this book, I found myself continually trying to figure out what the author believed. He was vehemently anti-Catholic, but otherwise rather liberal. While there was general praise of John Calvin and an association with the Calvinists, the author’s view point tended more towards a strong concern towards social justice I tend not to associate with Calvinists.

The New Testament for Spiritual Reading: The Epistle to Titus, The Epistle to Philemon edited by John L. McKenzie
[Finished June 1995] McKenzie was a Jesuit who lived his last years in the parish to which I belong. He died not too long after I arrived and I never had the opportunity to meet him, but his reputation survived him. I was given this volume and one other as a gift from a friend who’s now working at Southern Illinois University. He found these two volumes in a library book sale for a quarter each.

As for the text itself, it tends to be a relatively mainline Catholic interpretation of the two named epistles by a pair of German theologians. I must say that I found little of memorable interest.

Anchor Bible, vol. 4: Numbers 1-20 by Baruch Levine
[Finished May 1995] Part of the Anchor Bible series, a collection of translations and commentaries on individual books of the Bible by Jewish, Protestant and Catholic scholars. The quality and approach of the volumes vary widely. This particular book is written from a rather secular world view: Levine makes an attempt to demythologize the text wherever possible. I’m not certain I like that approach. I have yet to find anything gained from the demythologization process. People need myths.