7 Important Secular Books to Study in Addition to the Scriptures

Hoping to find a diverse set of books that LDS faithul should read (something by C.S. Lewis perhaps?) I read Greg Trimble’s “7 Important Things You Should Study in Addition to the Scriptures” @ LDS Living.com.

The suggestions were good: The Wentworth Letter, King Follet Discourse, and Lectures on Faith. I have not read these through and have them on my future reading list. However, it was Trimble’s explaination of the church’s 1909 statement on the Origin of Man that really struck me in a less than welcome manner.

This official statement by the first presidency was built to combat the theories of Darwin. It states that God created humans and that we’re not just distant relatives to the ape or chimpanzee. Atheism has picked up steam as of late and the modern day Korihor’s are running rampant in the colleges of America and throughout the world, making this document vital in our time. — Greg Trimble

I’ll give Greg a cautious pass on two claims. The first claim that, we are “not just” relatives of other primates reads OK because “just” could include the possibility we are indeed relatives plus something more (though I doubt many will catch this nuance). The second claim that, there are college instructors acting as “modern day Korihor’s” doesn’t include all college instructors, especially, I hope, those who teach evolution at BYU.

Now, I’ve taken multiple opportunities here, and here, to put another nail in the coffin of this pointless and damaging evolution vs creationism battle within our church. Rather than to “combat the theories of Darwin” which the Origin of Man does NOT do, the First Presidency of 1909 leaves science to scientists and asserts the divine nature and potential of man.

The common misconception that secular and religious ideals are often incompatable, when they are not, is a serious problem in the church. There simply isn’t enough space to write a quick post covering all basics, so my response to Greg and all fellow Latter-Day Saints is a similar study guide.

The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James.

William James was a medical doctor, psychologist, and possibly the United States’ only noteworthy philosopher. James’ study of religion demonstrates that it isn’t just some fantasy of the mind, medical condition, or useless by-product of evolution. By reviewing many accounts of the role religion plays in real people, to include Leo Tolstoy, James provides ample reason to keep being a religious person, but from a secular point of view.

Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning by James Fowler

Questioning your faith? Having doubts? Maybe that’s normal and actually a step toward progress. James W. Fowler interviewed hundreds of people concerning their beliefs and group identities. From this information, he derived 7 stages of “faith” development or progress. You might recognize some of these stages in yourself and others:

0–2 — Think of primary kids singing songs and hearing stories from trusted adults. These people know how the universe works in simple terms of symbols, mercy, justice, and karma that will not fail. May be supersitious. You literally will not burn when Jesus comes again because you paid your tithing.

3. Conformity and personal identity with group and religious leaders. A person in love with all things Mormon culture and generally avoids people or situations that vary from it. They want everyone to be a Mormon and are quick to invite others, but not really interested in or maybe even fearful of other faiths and ideas.

4. A struggle to balance individuality with the shared conformity and identity of stage 3. A recently baptized adult from another faith or people who leave the church may (or may not) be in this group. These people are often estranged from their original group identity, walk by their own light, and can sometimes be bitter towards their previous stage 3 group identity.

5. Marked by humility and comfort with paradox. These individuals fit in with multiple groups and ways of thinking. They don’t feel existentially threatened by other religious ideas or political groups and may see them as necessary compliments. LDS scholar Richard Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling seems to be a good example.

6. People who are able to create relationships and empathize with pretty much everbody. They often rejects previous compromises to society to promote universal goodness. They have a tendency to break down the social divisions experienced in stages 3 and 4 where the large majority of adults reside. Sometimes this gets them killed. Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ are examples.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Having started off in a Puritan home, young Franklin questioned his early faith and became a Diest (believing a god exists but does not interfere with man or set moral law). His experiences with sin and near-misses with tragedy as a young adult taught him the value of religious and moral belief. Although Franklin never joined any sect, he did support as many as he could and believed faith in God was important to humanity. He was also a master of people skills.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

Just like the title says, good people become unecessarily divided by religious and political beliefs. Jon points out the origins of political and religious beliefs in our innate values which are not based on reason but on internal feelings (like the spirit) and our experiences.

Pragmatism, A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking by William James

William James explores how beliefs and truth depend on their “cash value” or the benefits they provide to the believer or knower and rejects mere rationality as an effective means for finding ultimate truths. This book is great for helping us understand why we may accept many things that seem to conflict. It was a humbling experience to read this.

A Confession by Leo Tolstoy

A sense of pointlessness in life prevents Leo from taking hunting trips for fear he won’t send himself back alive. Science and reason do not fill his need for meaning. A simple belief in God does the trick.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Even if, no—especially if—you think you’re enlightened, never be a jerk about it.