3 books that challenged my thinking this year


This year I've been broadening my reading beyond biblical and religious studies as much as possible. Three of the books that have impacted my thinking on other topics--human knowledge (epistemology), morality and politics, and relationships--are the following that I highly recommend:

1. Chuck Klosterman's 'But What If We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past'

Takeaway: When we recognize how often the 'facts' of the past prove to be either dead wrong or insufficiently accurate it should cause us to be humble about what we think we know now because future generations will likely know better. 

2. Jonathan Haidt's 'The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion'

Takeaway: OK, so some religion here...but the main focus is different moral systems within a pluralistic society. Except in extreme cases, people on the other side of the aisle are not 'immoral' but instead work from a different set of moral starting points. 

3. Nicholas Epley's 'Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want'

Takeaway: While I'm still reading this one, thus far I've been blown away by the evidence that we not only struggle to understand other minds but we're not that good at understanding even our own. That said: we've got a special gift that allows us to communicate and it can be enhanced.

Book Recommendations: 'But What If We're Wrong?' and 'The Righteous Mind'

If you're searching for book recommendations, here are a couple I've finished over the past few weeks that were great. Klosterman's 'But What If We're Wrong?' tries to imagine what people in the future will say about our current age in light of the fact that human knowledge is always changing. It's full of great thought experiments and really forces you to embrace epistemological humility. Haidt's The Righteous Mind' takes a look through evolutionary psychology at how (in the US) conservatives and liberals build and function within different moral matrices.

Chuck Klosterman, But What If We're Wrong?

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


The Old Testament Isn't Dead Yet!

On my 'must read' list this summer is Brent A. Strawn's The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment. I won't be interacting with the book here, because I haven't read it yet, obviously, but I'll recommend Prof. Strawn's interview on OnScipt for those who are interested. That's what I'm interacting with here. Strawn uses the analogy of a dying language to explain the Old Testament's increasing irrelevance in society. When I read the book this summer I'll interact with it here.

The point of this post is celebratory. Where I teach we offer OT only in the fall semester. World Religion and NT are offered in fall and spring. This shows OT is already the third wheel of religious studies (oddly). Last fall on the first day of classes I had 2 blocks for a total of 15 students. By the end of the first week, three students had dropped the course already apparently not convinced it would be enjoyable. I ended the semester with 11. Nevertheless, my PD goal was to double the initial enrollment in OT for fall 17 over fall 16.

Good news.

Presently, with a whole summer for changes, my two blocks of OT contain 20 and 15 students for a total of 35. That exceeds my goal of doubling! 

This last year I had 70 students across 5 blocks of NT (compared with 15 in 2 blocks of OT). For this fall, I have 17 NT students and 32 in the spring. So the gap between OT-NT has shrunk from 70>15 to 49>35 with many of my NT students in the spring having been my OT students in the fall!  

How to Read a Book, Today

Approximately a decade ago I read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler (1972 ed. co-authored with Charles Van Doren, to be exact). Although it was a bit dated then, I found much of it quite helpful. It may seem silly to suggest that we ought to read a book about reading books. That's what I thought when it was assigned to me in grad school. Yet reading is not something all humans know how to do well (and for good reason since for most of our history most of us were illiterate). I wonder what it might look like to revise this work once again for a new age: one where we do much (most?) of our reading online (on average), where our attention spans are shortened while our menu has broadened, where it is sometimes impossible to separate credible sources from their fake news counterparts. What might it look like to rewrite Adler's work for today's reader?