(4 to 5 minutes to read)
Let’s jump in.
Honorable Mention 1 of 2: Measure What Matters by John Doerr
Overall, it’s a great book with plenty of strong real-world examples of the critical nature of goal-setting and how to do it well. Whether for-profit or non-profit, it’s applicable from tens of thousands of employees down to just two. At times, it’s a bit verbose and drawn-out, though. I became interested because of my sophomore summer internship at moovel—one of the main early innovators in train/bus/etc. tickets on your smartphone—where people were going through it.
Honorable Mention 2 of 2: Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias
Of course, it’s sad to write this retrospectively, following Ravi’s posthumous moral failings. I must give due credit though; Ravi was a compelling speaker with a gift for reaching the core of people’s deepest beliefs and worldviews—religious and secular. Ravi spoke to people’s hearts on the biggest questions of existence. At this time, I was inspired to read the book after devouring two years of his recorded lectures.
More on the Topic of Religion and Worldviews: A Major Theme of 2017 Reading.
As is very obvious in this list, my reading in 2017 was dominated by more intellectual writings related to Christianity. This was in part due to a sort of conclusion of a longer-term exploration of existential ideas that had begun in middle school and carried on until this point. Of course, these questions are never complete, but in the years following this, it’s clear that my learning inputs shifted.
Another major reason for these contents was that I took two classes from Gary Ferngren, a professor at Oregon State University who specialized in the study of science, medicine, and religion across history. These classes were done gratuitously and were highly enriching, greatly multiplying my fascination with Western Civilization from the Romans to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance/Enlightenment to modernity—something I’m forever grateful to him for.
Ravi’s work at this time helped me in personally working through matters of various world religions and “secular religions”—a term I believe is very apt after exploring these matters over several years—including atheism, agnosticism, and deifying (“God-ifying”) love or other abstract high virtues like justice, yet with a somewhat arbitrary basis for them. This last one seems to be the real winner today. Everyone has beliefs and assumptions, whether known with clarity or not at all, that drive their desires for intimacy, happiness, status, power, sex, achievement, or money.
Before I get further, I should be clear that in this period of my life, my conviction in the uniqueness of Christianity and worthiness of following Jesus had a solid foundation laid through searching, but also at this time, conviction was also laid for charitability, curiosity, and humility regarding others’ views. Raw, real life is complicated and messy. And every worldview necessarily has its difficult questions to answer.
Lesslie Newbigin predicted decades ago that as secularism rose and mainline, historical religions died in the world, religion itself would not die (i.e. we don’t all become true atheists), it would simply be replaced by “the political religions.” In the 2020s, this seems to be spot on.
People haven’t surrendered meaning, purpose, virtue, and morality—if anything, they seem to have risen even higher in people’s consciousnesse and personal megaphones. Instead, we have these high morals, but with a lot more confusion, name-calling, politicians as saviors, and epidemics of mental health, loneliness, and purpose.
#5: The Language of God by Francis S. Collins
The book is written by the leader of the Human Genome Project, sequencing all 3 billion DNA bases—an aspirational and groundbreaking project that was completed far sooner than people expected. Collins is a Christian, and he defends his beliefs, explaining the preposterous nature of all “faith and science”—or let’s say the metaphysical and physical realities—being diametrically opposed to one another. Of course, some faiths are opposed to science.
Subjects like philosophy, history, politics, morality, purpose, and meaning all depend on things that can’t be obtained from empiricism or let’s say ”science.”
As I’ve told a number of people, science tells you how to save a life; it is unable to tell you why a life is worth saving.
Wrapping up the Talk on Worldviews
Wrapping up and moving along with this book list, I’ll conclude that both inductive and deductive thinking have merit. We need the Greek way and the 20th-century modern way (the water is not clear yet on what the 21st-century chaos exactly has brought to the table).
We need to discern truth and reality through both metaphysical methods (philosophy, history, politics, religion) and physical methods (science, reason, technology). I consider that those who disregard and belittle religion today have yet to understand the ways that everyone has faith in something. For some, it’s Islam; for some, it’s their own self-determination; for some, it’s the forward-progressing ability of humanity. But each must give answers to the problems of pain, chaos, and evil.
#4: Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock
The Da Vinci Code (the #1 best-selling book of the 21st century with 80 million sold and quickly) was exactly what people wanted to hear and at the right time. So it really didn’t matter that Dan Brown’s claims had hardly any intellectual or credible basis to them. Historians of all persuasions could tell you that. This fact-checking book was written in response—the media and average American don’t care much for truth today, but apparently enough cared to read this to make it a bestseller. I found it helpful and concise.
#3: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
People today don’t seem to give credit to what a deep well questions regarding pain, suffering, and evil are. It’s popular today to prod at and belittle others’ views while holding no clear view of one’s own. This classic delivers some incredible highs, but at the same time didn’t quite feel like it delivered cover-to-cover.
"There was a man born among these Jews who claimed to be, or to be the son of, or to be ‘one with’, the Something which is at once the awful haunter of nature and the giver of the moral law..."
"A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell."
And probably the most famous quote from the book (in full):
“We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone who has watched gluttons shovelling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we ignore even pleasure.
But pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
I fully recognize these are strong quotes. It is my hope that I can always be known as someone with “strong beliefs, held humbly, curiously, and charitably,” for a worldview variation on the renowned investor Marc Andreessen’s popularized phrase.
#2: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
As the founder of Nike, it would be a surprise if Knight weren’t a great storyteller. Shoe Dog was enthralling. And especially so, since I was at this time both seriously considering a long career at Nike (leading me to work for the employee store my freshman summer) and also breaking into entrepreneurship/business in general.
#2 (tie): The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
EDIT: I cannot believe it but I forgot about Augustine’s Confessions. I did this entry retroactively years later and based off my Goodreads where I had forgotten to add this book.
Brilliant. Today, all major religions have a geographical epicenter, often tied more to ethnicity, birth patterns, and culture than beliefs or intellect—a common critique of religion.
But one materially breaks this mold. Stark explores historical, environmental, and societal factors that led to the incredible proliferation of Christianity throughout the world—notably its contrast with belief systems of the day (Greek/Roman paganism and worship of the totalitarian emperor) and paradoxical growth despite very strong opposition against it. I also remember it going into Christianity’s place at the roots of just about every civil rights movement that has occurred since. It’s been awhile though since I’m writing this later. I’ll definitely read this book again.
#1: Confessions by Augustine
One of the most legendary books and authors of all history. When I read this, it was not at all hard to see why.
I will certainly read this at least three times. And I’m soon due for the second.
- Science and Religion by Gary Ferngren
- Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
- A Critique of Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”
Next years list → 2019