Nine years ago, while I was an undergraduate, I converted to Catholicism. Most people know that about me, and a lot of people think it’s strange, and that’s okay.
I read a lot then and I read a lot now; here are five books that helped me on my way (in addition to the numerous actual people I observed and whose example and conversation affected me):
- The Confessions of St. Augustine
- Granted, this great saint and theologian was trained in rhetoric in the classical Roman educational style, but his language draws the reader right in. He is so forthright in telling his own wrong-doings, the thought-process of his conversion and in describing the nature of God and how he discovered it.
- It’s near-impossible not to be captivated by Augustine’s style and emotion as unfolds the story. There is a lot I identified with and a lot that I learned that Augustine puts into words rather well.
- “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
- After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
- A tour-de-force modern classic of philosophy that goes through the history of the Enlightenment moral philosophers to explain why moral/ethical discourse today has gone astray and why we often have difficulty just talking to one another about it.
- He criticizes the Enlightenment, destroys relativism as a fall-back and proposes a modern Aristotelianism.
- When I was pondering the casual relativism so rampant on college campuses, no other book dealt with the philosophical difficulties therein so well or so broadly. In many ways, this book was for me intellectual permission to set a stance, to reject the proposition that there is no truth, but while maintaining respect for others.
- Interestingly, MacIntyre was not Catholic when he wrote this, but he did later convert.
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- Perhaps this is a strange book to appear on this list. After all, though it revels in Catholic history and symbols, by the end it’s pretty anti-Catholic, painting church members as nothing but corrupt or stupid.
- But reading it got me thinking. I wanted to know if the narrative of history and the life of Christ that comes out of the Harvard-professor-character’s mouth was accurate. Because I was in college, I registered for Church history courses, and that got me learning about the authentic history of the Christian community and the Scriptures, which inspired me a lot, especially as I discovered the Church Fathers, like St. Augustine, above.
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas
- Reading this demanded the learning of an entirely new (to me) philosophical lexicon that uses words like, “substance,” “good,” “perfect,” and “suppositum,” in unexpected ways, at least to most modern readers.
- But it was worth it because Aquinas’s method of finding truth wherever he could, of synthesizing Aristotle’s philosophy with Christian thought, provides a lot of sense and a lot of pretty clear answers on some of the most difficult matters of theology–is there a God? Is God good? Does God’s foreknowledge demand a doctrine of predestination?
- Now, scholars have disputed these things since long before Aquinas wrote, so I’m not saying it’s a one-stop, clear-as-crystal set of answers for everything, but gosh it helps. It helps just to see someone thinking so rigorously, so thoughtfully, so systematically about hard problems in ways that show how the philosophy really matters, especially on questions that most of us just throw our hands up at and say, “we’ll never really know.”
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
- C.S. Lewis’s reverse-psychology introduction to the life of faith, in which demons, who are charged with ruining souls, discourse about the methods of destroying a person’s faith and happiness.
- It so accurately notes the different, damaging tendencies we all confront, voices which say: “be lazy, it doesn’t matter” or it’s opposite: “grind yourself to the bone and you’ll save yourself.” Both of these extreme are errors, and it’s very interesting to see Lewis call them all out and turn those errors into temptations from the devil. Our thought processes gets real very quickly when eternal salvation is on the line.
- Some people may think that all sounds crazy, but the truth is, we all are tempted to go to different extremes on different types of behaviors that can very quickly turn unhealthy. Personifying those temptations or unhealthy thoughts makes them very accessible and understandable.
Question: What books have you read that influenced you spiritually or philosophically?
Sometime in the future: – Five Books that have influenced me since then