When we become a Christian, the veil is lifted, and we see the world in a new way. No longer do we take the natural actions of our days for granted, but instead we appreciate the eternal significance of our lives.
I read the Bible every day, and it constantly challenges me to think differently, and to reassess the way I see the world. This “renewing of our mind” transforms us as we read the word of God, with God. He lifts the veil again and again. Words have that power.
I try and read widely and engage with views that contradict my worldview, in order to challenge my thinking. I also try and read with God, whatever I’m reading. I talk to him about the ideas I’m processing, and I learn something every time. Through these conversations, whether I agree with the views or argument, another veil is lifted and I understand the world in a new way.
Here are a five ‘secular’ books that have changed the way I see the world and renewed my mind:
Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari
“About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang. The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.
About 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules. The story of atoms, molecules, and their interactions is called chemistry.
About 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms. The story of organisms is called biology.
About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo Sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history.”
So begins one of the most exciting and challenging books I have ever read. Yuval Noah Harari is an award-winning humanist, who lectures at the University of Jerusalem. In ‘Sapiens’ he describes the history of humanity, laying out a holistic narrative based on the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, and the scientific revolution.
Whether you agree with his conclusions or not is probably irrelevant. The conversations and thoughts I had whilst reading his words stayed with me long after and strengthened my faith. For me all science and history point to God, no matter how the story is told.
“I encourage all of us, whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not be afraid of controversial issues.”
The chapter on money alone changed my life (it has since been re-published in a smaller book). It showed me that the system of money is based on faith, and that is why it competes for our hearts. It requires trust in order to exist.
“Money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”
“What enables banks – and the entire economy – to survive and flourish is our trust in the future”
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli
“We have a hundred billion neurons in our brains, as many as there are stars in a galaxy, with an even more astronomical number of links and potential combinations through which they can interact. We are not conscious of all of this. ‘We’ are the process formed by this entire intricacy, not just by the little of it of which we are conscious.”
I won’t claim to understand everything I read in this book, but it fascinated me. Carlo Rovelli has a way of writing about theory and discovery in a way that thrills your spirit and makes you feel clever rather than stupid.
“It’s as if God had not designed reality with a line that was heavily scored, but just dotted it with a faint outline.”
The chapters on time, and things ‘outside of time’, helped me understand something new about the nature of creation, existence, and the way God views the human story.
The War of Art / Turning Pro / Do the Work – Steven Pressfield
“The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.”
These are actually three separate books, but I’ve grouped them together because they’re all very short and expand on the same themes of overcoming resistance when facing art, a life’s work, and purpose.
Pressfield believes there is a God but doesn’t set the book out as a religious text. Instead, he explains the forces within creation that aid and oppose us. His goal is to bring the reader into alignment with what they were created to do.
“the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Who Owns the Future? – Jared Lanier
“The story of our times is that humanity is deciding how to be as our technological abilities increase”
Jared Lanier illustrates an economic future through the vision of a computer scientist. He is a prophet of Silicon Valley, with a dry wit, steely eyes, and appropriately long dreadlocks.
He looks forward to a future where money is worthless, data is currency, ‘siren servers’ become economic superpowers, and driverless cars become autonomous small businesses, bidding for access to the fastest lanes of traffic.
“It is impossible for us to completely enter the experiential world of the hunter-gatherer. It’s almost impossible to conceive of the subjective texture of life before electricity. We can’t quite fully know what we have lost as we become more technological, so we are in constant doubt of our own authenticity and vitality. This is a necessary side effect of our own survival.”
Whilst the ideas may seem wild and fantastical, they’re plausible futures and are concepts we should engage with now in order to connect future generations with their identity, true value, and the love of God.
Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation – Richard Sennett
“Both sympathy and empathy convey recognition, and both forge a bond, but one is an embrace, the other an encounter. Sympathy overcomes differences through imaginative acts of identification; empathy attends to another person on his or her own terms. Sympathy has usually been thought a stronger sentiment than empathy, because ‘I feel your pain’ puts the stress on what I feel; it activates one’s own ego. Empathy is a more demanding exercise, at least in listening; the listener has to get outside him- or herself.”
Richard Sennett is seen by many as this century’s William Morris. In ‘Together’, he argues that the spirit of cooperation is being damaged by the modern way of working, and the accompanying shift in culture. His solution is to embrace shared ritual, competition, and a relation to solidarity.
Instead of trying to agree on everything, Sennett suggests that conversations should be a ‘verbal play of opposites’, building into a shared synthesis and common understanding.
This is a dense book, but the idea that stuck with me long after the reading is that true understanding and true unity are achieved not through agreement and common ground, but through disagreement and difference.
What books have you read that have challenged your thinking and caused you to view the world in a new way?
Sam Goudie – Oct 2018