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Inspired by: May Christians read self improvement books?

May we read un-Christian books? Should we?
In what circumstances?
What guidelines should be used to decide on this?

Some examples of books that I consider relevant for the question:

I have read some of the mentioned and would not read some. But I can't say what my guidelines would exactly be. Of course, I only know the ones I've read to be heretical/blasphemous/anti-Christian. Others I put on the list based on hearsay.

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closed as not constructive by Alypius, Pavel, MaskedPlant, fredsbend, Greg Apr 8 '13 at 23:19

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Yes we all should. We should not be so closed minded as to say that what we know right now is all of the information and it stops here. –  user1054 Jan 11 '12 at 19:16
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OT: I think Pullman ruined the anti-Christianity he intended for His Dark Materials when he at some point has the novel say that the person they're calling God isn't actually the Creator--which puts everything in line with the Christian idea of Satan having set himself up as "the god of this world". (But of course this is fiction and 'fictional examples don't prove anything', anyway.) –  Muke Tever Jan 12 '12 at 14:24
    
What is going on in this question? The one answer that's offering a clear view from a Christian tradition instead of a personal opinion is sitting at the bottom with -2. (VTC soliciting personal opinion.) –  Alypius Apr 8 '13 at 8:41
    
@Alypius You have a good point. This question was asked back while we were still defining the site guidelines. –  David Stratton Apr 8 '13 at 11:49
    
That's not excusing it, just answering "what's going on with i?". –  David Stratton Apr 8 '13 at 11:53

8 Answers 8

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I'd give a similar answer to this question as I did the other one, except that having read some of these books already, I doubt I could read them now without being nauseated by what I'm reading.

There are certain things that, once you read them, you can't get them out of your head. (pornography, for example). I've read some very anti-Christian books and articles (in print and on the web) that sound very good on the surface. (So again, the same caution I gave in the answer on that question applies.)

That said, some of the books on your list are full of the type of information we need to be armed against. God calls each of us into a different ministry. I tend to come across people of a certain mindset - atheists, agnostics, people who have serious and real objections to the very core concepts of Christianity. In order to talk to these people and reach out to them, it is absolutely essential that I know where they are coming from. Others (my Pastor, for example) would argue that this stuff isn't important because he tends to run across people who are open and seeking God, rather than those who oppose Him. He'd probably tell you not to even look at this stuff, and to concentrate on the Word instead. I guess if I knew less atheists, I might agree.

I just keep going back to the fact that if I hadn't been influenced by people who were educated and prepared for someone like me, I might not have ever been saved.

A while back, I blogged about a book I'd read called "10 Books that Screwed Up the World". It contains several books not on your list that should be. I think that if you are one of the people that God has called to reach those that have been corrupted by these teachings, then not only is reading these books OK, it is, in some ways, necessary.

The point is this: You can't fight the enemy if you don't know the enemy. the enemy is not the people who hold these beliefs, they are the beliefs themselves. You can't hope to make a case against an idea if you don't understand the idea.

However, if you're reading these books because you simply enjoy them, I guess I'm not going to tell you you're wrong for doing so, but I know that I, personally, wouldn't be able to do it. Walking with the Lord means being in agreement with Him, and obviously, you can't be in agreement with Him if you're in agreement with those who stand against him.

One final point that should really be a separate answer

Back to my statement about being nauseated. I figured out how to verbalize it: I love God, and to read materials that purposely distort Him and cast Him in a negative light make me furious. I would be just as furious if someone wrote a pornographic story about my wife or children. It's offensive. That's why I'd have a hard time reading these books, even if it does help me to be better prepared.

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Looks like an interesting book, though I was a bit surprised when I looked at the contents list on the linked page to not see Atlas Shrugged on the list. It's said that Atlas Shrugged is the second-most influential book on modern thought after the Bible, and the philosophical and moral doctrines it teaches could hardly be more highly opposed. It's done more to screw up the modern world than most of the books on the author's list. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 28 '11 at 3:34
    
+1 This seems a good well-rounded answer. I like the point about the offensive nature of certain things. I think this becomes a matter of individual tastes, as I'm sure digging through some of these books would be beneficial for some folks and less beneficial others, and even detrimental to some. Ultimately, there's not enough time to read all books ever written, so I don't think we need to feel obliged to read any particular book...much less ones that we know are going to be particular offensive to us. –  Steven Jan 11 '12 at 20:21
    
100% true David Stratton, to fight a enemy, you have to know him like satan knows us, he knows our weakness and use it, we should do the same, not with him, of course, but with those people you commented –  Gerep Jan 11 '12 at 21:31

You must read any of these books the same way you would read the Bible and any other work for that matter: in context.

Any deeper examination of your faith by asking question or reading arguments counter to your beliefs, if read earnestly, and in the spirit of truly wanting more understand should only draw you closer to your faith.

For instance "The God Delusion" is a great book for Christians to read, since it can reveal many of the arguments that Atheist have against Christianity and religion in general. It can certainly challenge you BUT if you make a careful examination for and against its arguments it can give you better understanding of the beliefs you have already, or you might change your mind on certain things. In either event you are more enlightened and better informed.

But again, context is important. If you picked up the Gospel of Judas, thinking it was a canonized text of the New Testament, you may come away with a different meaning than if you understood that it was a Gnostic text written probably in the 2nd century.

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+1. Nice point about examining your own faith! –  David Stratton Sep 28 '11 at 2:32
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Actually, in terms of expressing a more rounded set of atheist views, I think the Hitchens is more complete than the Dawkins. Just saying: if the aim is to understand another viewpoint, it may be worth a read; but it depends on the reader. –  Marc Gravell Sep 28 '11 at 17:37
    
@MarcGravell Hey thanks, I've not read Hitchens though I have heard him speak. I'll check it out. –  aceinthehole Sep 28 '11 at 19:10

I would like to quote the apologetic mandate verse

1 Corinthians 7:1-2 (New International Version)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

The new atheist movements books as hard as they are to swallow is good books to have under your belt as a Christian. They seem to be the material that lay skeptics most often go to to defend their skepticism.

Good responses will do you well in your own witnessing.

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I am not suggesting that we are not to guard our hearts and minds. It is important to remember

Romans 12:2 (KJV) which begins;

And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,...

When operating in the world it seems important to not go blindly. When faced with debate about evolution, for example, it would be difficult to debate the issue intelligently without having studied Darwin's theory, and more importantly, read his books and papers. There are some extremely important points Darwin made regarding evolution that most people are unfamiliar with. His own criteria for proving evolution valid has dashed Darwin's theory to pieces.

When faced with this debate with a non-believer, it is amazing to watch God reaching someone by using Darwin's own criteria as a debate point against evolution. This couldn't have been known during his time but, the window of time he gave archeologists to find the millions of shape-shifting fossils he predicted would be found has come and gone by decades. He said that without these, his theory would be without merit.

Romans 12:2 continues;

...thay ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Knowledge about the enemy, coupled with God's wisdom and timing, may just be what God needs from us to be there to help lead an unbeliever to our Lord.

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Thank you dancek. Still can't figure out that blocking. –  new wings Sep 28 '11 at 3:31
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There is wisdom in this answer in general and I would like to upvote it, but relying upon something Darwin said instead of trying to understand what is true is closer to deceit than wisdom. The Origin of Species is not infallible, so the honest question is not what Darwin said to look for but what are the logical consequences of evolution. Even though the example is problematic, the point about not going blindly is a good one. –  Rex Kerr Sep 28 '11 at 3:36

Scene: The captain's office in a frontier fort, somewhere near enemy territory. Enter a sentry.

Captain: What is it?

Sentry: I think it's possible that there may be some enemies out there, sir.

Captain: Enemies? Where are they? How many? How are they armed? What direction are they heading? Are they coming here?

Sentry: I'm not really sure, sir. I didn't like to look at them too closely. I thought it might be demoralizing. So I just kind of kept looking at the wall of the watchtower, where it's safe. But I'm pretty sure there's someone out there. Somewhere.

If you don't read these books, how are you going to know what they say?

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Yes.

Each of us, even we atheists, have a core set of principles and beliefs at our heart. These are the primary motivating sources for those things we do throughout the day. Based on the principle that it's better to be motivated by a truth than by a falsehood, I would say it is imperative for all people to continually challenge and refine their internal motivations.

Which is one possible reason why, for example, you might find that atheists in the USA at least tend to know religion better than believers.

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Just in support of this answer, I'm currently working through "Cosmos, Creator and Human Destiny" - fully opposed to everything I believe, but.. I'm reading it ;p –  Marc Gravell Jan 23 '12 at 20:45
    
@MarcGravell I suppose to avoid being a terrible hypocrite I should go read something by Karen Armstrong then ;) –  Kaz Dragon Jan 23 '12 at 23:25
    
:p I should note I'm also reading "The Magic of Reality" at the same time, which is a good counterpoint to the former –  Marc Gravell Jan 24 '12 at 0:17

The concept of prohibiting books is silly, all knowledge from both sides of the spectrum are viable sources. It is for the reader to discern what makes sense and what doesn't make sense. Would an atheist feel prohibited from reading the bible, just because he/she isn't a proponent? No, of course not, never fear knowledge, only fear the prohibition of it.

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While I completely agree with you, well supported answers should incorporate scripture, tradition, or reason (logic). You may want to consider Jesus talking to the Pharisees when he was 12, "All Truth is God's Truth", the current position of the Catholic church in re:book burning and the inquisitions (hint: they are against it), etc... –  Affable Geek Jan 21 '12 at 16:08
    
@Affable Geek when the DaVinci Code mania was at it's height I heard our bishop say in a homily something to the effect of, "I could ban the book, but then you all just go and buy it." –  Peter Turner Jan 23 '12 at 17:34

In short, no, not if you don't have a very good reason to do so. Traditionally, in Catholic seminaries, there was a section of the library called the "Hell Section" and a seminarian had to get permission from the rector of the seminary in order to go into the Hell Section -- which was locked -- to get a book contained therein. The simple reason for this degree of precaution is that one is not allowed to put their Faith in danger with a serious and compelling reason.

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