2014: What I Learned from Books

“I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” -Emerson
After a relatively weak reading year, I had to remind myself that life is more than reading books. Every year, I honestly feel guilty about not reading more, a goal I will never reach. But I remind myself that out of 100 books read, just a handful will stay with me, will shape who I am. Many fade; many forgotten.

Still, I have learned some stuff in 2014:

From The Pol Pot Regime I wanted to find out if Pol Pot was in fact an atheist and a hater of religion. He was. An educated man, a killer, a "kindly" man to some, he wanted to "wipe out religion" and wipe out the monks. Everything That is Bad for You is Good For You argued that pop culture, games, and modern TV is making us smarter, not dumber. I agreed. Nature's God reinforced my belief that our Founding Fathers did in fact love Jesus in their own way - albeit an unorthodox way, but a real way: the same way I love Jesus. The were Deists, not atheists. Reinventing Liberal Christianity challenged me directly. This book is aimed at liberals like me who call themselves 'Christian,' but don't go to church, don't like rituals, don't believe in many of the creeds, etc. This book argues that people like me should return to traditional religion while keeping our liberal mindset. I wish I could find such a church. Dog Whistle Politics was a fascinating look at how politicians use coded racial language to perpetuate racism, win elections, and destroy the middle class. In Keeping the Faith Without Religion, I read about a man trying desperately to keep a faith that had faded. Reading poetry, walking in the woods, and loving people are beautiful things: but is that faith? God in Proof told me the story of Anthony Flew, at one time the most famous atheist philosopher, who eventually became convinced that God "probably exists." Richard Dawkins, in true arrogant fashion, said this about the aging Flew: "He once was a great philosopher...It’s very sad." Moral Tribes is a book that will stay with me forever, teaching me that both Kant's morality (Deontology) and Bentham's morality (Utilitarianism) are correct. We should use Kant's morality for people we are close to, and Bentham's morality for people we are not. I've been waiting for this book to come along. With Einstein & Oppenheimer, I learned that Einstein learned detachment from Buddhism and took it to heart, and that selflessness is the center of morality. And that history is shaped by great people (which is a theory of history that I got from Emerson). Shores of Knowledge said that “Theology and science had achieved a mutually enhancing balance in Great Britain when Church of England leaders interpreted Newton’s laws of universal gravitation as proof of a God-ordained orderly system." The Cure in the Code taught me that, in some ways, drug companies are regulated in a way that is out of touch with current science (which was verified by my father-in-law who makes drugs). The Detroit School Busing Case was a very depressing book on race relations and how truly little we have come in terms of integration. I read The Mind of Jeremy Bentham in search of an atheist hero, and by gosh I think I found one. He was a courageous, forward-thinking, great man who wanted morality to be more rational and just. I also read another book on Bentham that showed how deeply political his ideas were; he was looking for big change, not small stuff. The Human Right to Health reinforced my idea that, although we may disagree on the foundation of rights, we pretty much all agree on the values themselves (in this case, the value of health and the importance of healthcare to live). The Life You Can Save taught me that, although biology has given us barriers when it comes to giving to charity, we need to transcend them. A People’s History of Poverty in America made me disgusted with the various ways we have not helped the poor. The Moral Molecule was another book that will stay with me forever, teaching me that oxyticin is the foundation of empathy and therefore morality, a blend of nature and nurture. 

Happy New Year!


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