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O Me of Little Faith

Yesterday, in response to my resolutions post, commenter Kristian shared a great 2010 goal that I want to extend to all of us. Here’s what he wrote:

Read at least one book, from cover to cover, that fundamentally goes against everything I believe in in life. For me — a lifelong apatheist or atheist — that’d be a religious perspective to life, universe and everything.

I think this is a fabulous reading goal, and not just because an atheist is thinking about reading a religious book.

Think about your reading list for a moment. What kinds of books are on it? If you’re anything like me, they’re books you want to read. Why do you want to read these books? Your reasons likely fall into one of the following categories:

1) You’ve heard about it and think you’ll like it

2) Someone recommended it (a friend, a colleague, a blogger, a popular talk show host whose name rhymes with Pope-rah)

3) You hope to learn from or be inspired by it

4) You have to read it for school

5) You feel guilty because you should have read it for school ten years ago but you didn’t

Let’s ignore #4 and #5, because this challenge isn’t about assigned reading or guilt-based reading. It’s about reading for fun, pleasure, and personal growth. Anyway, here’s the point of the list above: The books we read are almost always books we expect to have a favorable reaction to. We read them because we want to read them and we want to benefit from them. As a result, we almost always end up reading books that “fit” us. Books we agree with. Books that inspire us. Books we hope to learn from.

But how much do we grow from reading these safe books? I’m no weightlifter, but I do know that strength training involves applying resistance to muscles. That kind of resistance does short-term damage to the muscles, but as the muscles heal from those microscopic tears, they end up stitching themselves together stronger than before. Resistance turns into strength. Without any resistance applied to muscles, you end up with flab.

So here’s the question: How much resistance do you apply to your reading habits? Are you reading only the stuff you know you’ll enjoy and agree with? Or are you seeking out authors and subjects that might make you uncomfortable — that might make you think?

Kristian makes a very good point: it is beneficial for a person to read outside his or her belief system. Do it with a good attitude and an open mind. It might challenge what you believe. It might even hurt a little. But the resistance will actually make you stronger.

Atheists like Kristian would do well to read, with grace and good humor, a book by a deep-thinking Christian like Tim Keller.

Believers would do well to read, with grace and good humor, a book by an agnostic biblical scholar like Bart Ehrman. Or even one of the “new atheist” books from Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.

Liberals would do well to read, with grace and good humor, something by Jonah Goldberg or Reihan Salam. (And maybe conservatives should check out Ted Kennedy’s memoir.)

Christians suspicious of environmental advocacy would do well to read, with with grace and good humor, something by Matthew Sleeth or Tri Robinson.

Hard-core Calvinists should read Rob Bell. Emerging church types should read John MacArthur. Southern Baptists should read a Catholic spiritual writer like Henri Nouwen.

Maybe all of us should read Glenn Beck’s new book. (Or maybe not.)

Here’s a challenge this year: read something you know you won’t like. Read something that makes you uncomfortable. Read something that stretches you. Do it with an open mind and a positive attitude, and see what happens.

Read anti.

(Thanks, Kristian, for contributing such a great idea. Check out his new blog at www.apatheism.net.)

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Do you have certain “anti” books that you think specific types of people should read? List them in the comments.

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