O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Challenge: Read Anti

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


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

Comments read comments(22)
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posted January 7, 2010 at 8:44 am

I couldn't agree more! Great Post!

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posted January 7, 2010 at 9:07 am

That is a ridiculously fabulous idea. Wow.

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Brett Barner

posted January 7, 2010 at 9:49 am

Awesome idea! o me of little faith comes out in May, right? lol j/k Really think more people should do this. You know, challenge themselves in their own ideas. I'm definitely taking you up on this challenge. :)

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Travis Thompson

posted January 7, 2010 at 10:26 am

Last year I read "The God Delusion" and "The Greatest Show On Earth" by Richard Dawkins. It was enlightening and very challenging for a life-long Christian. I plan on reading one or two more of Dawkins' books this year.

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posted January 7, 2010 at 10:27 am

This is a really great idea. Last year, I read The End of Faith by Sam Harris. While I vehemently disagreed with (most) everything Harris had to say, reading it made me understand why other people think that way. It also challenged me to think more critically about why I thought his arguments were poor instead of just lumping Harris and his books in the Atheist Heathen Sinner pile.

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Aaron Kangas

posted January 7, 2010 at 10:36 am

It IS a good idea, one I plan to do this year, too. It's not a NEW idea though, as C.S. Lewis talks about it in "God in the Dock".

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posted January 7, 2010 at 11:08 am

I started to think about that when I looked at my reading queue – the 6 books I have coming up next are, although none of them deal directly with religion, written by prominent atheists (Dawkins, Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen).It's comforting to read something that confirms your worldview, and, you'll likely still learn something new along the way. But there are plenty of noble reasons to step outside of your comfort zone – and Jason has obviously put a lot more thought into it than I have. Mine came out primarily as a need to "re-calibrate" my views, to do a some sort of mental reset. I'm sure someone smarter than me could come up with a neat analogy about screen savers in the era of CRT monitors, and their purpose – to avoid burning common images on your screen. Once it happened, there was no turning back.

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posted January 7, 2010 at 11:16 am

I just read Sylvia Brown, Adventures of a Psychic. Why? because I saw it in the library, and thought, hummm I really have no idea what she is about, I wonder what makes her and others like her tick. I found out, did it rock my world and make me question everything I ever believed? No, silly!

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posted January 7, 2010 at 11:56 am

Good point. On a smaller level, I engage with this idea: I have a collection of conservative/more conservative blogs in my google reader that I read for various reasons: to remind me why I'm not a staunch conservative, to keep track of what other people are thinking, and because I like to get as much of the whole picture as I can. Often these blogs get my blood boiling, and I end up shouting at the computer, so I guess it even counts towards letting off steam..I don't think I'll ever make it to Glenn Beck though. There are limits, even for me. I'll go find a less annoying book to read to take you up on this challenge.

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posted January 7, 2010 at 1:14 pm

i'm all about this idea– i heartily recommend ehrman, especially his book on suffering, for believers. on the part about reading for something more than to make us feel happy, it reminded me of this quote: "I think we ought to only read the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write?…We would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to.But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."- Franz Kafka, as quoted in To Be Told by Dan Allender

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Rachel H. Evans

posted January 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm

GREAT post, Jason! I only recently started intentionally reading authors with which I expect to disagree. (Although I confess I sometimes avoid actually purchasing the book!) Read Mark Driscoll's book the other day, and I've skimmed through some John Piper. Although I probably won't convert into a hyper-Calvinists, I find myself less inclined to question these guys' motives for saying what they say.

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posted January 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm

good idea, never thought of that. I always believed that christians should read the sacred scriptures of other religions to be educated about other beliefs. I remember when I watched "Religulous" I did so with other believers and they were all offended. I thought it was great to hear somebody ask the hard questions about our belief system. The bad part was seeing all the christians that didn't have an answer to those questions. but that is beside the point. anyway, I will look into doing this!

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posted January 7, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I have been wanting to read some Brian McLaren anyway–maybe I can use this challenge as a way to motivate myself to do it this year.

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Cameron Reeves

posted January 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm

AWESOME IDEA! Thanks for challenging us all. Daniel Quinn's ISHMAEL is a great start for anyone looking for a nice fiction book about a gorilla who puts an add in the paper reading, "Teacher seeks Pupil" and then proceeds to teach the book of Genesis to a man who responds.

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Chip Chandler

posted January 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I fundamentally object to sparkly vampires who can walk in daylight, but I don't think I'll start that series.Seriously, I'm giving this some thought. I'd rather read sparkly vampires than Glenn Beck (or Jonah Goldberg, truthfully), but perhaps I can come up with something.

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posted January 7, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Great advice. I've been reading like this over the past year or so. It's difficult to do because it's tiring. You're forced to constantly keep your guard up, to constantly challenge everything… because you never know if accepting one premise is going to lead you somewhere you know you shouldn't go.It's a challenge. I remember one of the first blogs I really got into reading was I agree with a lot of what he says… a lot of his basic premises, though I usually go further. However, what he does with them is often pretty out there, especially recently. He's given me a lot of new idea though, even if he doesn't actually agree with the ideas I come away with.But yes, I think it's a good idea… and The God Delusion is on my list. I wonder, though, if there's a strong Scriptural base for this.-Marshall Jones Jr.

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Jason Boyett

posted January 7, 2010 at 8:22 pm

@BondChristian: Thanks for the comment. Can I respectfully ask a question regarding your comment? Does there really HAVE to be a Scriptural basis for this? There's not a scriptural basis for going to college, but doesn't almost everyone think that's a good idea…just as a human being? I would hate to not consider good things just because they're not explicitly endorsed by the Bible. Am I off-base here?

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steve hallford

posted January 7, 2010 at 8:32 pm

My car radio 'buttons' are set on local Christian radio & slightly lesser-know conservative talk show hosts like Michael Medved & Dennis Prager; I also listen to 50's/60's C & W music & 'oldies' stations. When family & friends come to learn that I also listen to "America Left" (liberal talk) on XM, they're somewhat flummoxed. Listening-in gives a new perspective on opposing views, it exposes the adversary's anger, and enlightens me on how best to communicate w/those whom I may or may not disagree with. On the music side however, it's hard to break away from my comfort zone to listen to hip-hop, rap, or razz-ma-tazz. I've tried, but the rhyming schemes aren't as clean as those clearly etched in my foggy ol' memory. Read Anti? Last year I read; "How Firm A Foundation" by Marcus Grodi. A wonderful novel that explains in a very effective way the path of a Christian pastor who turns to Catholicsm. It was so well written, that I shared it w/other Protestants. I have a whole new appreciation for what my Catholic brothers & sisters believe. Grodi also wrote a non-fiction/companion book that tells real-life stories of Protestant clergy & laity who converted to Catholicism.To Cameron Reeves; thanx for the heads-up on "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. I've already begun reading the 1st few free chapters on-line & am buying a used copy for 3 bucks to finish it. (Not exactly Alcorn, MacArthur, Lucado or Whitlow, but it'll be good for me.)Great idea as usual JB; keep up the good work!

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posted January 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I finished reading The God Delusion not too long ago. Clearly, it's not an "anti" book for me.I have to admit, I didn't like it all that much. Dawkins is at his best when he talks about biology and evolution. In comparison to, for example, his newest book The Greatest Show on Earth, The God Delusion seemed to be lacking clear focus and depth. In my opinion, the case against gods can be made without cheap potshots here and there."Small Gods" by Terry Pratchett made me think more about religions than TGD did.

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posted January 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Good idea.I should attempt to read the Bible (NT) cover to cover (an actual book instead of a internet website with distracting commentary) – I've only read the NT (various versions) in bits and pieces. This is about the most "anti" book* I can think of as a former Jew, now atheist. Any suggestions on which NT (English) version? – FastthumbsPerhaps ranking up there with the NT, is Islam's holy books as well (which has some overlap): the Suhuf Ibrahim (commonly the Scrolls of Abraham), the Tawrat (Torah), the Zabur (commonly the Psalms), the Injil (commonly the Gospel), and the Qur'an.

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Jason Boyett

posted January 7, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Fastthumbs: If your goal in reading an English version of the New Testament is for comprehension/understanding, you can't go wrong with the New International Version (by far, the most popular translation). It's what I use most of the time.If you're in it for the soaring, familiar language, stick with the King James. If you want greater literal accuracy when it comes to the original language, the ESV is a pretty good choice (English Standard Version). For something fun, earthy, and idiomatic, try The Message, a popular paraphrase by admired scholar and pastor Eugene Peterson.Have fun! I know a Pocket Guide that makes a pretty good Bible-reading companion…complete with a survey of translations. :)

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posted January 8, 2010 at 8:03 pm

I love the challenge of reading an "anti" book this year. Great idea. Thanks.

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